- While many expected that veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland would end up staying with the Golden Knights, he told Ben Gotz of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he still received one-year offers from other teams this summer. However, he ultimately waited for Vegas to clear out David Clarkson’s contract before signing a one-year, bonus-laden deal to stick around. While he’ll be 38 by the end of next season, Engelland admitted that he’s not viewing the upcoming campaign as his final year and that he anticipates playing another season beyond this one, preferably in Vegas.
Golden Knights Rumors
The bonus structure for Deryk Engelland’s new contract has been reported by PuckPedia, and there are certainly some achievable milestones for the veteran defenseman. Engelland will receive a $300K bonus for playing in ten games, and an additional $100K at the 20 and 30 game thresholds. He’ll also get an additional $100K if he finishes the season in the top-five on the Vegas Golden Knights in ice time, an $100K for making the playoffs, and $25K for each successful round.
The relatively easy bonuses are another reason why the Golden Knights didn’t want to be using long-term injured reserve if they can avoid it, hence the trade of David Clarkson’s contract earlier this week. If they were using LTIR and Engelland reached the bonuses, they would be applied as a cap overage in 2020-21 giving the team even less room for additional spending. Obviously $800K in overages isn’t the end of the world, but for a team like Vegas who is expected to be cap-strapped for some time they can make a difference.
- Ben Hutton’s agent Andy Scott of Octagon Hockey spoke to Rick Dhaliwal on Sportsnet radio, and explained that he has no doubt the free agent defenseman will be signed before the year starts. Hutton has “plenty of offers” according to Scott, though nothing has been worked out so far. Scott also gave his take on the Brock Boeser situation (who is represented by fellow Octagon agent Ben Hankinson) explaining that “everyone is taking it slow” in the market right now. Boeser is one of a huge number of star restricted free agents still without contracts as August nears.
- The conversation around Vancouver Canucks forward Loui Eriksson continues, this time with Harman Dayal of The Athletic (subscription required) exploring potential trade options in the form of LTIR contracts coming back. The most eye-popping suggestion is one that revolves around Ryan Kesler, who is a polarizing figure in Vancouver. The veteran center heard boos for his entire career with the Anaheim Ducks whenever they traveled to Vancouver after forcing his way out of the Canucks organization in 2014, but is not expected to ever play again after debilitating hip injuries and multiple surgeries. Eriksson still has three years remaining on his contract which carries a $6MM cap hit.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have acquired the contract of retired forward David Clarkson from the Vegas Golden Knights. The deal will see Garret Sparks go to the Golden Knights while Toronto will also receive a 2020 fourth-round pick. Clarkson has one year remaining on his contract and carries a $5.25MM cap hit. He will spend the year on long-term injured reserve. With the extra space, the Golden Knights have re-signed Deryk Engelland to a one-year $700K contract that also includes up to $800K in performance bonuses.
A deal like this appears confusing on the surface, given Toronto’s cap crunch and the fact that they still need to sign Mitch Marner. The most likely reason for it though is that the team is already planning on going deep into LTIR with Nathan Horton’s contract (and perhaps Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott who are both on the shelf to start the year following various surgeries) and can use the Clarkson deal to go even further. This is not necessarily the case for the Golden Knights, who were well over the cap before moving Clarkson and needed to shed salary before the end of the offseason. Technically the Maple Leafs could wait until the first day of the season to sign Marner, avoiding offseason LTIR (which has a slightly different calculation for how much is added to the cap ceiling) in order to open enough room. Clarkson and Horton have a combined $10.55MM cap hit which, depending on how close the Maple Leafs can get their roster to the current $81.5MM salary cap ceiling, would be added on top to give them a new ceiling of ~$92MM.
Clarkson only has $1MM of actual salary remaining on his contract, but was making things much more difficult for the Golden Knights as they approach the season. If they can avoid it, it is almost always better for a team to not be using long-term injured reserve space as it can cause huge roster issues if you get into injury trouble and has the potential to cause cap overages from performance bonuses. By moving Clarkson, the Golden Knights are actually now projected to be a little more than $1MM under the cap ceiling, though they still have Nikita Gusev to sign (or trade).
