- The San Diego Gulls have signed NHL veteran Jeff Schultz to a one-year AHL contract, bringing him back for another year. Schultz, 31, was once a key part of the Washington Capitals’ defense corps, but has spent the majority of the last several years in the minor leagues. In 65 games for the Gulls last year, Schultz recorded 15 points but was a big part of their 43-20 record and has taken on a sort of mentor role for many of the Anaheim Ducks young defensemen.
For a Tuesday in late July, it’s been an especially busy day for hockey transactions, including the NHL signings of Mika Zibanejad with the New York Rangers, Robin Lehner with the Buffalo Sabres, Mark Streit with the Montreal Canadiens, and several deals by the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils. Yet, there has been a flurry of notable activity in the AHL and overseas today too, including the following:
- The once-promising NHL career of Matt Fraser has taken another odd turn away from its original path. Fraser, still just 27 years old, has signed with Dornbirner EC of the EBEL, a lower tier European league based mostly out of Austria. The team has announced the deal, though terms have not been released. Fraser moves to the EBEL after a season in Sweden, where injuries limited him to only four games with Rogle BK. Before that, many will remember Fraser as a star in the AHL for the Texas Stars and, after the Tyler Seguin trade, the Providence Bruins. Fraser even played in 60 NHL games with the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15 and looked to be on his way to becoming an NHL regular. However, after signing a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets in 2015 and failing to make the team, Fraser had the worst AHL season of his career and decided to head overseas. So far, it has not worked out, but Fraser will now try his hand at EBEL action, where he could easily be the best player for Dornbirner, who currently count another former Bruin, Jamie Arniel, as their top scorer.
- Another player who failed to meet expectatiosn in North America and will now head to a lesser European league is Dane Fox. The former Erie Otters superstar, who scored 107 points in 67 games in his final OHL season, has not found anywhere near the same success at the pro level. A high-profile signing by the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, the undrafted forward has made his last junior season look very much like a fluke with his play since then. Fox has skated almost exclusively in the ECHL over the past three seasons, playing in only two AHL games and not even in consideration for an NHL look with the Canucks and Carolina Hurricanes. Now, Fox will head to Germany to play with the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the DEL. Nurnberg is the likely favorite in the DEL next season and roster many players with NHL experience, including 2016-17 top scorer Steve Reinprecht and recent signee Tom Gilbert. Fox’s pro hockey career is very much up in the air right now, but if he can shine through on an experience Ice Tigers roster, perhaps he’ll get another shot in North America .
- The AHL’s San Diego Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate, has re-signed forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas to a two-year minor league deal, the league announced. The 27-year-old recorded a pro career-high 24 points and +13 rating for the Gulls last year and is a fan favorite and active member of the San Diego community. The former NCAA standout was a seventh-round pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, but was never signed to an entry-level deal after spending five years in college.
- The Chicago Wolves, now the new affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights, have signed one of their own, inking Scooter Vaughan to a one-year deal, according to a team release. The hard-nosed defenseman worked his way up through hockey’s ranks, spending four years at the University of Michigan, three years in the ECHL, and going on four years in the AHL, with the last two spent in Chicago. The next stop could be the NHL, now that the Wolves are associated with the Knights, who obviously have the least organizational depth of any team in the league. A career-best performance in 2017-18 could earn Vaughan his first NHL contract next year.
- A pair of AHL defenseman will change teams for the upcoming season as Paul Geiger, recently of the Rochester Americans, has signed with the Hershey Bears, the Washington Capitals’ affiliate, while the Carolina Hurricanes’ minor league partners, the Charlotte Checkers, have signed former St. John’s Ice Caps defender Josiah Didier. Both Geiger and Didier are still just 24 years old and were solid college players, at Clarkson and Denver respectively, but need big seasons with their new teams after pedestrian starts to their pro careers, that is if they want to reach the NHL someday.
- The 2016-17 captain at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has found his new home, and he’s in a good spot. Riley Bourbonnais, a 23-year-old center who was nearly a point per game player for RPI last year, has inked his first AHL deal with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the feeder team of the two-time Stanley Cup champs. The team announced their newest addition and have high hopes that he can bring the same well-rounded game he showed in college to the pros.
It’s something that often goes unnoticed, but with the cap showing minimal growth the last few years, teams are starting to feel the crunch more than ever. Buyouts have become more common, especially with players with under three remaining years on their contracts. And it’s not just the big name busts that have seen the ax lately – we’ve seen lesser names at lesser money take the fall for their respective teams, then needing to scramble for work elsewhere in the league. Additionally, salary retention in trades has become a more utilized tactic as of late. Teams with “unmovable” contracts have offered to retain part of a poor contract in order to entice a team into giving them some relief.
