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.

Rangers make changes after loss in Anaheim

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The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.

Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.

The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.

As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”