Topics in this edition of the PHR Mailbag include the rough start to the season for the Blue Jackets, how the Oilers could get out of their slump, and much more. If your question doesn’t appear here, check back in next weekend’s mailbag.
Black Ace57: What does Columbus do going forward if their high-paid stars keep struggling? They looked like a team that could compete this year, but if their top guys keep struggling it looks more like a team in need of a retool or short rebuild.
I wasn’t sold on the Blue Jackets being a playoff team this season but I was expecting them to be more competitive than they have been so far. In theory, I agree with you that a retool would help but the problem is who do they retool with? Selling low on Patrik Laine isn’t wise. Same for Johnny Gaudreau. I don’t think they’re moving Boone Jenner either. So, aside from the currently injured Jack Roslovic, the forwards they’d move don’t have a particularly significant track record; they aren’t players that will bring impact pieces in return.
On defense, Andrew Peeke and Adam Boqvist have some value but they’ve been on the block for most of the season now. Clearly, the offers haven’t been great as otherwise, they’d have been moved already. Erik Gudbranson doesn’t have a trade market and the other veterans are players they probably don’t want to trade.
If they can find a taker for Merzlikins, they can try the lateral goalie swap and hope the change of scenery works for each player. With his contract ($5.4MM through 2026-27), that’s easier said than done.
They’ve changed the coach multiple times now. They’ve changed the goalie coach. Pulling those levers again isn’t going to change much. So my recommendation to them would be to play the youngsters as much as possible and hope that the veterans find their footing. If they don’t, at least the development of their young core players gets advanced. That’s a small win but with their current situation, that might be the best-case scenario aside from moving out some rentals closer to the trade deadline if they’re out of it by then.
Pyramid Headcrab: Any insight on Johnny Gaudreau? His scoring has completely fallen off a cliff, and his play does not inspire confidence. Can you think of any other players who have had such a precipitous drop after signing a new contract?
And more vitally, is this a case of a guy completely phoning it in after getting a big paycheque, or is this a case of a player not fitting in a new system?
The player who replaced Gaudreau in Calgary comes to mind, Jonathan Huberdeau. He gets acquired, signs the long-term extension, and falls off a cliff, notching 60 fewer points compared to 2021-22. This season, he’s on pace for even less. Jeff Skinner also fits the bill. After a 40-goal year in his first season with Buffalo, he followed that up with 23 points followed by 14, making his deal one of the worst in the league. Fortunately for the Sabres, he turned it around and while his contract isn’t a bargain, it looks a lot better now.
Gaudreau will get an opportunity to do like Skinner and play his way out of this. There is no trade market for him at the moment. In a perfect world, Adam Fantilli becomes the top-line center they think he can be, giving Gaudreau a higher-end linemate that he hasn’t had with the Blue Jackets so far. If that happens, I think he can rebound somewhat. Not to the point where $9.5MM is viewed as a bargain but also not among the worst in the league either.
I also don’t think this is a case of Gaudreau cashing in and checking out, so to speak. I suspect this is more just him not fitting into the current system and lacking that impact center to play with. Granted, at $9.5MM, it should be Gaudreau helping elevate a linemate, not him needing a better linemate to bring out the best in him. It hasn’t gone well for him in Columbus so far but I think he can turn it around.
Winter in Colorado: What’s your take on Patrick Kane’s return? Every talking head out there thinks he’ll come back and be fine. No player has ever returned successfully from hip resurfacing surgery. It’s entirely possible Kane will be the next Nicklas Backstrom. Yet, I haven’t heard this from any hockey media. It really doesn’t matter what team or contract Patrick Kane wants if he can’t play.
This is a great point and frankly, it wasn’t even one I was really considering too much but you’re absolutely right, it does have to be factored in. Ed Jovanovski didn’t come back for too long when he had it. Ryan Kesler had it done and never played again. Backstrom wasn’t bad last season after coming back but now, it’s fair to wonder if his playing days are done. If I’m a GM, this should be something to consider.