Vegas also adds Sparks in the deal, giving the team a legitimate third (or perhaps second) option in net behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban. The former AHL Goaltender of the Year has just a $750K one-way contract, making him more than affordable if the team decides Subban is not up to the task or someone suffers an injury. Sparks has played in 37 NHL games, recording an .898 save percentage. His numbers in the minor leagues though are spectacular, meaning he may have more to give at the highest level. The 26-year old goaltender will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Maple Leafs had seemingly moved on by re-signing Michael Hutchinson and bringing in Michal Neuvirth on a professional tryout.
Interestingly, a deal like this may not only open up enough room for Marner to sign. Depending on what the Maple Leafs do, they may be able to clear enough space to fit in Jake Gardiner, who remains unsigned despite coming into the offseason as arguably the best defenseman in unrestricted free agency. Gardiner has indicated his desire to stay if possible, though obviously nothing is official at this point.
Basically, the Maple Leafs admitted to themselves that they would need to use long-term injured reserve once again this season and have pushed even more chips to the middle. This kind of a move is only possible because Auston Matthews has now graduated out of his entry-level deal, which brought with it the opportunity for millions of dollars in performance bonuses. It’s important to note though that this is not just free cap space, but an intricate transaction that requires the team to be very careful with how they use their roster throughout the season. The Maple Leafs can afford to do things like this because of the organization’s financial might, an advantage some other teams do not have.
The Vegas Golden Knights still haven’t come to an agreement with Nikita Gusev, but there is coming a time when they’ll need to make a final decision on the restricted free agent. Gusev’s Russian agent Yuriy Nikolayev spoke to Championat and explained (via Google translate) that there is a “certain deadline” when they will turn to negotiate with SKA St. Petersburg, who currently own his rights in the KHL.
Gusev signed his entry-level contract with the Golden Knights just a few months ago and burned through it without actually ever playing a game for the team. The team issued him a qualifying offer as an RFA, but haven’t yet been able to come to an agreement on a new contract. The only bit of leverage Gusev really has in this position is a possible return to the KHL, as he was not eligible for arbitration and cannot sign an offer sheet.
- According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reached a settlement with Jake Dotchin on the grievance he filed after seeing his contract terminated last fall. Dotchin allegedly showed up to training camp out of shape, causing the Lightning to place him on unconditional waivers and cut ties with him. He eventually signed with the Anaheim Ducks and played 20 games in the NHL last season, but had filed a grievance through the NHLPA for his lost salary. Smith reports that the two sides settled without having to go to an arbitration, which potentially could have set a precedent for other cases in the future. The details have not been disclosed.
- Scott Wheeler of The Athletic (subscription required) has released his top-50 drafted prospect list, and recent first overall selection Jack Hughes comes in on top. The list includes 11 others from the 2019 draft, but is also led by names like Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar who made their NHL debuts at the end of last season. Notably the Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers each have two players in the top-10, giving them plenty of hope for the future—and the present, if Makar and Kaapo Kakko have anything to say about it.
Oddsmakers have released preliminary odds for the 2019-20 NHL season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights at the lead as the two teams most likely to reach the Stanley Cup Finals next season, released by SuperbookUSA. The Tampa Bay Lightning are projected to lead the league again in points with 108.5, while Vegas is expected to lead the Western Conference with 103.5 points.
Here are the rest of the projections:
Anaheim Ducks – 80.5
Arizona Coyotes – 91.5
Boston Bruins – 100.5
Buffalo Sabres – 83.5
Calgary Flames – 96.5
Carolina Hurricanes – 94.5
Chicago Blackhawks – 90.5
Colorado Avalanche – 100.5
Columbus Blue Jackets – 82.5
Dallas Stars – 96.5
Detroit Red Wings – 76.5
Edmonton Oilers – 85.5
Florida Panthers – 96.5
Los Angeles Kings – 74.5
Minnesota Wild – 84.5
Montreal Canadiens – 89.5
Nashville Predators – 97.5
New Jersey Devils – 88.5
New York Islanders – 94.5
New York Rangers – 88.5
Ottawa Senators – 68.5
Philadelphia Flyers – 90.5
Pittsburgh Penguins – 95.5
San Jose Sharks – 94.5
St. Louis Blues – 96.5
Tampa Bay Lightning – 108.5
Toronto Maple Leafs – 102.5
Vancouver Canucks – 88.5
Vegas Golden Knights – 103.5
Washington Capitals – 97.5
Winnipeg Jets – 96.5
- SportsDay’s Mathew DeFranks writes that despite comments made last season by Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, there was little consequence to that this offseason as the Stars were quite successful this offseason as they managed to sign Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera. The scribe writes that in the end, free agents looked at three things when it comes to Dallas. First, they are Stanley Cup contenders. Second, they had plenty of cap space and finally, Dallas is a destination that many players prefer to live in, especially in the winter.