All this said, some teams have been better with foresight than others. Some teams have shown a track record of being entirely unable of handing out poor contracts over the past five or so seasons. Considering many teams showed some progress in being more frugal this off-season, it seems a wise time to review the dead space every team has accumulated, either due to poor management decisions or poor luck.
New York Rangers – $2.61 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2022-23 – Dan Girardi buyout
Minnesota Wild – $2.5 MM in 2017-17, issues resolved after current year – Thomas Vanek buyout
Tampa Bay Lightning – $1.83 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2019-20 – Matt Carle buyout
Detroit Red Wings – $1.67 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2020-21 – Stephen Weiss buyout
Dallas Stars – $1.5 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2018-19- Antti Niemi buyout
Philadelphia Flyers – $1.5 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after current year – R.J. Umberger buyout
Winnipeg Jets – $1.46 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2018-19 – Mark Stuart buyout
Florida Panthers – $1.33 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after 2018-19 – Jussi Jokinen buyout
Las Vegas Golden Knights – $1.1 MM in 2017-18, issues resolved after current year – Alexei Emelin retained
Ottawa Senators – $350,000 in 2017-18, issues resolved after current year – Andrew Hammond buried
Buffalo Sabres – Minimal in 2017-18, increased issues ($791,00) resolved after 2022-23 – Cody Hodgson buyout
Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens – No dead cap space
After compiling the list, it became clear that utilizing these options isn’t a complete hindrance to competing in the NHL. In fact, most clubs have between $1 MM and $3 MM in dead space. That said, of the teams that have not needed to utilize the buyout or retention options, there has been a great deal of success. And among the five worst offenders, the Leafs, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Avalanche, and Coyotes, none has moved past the first-round in multiple years. It’s hard to draw massive conclusions without taking the context of each individual situation into account, but there is something to be said for making every dollar of cap space count. Perhaps this is merely a byproduct of past success rather than an indicator of future success, but considering how amenable many managers have become to the option, it bears consideration.
(All totals courtesy of the fantastic CapFriendly.com)
In the NHL, signing players after they turn 35-years old comes with some added restrictions and capabilities. For one, those players are now eligible for one-year contracts that include performance bonuses, a way to mitigate risk for the team while still providing opportunities for previously successful players. The big restriction though, is that the cap hit of any contract signed after 35 will stay on the books regardless of what happens with the player. Whether their bought out or retire, the team will still face the full cap hit for the entire length of the deal.
This year, we saw Colorado swallow their pride and buy out Francois Beauchemin even with this extra clause, and they will face the full $4.5MM cap hit this season. Mike Cammalleri, who is now 35 himself and was similarly bought out will not fall under this rule because he signed his contract several years ago. Only if the contract is signed after 35 does it come into effect.
With that clear, let’s look at some of the players who will be under contract for the 2018-19 season and could potentially cause their teams a cap hit without actually playing for them. Here are all the 35+ contracts that will still be active after the coming season.
Patrick Marleau – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $18.75MM contract this offseason and took a substantial risk in doing so. Marleau turns 38 before the season starts, and though he has been known to keep his body in great shape throughout his career is clearly on the regular downward trajectory every player experiences. The Maple Leafs did an interesting thing to reduce some of their risk however, by front-loading Marleau’s contract and paying nearly the whole thing out in signing bonuses.
On July 2nd 2019, a few months before the final season of the contract begins, Marleau will have just $1.25MM left owed to him. Though he’ll be 41 for that season, and still carrying a $6.25MM cap hit, he’ll be a near-free option for a team struggling to hit the cap floor. That’s assuming he’s not still effective and the Maple Leafs want to keep him around, though they will be paying their young players like Auston Matthews a good chunk of the cap and may need the room. Marleau does have a no-movement clause, but if he’s set on retiring anyway it likely wouldn’t matter to him if his contract was traded.
Justin Williams – Carolina Hurricanes
Williams signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes to return to the place he won his first Stanley Cup, and he comes with very little risk for the club in terms of retirement. Still a very effective scoring option, last season Williams actually registered his highest goal total since his days in Carolina a decade ago. It’s hard to see how he would fall so far in 2017-18 to make him think retirement was the only option.
That said, there is always a chance that a 35+ player could fall off a cliff production wise or just reach a point in his life that he wants to move on from hockey. If he did that next summer, the Hurricanes would be on the hook for a $4.5MM cap hit with no player to show for it. Luckily, the Hurricanes are one of those cap floor teams and an empty hit like that would pose no issue to their salary structure. They’d rather have an effective Williams in the lineup, but this deal came with almost no risk.