I wonder if Backstrom’s situation could make Kane’s camp lean toward pursuing a multi-year deal. While it’s possible he leaves money on the table if he is able to buck the trend, locking in guaranteed money with injury concerns can rarely be called a good idea.
Here’s what I keep coming back to with Kane. The contending teams that want him are almost all in cap trouble. Their preference is undoubtedly going to be Kane taking a cheap deal that doesn’t require them to turn around and move out another player, possibly with an incentive added with so few teams being able and willing to take on money.
Kane is going to have to pick between trying to ring chase now (and perhaps land in a spot where he can be insulated a bit which helps from a health standpoint) or going for one last big financial score. I lean toward him taking the former (perhaps not by choice; the big-money deals are going to be tough to get at this point of the year) as that’s where his best options for short-term success will be.
Binnie: Two questions to ask. The first one is which team has the best chance of signing Patrick Kane. The second is about Michael Rasmussen contract extension, how long are the terms and average salary per offered if true.
There seems to be some speculation that his preference would be to stay in the East after finishing up last season with the Rangers, a team that it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to. Florida doesn’t have a lot of cap space but there seems to be considerable mutual interest and frankly, of the Eastern contender teams that could have a realistic shot at trying to afford him, they might be the best fit.
Buffalo is out there both for the fact he’s a local and the sense he’d help give them a boost in a season that they’re supposed to emerge from their rebuild. Detroit is believed to be in the mix as they’re looking to get out of missing the playoffs as well. Both of them can afford pricier long-term deals. If Kane wants one of those, I’d lean to Buffalo. If he’s willing to take the one-year deal, Florida is my pick for where he signs.
As for Rasmussen, I’m sure Detroit GM Steve Yzerman is at least kicking the tires. The center is a pending RFA so a deal will have to get done at some point. It’s safe to say that he’ll get more than his $1.72MM qualifier, especially with arbitration rights. But I don’t think Rasmussen has shown enough to receive a long-term extension, the types that are often done in-season. Barring injury, he’d have gotten there last year but he doesn’t have a 30-point season under his belt and he’s at a lower pace offensively so far this season.
Honestly, I think the best play for both sides here is a one-year pact, another bridge deal if you will. If I’m Detroit, I’d be leery about going higher than a low $3MM offer on a multi-year agreement (three or more seasons). If I’m Rasmussen, why am I locking in long-term for that when I can get $2MM or more on a one-year deal and ideally have a better platform year? Those would be my picks for a new contract for Rasmussen which is why I don’t think the two sides will get one done.
Nha Trang: Alright, how’s this for a deadly hypothetical? Congratulations, Brian! You’ve just been drafted to be the new GM of the Oilers, a team in the dumps, with over half of their cap space tied up in just six players (each and every one of them with NMCs), you’re projected to have only $10MM of cap space NEXT season, and you’ve got a goalie in the minors with a no-trade clause and a nearly $4MM cap hit himself. What’s your turnaround strategy, beyond fleeing screaming for Tahiti? (That, or coming to Massachusetts to clock me upside the head with a goalie stick for making the suggestion.)
My strategy is probably pretty similar to the one they’ve probably been looking into. In net, I’m looking for change-of-scenery players that wouldn’t necessarily require a huge inducement to take on Campbell’s deal. I’m looking at Columbus and Elvis Merzlikins or Seattle and Philipp Grubauer. Both netminders are signed for as long as Campbell and their AAV’s are less than $1MM apart. With Columbus, perhaps add in Cody Ceci and Andrew Peeke to make the money come close to matching and with Seattle, Ceci and William Borgen for the same purpose. That’s probably not the exact trade when all is said and done, that’s the core of the swap.
