Alex Killorn

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NHL Power Rankings: Teams hit hardest by flat $81.5M salary cap

As focused as NHL teams are on the present with the ambitious return to play, the CBA extension introducing a flat salary cap for 2020-21 leaves GMs (and fans) with plenty to think about.

Sure, there are NHL teams who can take advantage of a flat salary cap. That’s a post for another day — maybe a future edition of PHT’s power rankings?

But, overall, there are plenty of NHL contenders and hopefuls who are sweating that flat salary cap far more than there are those ready to circle like vultures. At minimum, the flat NHL salary cap presents huge obstacles for 2020-21. The ripple effects of COVID-19 could affect multiple seasons, especially if the world continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus.

Let’s power rank the five NHL teams hit the hardest by the flat $81.5 million salary cap, then. While the larger future will be considered, these rankings weigh the offseason heading into 2020-21 most heavily.

Frankly, plenty of teams will sweat this situation, so the honorable mentions section is quite robust.

[At least there’s the NHL return-to-play schedule to look forward to.]

Power rankings: 5 NHL teams hit hardest by the flat salary cap

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Even in an ideal, pandemic-free world, the Lightning would need to tighten their belts. This franchise is a lot like the dynasty-era Blackhawks when it comes to perennial cap crunches, only they sadly don’t have the jewelry to show for it. But with the NHL salary cap flat at $81.5M? That belt-tightening morphs into the potential for painful surgeries.

After all, with about $76M already devoted to 15 players (give or take), things would be snug. Then you factor in talented RFAs Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev deserving significant raises, and … yikes. It’s the sort of thing that might make you want to jet ski out of town.

(Cirelli can’t wait tables forever.)

Infomercial voice: But that’s not all.

To make matters worse, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois faces potential hurdles in no-trade/no-movement clauses. Via Cap Friendly, supporting cast members such as Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn all own such clauses. So, it’s not just about who you’d want to move out (as painful as that already would be), but it’s also about who you could convince to leave.

Even by their frequently cap-challenged standards, the Lightning have their work cut out for them.

2. St. Louis Blues

The Lightning and Blues could really be a 1a/1b situation.

Much like Tampa Bay was expecting struggles even with a cap increase, the Blues likely knew that it would be difficult to keep Alex Pietrangelo. With about $79.45M devote to their roster, how could St. Louis afford a Norris-level defenseman like Pietrangelo? Heck, how can they make it work to keep underrated RFA blueliner Vince Dunn?

Also like the Lightning, it might come down to the Blues convincing players to waive clauses, or finding snug fits to places they’d accept.

Maybe the Blues could make it work by moving a combination of Alexander Steen, Jake Allen, and/or a more painful loss like Brayden Schenn or Jaden Schwartz. Or maybe the Blues lose Pietrangelo, still need to make an uncomfortable decision or two, and need to find a way to stay afloat?

Good thing they won at least one Stanley Cup, eh?

3. Arizona Coyotes

It’s OK if you’re doing a double-take at the Coyotes now. Aren’t they supposed to be a team barely making it to the floor? Weren’t they putting Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk on their cap just to get there?

Well, over the years, the Coyotes have quietly been getting more and more expensive. They haven’t always got what they paid for, but this isn’t a wholly cheap team. (Although there’s still a Marian Hossa here or there on LTIR.)

Cap Friendly places Arizona’s cap allocation at almost $80M devoted to 17 players.

And that’s without Taylor Hall. Trading for Hall represented a statement that the Coyotes want to be taken seriously. Making him more than a rental would really cement that, but could Arizona really make that work — assuming Hall would return?

The Coyotes might deal with many of the same trade clause headaches as others (Phil Kessel, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Carl Soderberg), although bribing someone to take on Derek Stepan‘s $6.5M could be key. It may not be easy to find an oasis in this salary cap desert.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are like a family trying to divvy up a pizza pie. You already had some hungry siblings who were going to leave little more than toppings and crust (see: expensive stars Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner). Now concerned parent/GM Kyle Dubas must deal with being delivered a medium pizza instead of the extra large he was expecting before the flat NHL salary cap.

At least in this coming offseason, he doesn’t have too many overly important mouths to feed.

(Yes, that lengthy pizza parallel is my hunger staining this conversation like grease on a pizza box.)

The flat salary cap hurts the Maple Leafs hardest in trying to make more aggressive moves toward improving. Maybe they can stem the tide of losing flawed-but-featured defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci. But will they get better in hoping internal options like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren can sink, not swim? That remains to be seen.

But Dubas would also probably be wise to get proactive, because the bill is coming soon for key players. If the Maple Leafs want to keep one or more of Frederik Andersen (contract runs through 2020-21) and Morgan Rielly (through 2021-22), it will probably mean making some painful trades during the offseason.

