Jason Spezza

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NHL teams seeking free agent bargains should shop for ‘antiques’

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With Jake Gardiner needing a contract, RFAs like Mitch Marner not yet signed, and at least a vague possibility of Rasmus Ristolainen-type players potentially being traded, there are still plenty of things to watch for this summer. It just so happens that, beyond Gardiner and very few others, the UFA market looks about as well-stocked as the bread aisle right before a big storm.

Interestingly, some of the best items in the bargain bins are those dented cans nearing their expiration dates.

During July 1, you generally want to avoid messing with Father Time. Yet, as the dog days of summer go along, there’s actually some logic to considering potentially cheap players with long resumes.

Interestingly, one July 1 signing is an example of the sort of bargain I’d pursue between today and when PTOs start to flow close to training camps in September. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed veteran Jason Spezza on the first day of the frenzy, convincing the 36-year-old to go from $7.5 million in AAV in 2018-19 to $700K in 2019-20.

Spezza might not seem like the sexiest choice in his current form, but that’s almost the point. Now that he’s no longer making superstar money, his positives can shine most brightly, and I’d expect him to be a nice bargain for Toronto.

While Spezza might be the best of the types of bets I’d consider making if I were running a team, there are still some intriguing veterans to consider. To make things clear, here are a few key qualifiers before we roll into some names: this list assumes that the contracts would be short, the dollars would be low, and the players would understand that they might have to swallow some pride with a smaller role than in the past.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The lower level of commitment is important to remember. If a cheap, one-year deal doesn’t work out, it’s easier to walk away from a mistake. That’s certainly an easier pill to swallow than to stare at an awkward situation where, say, Milan Lucic is languishing on your roster at $6M, and stands to be an anchor for years.

With expectations sufficiently lowered and contextualized, let’s consider a few veterans.

Cream of the limited crop

Jason Pominville: Fittingly, the best comparison to Jason Spezza is another Jason with a right-handed shot, and some great memories related to the Senators. (In Pominville’s case, it was scoring against Ottawa, much to the confusion and dismay of Daniel Alfredsson.)

Like Spezza, Pominville’s sneaky-solid production was downplayed because of his bloated salary; in Pominville’s case, his 2018-19 cap hit was $5.6M. At a sub-$1M rate, Pominville could be an economical fit for a team that wants a veteran who can still bring some value to the table, and would probably be willing to move around the lineup to make things work.

Actually, I’d argue he’s probably more versatile than Spezza, and thus might fit into a wider array of situations.

Even with all of their improvements, I’d strongly consider bringing Pominville back at a huge discount if I were the Sabres (and if Pominville would accept it). It sure seemed like he was a decent passenger for Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner at times in 2018-19, as The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis also pointed out (sub required):

Pominville was lucky last year to spend a significant chunk of time with Jack Eichel and/or Jeff Skinner, but he was an upgrade on Buffalo’s other right wing options on that line, which only really caught fire when he joined it (climbing from 3.1 to 5.3 goals per hour, and from a 52 percent to 55 percent shot share).

Why not bring back Pominville to occasionally be a cheap addition to the $19M combo of Eichel – Skinner, so you can then use the Marcus Johanssons and Jimmy Veseys as scorers on lower lines, getting them easier matchups? Just a thought.

Similar scenarios could make sense for other cap-strapped teams, too.

Justin Williams: Every indication is that Williams’ choices seem to boil down to retirement or returning to the Carolina Hurricanes.

But just to throw it out there: even during his age 37 season (Williams turns 38 in October), “Mr. Game 7” was more than a guy who shows up in clutch moments. Williams looked almost ridiculous from an advanced stats perspective last season, and brings the sort of intangibles that makes someone a “Storm Surge” innovator.

If I’m another team with some cap space, I’d at least try to wave some one-year money around to see if it might entice Williams to consider branching out. At minimum, Carolina should keep a spot warm for the winger.

