VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Where many express concern, Jarmo Kekalainen says he sees only opportunity regarding the uncertain state of the Columbus roster a week before NHL free agency.
To Kekalainen, the fear of possibly losing stars such as Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 is offset by the knowledge that their departures would open significant space under the salary cap.
That would put the Blue Jackets general manager in prime position to fill those holes through trades or free agency at a time when the newly announced $81.5 million payroll maximum for next season is forcing various cap-strapped teams to shed salary.
”I think every $100,000 or every $1,000 counts at this point for some teams that are going to be squeezed,” Kekalainen said shortly after the new cap number – $1.5 million lower than initially projected – was announced. ”They’re going to have to sell their problems. We could be a solution.”
Kekalainen won’t rate the Blue Jackets’ chances of re-signing one or all three players.
”I’m sure we’ll get some answers shortly if it starts looking like they’re moving into another direction. But we thought this could happen,” he said, referring to the bold gamble Columbus made in choosing to acquire Duchene in a trade with Ottawa, and retain Panarin and Bobrovsky at the trade deadline in February knowing they were in the final years of their contracts.
”If it happens, we’re not going to be shocked,” Kekalainen added. ”If it is the case, then we just move forward with what we have and start building other ways.”
The 27-year-old Panarin is considered the top free agent on the market. The NHL’s 2016 rookie of the year has topped 70 points in each of his four seasons and scored 116 goals in 322 career games. Duchene, a center, has topped 20 goals seven times in 10 seasons and coming off a year in which he had a career-best 31 goals.
And then there is the 30-year-old Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy-winner. The Blue Jackets could also lose center Ryan Dzingel, whom they acquired in a separate trade with Ottawa.
The list of top-end talent has dwindled with defenseman Erik Karlsson re-signing with San Jose, forward Jeff Skinner re-signing with Buffalo, and Philadelphia acquiring and signing center Kevin Hayes.
According to Spotrac.com, only nine of 31 teams are projected to be $20 million or more under the cap, and led by Colorado at $35.5 million. At the other end of the spectrum is Vegas, currently projected to be $1.6 million over the cap, and will have to be in compliance by the start of the season in October.
Some teams may resort to the rarely used option of poaching from the restricted free agent pool. This would require a team issuing an offer sheet, which would lead to the player’s team having to decide to match the offer or receive draft picks as compensation.
The Calgary Flames, in 2013, were the last team to issue an offer sheet in a bid to acquire then-Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly, only to have Colorado match the contract.
Speculation has focused on talented Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner being a candidate to receive an offer sheet, something Toronto GM Kyle Dubas acknowledged without committing to whether the team would match it.
”It’s kind of hanging over everything now,” Dubas said last week. ”It’s our intention they’re here for as long as we can possibly keep them. But if the dollar amount doesn’t make sense as far as our internal economics, it will be a decision as to what we might do.”
The Maple Leafs are at least better positioned to re-sign Marner after freeing up $6.2 million of cap space by trading veteran forward Patrick Marleau to Carolina over the weekend. Cap constraints were behind the Nashville Predators’ decision to trade P.K. Subban to New Jersey, with the Devils easily affording the play-making defenseman’s $9 million annual cap hit over the final three years of his contract.
Devils GM Ray Shero might not be done adding talent with nearly $26 million in space still available.
”We’ll see where it goes, and we want to be an improved hockey team,” he said. ”Our fans deserve that, certainly our players deserve that, and this is a great opportunity in time to do it.”
It wasn’t lost on Dallas GM Jim Nill of how Subban’s trade provides room for the Central Division rival Predators to add players.
”I know that David Poile’s a very good general manager and he’s looking at something else he’s got planned,” Nill said, referring to the Predators GM. ”But that’s the intriguing part of the game now.”
