Winnipeg mayor doubts the Coyotes will move; Thrashers might relocate there instead

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Many people in the hockey world wondered if the Coyotes played their final game in Phoenix when the Detroit Red Wings completed their first round sweep. In fact, the very premise prompted a steady stream of cruel jokes on Twitter.

While relocation is still a legitimate possibility amid the troubling Coyotes sale situation, it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the NHL and City of Glendale are doing the best they can to avoid relocation. Their best efforts might not overcome the threat of a lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute, but the bottom line is that more money might be lost if the Coyotes leave than if they stay.

(That’s a sad sentence, but sometimes sporting reality is pretty depressing.)

There’s at least one rather significant party who thinks that the Coyotes will stay put. That would be Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz, who believes that the hockey-hungry city should look for a different team to bring the NHL back to the ‘Peg. Here are his comments via the Winnipeg Sun.

“Do I believe the Coyotes are coming to Winnipeg? My answer would be no,” Katz said. “I believe the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix. I happen to know some of the commitments that were made when they went there, and there were commitments that, if they were not fulfilled, there could easily be a lawsuit.”

If you believe Katz, then the Coyotes sale faces a lose-lose scenario: a possible lawsuit whether they stay or go. Both the NHL and Goldwater Institute’s people seemed confused by the claims Katz made about the possibility of a lawsuit if the Coyotes relocate, though.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he didn’t know what commitments Katz might be talking about.

“I can’t say that I know what he is referring to,” Daly said via e-mail Wednesday.

Nick Dranias, constitutional policy director for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a taxpayer watchdog group trying to block the Coyotes’ sale to would-be buyer Matthew Hulsizer, was equally baffled by Katz’s claim.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Dranias said. “If he’s talking about obligations or agreements that were reached before the Hulsizer deal, that would have come out during bankruptcy.”

Even if Katz was incorrect in his claims that a lawsuit would be a possibility, his comments underscore the notion that the Atlanta Thrashers might be a strong Plan B for Winnipeg. Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press claims that the Atlanta Spirit ownership group is desperate to sell the Thrashers after failing to do so with a local group for years. (Regardless of former MLB pitcher Tom Glavine’s best efforts, it seems.)

Despite some reasonable possible other cities for relocation (Kansas City’s cushy arena deal comes to mind), Lawless writes that it would be difficult for the Thrashers to relocate to any other market than Winnipeg with such a short window between the sale and the start of the 2011-12 season in October.

In other words, all signs point to Winnipeg being the only relocation option for both the Thrashers and Coyotes. So the Atlanta Spirit must wait and see if the Coyotes remain in Arizona before they can make their move.

Keep in mind all of this talk is based on speculation from unnamed sources, so there might be a few factors that are a bit based on conjecture rather than facts. Either way, the fate of two troubled franchises – not to mention the puck-based future for one former NHL city – hangs in the balance over the next weeks/months, so we’ll keep you informed as this messy picture begins to come into focus.

Pros and cons for each team on John Tavares’ list

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Potential unrestricted free agent John Tavares will begin meeting with the teams on his shortlist on Monday. According to The Athletic writers Arthur Staple and Pierre LeBrun, that list includes: the Islanders, Maple Leafs, Stars, Sharks, Bruins and Lightning are the six teams he’ll visit with.

There’s pros and cons that are attached to every NHL city, so let’s take a look at those points for each of the team’s Tavares is reportedly considering.

• New York Islanders

Pros: Well, for starters, there’s some familiarity there. Tavares has spent his entire career with the Isles, so there has to be a certain value attached to that. But beyond familiarity, there’s other reasons he might stay.

Mathew Barzal would be one. He put up some impressive offensive totals during his first full year in the NHL and he’ll only get better as his career advances.

The Islanders have also added a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz and they’ve made major changes to their front office that now has Lou Lamoriello as general manager. Those changes have seemingly helped the odds of Tavares re-signing with his current team.

New York also has the most cap space in the league right now, as they can spend over $32 million this summer (that will change if Tavares re-signs).

