Tomas Kopecky signs four-year, $12 million deal with Florida to help inch closer to salary floor

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The charmed life of Tomas Kopecky continues to roll on. While a member of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 he was part of their Stanley Cup winning team. In Chicago in 2010 he helped Slovakian teammate Marian Hossa lift the Cup as Blackhawks. Now he’s been dealt to Florida and while that seems to be not-so exciting, it’s going to pay off in a big way for him.

Kopecky signed a four-year, $12 million deal  good for a $3 million cap hit with the Panthers today to have him be a contributor to the turnaround of the franchise under GM Dale Tallon. Kopecky making that much money seems outlandish and honestly insane because he finally had a solidly productive season last year punching in 15 goals and 27 assists with the Blackhawks. It was the first time he broke 40 points in his career after only scoring 21 and 19 points the two seasons prior.

The part of this deal that makes it so ridiculous is how it’s helping the Panthers reach the salary floor. While some teams are dealing with how to dance around the salary cap and spending too much money, the Panthers have to spend a lot of money just so they can rightfully play hockey. According to CapGeek, the Panthers have 13 players signed up for next year worth just over $26 million. The salary floor for next season is at $48 million and while the Panthers acquired Brian Campbell last week to help them boost their payroll and play defense, Kopecky’s deal seems to be a gross overpayment to help the team get caught up on the books.

Kopecky did get time last year playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and was able to be somewhat productive while the Blackhawks fought off injuries. In Florida, however, depending on what else they do in free agency or otherwise he could wind up being their second line winger full time. That’s a bit daunting for a team turning things around and banking on a guy who has had just one statistically productive season.

It’s a continual work in progress for the Panthers but as a team that’s not generating a ton of money and being forced to spend at least $48 million on payroll, it’s a rough life as Michael Traikos of The National Post in Canada finds out. Dale Tallon says it’s a challenge he’s eager to tackle.

“We’re excited about this,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told reporters. “It took a lot of pain to get ourselves in this position. We’ve earned the right to do what we need to do to get this franchise turned around.”

Sadly for Tallon, the free agent group this year isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. With Brad Richards as the top guy available and the Panthers in need of a goalie should Tomas Vokoun leave town as a free agent, the Panthers have a lot of work to do either in free agency or through more wheeling and dealing. Panthers fans have been down and out of it for a while, but for the first time in a long time they’ve got a reason to pay attention come July 1.

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.

 

Rangers GM ‘open to anything’ on new Zibanejad contract

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Along with working to fix his team’s defense, the big issue at hand for New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton this offseason is coming to terms with restricted free agents Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad.

Following the NHL draft on Saturday, Gorton was asked where things stand in those talks and he said he was hoping to get something done “rather soon.”

What those contracts will look like, however, seems to be a bit of a mystery and Gorton doesn’t seem to have his mind set on any particular structure as far as it being long-term or a bridge deal.

“We’re open to anything as far as Mika. We want to make a good deal.” Gorton said (via the Daily News).

“It could be short-term, it could be long-term. We’re wide open.”

The Rangers acquired the 24-year-old Zibanejad before the 2016-17 season in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators.

His first year on Broadway was mostly a success when he was healthy, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists in 56 games. That point per game average would have put him on a 54-point pace over 82 games which would have been a new career high. Zibanejad is just now entering what should be his peak years in the NHL and he’s already proven that he can be penciled in for 20 goals and 50 points every year (he’s been close to the pace for three straight years now). Given that there were only 69 forwards in the NHL that topped both 20 goals and 50 points this past season, that is easily first-or second-line production and a valuable asset.

Following the buyout of defenseman Dan Girardi and the trade of forward Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes the Rangers were able to clear out a significant amount of cap space over the past couple of weeks and currently have more than $20 million in cap space with 17 players under contract for this season. That should not only give them more than enough space to re-sign Zibanejad and Fast, but also perhaps take a run at a free agent like defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk. They only have eight players under contract for next season.

NHL teams can begin talking to pending free agents today

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After completing the NHL draft on Saturday the offseason rolls on for the league’s 31 teams on Sunday.

That is the day pending free agents can begin talking to teams around the league to gauge their potential interest in one another. Obviously no contracts can be signed until July 1, and technically there is to be no discussion of contract terms, but the window is open for discussions to begin.

T.J. Oshie re-signing with the Washington Capitals on Friday already removed one of the big-ticket players from the market. But several of his teammates will be available, including forwards Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner.

Shattenkirk is probably the top free agent available on the market and headlines a weak group of defensemen. He is expected to draw heavy interest from the New York Rangers as they look to reshape their defense.

Up front there is Alexander Radulov if the Montreal Canadiens are unable to come to terms on a new contract with him, while it could be the end of an era in San Jose as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are eligible for UFA status on July 1.