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Flyers await free agency with rare luxury: a ton of cap space

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Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall is rapidly approaching “be careful what you wish for” territory.

For years, Hextall has been cleaning up whatever Flyers cap messes he could (sorry, Andrew MacDonald), breaking the franchise’s pattern of going after splashy, expensive moves that can sometimes blow up in their faces (sorry, Ilya Bryzgalov). Now, with what could be a ton of cap space looming in the off-season, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports that Hextall is expected to receive “free rein” in free agency.

(If the cap ceiling is at $80 million, they’ll have about $22 million in room, while a Jori Lehtera buyout could push that above $25M.)

“Ron has the flexibility to do whatever he wants with his cap space and his roster,” Holmgren said, via Carchidi. “If that’s the decision he wants to make moving forward, he’s got free rein to do that. I think Ron continues to do what’s right for the organization.”

That brings us back to “be careful what you wish for.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Hextall’s shown poise and patience in earning himself a clean slate, and this is his reward. That said, big moves can often be the downfall of a GM. Consider how Chuck Fletcher’s Wild era crumbled under the weight of the Ryan SuterZach Parise contracts, how the Flyers have regretted past moves, and how Ron Francis was undone in part by the ill-fated Scott Darling signing as just a few examples of mistakes that can cost people jobs.

With that in mind, here are some tips for Hextall.

One rule for them all

Let’s begin with an idea that seems far-fetched, but must be considered: any team that can land John Tavares should do whatever it can to make it happen. There’s a strong chance that he’ll just re-sign with the New York Islanders, but if not, the Flyers have plenty of cash to work with.

Goalie considerations

Rather than making Bryzgalov-style huge moves in net, Philly’s instead targeted value in goalies. That worked out very well in their Steve Mason sign-and-trade, while it’s been bumpier with Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott.

While the position is once again a headache for Philly, Hextall should be pleased that they’re at least not stuck with problem contracts. Elliott and Neuvirth are both cheap, and their contracts expire after 2018-19.

This gives the Flyers the flexibility to do whatever they want with the goalie free agent market. As of this moment, notable UFA goalies include Jonathan Bernier, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, and Chad Johnson. The RFA list boasts higher ceilings yet would likely require some maneuvering via a trade; the Sabres might decide to part ways with Robin Lehner while the Capitals may decide that it would be better to gain assets for Philipp Grubauer rather than giving him a raise to back up Braden Holtby.

With Carter Hart waiting in the wings as the top goalie prospect in any NHL system (or, at worst, one of the top goalie prospects), the Flyers would likely look for a short-term upgrade if they decided to make a move. Maybe Carter Hutton would be the right fit?

Risk/reward

As usual, there are “buyer beware” situations for 2018 free agency.

On one hand, you have players who’ve inflated their values with career years they’re unlikely to match. The Flyers probably weren’t in the market for John Carlson considering their young defensemen, but even if they were, they’d be better off exploring a cheaper avenue.

With expensive, long-term contracts for Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in mind, the Flyers need to be careful when it comes to pondering some of the more intriguing UFA forwards. James Neal seems like a prototypical Flyers forward, yet he’s also already 30, as just one example. Scorers like Evander Kane and former Flyer James van Riemsdyk are enticing, but most if not all of them will ask for the kind of term that could really sting.

Hextall might be better off avoiding the splashier moves, instead either a) seeing which players end up inexplicably being PTO fodder, which seems to happen every summer and/or b) going for guys lower on the radar. Could Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, Ian Cole, or Michael Hutchinson help out, and do so at cheaper rates? The Flyers might be better off going in that direction, as they’ll want to continue to give their own drafted players opportunities to seize prominent roles.

The Flyers also need to set aside some money for future extensions. Ivan Provorov figures to be expensive when his rookie deal expires after 2018-19. A decision regarding Wayne Simmonds‘ future is looming, as he only has one year left on his deal.

With Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere locked up on bargain contracts, some of the big conundrums have been settled by Hextall’s deft work, but there are still some key decisions to be made, especially if management wants to hedge their bets in net alongside Carter Hart.

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All things considered, the Flyers might actually be better off trying to improve by making trades.

If I were in Hextall’s shoes, I’d try to pry Max Pacioretty or Mike Hoffman away in swaps. The Flyers would get at least one season to see how such additions fit into their system, maybe opening the door for a team-friendly extension.