If those don’t work, I think I might make a bigger offer for Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka. (The problem is they won’t take Campbell back.) The Coyotes don’t seem to be locked in with having him as their long-term starter and if I can get two years at $2.75MM to pair with Stuart Skinner, that’s worth pursuing. Kulak is probably the money matcher and as much as I wouldn’t want to do it, I could be persuaded to put Xavier Bourgault, one of their top prospects, in the offer. This isn’t a viable situation for a rebuild, not with their core. Selling is not an option so the swing is defensible.
Failing that, Montreal’s Sam Montembeault would be my next target since his contract is a lot easier to fit into the current salary structure; he could be added without subtracting anyone of consequence off their current roster. A first-round pick is off the table but if they accepted a package headlined by a second-rounder, that would be worth pursuing. That’s not going to be a big upgrade in terms of getting a new starter but that at least shores up the backup spot, increasing the chances of getting points from those games which will help as they look to get back into a playoff spot.
I’d also look at shaking up the back end. Between Ceci, Brett Kulak, Evan Bouchard, and Philip Broberg, they have a lot of defenders who are mobile but not particularly good in their own end. One or two of those is manageable, four out of seven on the roster is an issue. Moving Kulak and/or Ceci for different-styled players making similar money (Peeke and Borgen are examples from the earlier goalie offers) would be useful. Getting more defensive structure and stability should help solve some of the goaltending struggles and with the remaining puck-movers plus Darnell Nurse and Mattias Ekholm, their offensive game shouldn’t take much of a hit.
Up front, I don’t think I’d change a whole lot. What I would do is waive one of Adam Erne or Sam Gagner to make them waiver-exempt and shuffle one of them back and forth (down on off days) along with James Hamblin. (Not at the same time as they need 12 forwards though.) The idea would be to dip out of LTIR on those days and bank a tiny bit of cap space which might come in handy at the deadline. Ideally, it’d be nice to get a penalty kill specialist into Gagner’s spot and a more skilled fourth line grit player into Erne’s but given their weaker prospect pool, I wouldn’t be trading much for those. Rather, I’d watch the waiver wire for more optimal fits.
Otherwise, this is a good forward group and I expect they’ll turn it around on their own. That coupled with better defense and possibly better goaltending should get them into the playoffs at least.
Red Wings: Oilers have to do something big. How about Campbell and Draisaitl for Josi and Saros? Who says no?
I think Nashville says no, for starters. Unless they get some sort of assurance that Leon Draisaitl would sign an extension with them, I don’t think they’d want to part with their captain and Juuse Saros (someone they’ve admitted they want to extend next summer when he’s eligible) for a negative-value goalie and a 1.5-year rental. That doesn’t really help them.
I also think Edmonton says no. Can they realistically afford two blueliners making more than $9MM per season for four more years after this one with their core group? Probably not and Saros isn’t going to be on a team-friendly deal much longer. It would also require them to trim more players off their roster to make the money work, putting them in a tough situation for the second half of the season. They may well do something big but it won’t be this big.
WilfPaiement: The 2018 WJC scandal is now clearly a cover-up because I’m guessing there were some really big names involved, I say these things because there is no good reason for the investigation to have taken this long. What are the latest facts if any? Why is Alex Formenton’s NHL career seemingly being held hostage?
Earlier this month, Hockey Canada released a statement saying that an independent adjudicative panel issued its ruling on whether certain members of that team breached Hockey Canada’s code of conduct. Included in that statement was that a notice of appeal has been filed and since those proceedings are done in-camera (not seen by the public), no further information can be provided. So basically, the update is that while there has been an update, there’s nothing they can publicly update at this time. And me speculating any further than that wouldn’t be of much value.
As for Formenton, Ottawa was believed to be open to trading him last season but didn’t get an offer to their liking. Now, even if they wanted to sign him for this season, they don’t have the cap space to do so. Frankly, he’s not exactly lighting up the Swiss League so he’s not making a great on-ice case that someone should be trying to get him back to the NHL right away.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.