Checking out the Blackhawks top candidates to be traded for cap space

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Yesterday, James got into the salary cap woes facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, their issues are many and their answers to solving those problems all point towards further disbanding the team that just won the franchise’s first Cup since 1961.

If something is going to be done and players are going to be moved out of town, who will it end up being? Let’s take a look at the players that could, potentially, be on the block.

Huet3.jpgCristobal Huet – (contract: 2 years with $5.625 million cap hit)

I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t just get Huet out of the way first and foremost. Huet’s contract is the main reason to want to get him out of town by any means necessary. Huet’s cap hit is $5.625 million for the next two seasons and he managed to get relegated to the bench by current restricted free agent Antti Niemi. Niemi is still trying to get his contract squared away and it’s safe to say he’s not going to be making the same $800,000 he did last year. Being the starting goalie on a Stanley Cup winner will almost guarantee that.

Huet’s contract makes it nearly impossible to deal him, but moving him to the AHL sits as a distinct possibility. Putting him on waivers virtually guarantees he won’t get picked up by someone else, and only a catastrophic number of injuries to goalies in Chicago would put the Blackhawks at risk for bringing Huet back up through re-entry waivers. If the Hawks can make that $5.625 million go away, they can save themselves the trouble of having to move more offensive quality depth players than they’d want to. Others are virtually assuming that Huet is as good as gone to AHL Rockford, but until that happens he’s the elephant in the room so to speak. His salary is almost necessary to move in any way possible to give the Hawks the maneuverability they’ll need to ice a complete team worth a damn.

Chances of being demoted/traded: Very likely

Patrick Sharp – (contract: 2 years, $3.9 million cap hit)

He’s almost always the subject of trade rumors and why not? He’s productive and does it all seemingly while in the shadow of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. It’s not a bad gig to have because the pressure is really off. The last four years, Sharp has been a consistent scorer netting in the range of 65 points per year and scoring 20+ goals in each season, including 36 goals back in 2007-2008. He’s an ideal complimentary piece for a team with bigger names but could it be possible he’d break out in a big way if he went somewhere lacking a big scoring wing? Ahh, there’s the rub. He’d make a great second line scorer for teams eager to add one, but bringing him aboard to be a first liner could make life difficult. His salary by itself would allow Chicago to get a little breathing room provided that the Hawks are OK with fielding a team with guys making the league minimum. That might get sketchy.

Chances of being traded: Possible

Brian Campbell – (contract: 6 years, $7,142,875 cap hit)

Campbell only needs to be mentioned here because if the Blackhawks were able to pawn him off on someone else it would be general manager Stan Bowman’s version of a great jewel heist and someone else’s version of Seward’s Folly. His contract is toxic and overbearing. This has nothing to do with the player. He’s a solid defenseman and runs a good power play and he’d be an asset to any team he played for. The problem is his contract is a payroll punishing iceberg, a fact the Blackhawks know all too well. Even for teams looking to reach the salary floor, taking on that much money for that long of a time just does not make any business sense… Unless they’re getting a huge gift basket from the Blackhawks to go with Campbell.

Chances of being traded: Nearly impossible

hossawiththecup.jpgMarian Hossa – (contract: 11 years, $5.275 million cap hit)

Sounds crazy, right? This one is more of a theoretical suggestion so bear with me. He went to Chicago to make another run at a Stanley Cup. He accomplished that goal in his first season. He doesn’t have a long history with the Blackhawks even though he’ll go down in Hawks lore as being on a slump-busting Cup winner. He wasn’t drafted by Chicago and essentially committed to the Hawks to latch on to a team with a bright immediate future. In essence, the Hawks have gotten what they wanted from Hossa so why not dangle him out there to free up a huge chunk of cap space on a deal that, while long, isn’t exactly a cap destroyer. The catch with Hossa is that he’s 31 years-old and having him around until he’s 42 might feel pretty daunting. Losing Hossa’s money in conjunction with making Huet’s money disappear would be a God-send for Chicago’s cap if it came down to that.

Chances of being traded: Not likely, but intriguing

Dave Bolland – (contract: 4 years, $3.375 million cap hit)

He was the unknown hero that always jumps out during the NHL playoffs. He was as dangerous shorthanded as he was during even strength situations and he showed that the seemingly crazy contract extension the Blackhawks gave him may have been worth it. He’s the Blackhawks number two center and there are some teams that could use one of those (Los Angeles, Washington). He’s also 24 years-old and starting to come into his own as an NHL starter. His salary isn’t exactly bad, but Chicago might be reticent to be rid of his usefulness in all situations. That said, if Chicago gets desperate and no one is biting elsewhere, a savvy proposal could get Chicago to move him.