- The Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James writes that Detroit Red Wings defenseman Dennis Cholowski spoke at a hockey youth camp recently and stated that he is focused on fixing his defensive liabilities in hopes of returning to the Red Wings’ lineup next season. Cholowski looked like a franchise-changing defenseman early on but was eventually demoted to the Grand Rapids Griffins due to his lack of success on the defensive side of his game. The 21-year-old scored seven goals and 16 points in 52 games last season but also had a team-worst plus-minus at minus-20. “Having to go down to Grand Rapids was a disappointment a little bit; I guess it would be for anybody,” Cholowski said. “In order to play you have to be good defensively and then that generates the offense. So I’m working on the D-zone and hopefully I take those things I learned into camp this year.”
- The Flames added some grit in yesterday’s acquisition of winger Milan Lucic but they’ve been on the lookout for a physical presence for a while now. Sportsnet’s Eric Francis reports that Calgary believed they had a deal in place with winger Ryan Reaves last summer before he changed his mind and opted to re-sign with Vegas instead. Considering the Golden Knights still need to shed some salary, it’s likely that they would have spoken with the Flames about Reaves although with Lucic now in the fold, that’s probably doubtful to happen at this point.
The Vegas Golden Knights have locked up one of their minor league defensemen, signing Jake Bischoff to a three-year contract through the 2021-22 season. The deal carries an average annual value of just $716,667, making Bischoff an incredibly cheap depth option for the team. The 24-year old defenseman will be an unrestricted free agent at the deal’s end.
Bischoff came to the Golden Knights as part of the team’s expansion draft trade with the New York Islanders, and has spent the last two seasons in the minor leagues. A former star at the University of Minnesota, Bischoff has a polished two-way game that has him knocking on the NHL door. Prior to this offseason the Golden Knights were overloaded with depth defensemen though, meaning there was limited opportunity to get into any actual game action. Bischoff made the Golden Knights out of camp last year but failed to suit up for a single NHL game.
This time around though that might not be the case. Vegas currently has just five other defensemen on one-way contracts, meaning Bischoff will be battling with the likes of Zach Whitecloud and Jimmy Schuldt for playing time. That is of course if they even keep the rest of the group, which is certainly not a guarantee given they need to clear some cap room at some point in the future. Nick Holden’s $2.2MM cap hit seems like an obvious choice, though that would only limit their NHL experience even further. Deryk Engelland is expected to sign with the Golden Knights before the season begins, adding another name into the competition for players like Bischoff.
Just a few moments after the announcement of his scheduled arbitration hearing, Malcolm Subban won’t need it anymore. The young goaltender has re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights on a one-year deal worth $850K. Golden Knights executive George McPhee released this statement:
We are pleased to announce this one-year contract for Malcolm. He’s been a valuable contributor to our team over the last two seasons. We are excited to continue to work with Malcolm and help him reach his full potential as an NHL goaltender.
Subban, 25, is set to return as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup next season and get another chance at really establishing himself in the NHL. Though he has played 43 games for the Golden Knights the last two seasons, he has just a 21-14-4 record and .906 save percentage. While that’s good enough to start the odd game, it’s not exactly positioning himself to take over as the full-time starter should Fleury’s age catch up with him at some point. If he ever wants that role, he’ll have to improve his consistency dramatically this year.