The long-term outlook for the Maple Leafs is bumpy. They’re placed slightly lower in these specific power rankings because other teams face even more immediate concerns, though.

5. New York Islanders

Unlike others on this list, the Islanders aren’t already almost bumping their heads on that flat NHL salary cap ceiling. That said, their almost cozy-looking space (Cap Friendly puts them at about $73.4M pledged to 19 players) could get claustrophobic quickly.

Most importantly, the Islanders need to reach a deal with pending RFA star Mathew Barzal. Back about 20 years ago (OK, March), Lou Lamoriello said that the Islanders would match an offer sheet for Barzal. That’s comforting for Islanders fans who may still smart from losing John Tavares, but that doesn’t mean Barzal will be cheap. Frankly, his talent and importance to the Islanders probably justify a salary far exceeding their cap space.

Even at a discount, the Islanders won’t have much space to retain another important player in RFA defenseman Ryan Pulock. They’ll probably need to find a way to move some shaky contracts (such as those of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk), which is easier said than done, even for a master of the dark GM arts like Lamoriello.

Some teams below might technically face more immediate, in-your-face challenges. On the other hand, the uncomfortable thought for the Islanders is that they might face big bills with diminishing returns.

Quick thoughts on other teams likely to be hit hardest by flat NHL salary cap

You might believe that others deserve a mention, so feel free to chime in via the comments. A few quick hits before we go:

  • The Boston Bruins might rank as the biggest honorable mention. Even if you disagree, you’d likely admit that some pain may come. If they keep Torey Krug around, then Don Sweeney deserves a raise.
  • Then again, the Bruins aren’t alone in the honorable mentions. Much has been made of the Vancouver Canucks, who may feel enough of a squeeze to explain those Brock Boeser trade rumors, even if someone else ends up being the one standing at the end of flat NHL salary cap musical chairs.
  • The Washington Capitals face a conundrum with Braden Holtby, for sure. They also must try to figure out the future for Alex Ovechkin, whose lengthy contract wasn’t as lifetime as it seemed (it ends after 2020-21).
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are required to have cap issues. That’s simply the rule we must all abide by. In the latest iteration, it’s difficult to tell what might happen with their goaltending situation.
  • Again, this might be fodder for a future post, yet opportunistic rebuilding teams could feast if they’re creative. Why not take some short-term pain in the form of shaky contracts to earn long-term gains in future assets, particularly if you don’t expect your team to be very good anyway? A little further down the line, the flat/barely moving NHL salary cap could be a huge boon to the Seattle expansion team, too.

Who else will feel the crunch? Would you rank honorable mentions in the top five, or bump others out? Do tell.

MORE NHL POWER RANKINGS FROM PHT:

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.

NHL Training Camp News Day 5: Pastrnak under quarantine; Boyle OK’d to play

While Tuukka Rask returned to practice on Thursday, the Bruins were again missing a pair of wingers. David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were again deemed “unfit to participate” with no details about their absences coming from the team.

The lack of information about any player’s status has predictably led to guessing games. Photos of the two Bruins skating at a local Boston rink surfaced this week, leading to head coach Bruce Cassidy being asked if they were being disciplined for something.

It turns out that, according to Pastrnak’s agent, he’s under quarantine after coming into contact with someone who was COVID-19 positive. J.P. Barry told The Athletic that his client has tested negative, but it’s unknown how long he’ll be isolated from the team. The Bruins are expected to fly to Toronto July 26.

Boyle OK’d to play

As of the Monday deadline, we saw six players and one assistant coach opt out of the Return to Play for various reasons. Some had family concerns and others cited personal health issues that will prevent them from playing.

One player who could have fallen into that group is Brian Boyle of the Panthers. Two years ago he beat chronic myeloid leukemia, but he said Friday doctors told him he is not at any risk when it comes to COVID-19.

“I looked into it, of course,” he said. “As far as my health and where I’m at, everything’s been great. Everything’s all zeroes with the testing, but I have to make sure, so I called up to Dana-Farber [Cancer Institute in Boston] and made sure with my hematologist there, and he was very positive and said, ‘However you’re feeling, the numbers show you’re no more at risk.'”

Kaapo Kakko, who is a Type 1 diabetic, was also a player some thought might have to opt out. But the 19-year-old Rangers rookie was cleared to play after speaking with doctors at home in Finland and with the team’s medical staff.

“I want to play, and I’m so young that my diabetes is OK right now,” Kakko said. “Just keep sugars down and it’s going to be OK.”

Caleb Jones reveals COVID-19 diagnosis

The Oilers defenseman told reporters he had a asymptomatic positive COVID-19 test two weeks ago. He’s fully healthy after staying in isolation.