Cons: Tavares has been with the Islanders for almost a decade and they still haven’t been able to go on a long playoff run. Yes, there are new people in charge, but the roster will remain the same as it was last year.

Speaking of the roster, the Isles still don’t have a number one goalie and they have a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net. That was a major issue last season. Tavares can’t fix everything.

The Isles also have that unique arena situation. They’re getting a new arena but splitting games between two different venues is far from ideal, no matter how convenient the team tries to make it. Who knows how he feels about that?

• Toronto Maple Leafs

Pros: Tavares was born in Mississauga, Ontario, so going to play for the Leafs would be a type of homecoming for him. Going back there might not be a priority for him, but it can’t hurt.

The Leafs have built a team with a solid young core that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Jake Gardiner. Tavares wouldn’t have to go to Toronto and be the go-to guy, he could go there and be one of the guys.

Although they haven’t had much playoff success over the last decade, adding Tavares would clearly take them to another level. He has to be aware of that.

Cons: Although Toronto is “home” for him, he also knows that it comes with a ton of media pressure. It might not be enough of a reason for him to stay away from the Leafs, but it’s definitely not a selling point.

Like the Islanders, there’s no denying that the Leafs have an issue on defense. It might not be as bad as the situation in New York, but the team isn’t good enough on the blue line right now and adding Tavares won’t fix that.

The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series in quite some time (2004), so if he’s looking for a team that has had playoff success lately, Toronto isn’t the place.

There’s also a bit of unknown with new GM Kyle Dubas. How will the rookie general manager adapt to his new responsibilities? It appears as though he’ll be fine, but we really won’t know for a couple of years.

• Dallas Stars

Pros: The Stars have a dynamic attack led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Adding Tavares to that mix would make them even more dangerous. That has to be enticing for the 27-year-old. Oh, and they also have John Klingberg on the blue line doesn’t hurt.

Like the Isles, the Stars also have a new head coach in Jim Montgomery. Obviously, he’s not as proven as Trotz, but he was in demand this spring.

Who doesn’t like money? The fact that there’s no state income tax in Texas is a huge plus for a guy who’s about to sign a long-term deal worth a lot of cash.

If you hate winter, the weather isn’t too shabby, either.

Cons: As talented as Dallas’ attack is, they’ve missed the playoffs in back-to-seasons and in eight of the last 10 years. Adding Tavares to the roster helps, but a lot of their shortcomings are things he can’t fix (like in Toronto and in New York).

The Stars have $19.8 million in cap space right now, but they only have 14 players under contract right now. Adding Tavares will cost roughly $12 million per year, so how much money will be left over to fix the rest of the issues on the roster?

No disrespect to Dallas, but it’s not a traditional hockey market. If that’s one of the things Tavares is looking for, he won’t find it there.

• San Jose Sharks

Pros: Sharks GM Doug Wilson has created almost $19 million in cap space for his team to make a serious push at Tavares. Unlike the Stars, the Sharks already have 19 players under contract for 2018-19.

In San Jose, he’ll be surrounded by players like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton (maybe), Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones. That’s a solid group.

The Sharks have also made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and they’ve gone at least two rounds in two of those years. That’s not too shabby given the parity in the NHL.

It’s California, baby!

Cons: That appearance in the Stanley Cup Final seems like it was a lifetime ago. Can they get back to that level if Tavares signs there? That remains to be seen.

The core players aren’t exactly spring chickens. Couture (29), Pavelski (33), Thornton (38), Burns (33) and Vlasic (31) are all close to 30 or over 30. Tavares would step in and become the youngest player of the bunch.

Kane and Melker Karlsson are the only forwards signed beyond next season. If things don’t work out this year, how different will the team look starting in 2020?

• Boston Bruins

Pros: The Bruins proved to be one of the better teams in the league from November on. Bruce Cassidy had them playing smart and fast hockey. If they could get Tavares to buy in to what they’re selling, that would be unreal.

This could be good or bad, but Tavares wouldn’t have to play on the top line if he joins the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have incredible chemistry, so teams will focus most of their attention on them. That would leave Tavares with some juicy matchups.

