The Carolina Hurricanes have just four defensemen signed with at least 100 games worth of NHL experience. That makes their blueline a major question mark going into training camp, but even as we near the end of July, there are still plenty of options out there for teams looking to bolster their defense.
For example, Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson are both still available on the open market. There’s also presumably cheaper options out there like Andrej Meszaros and Jan Hejda.
“There’s been some dialogue with some guys, but we’re still sitting and waiting to see where the numbers go,” Hurricanes GM Ron Francis told the News & Observer. “The guys we’ve talked about are not in a range we’d be comfortable with yet, so we’re keeping an eye on it. I’m not in a hurry to jump in.”
Francis added that as more arbitration eligible players either get judgments or otherwise sign, more players might be made available. Additionally, Jeff Skinner is still reportedly on the block, so Carolina might end up making a more substantial trade before the summer is done.
All that being said, Francis sees some appeal in maintaining the status quo.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have a spot open going into camp,” Francis said. “It sends a good message to our younger guys.”
With James Wisniewski, Justin Faulk, John-Michael Liles, and Ron Hainsey all presumably locks to make the roster, that would leave 2015 fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin, Ryan Murphy, Danny Biega, Michal Jordan, Rasmus Rissanen, and Haydn Fleury to compete for the final three openings.
Restricted free agent Derek Stepan might consume all of the New York Rangers’ remaining cap space.
Ahead of Monday’s arbitration hearing, the 25-year-old forward put in a request for a $7.25 million contract while the Rangers are countering at $5.2 million, per Elliotte Friedman.
While that might sound like a big gap, it’s worth remembering that both have likely chosen their positions strategically, leaving potential room for a compromise. We saw an example of that recently when Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby filed an $8 million request versus Washington’s position at $5.1 million. They ended up agreeing to a five-year, $30.5 million deal. In other words, he’ll come with a $6.1 million annual cap hit.
The Rangers have reportedly already shown a willingness to go above their arbitrator filed price on a long-term deal as they are interested in a six-year contract worth $6.5-6.75 million annually, according to the New York Post. Stepan has countered at $7.25-7.5 million annually for at least seven years.
At the same time, that gap does have major significance to the New York Rangers as they currently have roughly $6.9 million in cap space, per General Fanager. So if the two sides settle close to Stepan’s demands then the Rangers will have essentially no wiggle room going into the season and might even need to make another move to get in a more comfortable cap position.
Stepan had 16 goals and 55 points in 68 contests in 2014-15. He’s never recorded more than 57 points in a single season, although he did have 18 goals and 26 assists in the 48-game 2013 campaign.
The Capitals were able to come to terms with goaltender Braden Holtby before an arbitrator had to rule on his value, but will Washington be able to pull that off again with its final restricted free agent, Marcus Johansson?
“I think they’re status quo from last time,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said of the Johansson contract negotiations, per NHL.com.
Johansson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. He’ll presumably be seeking a decent raise from his old two-year, $4 million contract after recording 20 goals and 47 points last season.
MacLellan is willing to go through the arbitration process if necessary, but of course his hope is to avoid that.
The good news is that Washington has some cap flexibility after inking Holtby to a five-year, $30.5 million contract. If Holtby had been awarded $8 million for the 2015-16 campaign as he was asking an arbitrator for, then signing Johansson while staying under the ceiling might have been a balancing act. As it is, Washington has about $5 million in space.
Though the next Winter Games aren’t until 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there’s already been plenty of speculation about the NHL ending its streak of Olympic participation that started in 1998, especially with the World Cup being revived in 2016.
The World Cup isn’t necessarily a replacement for the Olympics though, as NHLPA director Donald Fehr argued.
“If you look at the FIFA World Cup – and forget FIFA for the moment since they’re not on the high point of everybody’s list these days – what you see is that is the preeminent event,” Fehr told Sportsnet. “It is not the Olympics. I don’t know what’s going to happen in hockey. I think they can both exist. The players really want to play in both.”
It’s worth noting the deal to bring the NHL to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia wasn’t agreed to until seven months before the start of the Games, so it’s entirely possible that it will be a while before we know what will happen with the 2018 Olympics. The World Cup might even be finished before there’s anything definitive regarding the Olympics.
Related: IIHF says getting NHL players to 2018 Olympics ‘will not be easy’
It seems Lou Lamoriello’s departure from New Jersey might be different from Ray Shero’s move to the Devils in a key way.
Since Shero joined the Devils as their general manager, he has leaned on his former employees with the Penguins to help fill important positions. On Friday it was announced that Tom Fitzgerald was leaving the Penguins to become the Devils’ assistant general manager and the Devils’ new head coach, John Hynes, previously worked for Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate.
Lamoriello, who has resigned as president of the Devils to take over as the Maple Leafs’ general manager, doesn’t plan on bringing any members of New Jersey’s staff with him, per the Bergen Record. He doesn’t even anticipate his son, Chris, joining him in Toronto. Chris Lamoriello has been with New Jersey for 18 years and has spent the past 14 serving as the general manager for the Devils’ AHL affiliate. He holds the title of senior vice president of hockey operations.
“Chris is a New Jersey Devil and he’s a good hockey person,” Lamoriello said. “His fate is in Ray’s hands.”
One person from Lamoriello’s past that might join Toronto though is David Conte as the long-time director of scouting was fired in July after Shero took over.