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Joffrey Lupul faces Thursday deadline to seek second medical opinion

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Look, if Joffrey Lupul doesn’t take a more official step to play hockey, it doesn’t mean that he was totally bluffing in his since-deleted Instagram complaint about his failed physical with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It could just mean that Lupul doesn’t want to jump through the hoops needed to make it happen.

Still, the option is out there, whether it’s an unpleasant route or not. And Lupul wouldn’t have much time to make something happen.

Multiple reporters note that the CBA allows Lupul, 33, to seek a second medical opinion regarding his failed physical, which would land him on the Leafs’ LTIR.

Again, though, he wouldn’t have long to make that decision; TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Lupul’s deadline is Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

Now, he could theoretically go that route, but note that getting the decision overturned doesn’t necessarily guarantee Lupul a whole lot. TSN’s Bob McKenzie doubts that Lupul will go for it because, even if deemed healthy enough to play, the Maple Leafs might just demote him to the AHL, anyway.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston goes deep on this issue here – including how Lupul might truly feel about his situation – while noting that the Maple Leafs, as an organization, are generally going the “no comment” route.

Johnston also quotes former teammates who believe that Lupul isn’t ready to hang up his skates just yet.

“I think he wants to play hockey and I think he believes he still has the ability to play hockey,” Tyler Bozak said. “It’s something I think he’s striving for.”

If Lupul’s Instagram beef ends up being fruitless, there’s another option, even if it’s not the most appetizing. Lupul could stay in shape to the best of his ability over the next year, and then try to land a spot on an NHL roster next summer, as his current contract expires after 2017-18.

That would amount to a lot of time away from NHL rinks, yet we’ve seen similar situations before, even if it would mean accepting a PTO like Ryan Malone surprisingly did this summer.

Overall, it’s understandable that Lupul is frustrated. There’s only so much he can do about it, really, and his current option might not really open the doors he wants to walk through, anyway.

It makes you wonder if issues like his might be part of the next CBA discussions.

Deep defense and lots of questions: Examining Arizona Coyotes’ cap situation

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A shift is happening with the Arizona Coyotes, and if this summer is any indication, this might not be a slow evolution.

Faces of the franchise such as Shane Doan, Mike Smith, and (former) head coach Dave Tippett are gone, but just as importantly, the Coyotes are beginning to use their cap space to add NHL-ready players, rather than absorbing other team’s mistakes or problem salaries in exchange for assets.

This post discusses how the acquisition of Jason Demers makes this Coyotes team one to take more seriously in 2017-18, but let’s go the extra mile and examine the team’s salary structure.

(For cap analysis on a growing number of NHL teams, click here.)

That defense

Let’s start with a unit that’s rising among the league’s best, though still a tier below, say, the Nashville Predators’ impressive group.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 26, $5.5 million cap hit through 2018-19

You know a defenseman is a deadly scorer when a 12-goal year is a letdown. For “OEL,” 2016-17 probably qualified as much, and yet he’s still an off-the-charts guy. One of the potential bonuses of a competent Coyotes team would be Ekman-Larsson getting more attention as a true star on the blueline.

About the only problem with Ekman-Larsson is that, like fellow high-scoring Swede Erik Karlsson, that bargain deal won’t last much longer. OEL will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Coyotes snatched him up in the summer of 2018. Really, they’d do so if they’re as smart as they seem.

Alex Goligoski – 32, $5.475M through 2020-21

For all the excitement that surrounds the Dallas Stars seemingly every summer, it sure seems like they might have dropped the ball by letting “Gogo” go. He’s a transition gem and an underrated all-around player; hopefully his game will age well, but at the moment, Goligoski’s a very nice value for Arizona. With 36 points, he wasn’t far behind OEL last season.

Niklas Hjalmarsson – 30, $4.1M through 2018-19

Maybe Connor Murphy will pan out for Chicago, but the Coyotes were reasonable in trading some potential for a “sure thing.” It’s difficult to believe that Hjalmarsson is only 30, considering his remarkable achievements.

As one of the best examples of a modern “defensive defenseman” alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Coyotes can lean on Hjalmarsson for tough matchups, freeing more offensive-minded guys to focus on scoring.

The only bummer is that he, too, only has two years remaining on his resounding bargain of a contract.

Demers – 29, $3.938M through 2020-21

Personally, shaving off 12.5 percent of Demers’ cap hit makes it more palatable by an almost odd degree. He’s another Coyotes defenseman who subtly impresses, and at a reasonable price, one made even more reasonable in parting ways with an expendable piece in Jamie McGinn.