Boston also has an incredible group of young talent and strong prospects coming through their pipeline. So even though they have older guys, there is a fresh batch of talent coming through the pipeline. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and company could make the decision easier for Tavares.

Cons: Tavares is still one of the elite players in the NHL. How would he feel to playing second fiddle to the top line? There’s plenty of ice time and power play time to go around, but it’s still something that has to be considered. He’s been the top guy on his team since the day he stepped onto NHL ice.

As of right now, the Bruins have under $12 million in cap space. Sure, moves can be made, but they also have potential free agents that they’d like to bring back (Riley Nash being one). They have to add a backup goaltender if they let Anton Khudobin walk, too.

• Tampa Bay Lightning

Pros: Look at the Lightning’s roster, they’re stacked. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej, Palat, Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point, J.T. Miller, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Can you imagine if they add Tavares?

It’s not a traditional hockey market, but their recent success has given them quite a bit of national attention over the last couple of years. He still wouldn’t have to deal with a crazy amount of media on a daily basis.

Yes, weather and a lack of a state income tax comes into play here, too.

They’ve also gone at least three rounds in three of the last four years.

Cons: For whatever reason, the Lightning haven’t been able to get over the hump. Sure, they’ve been to the conference final three times in four years, but they’ve come up just short.

Tampa also has $10.5 million in cap space and they still have to re-sign Miller and a couple of role players.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Carlson signing is first domino to fall in NHL free agency

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The first big free agent re-signing with his own team is just the beginning of the frenzy that’s to come around the NHL.

Defenseman John Carlson signed a $64 million, eight-year deal with the Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals. His agent and the representatives for other pending unrestricted free agents were able to start talking to any interested teams on Sunday at the beginning of the negotiating window that precedes the opening of the market July 1.

Serious talks between New York Islanders center John Tavares and five suitors begin Monday in what should be the next step in shaking out signings and trades.

”There’s going to be a lot happening,” Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday in Dallas. ”Things have sort of been at a standstill around the league, but I think with the free agent market being opened up to be able to have discussions with the agents, that will help, as well. Once you talk, you have an idea that you’re going to be able to get a free agent or if you won’t, then it might sort of move some teams to start looking at potential trades.”

[John Carlson gets $64M payday as Capitals lock up defenseman]

Only a handful of current NHL players were traded over the weekend at the draft: four in a swap between Carolina and Calgary and Washington sending two to Colorado to clear salary-cap space to re-sign Carlson. Montreal could still try to trade captain Max Pacioretty this week, and Hurricanes GM Don Waddell wants to make a move for a goaltender and said there’s a lot of interest in winger Jeff Skinner.

”We have a lot of other possibilities, pieces to move around,” Waddell said.

With Tavares headlining this free agent class, the possibilities are endless.

His decision – reportedly among the Sharks, Maple Leafs, Stars, incumbent Islanders and perhaps one other team – could set up the rest of the market. Paul Stastny is the next-best free agent center available followed by the likes of Tyler Bozak, Derek Ryan and Tomas Plekanec, and teams that don’t land one of them could turn to Buffalo’s Ryan O'Reilly, who may be a better candidate to be traded July 2 after the Sabres pay him a $7.5 million bonus.

The Sharks are worth watching this week after they shed Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to clear cap space and watched as Ilya Kovalchuk signed with Los Angeles on a three-year, $18.75 million deal. After saying San Jose will spend much of its space to re-sign players, GM Doug Wilson acknowledged there will still be plenty of room to add the difference-maker he’s looking for.

Asked if he thinks he’ll be able to land that difference-maker by the afternoon of July 1, Wilson smirked and said: ”The fifth is my birthday. Ask me then.”

By July 5, most of the hockey community will be preparing for vacation. The real fun comes over the next week.

Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Vegas’ James Neal and David Perron, Boston’s Rick Nash, Columbus’ Thomas Vanek and New Jersey’s Patrick Maroon are among the wingers available. Carlson staying with Washington leaves Detroit’s Mike Green, Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis and Columbus’ Ian Cole at the top of the list of defensemen available.