The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class will be announced on Tuesday afternoon and following a year where there were two locks in Martin Brodeur and Martin St. Louis, it’s pretty wide open for 2019 outside of Hayley Wickenheiser. There are a few first-year candidates like Dan Boyle, Patrik Elias, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brad Richards who might have some support, but will it be enough for induction?
Per the Hockey Hall of Fame, eligible players “must have not played in a professional or international hockey game during any of the three (3) playing seasons prior to his or her election.” A maximum of four male and two female inductees can be elected in the player category a year.
Let’s take a look at who Hall of Fame chairman Lanny MacDonald might be calling on Tuesday to give them the great news.
Hayley Wickenheiser – Where do we begin? The hockey legend owns four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, plus seven more golds from the IIHF World Championship. She was the Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006 and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally.
While playing professionally in Finland, she became the first women to record a point in a men’s league. Wickenheiser also participated in two rookie camps with the Philadelphia Flyers and acted as a guest coach in camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. She’s currently the Assistant Director of Player Development for the Leafs.
Wickenheiser will no-doubt become the seventh woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Daniel Alfredsson – 444 goals, 1,157 points, Olympic gold and silver medals, 1996 Calder Trophy, six-time NHL All-Star, 2012 King Clancy Trophy. Alfie could be the beneficiary of no strong men’s player headlining the class. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, the longtime Ottawa Senators captain has an impressive resume and strong international credentials to make the cut. He’s also known for scoring the first shootout goal in league history, and sported Hall of Fame worthy hairstyles over his career.
Curtis Joseph – 454 wins, 51 shutouts, Olympic gold medal, three-time All-Star. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Joseph had himself a fine career, but unlike Osgood didn’t win a Cup. Is he in the Hall of Fame class or Hall of Very Good class? Only five goalies have been inducted into the Hall since 1973. Is it time we see more?
Boris Mikhailov – The man Herb Brooks loved to remind his “Miracle on Ice” team looked like Stan Laurel had a decorated career playing for CSKA Moscow and representing the Soviet Union internationally. Domestically, Mikhailov scored 429 goals for CSKA and recorded 653 points, leading them to 11 Soviet League titles. On the international scene, the long time captain captured two Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships. And remember that it’s not the NHL Hall of Fame, it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Alex Mogilny – He was the first Soviet player to defect west and when he arrived he quickly made his mark. His 76-goal season in 1992-93 tied him for the NHL’s goal scoring lead with Teemu Selanne. He would finish with a 127 points that season. A year later he was named the first European captain in NHL history by the Buffalo Sabres. When it was all said and done, the six-time All-Star scored 473 goals and recorded 1,032 points. He’s a member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, which means you’re a winner of the Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Championship.
Jeremy Roenick – 513 goals, 1,216 points, nine-time All-Star, silver medals at Canada Cup and Olympic Games.JR’s elite level status only lasted for a few seasons in the early 1990s. After three-straight 100-point and 45-plus goal seasons, his production settled into the “very good” range in the mid-90s. He certainly has the “fame” part down with the personality he’s shown during and after his NHL career, as well as his influential role in the 1996 movie “Swingers.”
Doug Wilson – 237 goals, 827 points, 1982 Norris Trophy winner, eight-time All-Star, Canada Cup gold. You don’t hear the San Jose Sharks general manager’s name much when these discussions come up. He played during an era dominated by Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, but examine his career and it was a pretty solid one. Top 20 in points by a deenseman, top 10 in points per game. Like Dave Andreychuk in 2017, there are always some surprise inclusions every few years. And here’s a good note from Sean McIndoe of The Athletic: “Here’s the complete list of players who both won a Norris Trophy (peak) and finished in the top 25 all-time in defenseman scoring (longevity), but haven’t been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame: Doug Wilson, and that’s it.”
Sergei Zubov – His 771 points puts him in the top 20 all-time among defensemen, as does his 0.72 points per game average. He has the 12th-most playoff points for defensemen with 112. Only Sergei Gonchar has more goals and points than Zubov among Russian blue liners. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner, four-time All-Star, and gold medalist at the Olympics and World Junior Championship. If Nicklas Lidstrom hadn’t dominated so much, how much more love would Zubov have received?