Lightning power play adds Stamkos

Steven Stamkos did not skate in the full-team practice but did participate in power play work in a unit with Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, and Victor Hedman.

The Lightning captain has yet to practice with the rest of his teammates after he sustained an injury during Phase 2 workouts. At the start of training camp GM Julien BriseBois said he was confident Stamkos would be in the lineup when Tampa takes on the Capitals Aug 3.

Status known for Crawford

There’s been no sign of Corey Crawford as Blackhawks camp got under way. When will he hit the ice? That’s still an unknown, according to head coach Jeremy Colliton.

“We don’t know. For now, that’s how we’re describing it as ‘unfit to participate,'” Colliton told WGN Radio. “We’ll see. There’s still time.”

Crawford also did not skate during the Phase 2 workouts which began June 8. As of right now, the team’s goaltending depth chart features Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban, and Matt Tomkins. (What, no Scott Foster?)

“For now, there’s no change, but certainly haven’t ruled [Crawford] out going forward,” Colliton said after Friday’s skate.

The Blackhawks play the Oilers in their Stanley Cup Qualifier series with Game 1 coming on Aug 1. They will face the Blues in their only exhibition game on July 29.

A nice sight to see

Flower blooms in Vegas

While Crawford remains out, Marc-Andre Fleury appeared on the ice for the first time this week. After sitting out the first three days with what the team called “maintenance,” the goaltender joined his teammates Thursday.

The Golden Knights are one of those teams that have options in net between Fleury and Robin Lehner. Camp will give head coach Peter DeBoer a good idea of who he’ll go with to start the round-robin.

“I’m not going to be afraid to play either goalie,” he said. “I’m not sure what it’s going to look like. I’m going to keep an open mind with this because we have two great goalies.”

MORE: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour schedule: June 15-18

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The 2019 Heritage Classic overtime matchup between the Jets and Flames headlines this week’s Hockey Happy Hour coverage on NBCSN, which spotlights 2019-20 regular-season games between potential Qualifying Round matchups. Two clashes between the Oilers and Blackhawks from earlier this year will also be presented tonight at 5:30 p.m. ET and Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Monday, June 15 on NBCSN
NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 9) – 5 p.m. ET
Chicago vs. Edmonton (2019-20 Regular Season, Feb. 11, 2020) – 5:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 16 on NBCSN
NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 5—Series Finale) – 6 p.m. ET
Calgary vs. Winnipeg (2019 Heritage Classic) -7 p.m. ET

Wednesday, June 17 on NBCSN
Edmonton vs. Chicago (2019-20 Regular Season, March 5, 2020) – 6 p.m. ET

Thursday, June 18 on NBCSN
Skates & Plates (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
Our Line Starts – 5:30 p.m. ET

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN – MONDAY, 5 P.M. ET: Lightning forward Alex Killorn will join the ninth episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. The show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt, women’s hockey player Renata Fast, Flyers mascot Gritty, and series regular and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST? – TUESDAY, 6 P.M. ET: NHL’s Who Wore It Best? spotlights hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The hour-long series finale features Keith Jones and Pierre McGuire who take part in debating the following jersey numbers: 9, 7, 3, 2 and 1.

SKATES & PLATES – THURSDAY, 5 P.M. ET: The NHL’s Skates & Plates is a cooking series that features a chef alongside an NHL player preparing a food dish together, giving viewers the chance to see how the two finished products compare. The second episode features New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba with chef Marc Forgione learning how to prepare one of Trouba’s favorite dishes from Forgione’s eponymous New York City restaurant.

OUR LINE STARTS – THURSDAY, 5:30 P.M. ET: NHL on NBC analyst Anson Carter, NBC Sports Chicago analyst Jamal Mayers and current professional women’s hockey player Blake Bolden will join host Liam McHugh for a conversation on race, diversity and inclusion in hockey on the latest episode of NBC Sports’ NHL weekly podcast, Our Line Starts.

NHL Awards: Bobby Ryan, Oskar Lindblom among 2020 Masterton nominees

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Now that the 2019-20 NHL regular season is officially over, it’s awards season.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association were sent their ballots for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, and Selke Trophies, as well as the the NHL All-Star and All-Rookie Teams on Monday. (General managers vote for the Vezina Trophy and the NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on the Jack Adams Award.)

The finalists and results will be announced at some point this summer on a date to be determined by the NHL.

On Monday, the PHWA announced the 31 nominees for the 2020 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is given to the players “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

The 31 nominees are selected by each PHWA chapter.