”There are some free agents out there that we like,” said Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, whose team shifted toward a rebuild this past season. ”We’re in a pretty good spot to talk to as many free agents that we can that we like and we’ll go forward that way.”

Unlike New York, which had been in win-now mode for a while, the expansion Golden Knights were supposed to be building slowly toward becoming a perennial playoff contender. After reaching the Cup final in their first season, they could use an overflowing amount of cap space this offseason – though GM George McPhee doesn’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.

”You just never know with these things and whether we’ll do anything at all or do something,” McPhee said. ”You’re sort of venturing into an area where there’s all kinds of things going on and you don’t know how it’s going to go. There’s no urgency for us to do anything. We like the team we have, we like the model we have. If we can make it better by doing something that makes sense, then we’ll do it.”

PHT Morning Skate: Draft weekend winners and losers; Will Tkachuk go pro?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• There’s a good chance that the Vegas Golden Knights won’t be able to bring back James Neal and David Perron. Both players will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st if they don’t re-sign. (Sportsnet)

• Signing John Tavares won’t be easy for the Toronto Maple Leafs because they have to pay Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner soon, but could they entice him with a one-year deal worth almost $16 million? (TSN.ca)

• Is it possible that Dougie Hamilton‘s passion for museums got him traded out of Calgary? This is a weird one. (Yahoo)

• Flames Nation takes a deeper look at the potential reasons why Hamilton was shipped out of town. It’s entirely possible that there were issues in the locker room after all. (Flames Nation)

• Caps forward Lars Eller got the rockstar treatment at the Danish embassy. (Washington Post)

• ESPN writers Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski look at the winners and losers of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Of course, Gary Bettman ended up on this list more than once. (ESPN)

• Now that the draft has come and gone, Sens prospect Brady Tkachuk has to decide if he’s going to turn pro or return to Boston University. (Ottawa Sun)

• It’s unclear when Canadiens prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi will sign his entry-level deal, but Habs Eyes on the Prize takes a deeper look at what that contract may look like (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The New York Rangers had a solid draft weekend, as they added some quality prospects to their pipeline. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• You may have missed this one on Friday, but the Anaheim Ducks fired assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk. (Anaheim Calling)

• Acquiring Bobby Ryan might not be such a bad thing for the Vegas Golden Knights. He would be the ultimate Golden Misfit. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Late on Sunday night, the Detroit Red Wings traded Robbie Russo to the Arizona Coyotes. (Winging it in Motown)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

John Carlson gets $64M payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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The Washington Capitals cleared salary cap space for a big reason and it paid off on Sunday as they’ve agreed to a long-term deal with defenseman John Carlson.

It’s a $64 million extension over eight years for the 28-year-old. According to Pierre LeBrun, within the details of the contract are $2 million signing bonuses that land on July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022, a.k.a. Possible Lockout Seasons.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime. As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams. We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

Carlson, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1, picked the right time to have a career season and lead all NHL defensemen in scoring. In playing all 82 games during the regular season, he posted career highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68), ice time (24:47) and power play assists (28). The production continued in the playoffs with five goals and 20 points as the Capitals claimed the 2018 Stanley Cup. He would finish fifth in the Norris Trophy voting.

The Capitals and Carlson’s camp had not come to an agreement as of Sunday morning, so his agent began taking calls from other interested teams as the free agent interview period opened. MacLellan did a good job of clearing cap space for an extension, shipping Brooks Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit to the Colorado Avalanche along with restricted free agent goaltender Philipp Grubauer on Friday.

Carlson’s priority was to remain in Washington.

“This has been my home. I’ve lived here every summer since I’ve been here,” Carlson said during locker clean out day. “This is my home base and obviously the guys that I’ve been around, the experiences we’ve had. I love the area and this is all I know.”

In other Capitals defenseman news, the team has an offer out to Carlson’s defense partner Michal Kempny, who was acquired in February from Chicago and turned into a valuable piece en route to the Cup. And then there’s Orpik, who was waived after being acquired by the Avalanche. Once his buyout from Colorado becomes official, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, setting up the possibility of a return to Washington.

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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.