Tom Barrasso – 369 wins, 38 shutouts, 1984 Calder Trophy, 1984 Vezina Trophy, 1985 Jennings Trophy, 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup titles, 2002 Olympic silver medal.
Peter Bondra – 503 goals, 892 points, World Championship gold, five-time NHL All-Star, two-time 50-goal scorer.
Dan Boyle – 163 goals, 605 points, 1,093 games, Olympic gold, World Championships silver, one Stanley Cup, six seasons of 50-plus points.
Rod Brind’Amour – 452 goals, 1,184 points, 2006 Stanley Cup champion, 1994 World Championship gold, two-time Selke Trophy winner.
Patrik Elias – 408 goals, 1,025 points, Olympic bronze, two World Championships bronze medals, two-time Stanley Cup winner, nine 20-plus goal seasons.
Theo Fleury – 455 goals, 1,088 points, seven-time All-Star, gold at the World Junior Championship, Canada Cup and Olympics, silver at the World Championship and World Cup of Hockey, 1989 Stanley Cup winner.
Sergei Gonchar – 220 goals, 811 points, five-time All-Star, 2009 Stanley Cup title (two more as a coach), silver and bronze medals from the Olympics and World Championships, eight 50-plus point seasons, five straight seasons with at least 18 goals.
Tomas Kaberle – 87 goals, 563 points, 2011 Stanley Cup, 2005 World Championship gold, 2006 Olympic bronze, four-time NHL All-Star.
Steve Larmer – 441 goals, 1,012 points, 1983 Calder Trophy, two-time All-Star, 1991 Canada Cup gold, 1994 Stanley Cup title, owns third-longest consecutive games streak in NHL history.
Vincent Lecavalier – 421 goals, 949 points, 2004 World Cup of Hockey gold and MVP, 2004 Stanley Cup, 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy, 2008 King Clancy Trophy, four-time NHL All-Star. It’s not quite the trophy case of 2018 inductee Martin St. Louis, so that could probably leave Lecavalier stuck in the Hall of Very Good.
Kevin Lowe – 84 goals, 431 points, six-time Stanley Cup winner, seven-time NHL All-Star, King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner.
Kent Nilsson – 262 goals, 686 points, two-time NHL All-Star, 1987 Stanley Cup title, 1978 WHA rookie of the year, IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada Cup and World Championship silver medals. The man who inspired Peter Forsberg:
Chris Osgood – 401 wins, 50 shutouts, three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Jennings Trophy winner. A good goalie on some great Detroit Red Wings teams for a long time. How much has that hurt his candidacy?
Brad Richards – 298 goals, 932 points, two-time Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe and Lady Byng Trophy winner, 2004 World Cup of Hockey winner, Memorial Cup champion.
Keith Tkachuk – 538 goals, 1,065 points, 1996 World Cup of Hockey champion, Olympic silver medal.Like Roenick, Tkachuk’s numbers are good, but he’s in a range where there are a handful of players with similar stats. While Joe Mullen’s inclusion may help Tkachuk or Roenick at some point in time, right now, he’s just on the outside.
Pierre Turgeon – 515 goals, 1,327 points, Lady Byng Trophy, five-time All-Star. A very good player for a very long time. But other than a Byng, no other individual honors to help him standout from the rest.
Mike Vernon – 385 wins, 27 shutouts, 1996 Jennings Trophy, 1989 and 1997 Stanley Cup titles and 1997 Conn Smythe Trophy, five-time All-Star. Also, key player in one of the league’s most memorable brawls:
The Philadelphia Flyers took care of one of their restricted free agents on Monday when they announced a two-year contract with defenseman Travis Sanheim.