Veteran specialists

Brian Boyle: The Predators continued their tradition of paying big premiums for huge depth centers in trading a second-rounder to rent Boyle this past season, so it’s clear that at last some teams see value in Boyle as a large defensive presence who can use that size to screen goalies during the occasional power play stint.

If Boyle costs you big assets, then meh. If he’s cheap and doesn’t command much term, then he could be appealing as the center of an all-defense third or fourth line. (At this stage, fourth would be preferable, but different teams have different situations.)

Thomas Vanek: On the absolute other end of the spectrum, you have Vanek, who would need to be sheltered with limited five-on-five minutes, but might give you some offense in a pinch.

Basically, I’d envision Vanek in the Sam Gagner role during Gagner’s brief time as a power-play specialist for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 35-year-old managed 36 points in 64 games last season, and scored 24 goals and 56 in 80 games in 2017-18.

Sure, his all-around game makes him less of a net positive overall, but a savvy coach could yield decent returns while limiting risks.

Dented cans

  • Chad Johnson: The 33-year-old’s save percentage was below 90 for the past two seasons, so maybe he’s as done as the former Bengals receiver who shares his name. But if he’d be willing to take on a role as a third goalie – one who could easily be moved between the AHL and NHL – then he could provide some injury insulation. From 2012-13 to 2016-17, Johnson generated a solid .915 save percentage, matching Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller during that span. Maybe he still has something to offer, even just marginally so?
  • Dan Girardi, Niklas Kronwall, Deryk Engelland: Here’s a theory: virtually all NHL coaches need that “toy.” Almost every coach has a player they love who … frankly, isn’t really worthy of those minutes and opportunities, yet the coach fawns over them nonetheless.

Consider Alain Vigneault when he searched for excuses to play Tanner Glass in New York, or Mike Babcock’s love of Roman Polak.

Personally, I’d try not to indulge such bad habits in a coach, yet what if the situation basically demands it?

If such affairs are unavoidable, maybe the key is to limit the damage by getting a cheaper option, one who hopefully wouldn’t get too much playing time, either. The hope would be that, if you give an old coach some old, beat-up player, they’d be more willing to also allow a younger player a longer leash.

Yeah … not the greatest situation, and I’d avoid the Girardis, but these GMs know their coaches better than anyone else.

***

Again, it’s crucial to realize that the above list is full of imperfect players, or ones who will only push you forward with baby steps, not giant leaps for hockey-kind. Even ones I like more (Pominville, Williams if he’d listen to offers from outside the Carolinas) aren’t going to save a GM’s job. And with that aforementioned group of veteran defensemen, some of these options would be less about improving and more about accepting lesser evils to appease the sometimes strange whims of NHL head coaches.

In some cases, veteran players might even sign PTOs, which would allow teams to see if they can find a spot in the lineup and chemistry with the team before even handing out a guaranteed contract.

This list isn’t necessarily comprehensive, either, so fire away if you have suggestions. In the case of this post, the veteran UFA options are 32 and older, if that helps.

MORE FREE AGENCY FUN:
Three signings that teams will regret
Five remaining UFAs who could bring value, the mostly young version
Looking at every team’s offseason in Power Rankings form
• The high-risk, high-reward contracts signed on July 1 frequently end in trades or buyouts.

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.

ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2019-20 Stanley Cup.

July 19
• Colorado Avalanche sign Bowen Byram to a three-year, $2.775 million entry level deal.

• Edmonton Oilers trade Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Charles Hudon to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• New York Rangers sign Jacob Trouba to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

July 17
• Colorado Avalanche sign J.T. Compher to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Joe Hicketts to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• New York Rangers sign Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Chris Stewart to a training camp PTO.

July 16
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Haydn Fleury to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks trade Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Josh Archibald to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Cal Petersen to a three-year, $2.575 million deal.