The Coyotes have room to either fill in gaps or, if they need to, replace players who get too expensive.

Jakob Chychrun suffered an injury setback, yet there’s still time to assess where he figures into the bigger picture. Adding some firepower also allows him to ease into the mix in a more organic fashion. GM John Chayka can determine if Luke Schenn, Kevin Connauton, and/or Adam Clendening figure into the equation, as all of those guys are on expiring contracts.

Few teams enjoy defense corps as promising as the Coyotes,’ which must be frustrating for other teams, considering that many of these players were available through trades or free agency (or falling a bit in the draft, in the case of Chychrun).

Flexibility but uncertainty in net

In many cases, you’ll see a team immediately sign an acquired goalie to a new deal or an extension. One fresh example is Frederik Andersen, who signed a five-year, $25M contract before he stopped a single puck for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Chayka didn’t do that, or at least hasn’t done so yet, after acquiring Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers.

That could cost the Coyotes some extra cash if Raanta converts his strong backup numbers to full-time expertise, yet it also gives Arizona room to maneuver if Raanta doesn’t pan out. This also opens the door for Louis Domingue to prove that he’s either a) more than a backup or b) a backup worthy of another contract.

Cheap, young forwards

The Coyotes’ forward group feels a bit like Derek Stepan, Dave Bolland‘s cap hit, and a bunch of potential.

Max Domi enters the final year of his rookie deal with considerable dollars to either gain or lose, especially if Arizona rides it out without an early extension. Anthony Duclair is just one of other forwards with something to prove.

Dylan Strome could be a nice little bargain if he finally works things out. The Coyotes managed to give him a look without burning a year off of his entry-level contract, so they could get three years at a bargain rate if it all starts to “click” at the NHL level.

Really, the Coyotes are counting on some ifs turning into an emphatic “Yes” or two. Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Brendan Perlini all have at least two years left on their ELCs, opening the door for the Coyotes to at least fill out roster spots at a discount.

How effective can this group – which also includes some fledgling veterans – be as soon as 2017-18? If nothing else, they should get a real boost from defensemen who can move the puck.

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Overall, the Coyotes are in an intriguing spot, even if they’ll need to battle to make the playoffs.

From a long-term perspective, the real question might come down to the team’s internal budget. If this team starts to make serious gains, will ownership be able to pay up to keep OEL, Raanta, Domi, and other players?

If the answer isn’t positive, the Coyotes might find themselves in rebuild stages over and over.

At least the foundation looks sturdy this time around.

The Capitals would like to see Tom Wilson score a few more goals this season

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Tom Wilson is the classic “love him or hate him” type of player depending on which team he happens to be playing for.

If he is playing on your team, you probably like him. If he is not … you probably hate him.

Wilson has spent the first four years of his career playing in the Washington Capitals’ bottom-six, playing an extremely physical brand of hockey that can sometimes come close to crossing the line. He is also a very good defensive player and penalty killer, a fact that can sometimes get overlooked due to his style of play and the punishing hits.

With the Capitals roster getting ripped apart around the edges this summer due to salary cap restrictions there are a couple of openings in the team’s top-six forward group thanks to the departures of veteran forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.

Wilson would like to take one of those spots, but he knows he needs to add more consistent offense to do it.

The Capitals would like to see that from him as well.

Here is coach Barry Trotz talking about what he wants to see from Wilson this season, via Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post.

“Like all our young players, we’ve been trying to continually have growth with Tom,” Trotz said. “The next step in his evolution — he has that physical element, he’s reliable, he can kill penalties, he can play late-game situations, he’s developed that — now he’s got to find that offensive side. We’ve got to get more production out of Tom Wilson. We’re going to need some more goals out of him. He’s got to get into double digits this year.

He went on to say little improvements like that from players like Wilson are how the team can chip away and deal with the players they lost over the summer, just getting a few extra goals from players that are still on the roster.

Wilson’s production has been incredibly consistent during his career and has averaged about seven goals and about 18 total points per 82 games. He has never scored more than seven goals in a season, the mark he has reached in each of the past two seasons. He did add three goals in the first-round of the Capitals’ series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a two-goal effort in their Game 4 win in Toronto.

The Capitals are going to look like a very different team this season after losing Williams, Johansson, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk over the summer and only bringing in Devante Smith-Pelly and Alex Chiasson on a tryout deal. Still, with a core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen and what is probably one of the top-three goalies on the planet they should still be a fierce contender in the Eastern Conference.