Ron Hainsey – Toronto Maple Leafs
Here come the Maple Leafs again, who handed out two multi-year deals to 35+ players this offseason. Hainsey comes fresh off a Stanley Cup victory with the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first taste of the playoffs, and will be expected to log difficult minutes in Toronto to take some pressure off their young group. His two-year, $6MM deal also comes front loaded should the team need to move him next summer.
Hainsey will be 38 when the contract expires, and some have already started to point out his deficiencies as the years roll on. With the Maple Leafs having to make decisions on James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, William Nylander and Leo Komarov next summer, any further decline from Hainsey could be a problem. With no buyout relief available, the Maple Leafs would likely have to bite the bullet and keep him around through the end of the deal.
Alex Burrows – Ottawa Senators
It took a two-year extension from the Ottawa Senators to get Burrows to waive his no-trade clause at last year’s deadline, and that number will be tough to watch for the team should he continue his rapid decline. For a player who once scored 35 goals in a season, Burrows had just 24 the last two combined. While he did show some better jump in the Ottawa lineup, the team has several young players who will deserve more playing time over the next couple of seasons.
$2.5MM isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re a team who works on a tight internal budget like the Senators every dollar can mean a lot. Without the buyout option and the risk of Burrows hanging it up, that $2.5MM could haunt them next summer. Luckily, it will expire before the team needs to shell out the dollars for Erik Karlsson, who will be eligible for extension next offseason but won’t have his expected record-breaking deal kick in until 2019-20.
Ryan Miller – Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim took a risk handing out a 35+ contract to Miller, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him wanting to retire just yet. He’s now closer to his offseason home with actress Noureen DeWulf, and $2MM per season to backup John Gibson seems like a perfect scenario 37-year old goaltender. Even though he could suddenly turn ineffective, their faith in Gibson and his similar inexpensiveness (he’s owed just $2.3MM in each of the next two seasons) covers their back.
Derek MacKenzie – Florida Panthers
The two-year extension the Panthers gave their captain last summer was a surprising one, if only because you don’t usually see players of his stature receive a guaranteed contract a year before they’re due for one. MacKenzie signed his first 35+ contract, but it comes at such a small cost—$2.75MM total over two years—that it poses little risk. The team wouldn’t need to buy him out, and even if he were to hang up his skates next summer they would have plenty of cap room. Besides, the Panthers have had great success with 35+ contracts in the past—just ask Jaromir Jagr.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Jhonas Enroth has found a home for the upcoming season, but it won’t be in the NHL. The free agent goaltender has signed on with Dinamo Minsk of the KHL for one season. Enroth split last season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks organization, finding much success in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls.
The Buffalo Sabres continue to do some management restructuring today, announcing the hiring of Ryan Jankowski to be the new director of amateur scouting. The team is also promoting Scott Crisp to be the assistant director of amateur scouting. Jankowski, who spent the last four years with Hockey Canada and served as the director of amateur of scouting there, now comes to join Jason Botterill and his new staff. He was responsible for selecting and evaluating players for Canada’s national junior team as well as under-18 and under-17 programs. He has also previously worked as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens and an assistant general manager for the New York Islanders, and had a hand in drafting current Sabres’ Kyle Okposo. Crisp, the team’s former head scout, has been scouting for 17 years, including the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks.
- About a month ago, PHR reported that Chris Chelios was leaving the Detroit Red Wings organization. The part-time assistant coach was reportedly trying to gain a position with the NHL Players’ Association. However, Chelios might not be as gone as some think. According to NBC Sports’ Cam Tucker, Chelios was recently seen at the Red Wings development camp and is still listed as an assistant coach on the team’s website. HockeyBuzz’s Bob Duff interviewed him and Chelios says he just took a leave of absence to explore a possible job with the NHLPA, but had always intended to return to the Red Wings if that didn’t come through. However, there is no indication that he did or didn’t get a position with the NHLPA yet.
- WEEI’s Ty Anderson tweets that Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said today the team has made no progress on a new contract for restricted free agent David Pastrnak. The 21-year-old first-round pick in 2014 had a breakout season last year, putting up 34 goals and 70 points. The Bruins tweeted they are negotiating with several teams about trades and haven’t closed the doors on unrestricted free agent Drew Stafford.
- The Anaheim Ducks signed 2016 fourth-round pick Alex Dostie to a three-year entry-level contract, according to Sportsnet. The 20-year-old center spent the year playing for three teams, including the Gatineau Olympiques and the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL, where he combined to put up 30 goals and 41 assists between the two teams. He also played one playoff game for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls without registering a point.