It is a bridge deal for Sanheim that will still keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and will pay him $3.25 million per season.
“We are very pleased with the progress Travis has made in his young career,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher in a team statement. “He is a skilled, two-way defenseman with excellent size and mobility. He is a big part of our present and our future.”
The 23-year-old Sanheim just completed his second season in the NHL, appearing in all 82 games and finishing with nine goals and 26 assists. His 35 total points were second among the team’s blue-liners, finishing behind only Shayne Gostisbehere‘s 37 points.
The Flyers still have some pretty significant restricted free agents to come to terms with, including Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.
Where Sanheim fits in the Flyers’ plans this season remains to be seen as Fletcher has spent the early part of the offseason reshaping his team’s defense by tradingRadko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen, and also acquiringJustin Braun from the San Jose Sharks. With Niskanen and Braun in the mix, the Flyers will have eight NHL defensemen under contract this season once Provorov gets signed.
Those few days in early July where 31 NHL general managers prepare to dive head first into the free agency pool looking to add the final missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. It can be an exciting time, until everyone realizes less than a year later that the pool was too shallow for such a dive and everyone is left with a bunch of headaches because they are paying top dollar for players that have almost always played their best hockey for someone else.
In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the 20 top free agents available and try to separate them into the players that are going to be worth the big money they are going to get, the players that might get overpaid but still be useful, and the players that are going to carry a significant amount of risk and should probably be avoided.
To the rankings!
1. Artemi Panarin — He will not be cheap but he is a superstar talent, one of the most productive players in all of hockey since he arrived in the NHL, a game-changing player, and still at an age where he should have several years of elite production ahead of him. If you can sign him, you should definitely sign him because you will not regret it.
2. Joe Pavelski — During his peak Pavelski was one of the best goal scorers in the league and a criminally underrated player. As he started to get further into his 30s the goal-scoring started to decline because, well, that’s what happens when you get older. That aspect of his game saw a resurgence this past season with 38 goals in 75 games for the Sharks. That is great. What is not great is that resurgence was driven almost entirely by a 20.2 shooting percentage that was not only the highest of his career, but also way above his career average (12.5 percent). If you are expecting him to duplicate that in his age 35 season you are going to be in for a massive disappointment. Still, if he averages the same number of shots per game this upcoming season and simply shoots at his career average you are looking at around 25 goals. Combined with everything else he brings to the ice you are still getting a hell of a player, and because he is not likely to get a 5-7 year contract given his age, there is still probably a lot of value to be had here.
3. Jake Gardiner — A couple of bad Game 7s will ruin his reputation among some in Toronto, but it would be idiotic to define his career (or define him as a player) based on that. He is the top defender on the market now that Erik Karlsson has re-signed in San Jose.
Boom or Bust
4. Sergei Bobrovsky — We need to put Bobrovsky on a tier all to himself because he has the potential to be a worthwhile signing, while also maybe being an overpayment that also carries some significant risk. I just don’t feel strongly enough about any of those tiers to comfortably put him in one.
He has been one of the best goalies of his era and has two Vezina Trophies and an elite save percentage to prove it.
He has, at times, carried the Columbus Blue Jackets through the regular season.
He has also flopped spectacularly in the playoffs and is going to be 31 years old at the start of the 2019-20 season.
He is the best goalie available (and one of the best players available) and is probably going to end up in Florida with a HUGE contract.
His career probably is not going to just immediately crumble because he is 31 years old, but how many more years of elite play does he have in him? It is a worthwhile question to ask.
Potential overpays (but still good)
5. Matt Duchene — Duchene might be the second biggest “name” on the market after Panarin, and if this were a ranking of just pure talent and who could make the biggest impact this upcoming season he would probably second or third on the list. But when you sign a free agent you are not just getting that player’s current level of production. You get the contract, the age, the likely decline, and everything that comes with it.