• Minnesota Wild sign Ryan Donato to a two-year, $3.8 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Connor Carrick to a two-year, $3 million deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Teddy Blueger to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Jake Bischoff to a three-year, $2.15 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Jakub Vrana a two-year, $6.7 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• Anaheim Ducks sign Chris Wideman to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Dylan Cozens to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Clark Bishop to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes’ Gustav Forsling accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• Colorado Avalanche sign Andre Burakovsky to a one-year, $3.25 million deal. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sonny Milano accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• New York Islanders sign Simon Holmstrom to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

July 14
• Detroit Red Wings sign Moritz Seider to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

July 13
• St. Louis Blues sign Jordan Binnington to a two-year, $8.8 million deal. (Link)

July 12
• Buffalo Sabres sign Johan Larsson to a one-year, $1.55 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Ryan Dzingel to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Jack Hughes to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $11.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Scott Laughton to a two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

• St. Louis Blues sign Robby Fabbri to a one-year, $900,000 deal. (Link)

July 11
• Anaheim Ducks sign Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Jason Dickinson to a two-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Joel Armia to a two-year, $5.2 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Artturi Lehkonen to a two-year, $4.8 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Kaapo Kakko to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $10.725 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dylan Gambrell to a two-year, $1.4 million deal. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks sign Antti Suomela to a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

July 10
• Los Angeles Kings sign Alex Iafallo to a two-year, $4.85 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Micheal Ferland to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

July 9
• Boston Bruins sign Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Dillon Heatherington to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Malcolm Subban to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

July 8
• Chicago Blackhawks sign Kirby Dach to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Ryan Graves to a one-year, $735,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Gavin Bayreuther to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Zach Sanford to a two-year, $3 million deal, avoiding arbitration.

• San Jose Sharks sign Kevin Labanc to a one-year, $1 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Francis Perron to a one-year, $715,000 deal.

July 7
• Arizona Coyotes sign Victor Soderstrom to a three-year, $4.755 million entry-level contract.

• Tampa Bay Lightning sign Gemel Smith to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 6
• Boston Bruins sign Peter Cehlárik to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Marcus Johansson to two-year, $9 million deal. (Link)

July 5
• Anaheim Ducks sign Andreas Martinsen to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres re-sign Zemgus Girgensons to one-year, $1.6 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche re-sign Nikita Zadorov to one-year, $3.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Scott Harrington to a three-year, $4.9 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Mario Kempe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Nick Cousins to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign Cedric Paquette to two-year, $3.3 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Josh Leivo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

July 4
• Arizona Coyotes sign Hudson Fasching to a two-year, $1.475 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Kevin Roy to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Ben Chiarot to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Cody Ceci to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Alexander Kerfoot to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Justin Bailey to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 3
• Montreal Canadiens sign Phil Varone to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Joseph Blandisi to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 2
• Anaheim Ducks sign Anthony Stolarz to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Arizona Coyotes sign Lawson Crouse to a three-year, $4.6 million deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign C.J. Smith to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes announce their intention to match the five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet Sebastian Aho signed with the Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Nick Paul to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Motte to one-year, $975,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Anthony Bitetto to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Mark Letestu to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 1
• Boston Bruins sign Brett Ritchie to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Boston Bruins re-sign Connor Clifton to a three-year, $3 million extension.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Curtis Lazar to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign John Gilmour to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Calgary Flames sign Cam Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Petr Mrazek to a two-year, $6.25 million deal. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Ryan Carpenter to a three-year, $3 million deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche sign Joonas Donskoi to a four-year, $10.5 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche trade Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, a 2020 third-round pick. The Avalanche will retain 50% of Barrie’s $5.5 million cap hit. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche sign Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche sign Colin Wilson to one-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Ryan Murray to two-year, $9.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Joonas Korpisalo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Gustav Nyquist to four-year, $22 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Andrej Sekera to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million deal (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Corey Perry to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Valtteri Filppula to two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Patrik Nemeth to a two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Calvin Pickard to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Mike Smith to a one-year, $2 million deal. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Jujhar Khaira to two-year, $2.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Alex Chiasson to two-year, $4.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Tomas Jurco to a one-year, $750,00 deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Anton Stralman to a three-year, $16.5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Sergei Bobrovsky to seven-year, $70 million deal. (Link)

