- Lightning defense prospect Dominik Masin is in discussions with Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL, reports Russian site AllHockey.ru. The pending restricted free agent has spent the last four seasons exclusively with AHL Syracuse, posting 16 goals and 42 assists in 269 games. Masin was a second-round pick back in 2014 and with the fate of the 2020-21 AHL season in question at this time, opting to go overseas would guarantee him a full season worth of development.
- The Lightning have reopened their practice facilities, reports team reporter Bryan Burns (Twitter link). They closed down on Friday following three players and two staff members testing positive for COVID-19. Players can now skate in groups of 12 as they work their way towards the third phase of the NHL’s return plan which is training camps that are slated to open July 10th.
3:08 PM: Lightning GM Julien BriseBois released the following statement through Twitter concerning the positive tests:
We have learned that three players and additional staff members have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Those players have been self-isolated following CDC protocals and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever. Those who have been in contact with these individuals have been notified. The Lightning continue testing and are strictly following all NHL and government procedures as part of the league’s Phase 2 guidelines. Upon receiving positive tests yesterday, team training facilities were immediately closed with all players and staff being sent home. Those facilities will remain temporarily shut down until we can ensure a safe environment.
12:16 PM: While NHL facilities are open as part of the second phase of the NHL’s Return to Play plan, at least one will be shut down temporarily. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports (all Twitter links) that three Lightning players and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. The expectation is that if all other players and staff test negative, the facility will re-open in the near future although Diana C. Nearhos of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Amalie Arena (where the team was skating) will be closed to non-essential staff until July 6th.
The identities of the players and staff were not identified. As McKenzie noted in an Insider Trading appearance on Thursday, that information is unlikely to be made available. The NHL (in conjunction with the NHLPA) appears to be shifting towards the approach of the NBA where an announcement will simply be made that someone tested positive without making any other type of identification. To that end, Joe Smith, Michael Russo, and Craig Custance of The Athletic report (subscription required) that there are other positive cases around the league at the moment that have not been announced.
It’s worth noting that at this stage in the process, the skates are voluntary and as such, there is no league-mandated quarantine in place. The expectation remains that if play resumes (likely in early August), there will be a full quarantine for both hub cities.
While one set of positive tests at this stage isn’t going to cause a significant setback, it certainly serves as a sobering reminder that there is still a long way to go towards a safe and healthy resumption of play as the pandemic continues on.
There was quite a few rumors surrounding the trade status of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere at the trade deadline in February, but in the end, the team couldn’t find a deal that they liked. After all, Gostisbehere was a top offensive defenseman with the Flyers for several years before back-to-back poor seasons. Of course he is just 27 years old and while he’s recovering from knee surgery this season, the team still believes he has quite a bit of value.
However, Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi writes in his most recent mailbag, that the team is still looking for a trade partner for Gostisbehere and hope to find the right deal this offseason. He adds that the team isn’t willing to just give the blueliner away as he still has vast potential, but the team might be willing to accept a second-round pick or a young forward with 20-goal potential down the road.
- NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reports that Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said that with the uncertainty of the salary cap going forward, the team has shelved any thought of discussing contracts with their UFAs and RFAs. The team has several unrestricted free agents, including defenseman Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Joakim Nordstrom and Kevan Miller. The team also has several key restricted free agents, including Jake Debrusk, Anders Bjork and Matt Grzelcyk, but will have little cap room to work with and with rumors that the cap may not increase next year, could force the team to make some difficult decisions.
- Despite a record losing season in Detroit, MLive’s Ansar Khan writes that Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman and the coaching staff do feel that the team made quite a bit of progress in their development of their younger players. He notes that the team were thrilled with the play of defenseman Filip Hronek, who averaged 23:54 of TOI, while posting nine goals and 31 points. While his minus-38 isn’t impressive, the team saw a blueliner whose defense improved greatly. The scribe also points out the improved play of 2018 first-rounder Filip Zadina, Givani Smith and defenseman Gustav Lindstrom.
- As the QMJHL draft continues today, Lightning prospect Maxim Cajkovic finds himself on the move. The Val-d’Or Foreurs announced that they’ve acquired the 19-year-old in exchange for four draft picks. Cajkovic was a third-round pick of Tampa Bay last June (89th overall) after his rookie junior season. Injuries limited him to just 36 games this season but he was productive in those, collecting 18 goals and 24 assists while adding a pair of helpers for Slovakia at the World Juniors. Cajkovic has until June 1 of next year to sign his entry-level deal or go back into the draft.
The Detroit Red Wings season has come to an end following the announcement of the return to play format, meaning they’ll go down as one of the worst teams in history (at least in terms of points percentage). The club finished 17-49-5 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, leading many to question the future of Jeff Blashill.