Chances of being traded: Pretty slim

We’re not meant to feel bad for the Blackhawks here, this is their mess and they’ve got to deal with things as well as they possibly can. They’ve already drastically changed the outlook of their team as it is and there will be more changes to come. What they do, however, will have a profound effect on what the Blackhawks do the next few years as to whether they’ll continue to be contenders or if they’ll tread water being known as the NHLs version of the Florida Marlins.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins-Leafs deadlocked; Avs try to finish off Flames

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Game 5: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2)
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Call: Mike Emrick, Brian Boucher, Mike Milbury
Series preview
Stream here

Game 5: Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET (Avalanche lead 3-1)
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Call: Gord Miller, Ray Ferraro
Series preview 
Stream here

NHL Live, hosted by Mike Tirico, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Return to Hockeytown: Steve Yzerman named Red Wings GM

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Steve Yzerman’s return to Hockeytown is now official.

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Friday afternoon that Yzerman will assume the role of executive vice president and general manager, responsible for all hockey operations, and that Ken Holland, who’s been in the GM position since 1997, will stay on as senior vice president with a new multi-year extension.

“I’m extremely honored to be named General Manager of the Red Wings,” said Yzerman in a statement. “I’m very grateful to the Ilitches, both for their support when I left to become General Manager of the Lightning, and for their kindness in welcoming my family and me back to the organization. I’d also like to thank Ken Holland. I was fortunate to learn the management side of the game from Jim Devellano, Ken and others in the Red Wings organization for four seasons after I retired, and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to work alongside them once again. It was very humbling to be approached about returning home to become General Manager, and I’m looking forward to building on the exciting young core Ken has already put in place.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Yzerman stepped down as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning in September, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. Immediately, the Detroit connection was made, and after a season of rumors, the Red Wings and their fans can finally welcome the franchise legend back in the fold.

A Hockey Hall of Famer who played 22 seasons with the Red Wings, Yzerman helped the franchise win three Stanley Cups. Following his retirement in 2006, he served as Holland’s assistant as the team’s vice president. He was also executive director of Canada’s gold medal winning Olympic teams in 2010 and 2014. From 2015 to this past September he helped build a Lightning team that reached three Eastern Conference Finals and the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, and recorded the fourth-most wins in the NHL (402).

MORE: Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Playoff lineup, injury notes: Islanders lose Boychuk; Flames scratch Neal

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There were quite a few noteworthy lineup notes surrounding teams in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday, so let’s rattle them off.

Thomas Hickey seems to be the most likely immediate replacement for Boychuk. While both defensemen have enjoyed some nice years in the NHL, both have been on the decline. Hickey was limited to zero goals and four assists in 40 games this season after generally coming in at 20-ish points during his previous five campaigns with the Isles, while Boychuk’s ice time was down to 16:16 minute per game during the Islanders’ Round 1 sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the loss of Boychuk likely has more name value than on-ice impact.

Speaking of name value, allow a moment to dream. What if the Islanders instead turn to other Sebastian Ahoand the Hurricanes advance with far more famous Sebastian Aho? Would the Internet be forced to come up with something fresher than the Spiderman pointing meme for that? Might want to do some prep with all this time on your hands, Islanders fans.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

  • Maybe the Capitals feel like they need to bring back a playoff hero after seeing their 2-0 series lead against said Hurricanes dissolve into a 2-2 tie? They recalled Devante Smith-Pelly on Friday. Smith-Pelly scored eight points in 54 NHL games with the Capitals this season, and had been fairly productive (14 points in 20 games) with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. His seven goals during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run matched his seven goals from that 2017-18 regular season, so if DSP can carry over some of that playoff magic starting with Game 5 (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC [livestream]), the Caps would be very pleased. He’ll certainly be fighting to stay at the top level …
  • Could the Predators (another team locked in a 2-2 series tie) get some reinforcements back a lot sooner than anticipated? Both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds were recently considered week-to-week, and perhaps that was always a nebulous descriptor, as they at least were able to practice on Friday.

Interestingly, each player was wearing regular practice jerseys, which bodes reasonably well for the future, as that indicates that they could take body contact. There’s an enormous gulf between being able to practice and being ready for the sometimes-traumatic damage of playoff hockey, yet this is all pretty promising for the Preds.

With the Flames down 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche and facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream) this team badly needs a spark, and Neal really hasn’t been providing much of one basically since signing with the Flames. Neal failed to score a point through the first four games of this series, suffering through a -3 plus/minus, just 13:49 TOI on average, and not really excelling from a possession stats standpoint, either.

[To be fair, Neal is joined by Johnny Gaudreau and others as struggling Flames.]

One wonders if the Flames need to give Neal a pat on the back and say “We’ll get things back on track soon enough.” As mediocre as he’s been across the board, Neal also suffered from a terrible season luck-wise, managing just a five shooting percentage, way below his career average of 11.6. Maybe some of that is the aging curve, and maybe he’s depended upon some stellar linemates to grab his counting stats, but you’d have to figure that there’s some potential for a rebound … eventually. Perhaps just not this season?

Either way, it looks like Austin Czarnik is replacing Neal in the lineup. Hockey comes at you fast, gang.

For a rundown of Friday’s slate of playoff action, check out The Wraparound.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.