For the Golden Knights though, it was unlikely they were going to find a substantially better option on the open market for this type of contract. The near-minimum salary is exactly what they needed as they continue to deal with cap issues, and if another opportunity presents itself Subban’s deal can be entirely buried in the minor leagues. Betting that the 2012 first-round pick can improve as he enters the usual prime goaltending years isn’t a bad one either, especially knowing that depth goaltending hits waivers frequently throughout the year.
Subban will be a restricted free agent again next summer with arbitration rights.
A player who a few short months ago was simply excited to finally be in North America and looking forward to playing for the Golden Knights is now in the middle of a high-pressure negotiation that could force him to be traded for the third time before even making his NHL debut. Nikita Gusev finally made the jump this spring after a phenomenal KHL career and the Russian forward was hoping to take the next step of his career with Vegas. However, the 27-year-old scorer also sought fair value, burning his entry-level deal to negotiate a fair contract. The problem is that the Knights lack the space to meet even modest demands, currently over the cap and with other players to sign. The question now is whether Gusev becomes a casualty of the cap crunch or whether Vegas is willing to move other pieces to retain him.
The Athletic’s Jesse Granger reports that the Golden Knights and Gusev’s camp are currently $2MM apart in terms of AAV on a new contract. Gusev has long been rumored to be seeking at least $4MM annually, while Granger believes the offer on the table is two years at $2MM. Granger estimates that Vegas has just over $2.5MM of cap space to work with after moving David Clarkson to the LTIR, if they make no other moves. However, Gusev is not the only player in need of a new contract, as backup goalie Malcolm Subban, standout collegiate defender Jimmy Schuldt, and potentially veteran leader Deryk Engelland are all in need of extensions. Even if Gusev were to accept the current offer or potentially even if he were to be traded, the Knights would still need to make a move to clear out cap space, so another deal is nearly unavoidable. Granger wonders if the hold up in negotiations is simply the calculus of who Vegas would have to move out to meet Gusev’s demands.
The longer that talks drag on, the more likely a Gusev trade becomes. The dynamic winger is not without fans around the league who would be willing to take a chance at his current asking price. The Hockey News’ Steven Ellis names five teams that have both the interest and the means in cap space and trade capital to acquire Gusev: the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, and Edmonton Oilers. Unsurprisingly, three of those five teams – Ottawa, New Jersey, and Columbus – are among the bottom five in the league in payroll and would have no concerns about paying Gusev. Montreal just took a big swing and miss at Sebastian Aho on an offer sheet, so they’re clearly willing to pay up for scoring as well. Edmonton would be a tight squeeze, but the Oilers could desperately use more forward talent to surround Connor McDavid. Ottawa could be most appealing to Gusev if he want to become a team’s centerpiece and boost his public image, while the upstart Devils may be his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup as soon as possible. However, Gusev’s preferences will matter little to Vegas if they do choose to move him, likely opting for the best package of picks and prospects they can find.
A resolution won’t be easy to come by, although both Granger and Ellis agree that the Golden Knights would be better served by keeping Gusev. If the team can figure out their cap situation, perhaps by moving the contracts of non-core players like Ryan Reaves and Nick Holden or Jon Merrill, then keeping Gusev is the ideal move given his ceiling and the potential for Vegas to have the most formidable forward corps in the league. Moving Gusev will likely bring back a nice return in building blocks, but at the cost of could-be superstar. It is not an easy choice for Vegas, whereas Gusev holds all the leverage as a KHL icon but unproven NHL commodity just waiting for his chance to break out, in Vegas or otherwise. So long as he gets paid a fair wage, Gusev is likely willing to begin his NHL career anywhere.
A week into free agency, the vast majority of PHR’s Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents are under contract. Unsurprisingly, many of those left unsigned are on the wrong side of 30 or even at or approaching 40. Veterans tend to be later additions in free agency, as teams aren’t rushing to sign them to long-term deals to be core pieces, but rather seek to use them to plug holes in the lineup after the fact. As of now, there are nine names in the Top 50 that are legitimate candidates for retirement. Some have offers on the table and are taking their time to make a decision, while other may not have much of a market and could have to choose between a PTO or calling it a career. How many will choose retirement this summer?