• Florida Panthers sign Noel Acciari to a three-year, $5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Brett Connolly to a four-year, $14 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Joakim Ryan to a one-year, $725,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Martin Frk to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Minnesota Wild sign Mats Zuccarello to five-year, $30 million contract. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild sign Ryan Hartman to a two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Riley Barber to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens have tendered a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. The Carolina Hurricanes have seven days to match or walk away. Should the Hurricanes walk away, the Canadiens will send them first-, second-, and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Daniel Carr to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New Jersey Devils sign Wayne Simmonds to one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers trade Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 third-round pick. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Anders Lee to a seven-year, $49 million deal. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Ron Hainsey to one-year $3.5 million.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Brandon Tanev to six-year, $21 million contract. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Timo Meier to a four-year, $24 million extension. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Tim Heed to one-year contract.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Sammy Blais to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Nathan Walker to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning sign Curtis McElhinney to a two-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning sign Luke Schenn to a one-year, $700,00 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kevin Gravel to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kenny Agostino to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, prospect Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in 2020 for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and forward Michael Carcone. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Jason Spezza to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Jordie Benn to a two-year, $4 million deal. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Brandon Pirri to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Tomas Nosek to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Richard Panik to four-year, $11 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Garnet Hathaway to a four-year, $6 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Brendan Leipsic to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Nathan Beaulieu to a one-year, $1 million deal.

June 30
• Carolina Hurricanes trade Scott Darling and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for James Reimer. The Panthers have put Darling on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks trade a second and seventh-round pick in 2020 and a third-round pick in 2021 to the Montreal Canadiens for Andrew Shaw and a seventh-round pick. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers have put Andrej Sekera on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

• Montreal Canadiens trade Nicolas Deslauriers in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth-round draft pick in 2020.

• Philadelphia Flyers have put David Schlemko on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

June 29
• Dallas Stars place Valeri Nichushkin on waivers for purpose of a buyout. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins trade Phil Kessel, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and Dane Birks to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Oliver Joseph. (Link)

• New York Islanders re-sign Tom Kuhnhackl to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks place Ryan Spooner on waivers for purpose of a buyout.

June 28
• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Alex Nedeljkovic to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• Chicago Blackhawks re-sign Dylan Sikura and John Quenneville to extensions of two years worth $1.5 million each.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Kasperi Kapanen to a three-year, $9.6 million extension and Andreas Johnsson to a $13.6 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick. (Link)

• Washington Capitals trade Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2020 second-round pick, 2020 third-round pick, and Scott Kosmachuk. (Link)

June 27
• Dallas Stars re-sign Taylor Fedun to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year, $3.5 million extension.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, $700,000 extension.

June 26
• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Brian Elliott to a one-year, $2 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick. (Link)

June 25
• Colorado Avalanche trade Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Adam Clendening to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Ottawa Senators re-sign Cody Goloubef to a one-year, $800,000 extension.

June 24
• Boston Bruins re-sign Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 million extension.

• Carolina Hurricanes trade Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. (Link)

• Dallas Stars trade Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Ryan Hartman. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild re-sign Brad Hunt to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Travis Sanheim to a two-year, $6.5 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights re-sign William Karlsson to an eight-year, $47.2 million extension. (Link)

June 22
• Nashville Predators trade P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and second-round picks in 2019 and 2020. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils trade John Quenneville to the Chicago Blackhawks for John Hayden.

• Tampa Bay Lightning trade J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick, and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Patrick Marleau and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021, seventh-round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 sixth-round pick. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks trade Tom Pyatt and a 2019 sixth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Francis Perron and a 2019 seventh-round pick.

