NHL has reason to fight for maximum contract lengths

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NHL owners and general managers need to be protected from themselves. This much we know, and the league doesn’t deny it.

Even the last CBA – the one with the hard salary cap that was supposed to be bulletproof – had loopholes that GMs exploited to sign free agents.

The most notable loophole allowed teams to offer “back-diving” contracts that gave players lots of money up front and practically none as the term expired. Not only did these deals artificially deflate the cap hit by tacking on years past a player’s probable retirement date, it also gave the player the bulk of his money sooner than later, which is better than the opposite.

It’s hard to imagine those back-diving contracts will exist once a new CBA is signed. The owners will fight too hard for them to be nixed.

However, some observers think owners will stand less firmly on another demand, that being maximum contract lengths of five years.

Under the last CBA, there was no such thing as a maximum contract length. Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick DiPietro signed for 15 years each. Shea Weber got 14. All told, 16 players notched deals for 10 years or more.

Players like long-term deals because they offer security. NHL contracts are guaranteed, so once they’re signed they can’t be canceled, even if the player stops producing or gets hurt.

Which brings us to our point: If the salary cap restricts how much a player can earn and there’s no way to front load deals, what do you think a prized free agent is going to ask for in negotiations if there’s no cap on contract lengths?

The answer is term. If only because there’s nothing else to ask for.

And if meeting that demand is the only way one team can beat out another team to sign the player, he’ll get it. (Let’s face it, GMs know they can be fired tomorrow, so what do they care if the team has a problem down the road? See: moral hazard.)

Long-term contracts aren’t necessarily a terrible thing, but believe it or not there have been athletes that got a little too comfortable once they cashed in on a big deal.

There have also been players whose health issues kept them off the ice. (Or, in the case of DiPietro, severely restricted their time on it.)

Maybe a few long-term contracts gone wrong is simply the price owners will have to pay to get a new CBA. And there are probably owners and GMs that don’t want five-year limits; they want to lock up their stars as long as possible.

Then again, maybe it’s a battle NHL commissioner Gary Bettman thinks is winnable (the NBA won it), so he might as well win it.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.

Sweeney shares offseason plans for Bruins

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The Boston Bruins had a relatively successful season, getting back to the playoffs after narrowly missing them the past two years.

But another interesting summer awaits GM Don Sweeney, who has a number of areas he’d like to improve.

From CSN New England:

Sweeney listed the “middle of the [forward] lineup, transition-minded defensemen and the backup goaltender position” as places he had in mind for offseason upgrades. Those were glaring areas of need throughout the regular season and postseason. 

More specifically on Sweeney’s to-do list: a left wing to be paired with David Krejci, a revamping of a third line that underachieved far too often and another top-four defenseman capable of moving the puck to go along with a more dependable backup goaltender situation than the Jekyll and Hyde performance from Anton Khudobin last season.

Boston’s pending unrestricted free agents include Drew Stafford, Dominic Moore, and John-Michael Liles, the latter of whom turns 37 in November.

At some point, the Bruins will need to find a replacement for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara. But the NHL’s oldest defenseman still has one year left on his contract, and he says he’d like to play beyond that.

To start next season, the Bruins could go with a top four of Chara, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy, two lefties and two righties. Assuming they don’t re-sign Liles, adding another left shot for the bottom pairing seems an attainable goal for Sweeney. Adding another top-four d-man could be tough, though.

Another situation to watch is the one with Ryan Spooner, the 25-year-old forward who found his way into Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse in the playoffs. Spooner is a pending RFA and arbitration eligible. He can be good offensively, but without the puck he’s still tough to trust.

Sweeney did not share his plan for Spooner with reporters, but it’s safe to say the player’s future with the Bruins is uncertain.

Panthers looking for ‘modern day guy’ as next head coach

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There are just two coaching vacancies left — in Buffalo and Florida, respectively — and on Thursday, Panthers GM Dale Tallon outlined what the club is looking for in its next bench boss.

“We’re looking for a modern day guy, a good communicator and a good teacher,” Tallon said, per WQAM radio. “Someone who is firm, but fair and can think outside the box a little bit, because creativity is important too as far as how you differentiate yourself from other teams playing a similar system.”

To that end, the Panthers have already interviewed one candidate — University of Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Sportsnet reported Florida spoke with him on Monday.

Montgomery, 47, has spent the last three years at Denver, building one of college hockey’s most elite programs. This year’s squad was anchored by Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, U.S. junior shootout hero Troy Terry and, perhaps most interestingly, freshman scoring sensation Henrik Borgstrom — Florida’s first-round pick at last year’s draft.

Montgomery aside, Tallon and the Panthers sound like they’re casting a wide net to find Tom Rowe’s replacement.

The club reportedly reached out to Vancouver with interest in former bench boss Willie Desjardins. The Miami Herald floated the possibility of bringing in ex-Habs coach Michel Therrien, who resides in South Florida. Montreal radio station 91.9 Sports also connected Therrien to the gig.

Put it all together, and the coaching decision doesn’t appear to be a rush job. Tallon all but cemented that last month, when he said there “are some candidates that are in the playoffs that we can’t talk to,” adding he might wait “until at least mid-June” to make a hire.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.