They may not bring home a third consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, but they are not going away just yet, either.

Lupul calls out Maple Leafs on Instagram for cheating

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For the second time this week an NHL player is accusing the Toronto Maple Leafs of some shady dealings.

The Maple Leafs announced this week that forward Joffrey Lupul failed his physical for the upcoming season, the second year in a row that has happened for him.

On Sunday night Lupul posted a picture on Instagram — apparently of himself snowboarding — and then went into the comments where he seemed to argue that he is not injured and is ready to play, saying “I’m ready … just awaiting the call” and “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul has deleted the cheating comment, but here is a screengrab, via TSN.

Lupul has not played for the Maple Leafs since the 2015-16 season and is under contract for one more season with a salary cap hit of $5.25 million.

Placing him on the long-term injured list gives the Maple Leafs an extra roster spot as well as some salary cap relief. The Maple Leafs have had a tendency to put their unwanted contracts  — most famously defenseman Stephane Robidas — on LTIR.

On Monday NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN’s Darren Dreger that the league isn’t in a position to comment on Lupul’s accusation at this time but “that may or may not change when we know more.” The Maple Leafs did not comment.

Lupul, who will turn 34 later this week, has dealt with injury issues throughout his career but has been a very reliable scorer when healthy, scoring at least 20 goals five different times in his career. He has 205 goals and 420 total points in 701 regular season games as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers and Maple Leafs.

This situation comes just a couple of days after defenseman Jared Cowen called his buyout situation with the Maple Leafs “a joke of a process.”

Cowen never actually played a game for the Maple Leafs after he was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators a couple of years ago and was then bought out for salary cap relief. Cowen argued that he was injured at the time and was not eligible to be bought out, but he ended up losing the arbitration case as well as $3 million.

He is in Colorado Avalanche camp this season on a tryout contract.

The Panthers have made a lot of changes and shed a lot of salary

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Dale Tallon continued his summer-long overhaul of the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening when he traded veteran defenseman Jason Demers to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Jamie McGinn.

It was an exciting addition for the Coyotes and a pretty eye-opening trade for the Panthers.

First, even though he was coming off of a down year in 2016-17, Demers can still be a very good second-pairing defenseman and it creates a pretty big opening on their blue line.

Meanwhile, McGinn probably tops out as a third-or fourth-line winger. Looking at it strictly from a talent and upside perspective the Panthers would seem to be getting the short end of the trade on paper. The only thing it really does do for them is save a lot of salary over the next few years.

That is something has been a theme with a lot of the Panthers’ moves this summer.

Demers is still signed for another four years at a salary cap hit of $4.5 million per season.

The Panthers are retaining 12 percent of that salary and will pay around $575,000 of it per season.

McGinn is signed for two more years at $3.3 million per season.

So while there are only marginal savings for the Panthers in the short-term, once McGinn’s deal is finished (assuming he is not traded before then) the Panthers will shed around $4 million per year in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

That is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Panthers’ changes this past summer.

They decided to part ways with veteran forward Jaromir Jagr and opted not to bring him back after paying him $4 million a season ago. They also bought out the final year of Jussi Jokinen‘s contract, a move that saved them $2.7 million.

Along with losing Jonathan Marchessault — their leading goal-scorer last season — to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, they traded veteran forward Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights for a draft pick, dumping his entire five-year, $25 million contract in the process.

In total, five of their top-eight point producers from a year ago (Marchessault, Jagr, Smith, Jokinen, Demers) are now gone.

When you add up the salaries from all of the trades and buyouts it ended up taking $12.45 million in salary off the cap this season alone (and that does not include not re-signing Jagr) with only McGinn’s $3.3 million coming in to replace them.

The Panthers did dip into free agency and replace some of that by paying $6.5 million this season ($4 million to Evgeni Dadonov and $2.5 million to Radim Vrbata), and they do still have a significant portion of their young core, including Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad all signed to long-term deals.

At this moment they have the third smallest cap figure in the league for this season, ahead of only the Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes.

With Jagr, Jokinen, Demers, Marchessault, and Smith all getting shipped out, with only Dadonov, Vrbata and McGinn coming in it, seems pretty clear management was not only trying to dump some salary, but also shed away a lot of the complementary players that were a part of what was a bitterly disappointing 2016-17 season.

Will it work? That remains to be seen.

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly.com)