Steve Yzerman, Detroit GM, is not one of those questioning his head coach. On a conference call with reporters today including Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, Yzerman explained that he has “no plans on making a coaching change at this time.” Blashill signed a two-year contract extension in 2019 that carries him through the 2020-21 season but now has a 153-194-52 record as head coach of the Red Wings.
- A report out of Russia has Buffalo Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut heading to the KHL next season, though it has not been confirmed at this point. Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News reports that the Sabres are inquiring with Pilut to see if he has indeed signed or agreed to terms with Traktor Chelyabinsk. Pilut is scheduled to become a restricted free agent later this summer, but with the Sabres already eliminated from play he could be looking for a new opportunity already. The 24-year old Pilut ended up playing just 46 games over two seasons for Buffalo, despite being excellent in the minor leagues and showing he could handle NHL duty. Should he decide to pursue a contract overseas, the Sabres could temporarily retain his rights by issuing him a qualifying offer.
- With just a few days left to sign them, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin explained to reporters including Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports that they will not be issuing contract offers to a few prospects. Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad and Samuel Houde–all players that will see their draft rights expire on June 1st–will not receive contracts from the Canadiens.
It certainly seems like an NHL postseason is on the way, as the NHLPA approved continued talks of a 24-team playoff format on Friday. However, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun echoed the sentiment of the NHLPA’s statement when he reported that there are still concerns among the players. This initial vote was merely to continue making progress on the rough format of a 24-team structure, but there are details that still need to be hammered out. Specifically, LeBrun states that the players would prefer re-seeding after each round rather than the proposed bracket format. Further, the players were told that there is still indecision over whether that initial round of teams 5-12 in each conference would be a best-of-five or a best-of-seven series. The NHLPA will need to re-evaluate a final proposal before the league can make any official announcement.
- The idea of re-seeding does seem to be a more balanced and fair system for implementing this playoff structure. As currently proposed, the top seed in each conference would play the No. 8 or No. 9 team in the second round, while any of the other three bye seeds could wind up with an easier match-up following a bye in the first round. Especially if the first round is a best-of-five series, which would be more prone to upsets, the bracket format creates equity concerns. As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox describes, it also de-values the proposed round robin games between the top-four bye teams in each conference. This format is also still to be finalized, but the proposal was that the results of this round robin tournament would determine the seeding of those four bye teams. As Fox notes, if there is no real advantage to having the top seed in the bracket structure then there is not much to fight for in the round robin.
- One of the two teams who voted against the proposed 24-team playoff format was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alex Killorn, the team’s NHLPA rep, spoke with The Athletic’s Joe Smith about the reasons why the team did not support the decision. Killorn stated that his team did not feel that it was fair for teams that likely would not have made the playoffs under the normal circumstances to not only have a shot in this expanded field, but also to have a better chance of moving on with a limited five-game series. Tampa also took issue with the preparedness of the teams who had earned byes, a point that would be emphasized further if – as LeBrun and Fox warn – the bracket system leads to a round robin for the first-round bye teams that lacks real meaning. These are fair points made by Killorn and the Lightning, but it seems that without the details of the playoff structure formalized yet, these concerns could be quelled by seven-game series in the first-round and re-seeding after the round rather than a bracket structure.
As the current Coronavirus crisis wears on, it seems more and more likely that the NHL will not be able to complete the full remaining regular season schedule and talk of an expanded playoff field might indicate that there will be no return to the regular season at all. That lost revenue is expected to impact the 2020-21 salary cap, likely keeping the current $81.5MM upper limit in place. Given that teams expected an increase, initially projected to be between $84-88.2MM, this stagnation could have a harsh impact on a number of clubs’ cap situations. As such, many expect that compliance buyouts will return in some form or fashion to ease that pain. These buyouts, which do not count against the salary cap, would allow for teams to open up space that they otherwise expected from a cap increase.
Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan
While the oncoming cap crunch caused by COVID-19 will not impact the Senators, who have sat at or near the bottom of the league’s salary ranks in recent years, owner Eugene Melnyk is not one to miss out on an opportunity to save money. In the case of Ryan, that would mean casting off a player who has overcome the adversity of addiction to resume his career, but don’t expect that to stop the Senators from moving on. Ryan’s remaining two years and $15MM in actual salary represents a large chunk of what Ottawa owes its current roster. Ryan has not played at a level becoming of a $7.25MM player at any point over the course of his time with the Senators, but especially over the past four years in which he has failed to crack 50 points in any season. At 33 years old, Ryan’s best days are behind him and Ottawa won’t hesitate to but him out and face the potential public relations backlash.
Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere
The Flyers are right up against the salary cap and will have to create some space if the upper limit does not move this off-season as had been expected. The team has been trying to trade Gostisbehere in the midst of a down year, but to no avail. It may seem counter-intuitive for a contender to give away a 27-year-old regular defenseman for free via buyout, but Gostisbehere is trending in the wrong direction and has three years at $4.5MM AAV remaining on his deal. If Philly cannot find a trade, which obviously would be the more ideal solution, they may not have a better alternative to clear space without buying out a more impactful player. Some may point to last summer’s Kevin Hayes mega-contract as a worse deal to consider moving, but it seems highly unlikely that the team would move on from Hayes this soon after signing him, especially since his production this season has been on par with his career numbers.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jack Johnson
It was pretty obvious right from the start that Johnson was not going to be a value player for the Penguins. Many were skeptical of his 2018 signing right from the start and he has done little to prove those critics wrong. A minus player whose offensive ceiling now sits in the mid-teens, Johnson is 33 and his best days are well behind him. The Penguins are another team that needs as much cap space as they can create to keep their roster together. Can they really afford to pay Johnson $9.75MM against the cap over the next three years to be a bottom pair defenseman who is more often a liability than an asset? Pittsburgh has the depth on defense to make up for the loss and could desperately use the cap flexibility elsewhere.
San Jose Sharks: Martin Jones
Entering an off-season with a deep goalie market, which could grow even deeper with compliance buyouts, few teams would be happier to have a get-out-of-jail-free card than the Sharks. Goaltending, and their starter Jones in particular, has been at the heart of San Jose’s struggles over the past two years. Once seen as a safe bet to be a solid long-term starter, Jones has been unable to produce even passable numbers in the past couple of seasons. However, with four years and $23MM remaining on Jones’ deal – a $5.75MM AAV, it seemed hopeless for the team improve in net without either an expensive buyout, a painful trade, or a very overpriced backup. This scenario would be exactly what the team needed and there is little doubt that they would move on swiftly from Jones, re-focusing his cap space on improving the roster, most important of which would be finding his replacement(s).
St. Louis Blues: Alex Steen
Steen may be a respected veteran coming off of a championship season, but he is also one of the Blues’ few reasonable candidates for a buyout. St. Louis does not have many long-term contracts and has arguably no bad long-term contracts. Steen, 36, is also one of only three players over 31 signed through this season. Without many bad deals or regressing veterans to compete with, Steen’s final year at $5.75MM looks ugly, especially since his production has dropped off immensely in each of the past two seasons to just 17 points this year. Perhaps the only other buyout option for St. Louis would be backup goaltender Jake Allen if the determine that Steen’s experience and versatility is of greater value. However, Allen is younger and cheaper and coming off a bounce-back season in which he was one of the best backups in the NHL. Steen seems like the more reasonable selection.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Tyler Johnson
Tampa Bay was always going to have to blow up its core to accommodate its young players. However, a flat cap not only ensures that this time has come this off-season, it also makes the situation much worse. In order to sign a number of key restricted free agents, the Bolts must move out a considerable amount of salary this summer. Normally, players like Johnson, Yanni Gourde, and Ondrej Palat would have enough value to garner a nice trade return rather than needing a buyout. However, in an off-season where most teams could be up against the cap, acquiring a $5MM+ player will be easier said than done. Making it even harder is that all three hold No-Trade clauses and may not be willing to accept a deal to the types of team that can afford to acquire them. Of this trio, the Lightning are most likely to keep Palat; although he is the most expensive, he is also the most valuable. Gourde is slightly more expensive than Johnson’s $5MM AAV, but is also slightly younger and has largely outplayed Johnson over the past few years. Gourde is a more valuable asset than Johnson, which could mean he is easier to trade or it could mean that Tampa tries to find a way to keep him. Johnson seems like the odd man out. An undersized forward whose numbers fell off considerably this season to just 31 points and who is signed for four more years, Johnson is a trade risk, especially in a cap-strapped market. The odds are that some team would find a way to take him via trade – if he agrees – but if the Lightning get desperate they may have to buy him out. He’s their most reasonable candidate if it comes to that.
Toronto Maple Leafs: None
The Toronto Maple Leafs really don’t have any need for a compliance buyout at this point in time. The team is very young, many players have been extended recently, and arguably none have fallen so short of expectations that they warrant a buyout. Unless the Leafs trade for a bad contract simply to use their compliance buyout, it would be a surprise to see the club get in on the action this off-season.