Justin Williams, 37, enjoyed a tremendous 53-point season with the Carolina Hurricanes this past season and looked far from done. GM Don Waddell hinted that the captain will return next season, but until pen meets paper it remains a question mark. Williams was a key piece of the Hurricanes’ run to the Eastern Conference Final last season and would be a major loss for the team. However, he could opt to go out on top as a player who has seen very little drop-off in production through his 30’s and hit his highest point total since 2011-12 last season. Williams can still play, but the question is whether he wants to.
Joe Thornton, 40, not only wants to play next season, but wants to play several more years. The future Hall of Famer has already had an illustrious career, but has yet to win that elusive Stanley Cup. Thornton would like to return to the San Jose Sharks, one of only two teams he’s played for in his 21-year career, and the Sharks should be able to find the space to bring him back after moving out salary via trade and free agency departures. However, Thornton’s asking price will play a part – he did top 50 points again last season – as will the Sharks’ interest in bringing back another retirement threat. Patrick Marleau, 39, left San Jose two years ago to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has since been bought out and all signs point to a desire to return to the Sharks. These two legendary Sharks are both capable of continuing their NHL careers, but can San Jose fit them both and are either willing to sign elsewhere at this point in their careers?
Brian Boyle, 34, enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2018-19 and netted a second-round pick at the trade deadline. He clearly still has value as a big, smart two-way forward, but the lack of attention he has garnered thus far in free agency is curious. Boyle did not make as much of an impact in Nashville post-trade as he did in New Jersey and teams may be skeptical of his production moving forward. Between a cold market and recent health concerns, Boyle may be considering calling it a career while he’s still considered an elite defensive forward. However, it would be a surprise if there isn’t a team in the NHL who could still use Boyle’s ability.
Dion Phaneuf, 34, is fresh off of a buyout and should be available at a bargain rate as he continues to cash paychecks from the Los Angeles Kings. Phaneuf stated earlier this off-season that he would be happy to land with a contender, but is also open to taking on a mentor role with a young team. That would seemingly make him a candidate to join a number of D-needy teams. Yet, a week into free agency there has been almost no noise surrounding Phaneuf. The veteran still plays a strong checking game, but his offense and mobility fell off a cliff last season, resulting in drastic career lows in production and ice time. Teams may be hesitant to invest at his current asking price. Phaneuf may be looking at a decision between a short-term, minimum deal or walking away.
Ben Lovejoy, 35, is also coming off an uninspiring season. The Dallas Stars still felt he was worth a deadline gamble, but Lovejoy failed to make much of an impact offensively with either the Stars or Devils pre-trade. An experienced journeyman defenseman, Lovejoy still plays a strong defensive game and has great awareness in his own zone. However, when it comes to moving the puck he can be prone to turnovers and when asked to contribute offensively, he offers little. At this point in his career, Lovejoy is an ideal No. 7 or 8 defenseman. However, does he want to continue his playing career only to be used sparingly as a depth player? That’s the question.
Thomas Vanek, 35, is a tricky case. While his 36 points this season marked a career low, it also came in just 64 games and was one of the top marks for the Detroit Red Wings. Vanek has been a tough player to get a read on in recent years because he has moved around so much and played in a variety of roles. The eye test, combined with a plethora of rumors so far this summer, suggest that he can keep playing. But does a decorated veteran really want to continue being a hired gun and deadline deal year after year? If Vanek can find some security in a short-term contract, he will stick around in the NHL and likely continue to be a great value as a player capable of 50 points. However, the respected veteran may also be ready to call it a career if the right fit doesn’t exist.
Niklas Kronwall, 38, and Deryk Engelland, 37, are both in the same boat. They will either return to their current teams – the Red Wings and Golden Knights respectively – or they’ll retire. Neither is looking to move at this point in their careers, nor can they command salaries that their teams cannot pay. Instead, the duo are both valued for their leadership and loyalty and can still play well enough in a regular role or, more likely, thrive in a depth role. The question for both is simply how much they have left in the tank and whether it’s time to quit while they’re ahead.
So what do you think? Nine players, all with good reason to retire but also to keep playing, with various market factors at work. How many suit up in the NHL next season and how many make a final announcement in the coming weeks?