PHT Power Rankings: Looking at every NHL team’s offseason

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With the 2019 NHL Draft in the rear-view mirror and all of the major unrestricted free agents signed, it is time to check in on how each team has improved (or failed to improve) so far this offseason.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at the teams that have done the most (and the least) to get better.

Before we get to the rankings we do need to specify something very important: This is NOT a ranking of where each team stands in the league in terms of Stanley Cup contender or playoff status, or a ranking of how good each team is overall. It is simply a look at which teams have had the best and worst offseasons. If you have had a good offseason, you rank high. If you had a bad offseason, you rank low.

Obviously there is still time this summer for teams to get better (or worse), but this is simply a progress report of where their offseason stands right now.

Teams that are significantly better

1. New York Rangers. It would be difficult to have a better offseason than the one the Rangers have had. They added one of the league’s top offensive players (Artemi Panarin), a potential superstar thanks to some draft lottery luck (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender (Jacob Trouba). They did all of that while giving up nothing of significance from their NHL roster. Is it a playoff team this season? That probably depends on how much Henrik Lundqvist has left in the tank, but they are close.

2. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban joining a core that already has Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall makes the Devils a fascinating team to watch. Now they just need to find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Like the Rangers they may not be a playoff team this season, but they are definitely improved.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Losing Tyson Barrie off the blue line might hurt, but the Avalanche are loaded with young, impact defenders and by trading Barrie they found a perfect second-line center (Nazem Kadri) to complement Nathan MacKinnon … as long as Kadri stays on the ice and out of the player safety office. Along with the additions of Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky they now have some actual scoring depth to support their big three.

4. Dallas Stars. It would not be an NHL offseason without general manager Jim Nill raising another offseason championship banner. Even if Joe Pavelski shows some signs of decline and regresses from his 38-goal output this past season he is still just what the league’s most top-heavy team needed.

5. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel is the big, headline-grabbing addition but Carl Soderberg could be a nice depth pickup as well. Even if Kessel starts to slow down he should still be able to run the Coyotes’ power play and make a significant impact.

Teams that are probably better

6. Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s contract will almost certainly be an albatross on their salary cap in the next three or four years and probably end up in a buyout, but he might get them to the playoffs a couple of times before that. Bobrovsky is the big name, but don’t sleep on Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly as depth additions.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Their salary cap concerns were always overblown and they were always going to find a way to get out of them. They not only shed a lot of bad contracts and almost certainly created enough space to re-sign Mitch Marner, but they also managed to add a much-needed top-defender in Barrie. Jason Spezza may not be what he once was, but he should be fine as a third-line center for this team.

8. Chicago Blackhawks. The worst defensive team in the league made two solid additions in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, then found a starting caliber goalie that just so happened to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season.

9. Minnesota Wild. Still do not understand the direction Paul Fenton has this team going in, but Mats Zuccarello is a definite upgrade in the short-term.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene is a nice addition and gives them another impact forward that might help a dreadful power play. So why only “probably” better? Because they had to trade an impact defender for almost nothing to be able to sign him. How much better you think the Predators are depends on whether or not you think they needed Duchene more than Subban. Or, probably more accurately, if you think Duchene is that much more valuable than Subban.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Good teams that have stayed the same

11. St. Louis Blues. It has been a quiet offseason for the champs, adding nothing of significance and losing nothing of significance. Nothing wrong with that when you are parading the Stanley Cup around.

12. Boston Bruins. The Bruins look to be returning mostly the same roster next season, and it will still be a Stanley Cup contender.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Some musical chairs in net, but there should not be much of a drop off. The big win this offseason was Montreal helping them out with Sebastian Aho’s new contract.

14. Washington Capitals. Radko Gudas is probably a better player than Matt Niskanen at this stage of his career. Andre Burakovsky never panned out, but they made a couple of solid depth signings to fill his spot.

15. Calgary Flames. Still a potential Stanley Cup team with one pretty massive flaw in net.

Bad teams that are marginally better

16. Buffalo Sabres. Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey are all solid additions for what amounts to very little in cost. That is the good news. The bad news this team still has a long way to go before it is a serious threat in the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference Wild Card races.

17. Vancouver Canucks. J.T. Miller is pretty good and an upgrade for their forward group, but does this team, in this position, in this stage of its rebuild, need to be doing things like trading a future first-round draft pick or giving Tyler Myers a five-year, $30 million contract? It’s like … you’re kinda better, but what’s the point? The Jim Benning era, folks.

Good Teams that have gotten worse

18. Pittsburgh Penguins. Does swapping Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta for Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, and Brandon Tanev move you closer to a Stanley Cup? You should have serious doubts about that. At least the speculation on trading Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang turned out to be just that and nothing ever came from it.

19. San Jose Sharks. Keeping Erik Karlsson is significant, but losing Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and returning the same starting goalie is also significant … for the wrong reasons.

20. Tampa Bay Lightning. The salary cap crunch and the RFA status of Brayden Point has resulted in some subtractions to the roster and no significant additions. That makes them a little worse simply by default, but they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league. Instead of 60 games, they might win … 50? 55?

21. Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really want to call Kevin Hayes a “loss” since he only played 20 regular season games with the team, but they have lost a lot off of their blue line with very little coming in to replace it.

22. Vegas Golden Knights. They are going to miss Colin Miller, and might really miss out on Nikita Gusev if they move him before they even realize what they had.

23. New York Islanders. They kept all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, but going from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov in net could be a huge downgrade. Given how important goaltending was to the Islanders’ success this past season that could be a problem.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets. The free agent exodus that everyone expected to happen took place with the departures of Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene (and probably Ryan Dzingel). Gustav Nyquist is a fine pickup on a pretty fair deal, but they still lost a ton. And they still do not have a clear replacement for Bobrovsky.

Bad teams that have stayed the same 

25. Montreal Canadiens. The Aho offer sheet had us excited for about 20 minutes until we realized it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The only solution now is to try and offer sheet someone else!

26. Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes isn’t bad, but there is no way he plays out that seven-year contract in Philadelphia. They added Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen to their defense about four years after they should have. In the end, downgrading the defense (which I think they did) kind of cancels out whatever upgrade Hayes might be at forward. They have made a lot of transactions to remain right where they were.

27. Edmonton Oilers. Based on the moves this offseason (as well as the lack of moves) it seems likely that another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is about to be wasted. Such a shame.

28. Ottawa Senators. They brought in a bunch of new faces but nothing that is going to prevent this team from continuing to be one of the worst in the league.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do and has been fairly quiet this summer.

30. Anaheim Ducks. They had to get rid of Corey Perry’s contract, but they still have a ton of money tied up in players on the wrong side of 30 (or very close to 30).

31. Los Angeles Kings. So far their effort to rebuild and get younger has involved trading Jake Muzzin and buying out Dion Phaneuf. The longer they drag their feet in gutting this roster the longer this team will remain in the basement.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs ace salary cap tests, but Marner challenge remains

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The Toronto Maple Leafs entered this offseason with possibly the toughest to-do list of any NHL team, and while the biggest challenge still awaits in signing RFA star Mitch Marner, GM Kyle Dubas deserves at least a B+ for his efforts.

You can bump Dubas & Co. up to an A depending upon taste, and certainly if you’re grading on a curve in considering that every other NHL team was well aware of Toronto’s predicament. Some teams managed to exploit those issues for their own gains, while some still managed to sucker themselves. Either way, mostly strong work so far.

Thursday presented the latest round of moves surrounding that pivotal Marner push, as the Maple Leafs signed Alex Kerfoot to a sensible extension and … meh, at least only signed Cody Ceci for one year? (Not trying, at least outwardly, to merely flip Ceci again and seek a cheaper alternative puzzles me, but maybe Toronto has internal data that argues that Ceci is better than people realize?)

While Nazem Kadri was a better luxury, getting Kerfoot at just $3.5M per year, with some term, is pretty nifty by my eyes. Maybe those eyes have been re-adjusted by the Montreal Canadiens giving marginal defenseman Ben Chiarot that same $3.5M AAV, but I’d wager that Kerfoot will at least be as valuable as his cap hit, if not deliver as a nice bargain.

It fits in wonderfully well with two very reasonable re-signings from earlier this summer, as the Maple Leafs took Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson off the docket, getting cost certainty and also avoiding the threat of other teams trying to poach them. For all the talk of Marner possibly signing an offer sheet, the bigger worry might be that an opposing team would instead make it uncomfortable for Toronto to keep mid-level, useful young players. Instead, Dubas got them re-signed, and likely at below market value, even if you take RFA statuses into account.

Good stuff.

Dubas wasn’t flawless in his efforts to get rid of those Marleau and Zaitsev problems, although I imagine that it wasn’t especially easy to find takers to alleviate those concerns.

The Carolina Hurricanes traded for Marleau and eventually bought the veteran out, essentially paying close to $4M to buy Toronto’s first-round pick. If you want an idea of how smart I thought Carolina was, I postulated that rebuilding teams should use that trade as something of a blueprint: basically, take a bribe of picks and prospects to relieve contenders of their Marleau-lite problems.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That’s a fairly hefty price for Toronto to pay, especially since contending teams could conceivably take care of some of the strain of top-heavy contracts by getting quality (or just stopgap) production from players on entry-level contracts.

Luckily for Dubas, the Maple Leafs didn’t need to burn another first-rounder to get rid of Zaitsev’s lengthy, challenging contract. Instead, he was able to package Zaitsev in a deal for Ceci, who will cost the same $4.5M AAV in 2019-20, with the difference being that Ceci’s deal lasts for one year, while Zaitsev’s albatross hangs around through 2023-24. It’s true that the Maple Leafs also had to part with Connor Brown in that trade, but, overall, that’s a comically Maple Leafs-friendly deal, considering how toxic Zaitsev’s contract is.

(The Senators not getting a higher-level return for taking on Zaitsev is, well, a nice reminder that, as much as that team’s plight stems from owner Eugene Melnyk, Pierre Dorion’s also made some rough judgment calls in recent years.)

Time will tell if that blockbuster Kadri – Kerfoot – Tyson Barrie etc. trade ends up being a win, loss, or draw for Toronto, but as of this moment, it’s a bold and sensible example of two teams addressing weaknesses from areas of strength. Maybe Barrie has some flaws, but he’s a drastic upgrade at right-handed defense, Toronto’s biggest area of weakness. If it truly was time for the Leafs to part with Kadri, then that trade was really shrewd.

Speaking of shrewd, I quite enjoy some of the low-risk, medium-reward moves by Toronto. Jason Spezza‘s $7.5M cap hit made things downright awkward at times in Dallas last season, but at $750K, Spezza could be a sneaky-steal. Nick Shore’s an under-the-radar analytics darling, too, to the point that I was surprised that he had to sign in the KHL last season. (Too under the radar, I guess.)

It’s a little tricky to estimate precisely how much cap space the Maple Leafs have left for Marner, as you can see from this Cap Friendly tweet.

With Nathan Horton‘s looming $5.3M LTIR trip, that would put the Maple Leafs over $9M, with some wiggle room with other roster spots (again, see this thread to get an idea of some of the complications).

Toronto being where they are still leaves them vulnerable to an offer sheet on Marner, with these two compensation ranges (via the NHL) being the most relevant:

More than $8,454,871 to $10,568,589 — two first-round picks, one second-round pick and one third-round pick

More than $10,568,589 — four first-round picks (can be spread over five-year period)

Each offer sheet possibility would be interesting. An offer right under that $10,568,589 mark would at least make things a little uncomfortable. If a team wanted to push things into the stratosphere, they could also go well over $10.57M.

Under most circumstances, you’d expect the Maple Leafs to match a Marner offer sheet, yet that doesn’t mean that another team wouldn’t want to really put Toronto in a tough spot.

Theoretically, at least. It’s also plausible that teams a) don’t want to waste their time if an offer sheet wouldn’t work, b) winced at the reaction Marc Bergevin received, c) fear retribution if their big-ticket guys become eligible for offer sheets, or d) all of the above.

Overall, I wouldn’t be too worried if I were Dubas. They’ve mostly walked that tightrope with skill, and could really settle this offseason if Marner just wants to hash things out.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see at least some lane to put Toronto in an uncomfortable spot, as the other dominoes have mostly fallen. Could a team try to push the salary up above that $10.57M mark, which might mean that Toronto would have to trade a nice player such as Zach Hyman ($2.25M) to make the pieces fit? Could a team go very high AAV for three years, so Marner’s deal would overlap with possibly needing to give Frederik Andersen a raise, as the goalie’s team-friendly $5M cap hit dissolves after 2020-21?

The Maple Leafs eased concerns about other players by getting Kapanen and Johnsson locked down, so if there’s any chance Marner just wants to get this over with, I’d be inclined to hammer a deal out.

***

Even in the unlikely event that Marner signs for the same cap hit as Sebastian Aho, the trio of Marner + Auston Matthews + John Tavares costs well over $30M ($22.634M for Matthews and Tavares alone).

That statement should neatly summarize the notion that, chances are, the Maple Leafs will struggle with salary cap headaches for the duration of their window of contention, if not longer.

As we’ve seen with teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins, it’s difficult to avoid making mistakes, although Toronto will surely hope to avoid trading Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin-type gaffes, or … doing whatever it is the Penguins think they’re doing right now.

We won’t get the Maple Leafs’ full grade until we see how they handle the final exam that is the Marner situation, but judging by this summer school salary structure session, they’ve been honor students so far.

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.

Maple Leafs make necessary room for Marner after multi-player deal

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Kyle Dubas is making room.

The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager sent wantaway defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and forward Connor Brown, a sweetener in the deal, to the Ottawa Senators for defensemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur in a deal that was made official on Monday.

The Senators also pick up a third-round pick in 2020 in the deal along with prospect forward Aaron Luchuk while Toronto receives the rights to restricted free agent forward Michael Carcone.

The deal sheds nearly $7 million off Toronto’s cap. Zaitsev is entering the third year of a seven-year, $31.5 million deal while Brown has one-year left on a deal paying him $2.1 million annually.

Cody Ceci, meanwhile, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He made $4.3 million last season. The Maple Leafs have options in this one. They could sign Ceci, of course, if it makes sense in the grand scheme of things. They could also let it go all the way to arbitration, and if he doesn’t fit, they could walk away from the deal. They could also flip the 25-year-old in another deal at some point.

What stands out above all, however, is that the Leafs now have what they need to re-sign Mitch Marner. They’ve squared away other RFAs, such as Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johansson, and have seemingly offer-sheet proofed themselves with the trade made on the first day of free agency.

And they may not be done.

And it looks like Jason Spezza is also joining the Leafs.

 

For the Senators, the rebuild continues.

“We’re bringing in highly competitive players that we like as long-term fits for our team. Both are the type of true professionals who match with the culture we want to put in place here in Ottawa,” general manager Pierre Dorion said in a release from the team. “Nikita is a physical right-shot defenceman who defends hard, fills lanes and blocks shots. Connor has scored 20 goals in the league and is excellent on the forecheck and the penalty kill. We feel both players will add to our depth and fit well within the structure we want our team to play.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.