Vancouver Canucks: Loui Eriksson
The Canucks have wanted to get rid of Eriksson for some time and with a compliance buyout they would be free to do so. The veteran forward has been one of Vancouver’s highest paid players since he joined the club in 2016, yet he has never recorded more than 30 points in a year through four seasons with the Canucks. At odds with coaches and severely underperforming relative to his $6MM AAV, Eriksson has worn out his welcome in Vancouver. However, he still has two years remaining on his contract. The team would be quick to erase that from the books. This buyout is a no-brainer; what is more interesting is whether Eriksson can return to his status as a valuable two-way forward with another team.
Vegas Golden Knights: None
Like the Maple Leafs, the Golden Knights simply don’t have any obvious candidate for a buyout. They have done well with their long-term contracts and have a roster constructed of players who they want in the lineup, including several who they have recently re-signed. That includes Nick Holden, who may be the only player who could have been considered an odd man out but recently took a pay cut to re-sign for two more years with Vegas. No one else jumps out as a player that the club would entertain giving up for free.
Washington Capitals: Nick Jensen
As good as the Capitals are and have been, this one is a toss-up because there are a number of players who could go. T.J. Oshie was brought in to win a Stanley Cup and has accomplished that task. He is still producing at a high level, but could the team cut ties with the 33-year-old while they have the chance rather than face the remaining five years and $28.75MM left on his contract? Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin, both on the wrong side of 30 and both signed for three more years, are in a similar boat. Their scoring is fine relative to their cap hit, but will it continue to be through the length of their contracts? Depending on how much room the Capitals may need to clear, any of these three could be a candidate for a buyout. However, Washington can impact their performance and their locker room far less by opting for Jensen instead. In his first full season with the team, Jensen has not been bad, but he has drawn his fair share of criticism. Jensen’s offense, though not typically a hallmark of his game, has been non-existent and he has been prone to turnovers and blown assignments. If the Capitals need to use a compliance buyout, they can likely find a better use for $7.5MM over the next three years.
Winnipeg Jets: Mathieu Perreault
The Jets have great depth at forward an nearly everyone carries the weight of their contracts. Perreault is an exception. The 32-year-old’s point totals have fallen in each of the past three seasons to just 15 points in 49 games this year. At a cap hit of $4.125, Perreault is not doing enough. He’s not the answer at second-line center and he’s overpaid to play in the bottom-six. There’s no place for Perreault and the team would likely be willing to move on a year early. While Bryan Little has also shown signs of slowing down and his signed for far longer and for more than Perreault, his lack of impact in 2019-20 is tied to injury. Even if injury issues persist, Little’s cap hit does not cause a problem when he is not active, so Perreault still makes more sense a buyout candidate.
While no one in hockey is happy about the current pause on the league season, a few teams may get lucky if a delayed postseason occurs, as it allows players who were injured back in March to be not only healthy but fully recovered by the time play resumes. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel are among that group and now another star forward joins the list. The Vegas Golden Knights’ Mark Stone tells beat writer Gary Lawless that he is “healing up” and “excited to be getting healthy and feeling at a 100 percent.”
Stone initially suffered the lower-body injury back on March 1 and had missed six games for the Knights prior to the season being put on hold. At the time of the league’s suspension on March 12, Stone speculates that he still had about four weeks left of recovery, which would have cut into the beginning of the playoffs. Even if he had rushed back in time for the start of the postseason, Stone would not have been at full strength through at least the first round, if not longer had Vegas advanced. Now ten weeks later, he expects to be totally ready for a possible return.
As Lawless points out, there is no player whose absence hurts the Golden Knights more than Stone. In the first season of an eight-year extension signed with Vegas following his trade from the Ottawa Senators last year, Stone had a team-leading 63 points in 65 games prior to his injury. Stone still leads the team in assists by a wide margin even after missing a number of games. Knowing that Stone will be back for a potential NHL return has to boost the chances of the Knights, who hold the top spot in the Pacific Division and are looking to avenge a first-round exit last season.
Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is set to be one of the more intriguing restricted free agents this offseason. He had set a new career high in goals with 10 just before the suspension of the season while he had a chance at reaching the 40-point mark for the second time in his career. That will have him in line for a sizable raise on his next deal but as he told reporters, including NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, there have been no discussions regarding his next contract.
Sergachev cited the uncertainty surrounding next year’s salary cap as a big factor as to why talks haven’t started yet. Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation is particularly interesting as they have more than $76MM committed to just 15 players for next season already and a levelled off cap won’t be enough to re-sign Sergachev and their other restricted free agents and fill out the rest of their roster. Accordingly, it appears the Lightning will have to move some players out before next season and they may want to wait until the offseason to make those decisions.