My biggest issue with Duchene is he seems likely to get a $9 or $10 million salary on a long-term contract and I am not sure he is a $9 or $10 million player for another six or seven years. Or even for one season. He does not drive possession, he has never really been an elite point producer, and he is not a cornerstone player that your team will be built around. He is still an excellent player and a great complementary piece, but will probably have a contract that is a tier above what he actually is (and will eventually be in the future) as a player. Such is life in free agency.
6. Gustav Nyquist — He was still a great possession-driving player on some forgettable Detroit teams the past couple of years and he is going to score 20-25 goals for you. Will you pay more than you want for him? Probably, but he is also going to help your team.
7. Mats Zuccarello — He is coming off a productive season when he was healthy, and he is still a creative playmaker, but he is set to enter his age 32 season and anytime you are dealing with players on the wrong side of 30 on the open market you run the risk of overpaying both short-term and long-term, especially when they are not truly elite in any one area.
8. Anders Lee — An outstanding net-front presence on the power play and a total wrecking ball around the crease. But how confident are you in a seven-year (or eight-year if it is the Islanders that re-sign him) contract for a 29-year-old forward that plays a physically demanding style and may not age gracefully given his skillset? You might get a couple of 30-goal seasons out of him but he also might be a buyout candidate before the contract ends.
9. Robin Lehner — He was never as bad as his final season in Buffalo looked, but if you pay him based on the season he had this past season for the Islanders you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.
10. Justin Williams — Age is obviously a concern but you know what you are getting. What you are getting is great two-way play, 20-goals, 50-points, and a durable player that is going to be in your lineup every night. Eventually father time beats everyone, but Williams has not really shown any sign of slowing down. Yet.
11. Ryan Dzingel — It all depends on the term. He should be a good second-line player and does not turn 28 until March, so you are still getting a player that is somewhat closer to his peak level of performance than most of the free agent forwards available.
12. Micheal Ferland — He is more than just a big body that delivers hits; he can play and he can score some goals and he can do a lot of really good things on the ice. But there is at least one team out there that is going to look at the St. Louis Blues and think they have to pay a premium to get bigger and more physical just for the sake of getting bigger and physical.
13. Brett Connolly — A good player coming off a career year in a free agent class where he will be somebody’s Plan B once the top players get signed. That is a recipe for a bad contract.
14. Marcus Johansson — If he is healthy you are getting a productive top-six forward, but injuries have derailed his career the past two years. The recent history of head injuries is concerning.
15. Anton Stralman — At one time, not that long ago, he was the perfect shutdown, defensive-defender for the modern NHL. But he is going to be 33 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season. How much does he have left in the tank?
16. Wayne Simmonds — During his peak he was probably one of the two or three best power forwards in the league. He is no longer that player and the decline is very real. If you can get him for a cheap price to be a bottom-six depth player you might still be able to squeeze some value out of him.
17. Corey Perry — The Ducks pretty much had no other choice but to buy out the remainder of his contract this offseason. He is a shell of his former self and is coming off an injury-shortened season where his production completely disappeared. Is there any chance for a rebound? Maybe, but do not expect much of one.
18. Alex Chiasson — He scored 22 goals, but almost all of them came as a result of getting some significant ice time alongside Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl. They are not coming with him to his new team.
19. Tyler Myers — He is not a bad player, but he is the exact player that a desperate general manager trying to save his job with a bad team will give a long-term contract to in free agency, leaving it for the next general manager to try and get rid of.
20. Patrick Maroon — Always beware of the free agent role player coming from the current Stanley Cup champion that scored a few big goals during that playoff run.
Current team or bust
Joe Thornton — Thornton still has something to offer a team, but let’s be honest, there is only one team he is going to be playing for (the San Jose Sharks) so it really does not make much sense to rank him with the rest of the class given that there is virtually zero chance he plays for somebody else.
Niklas Kronwall — Take everything we said about Thornton and simply replace “San Jose” with “Detroit.”