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Miller
Arizona Coyotes: Conor Garland
Boston Bruins: Kevan Miller
Buffalo Sabres: Curtis Lazar
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Carolina Hurricanes: James Reimer
Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford
Colorado Avalanche: Ryan Graves
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Gerbe
Dallas Stars: Stephen Johns
Detroit Red Wings: Robby Fabbri
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Florida Panthers: Noel Acciari
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
Minnesota Wild: Alex Stalock
Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
Nashville Predators: Jarred Tinordi
New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac
New York Islanders: Thomas Hickey
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan
Philadelphia Flyers: Oskar Lindblom
Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin
St. Louis Blues: Jay Bouwmeester
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton
Tampa Bay Lightning: Alex Killorn
Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom
Vegas Golden Knights: Shea Theodore
Washington Capitals: Michal Kempny
Winnipeg Jets: Mark Letestu

Robin Lehner of the Rangers — sorry, Islanders — won the 2019 award after sharing his struggle with alcohol and mental illness.

There are a number of good cases to be made for players. Johns missed 22 months due to headaches and returned this season to play 17 games; Fabbri suffered two major knee injuries, returned, moved on to Detroit and had a nice season with 14 goals and 31 points; Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac event during a February game; Lindblom has not played for the Flyers since December as he fights Ewing sarcoma; and Ryan stepped away from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem and netted a hat trick in his first home game back.

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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.

Killorn, Lightning jet ski their way to NHL return in ‘Bolts are Back’

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During some of the dog days of the pandemic pause, Alex Killorn gathered Lightning teammates for some tremendous-cheesy “Dock Talk” videos. It only makes sense, then, that he gathered the gang (“the boys?”) for the best segment yet to celebrate the NHL’s return to play. Yes, the “Bolts are back,” indeed.*

* – In small groups

Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and other Lightning teammates celebrated this announcement — on jet skis, with humor — to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are back in town.”

(Warning: that song will probably get in your head if you watch the video above. Maybe it already is?)

Enjoy some of the best moments of Killorn’s great “Bolts are back” video.

Splashy highlights of Killorn, Stamkos, other Lightning players in “Bolts are back”

Killorn makes his “directorial debut” with an honestly very nice overhead pool shot. The video starts strong with Stamkos and Killorn being goofy on their jet skis.

Stamkos "Bolts are Back"
What, Stamkos didn’t spring for fancy airpods? (via Killorn)

In a moment of poor sportsmanship/skismanship, an unnamed Bruin (or, most likely, someone wearing a Bruins shirt?) gets splashed. Figure this one out, Internet. I believe this is the same person who gets dumped in the water (while wearing a Maple Leafs shirt?) later on?

Bruins guy in "Bolts are Back"
Well, that’s rude. (via Killorn)

While there’s plenty of room for debate, I’d argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy (aka “Big Cat”) earns the nod for best cameo. We catch him lifting weights, and grunting something — maybe “you’re the man?” — before spotting his Lightning pals.

Vasilevskiy Big Cat "Bolts are Back"
Do goalies need to be that ripped? Asking for Dominik Hasek. (via Killorn)

Like many great filmmakers, Killorn tackles class when he features Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli in one of the more memorable sequences of “Bolts are Back.” Notice that Cirelli (“Rocco”) is waiting tables before being summoned. You see, Cirelli is on an entry-level contract. Is his artificially deflated contract being referenced by Killorn?

Clearly.

Judging by Cirelli abandoning his duties, it’s not only good that the Bolts are back, and so seemingly is the NHL. It’s also promising that Cirelli’s due a raise as a pending RFA.

Other cast members

Not every appearance was as strong as a grunting big cat. Then again, maybe it boils down to repeat viewings, because Mikhail Sergachev‘s fanny pack and cat moved up the power rankings over time:

Sergachev cat
Almost a dog-like pose? Not complaining. (via Killorn)

Clearly, Braydon Coburn and/or Killorn are well-schooled on action movie tropes. At least, that’s my headcanon for Coburn being interrupted while cutting wood. Doesn’t that happen in every thriller involving a reluctantly returning hero? Anyway, Coburn joining the group with an open shirt earns one of the bigger laughs:

Braydon Coburn cameo
Alrighty then, “Kobayashi.” (via Killorn)

Killorn isn’t yet at that “obsessive auteur director” level just yet, as I imagine a control freak would have been maddened by the imperfect skiing V:

imperfect V "Bolts are back"
Maddening. (via Killorn)

(Seriously, who is the straggler? Could Cirelli’s jet ski not keep up? Class rears its ugly head again.)

Killorn ties it all together with another great joke: “The Bolts are back” — in small groups.

"Bolts are Back" -- in small groups
(via Killorn)

Killorn actually might be right about the whole “breakout influencer of the year” thing, honestly.

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.