- The Dallas Stars tweeted that 2015 second-rounder Roope Hintz will likely come over to the United States to play hockey this season after a breakout year for HIFK Helsinki team in Finland. The 20-year-old scored 19 goals and 11 assists in 44 games last year.
The Anaheim Ducks have added some center depth, signing Dennis Rasmussen to a one-year contract. Rasmussen became a free agent when the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to issue him a qualifying offer last month. No financials have been released so far.
Playing in 68 games with the Blackhawks last season, Rasmussen scored just eight points but was an effective fourth line checker. With the Ducks seeing Nate Thompson move on to Ottawa, Rasmussen should be able to fill some of his role on the fringe of the roster. While he’s not a good faceoff man, he could still be used in a center role for the club behind Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette.
That said, Vermette would likely fit better in a fourth-line role himself if the Ducks could find another center to jump in front of him. Rickard Rakell and Andrew Cogliano seem poised to stay on the wing, while Chris Wagner is clearly not ready for a third-line role. Either way, adding Rasmussen gives the team another option for their bottom-six, one with solid NHL experience on a winning team.
Though he signed a three-year contract with Friborg-Gottéron of the NLA earlier this spring, Reto Berra has exercised an NHL option he had to leave the team and sign with the Anaheim Ducks for the 2017-18 season. The final two years of his contract will still be in effect in Switzerland, though it’s unclear whether another deal would void those as well.
Berra played last season with the Florida Panthers and their AHL affiliate, and has some NHL experience going back to 2013. The 30-year old goaltender was a fourth-round selection by the Blues in 2006 and has gotten into 71 games in his career.
The Ducks, having lost both Jhonas Enroth and Matt Hackett to free agency, needed some help at the AHL level. They do still have Dustin Tokarski there, and Ryan Miller was brought in to backup John Gibson at the NHL level, but extra depth in net is never a bad thing.
The most recent CBA introduced retained salary transactions—trades where a team trade a player but agree to pay a percentage of his salary. This is ideal when a team wants a player but will have trouble fitting him in under the cap. The ability to retain salary comes with restrictions, however, so let’s briefly look at how retained salary transactions work before looking at which players are subject to them.
- A team can retain up to 50% of a player’s average salary (including bonuses);
- The retained salary amount is uniform over the full length of the player’s contract;
- A team can retain up to three players’ salary at one time;
- A team cannot have more than 15% of the salary cap devoted to retained salary;
- A team cannot retain salary on a player who is already subject to two current retained salary transactions;
- If a team acquires a player with retained salary, then trades him while also retaining salary, the second retained salary agreement cannot modify the initial retained salary agreement;
- Teams cannot reacquire a player within a year of trading him if it agreed to retain salary in the initial transaction (unless the player’s contract terminated);
- Retained salary obligations apply to any cap advantage recapture amounts; and
- Retained salary obligations still apply if a player is bought out or loaned to an AHL club. The NHL team would pay a portion of the player’s AHL salary (if applicable).
The Calgary Flames have signed enforcer Luke Gazdic to a one-year, two-way contract. Terms were not disclosed. Gazdic spent last year with the New Jersey Devils, where he split time between the NHL club and the AHL’s Albany Devils. Gazdic played 11 games for New Jersey, accumulating 12 penalty minutes. In 37 games for Albany, the 27-year-old wing had one goal, six assists and 63 penalty minutes.
He had his best season with the Edmonton Oilers back in the 2013-14 season in which he played a career-high 67 games and accumulated 127 penalty minutes as well as two goals and four points. Now he will move over to Calgary to provide much-needed depth to their back lines either in Calgary or the Stockton Heat, depending on the team’s needs.
The Flames have been quiet to start the offseason as they have only signed three players so far in free agency, including an entry-level contract to college star Spencer Foo, an entry-level contract to their 2016 sixth-round pick Stepan Falkovsky and a one-year deal with former New York Rangers’ wing Marek Hrivik.
- The Anaheim Ducks have signed defenseman Steven Oleksy to a two-year, one-way contract and also inked center Derek Grant to a one-year, one-way deal, according to L.A. Times reporter Helene Elliott. The Ducks also agreed to terms with wings Michael Liambas and Scott Sabourin to one-year, two-way contracts. Oleksy comes from Toronto, but was traded there from Pittsburgh last year. While he never played for the Maple Leafs, the 31-year-old defender did get go play 11 games for the Penguins before being traded. Grant also was traded midseason last year. The 27-year-old center played 40 games for the Buffalo Sabres and another six for the Nashville Predators, although he did not appear in any playoff games. Liambas, a 28-year-old center, has played in one NHL game in his career, while the 24-year-old Sabourin has not reached the NHL yet. He played in 54 games for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL.