Kevin Labanc

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Lightning ‘optimistic’ in Point deal before training camp

(UPDATE: The Lightning have freed up more room by sending Ryan Callahan’s cap hit to the Senators.)

At the present, they have roughly $5.5 million in salary cap space and a 40-goal, 90-point restricted free agent to sign, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are certain they’ll get him under contract before training camp begins.

Brayden Point is worth a whole heck of a lot of money and the Lightning don’t have that much to give at the moment, but general manager Julien BriseBois is optimistic nonetheless that a deal will be hatched before the middle of September.

“I fully expect to get it done before the start of training camp,” BriseBois said via NHL.com on Monday. “I don’t have a precise timeline. I feel very optimistic, but I don’t have any new information with regards to the Brayden Point contract.”

Easier said than done, as they say.

The Lightning have a nice cap crunch to deal with and a player of Point’s caliber, even if bridged, is worth more than what they currently have to spend (and they still need to pay Adam Erne, even if it’s around $1 million a season on his own bridge deal.)

But perceived worth and contract actuality are not one and the same. If this summer has taught us anything, it’s that very good players can sign on for very cheap deals. We see you, Kevin Labanc.

Of course, that’s a pretty extreme example of doing your team a solid. And Point isn’t the same player. He’s much better, so don’t expect that here.

Sure, there’s still a world where Point signs an uber-friendly bridge deal. But at $5.5 million? Probably not. Evolving Wild’s model has a two-year deal worth $1 million more than that. A three-year bridge? They have it pegged at over $7 million a season. He’s projected to get a five-year, $8 million contract using their formula. Even that might seem a little low for the 23-year-old.

Even in Florida, where there is no state income tax, Point will get more.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The Lightning do have some reprieve, however. Despite there being some work to do to get Point’s contract done, they can essentially double the money they have to work with by putting Ryan Callahan on long-term-injured reserve.

That makes the situation disappear, for the time being, as it frees up $5.8 million in the process and allowing the Lightning to exceed the cap limit by that much. They can sign Point to whatever term/money makes sense and still fit under the cap.

And if BriseBois’s optimism surprises you, it shouldn’t. If any team can figure out how to keep some very, very good players happy financially, short-term and long-term and under the cap ceiling while remaining competitive, it’s the Lightning — even without Steve Yzerman.

They did it with Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and also with Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevsky, who became a very rich man on Monday.

“What I will say is there are all of these players that signed shorter deals coming out of their entry-level contracts who all ended up signing long-term deals and were able to stick with our organization, whether it’s Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn.” BriseBois said. “It’s worked out for all of them and it’s worked out for the organization. We’ve been able to keep a lot of great players in their prime.”

Next step: not getting swept up in the first round after a record regular season. And then sort out how you’re going to navigate the salary cap once again next offseason, where the Lightning already have $66.7 million committed to 13 players, and that doesn’t include whatever contract Point signs.

MORE: Jets, Lightning still face big RFA challenges

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

PHT Power Rankings: Breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at 10 potential breakout candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season.

We are looking for young players who have already made their NHL debut (so no Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko) and could be on the verge of taking a big step toward stardom.

Who makes the cut? Let’s find out. To the rankings!

1. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He is one of just eight players since the start of the 2000-01 season to score at least 20 goals as an 18-year-old in the NHL. The previous seven (Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jordan Staal, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, and Patrik Laine) scored an average of 31 goals in year two. With his talent and rocket shot don’t be surprised if Svechnikov tops the 30-goal mark and becomes a top-line player for the Hurricanes.

2. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are loaded with young talent and with the offseason trade of Tyson Barrie are going to be relying on a lot of youth on defense. Makar made his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and never really looked out of place, showing the type of skill and potential that could make him a Calder Trophy favorite entering the 2019-20 season.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers fans have reason to believe their long-time goaltending headache could finally be going away. Hart finished with a .917 save percentage as a 20-year-old and is going to enter the season as the team’s starter. He could be a franchise-changing player.

4. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. Not every No. 1 pick is going to enter the NHL and immediately become a superstar. Sometimes it takes a couple of years. Hischier has been really good his first two years in the league and probably still has another level he can reach, and with the Devils adding some impact talent to their roster this offseason he should have a little more help in getting there.

5. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. There is an argument to be made that Labanc already had his “breakout” season this past year (17 goals, 56 assists) but it might still yet be ahead of him. He not only should get a bigger role this season for the Sharks but he also kind of bet on himself to have a big year with a one-year, $1 million contract. He has talent, he is already productive, and he has a lot to play for.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

6. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning. Ton of talent, potential and already productive at a young age. He just turned 21 and has already played 150 games and has averaged 0.36 points per game. Only six other active defenders have had a similar start to their careers: Drew Doughty, Zach Werenski, Morgan Rielly, Aaron Ekblad, Tyler Myers and Cam Fowler. Hopefully for the Lightning’s sake he follows the path of the first four.

7. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. There was a lot to like about Kotkaniemi’s rookie season. Not only did he produce at a respectable level for a teenager, but he also posted dominant possession numbers (57 percent Corsi) that were among the league’s best. Was it a sheltered role? Sure it was, he was an 18-year-old rookie. But there is still something to be said for a player that age stepping right into the NHL and holding his own the way he did.

8. Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues. A first-round pick by the Blues in 2017, Thomas has been a highly anticipated prospect in the Blues organization and, in making the jump from the OHL straight to the NHL, made a strong first impression for the Stanley Cup champions. Great talent and likely to be a core building block for the Blues in the coming seasons.

9. Henri Jokiharju, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have added a lot of talent to their blue line over the past two years, drafting Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall in 2018 and then acquiring Colin Miller and Jokiharju. Jokiharju is definitely the more intriguing out of the latter two because he is still only 20 years old, was a first-round pick just a couple of years ago, and looked really good at times in the first half of the 2018-19 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. He never seemed to get the trust of new coach Jeremy Colliton and was eventually traded this summer for Alex Nylander. If he reaches his potential in Buffalo the Sabres might finally have the start of a playoff caliber defense.

10. Devon Toews, New York Islanders. Toews is an interesting one because he is the oldest player on this list (25) and only has 56 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs combined) on his resume. It took him a few years to get his first look with the Islanders, but he absolutely made the most of it and looked more impressive with each game.

Honorable mentionsRyan Donato, Minnesota Wild; Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes; Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars; Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers; Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche; David Rittich, Calgary Flames; Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers; Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings.

MORE: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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.

Flames stash Sam Bennett with new deal, cap challenges remain

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All things considered, the Calgary Flames’ new deal with Sam Bennett is well-manicured.

OK, with that mustache humor trimmed away, let’s note that the Flames avoided salary arbitration with Bennett, signing the 23-year-old to a two-year deal that carries a $2.55 million cap hit (so it’s $5.1M total).

Let’s start with the stuff that will push Flames fans from relieved back to possibly unsettled. (No, this isn’t Milan Lucic-related.)

The Flames still have three RFAs to sign: star-agitator Matthew Tkachuk, interesting goalie David Rittich, and hidden gem Andrew Mangiapane, yet Cap Friendly estimates that Calgary only has about $7.4M in cap space remaining.

Now, with 22 roster spots covered in that estimate — including an additional goalie in Jon Gillies — the Flames can make some tweaks to earn some room. Even so, it feels like it’s going to be a tight squeeze, to the point that something has to give. While I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames used some mix of loyalty pitches and RFA leverage to keep Tkachuk’s price down — especially being that Timo Meier gave the Sharks such a sweet deal at $6M a pop — I really don’t think it would be that outrageous to see Tkachuk pester his way to the $7M range by himself.

The good news is that, all things considered, Bennett’s deal doesn’t put the Flames in too big of a bind. It’s not desirable to the level of the Sharks somehow convincing Kevin Labanc to take just $1M for a year, but … hey, perhaps the Sharks are truly unmatched in this regard.

It’s key to judge Bennett as a $2.55M man, not as the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

This has been a pretty strange ride for Bennett, really. He came into the league drawing some mockery for failing to do a pull-up at the 2014 combine, yet some of Bennett’s greatest moments have come when he’s been a hoss:

And, judging by his mustache, Bennett’s also add some Hostetler to his brand. The hits, workout questions, and fights can be more fun to ponder than his iffy production, although sometimes the hits also go too far.

The 2018-19 season more or less tells you what you need to know about Bennett’s production so far. While he did miss time this year (limited to 71 games played), he scored 27 points, one more than the 26 Bennett generated in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

His draft pedigree makes you hope for at least a little bit more, and there are certain metrics that indicate that Bennett has been a little unlucky, such as this RAPM chart from Evolving Wild, which shows a mild disparity between his actual offense, and what his expected production could have been in 2018-19:

At $2.55M, the Flames aren’t paying a particularly big fee for Bennett’s pedigree, which is good because money is tight, and expecting too much more from Bennett would likely come down to building up false hopes.

The price is fine, and now the Flames can redirect their attention to the more important (and more challenging) tasks of locking up their remaining RFAs to team-friendly deals, particularly Tkachuk.

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.

Flames still face cap challenges after Lucic-Neal trade

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The Calgary Flames faced a cap crunch with James Neal on the books, and they still face potential issues with Milan Lucic being traded in at $500K cheaper.

[More on the contract situations here, and Lucic vs. Neal on ice in this post.]

That’s a lot of money under most circumstances, but $500K goes fast in the modern NHL. In fact, $500K wouldn’t cover the minimum salary of a single player. Every dollar could end up counting for the Flames, so it’s nothing to sneeze at, but things could be tight nonetheless. It may even force someone other than Neal out of the fold.

While the Flames currently boast an estimated $9.973 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, that money will dry up quickly. They still need to hammer out deals for RFAs Matthew Tkachuk, David Rittich, Sam Bennett, and Andrew Mangiapane.

Really, would it shock you if Tkachuk and Rittich came in at $10M combined? Such costs are real considerations for the Flames, assuming they can’t convince Tkachuk to take a Kevin Labanc-ian discount.

In Ryan Pike’s breakdown of the cap situation for Flames Nation, he found that Calgary may still have trouble fitting everyone under the cap by his estimations, even if the Flames bought out overpriced defenseman Michael Stone. Buying out Stone seems like a good starting point as we consider some of the calls Treliving might need to make before the Flames’ roster is solidified.

Buying out Stone in August: Stone, 29, has one year left on a deal that carries a $3.5M cap hit and matching salary. If the Flames bought him out, they’d save $2.33M in 2019-20, as Stone’s buyout would register a cap hit of about $1.167M in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

As frustrating as it would be for the Flames to combine dead money in a Stone buyout with Troy Brouwer‘s buyout (remaining $1.5M for the next three seasons), it might just be necessary. Really, it might be the easiest decision of all.

Granted, maybe someone like the Senators would take on Stone’s contract if the Flames bribed them with picks and/or prospects, much like the Hurricanes did in taking Patrick Marleau off of the Maple Leafs’ hands?

Either way, there’s a chance Stone won’t be making $3.5M with the Flames next season.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Trade Sam Bennett’s rights? With things getting really snug, and the forward unlikely to justify being the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, maybe the Flames would be better off moving on by sending Bennett/his RFA rights to another team and filling that roster spot with a cheaper option?

If a team coughed up a decent pick and/or prospect for Bennett, assuming he needs a change of scenery, it could be a win for everyone. The Flames might not be comfortable about that yet with Bennett being 23, but it should at least be discussed.

Trade an expiring contract player? T.J. Brodie ($4.65M), Michael Frolik ($4.3M), and Travis Hamonic ($3.857M) all seem to be signed at reasonable prices, if not mild bargains. All three are only covered through 2019-20, however, making it reasonable to picture them as parts of various trade scenarios. In fact, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Flames were working on a potential deal involving Brodie and then-Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, and Kadri admitted on “31 Thoughts” that he didn’t waive his clause to allow Calgary to trade for him.

***

Over the years, including this summer with LaBanc and Timo Meier signing sweet deals for the Sharks, sometimes RFAs take care off cap concerns for their teams. There are scenarios where such constraints actually help the given team land some discounts; it sure felt that way when the Bruins got a deal with Torey Krug back in 2016.

As of this writing, it seems like the Flames might face a tight squeeze in fitting under the cap.

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.

Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

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The Boston Bruins fell one win short of spoiling Boston sports fans with yet another championship, but as long as key players don’t age too poorly, there’s a strong chance that they’ll be a contender again in 2019-20.

Even with some deft cap management – David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand ranked first and second in a top 10 best contracts list from The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn (sub required) – the Bruins face a snug salary cap situation, both before 2019-20 begins and beyond.

Most immediately, they have already-star defenseman Charlie McAvoy and solid blueliner Brandon Carlo to deal with as RFAs. After re-signing Danton Heinen, things are getting pretty tight:

It’s easy to justify McAvoy as a $7M defenseman alone, so this is a challenge.

That said, the Bruins can force open some extra daylight. In projecting the Bruins’ 2019-20 lineup, The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa points out that, with David Backes‘ clause changing from no-movement to no-trade, the Bruins could enjoy mild cap relief if they sent Backes to the AHL.

It would indeed be mild, though, as it would save Boston a bit more than $1M, but every bit might count.

If they really want true breathing room, the Bruins should wrestle with the best ways to handle that full Backes $6M cap hit, which expires after 2020-21.

To be specific, Boston needs to think long and hard about bribing a rebuilding team like the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings to take on that burden, at the cost of picks and/or prospects from Boston. Would it be worth it to get rid of Backes’ contract even if it cost something similar to Toronto burning a first-round pick to get Patrick Marleau off of the books? That would sting, but let’s be honest: the Bruins certainly are planning for that first-rounder to be a mediocre pick, if not one at the end of 2020.

There’s actually an especially devious way to handle that.

The Bruins could make like a sweaty, flustered businessman and show their emptied pockets to Charlie McAvoy, thus keeping his cap hit down. The Sharks played that card brilliantly with Kevin Labanc, and it sure felt like something similar happened with Torey Krug on his current deal, as he was clearly worth more than $5.25M, even as early as June 2016.

After signing McAvoy (and to a lesser priority, Carlo), the Bruins then can truly ramp up their efforts to move the Backes deal, so that they can line up some of that Backes money to re-sign Krug, who is in line for a significant raise from $5.25M after his current contract expires following the 2019-20 season.

Ideally, for the Bruins, they could lock McAvoy to a bargain contract akin to that of Marchand and Pastrnak, as McAvoy is absolutely a star, and then eventually keep the sometimes-underrated Krug in the fold.

Maybe that means stomaching a painful price to get rid of Backes, and perhaps that means that Boston won’t be able to keep some nice pieces like Charlie Coyle and Carlo around much longer. The luxury of having $2.75M to spend on a quality backup/platoon goalie like Jaroslav Halak might run out soon, too. As dominant as the top line with Patrice Bergeron can be, the Bruins truly took off when the Coyles of the world were able to provide support. Boston might not enjoy that level of depth very long.

This management group already extended a competitive window that sure felt like it was closing toward the end of the Chiarelli era, though, and there’s room to work with to wedge it open even longer. Doing so might require some cleverness, and maybe swallowing some pride to get rid of that Backes mistake, though.

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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.