Either way, this summer stands as a fascinating fork in the road. This team showed signs of delivering on the potential prospect hounds have been hyping up. On the other hand, you never know how quickly your window of opportunity can close, particularly if Giroux, Voracek, and others slide.

Hextall has a great opportunity ahead of him, but that opportunity brings with it increased expectations. The honeymoon is about to end, and now he must guide the Flyers through those next, painful steps toward true contention.

Be careful what you wish for.

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.

Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

He did not return to the game.

If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.

UPDATE: 


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

The Buzzer: Kane nets four; Preds first to clinch

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Players of the Night:

Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: It took him 565 NHL games and three teams, but Kane now has his first NHL hat trick. Then he made sure to grab his first four-goal NHL game for the hell of it. Kane has five goals and 10 points in eight games since the trade deadline, the most of any player dealt this year on deadline day.

Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators: Hoffman had an assist in regulation and then one-timed his fifth game-winning goal of the season in overtime to help the Senators past the Dallas Stars.

Nashville Predators: For no other reason than they claimed first blood in a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot.

Highlights of the Night:

Bravo, Johnny:

Kane’s hat trick goal:

Hoff’d:

Tic-tac-goals:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Senators 3, Stars 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Islanders 3

Predators 4, Avalanche 2

Sharks 7, Flames 4

Ducks 4, Red Wings 2

Wild 4, Golden Knights 2


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

No ‘significant hockey deal’ keeps Erik Karlsson a Senator

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The 2018 NHL trade deadline has passed and Erik Karlsson is still a member of the Ottawa Senators. Why was general manager Pierre Dorion unable to consummate deal to trade away his captain for a bounty? There simply wasn’t a good enough offer out there

“It would take a special hockey deal to move Erik Karlsson,” Dorion told reporters Monday. “Today, we didn’t feel that that was something on the table. I always listen. I had offers on Erik Karlsson no one knew about over the course of the summer.”

Karlsson’s contract doesn’t expire until after the 2018-19 NHL season, so a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Vegas Golden Knights — who were rumored to be heavily involved in discussions on the Senators defenseman — could have acquired the two-time Norris Trophy winner for a pair of playoff runs. But whatever packages that were discussed with Dorion weren’t to his liking, so now this trade gets pushed the summer, which should make the June draft in Dallas very interesting.

[Lightning trade for Ryan McDonagh, not Karlsson]

Dorion said that he believes Karlsson wants to be a Senator “for life” and if the he reaches July 1 still a member of the team, a contract extension will be offered. But with teams phoning since the summer gauging what it would take to land the superstar blue liner, surely seeds have been planted for a future trade. You also can’t rule out Karlsson’s feelings on the situation. There will be a time, if it hasn’t happened already, where the question will be asked if he wants to stay in Ottawa and then the GM will have to make his move. He does possess a 10-team no-trade list. How much does that expand in the off-season?

A summer trade benefits Dorion and the Senators much more than a trade deadline deal. We’ll know what the salary cap ceiling is for 2018-19 and the other 30 teams will have a better idea of what their roster looks like going forward. It’s already a mess in Ottawa, so what’s the big deal with a few more uncomfortable weeks?

“We always have to look at our roster. We’re in 29th place. Do we feel we have a team that’s of 29th place calibre? Probably not,” Dorion said. “But in every situation when we’re evaluating ourselves, we have to listen on every offer from teams. We did not actively shop Erik Karlsson. We did not. But when a player of his calibre is rumored to be on the market or when a team is struggling like ourselves, teams are going to inquire about him and we have to listen. We have to do what’s best for this organization in the short-, medium- and long-term. I don’t think we would be doing our job if we wouldn’t be at least listening on offers.”

Nine months ago the Senators were a goal away from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Now they’re in total rebuild mode, with Karlsson likely heading out the door and Mike Hoffman and others likely joining him in the summer. Dorion said he took calls on every single player on the roster and owner Eugene Melnyk told him to make the best “hockey deals” for the team. None of those deals were out there today, but they certainly will be there in the off-season, with Karlsson being the biggest prize.

So what was Dorion looking for in a potential Karlsson trade? A haul.

“Many pieces… When you’re going to trade away a generational defenseman, I think you’re gonna make sure that your return can be very good,” he said. “It would have to be a significant hockey deal.”

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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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.

NHL Trade Deadline: Overrated players, Erik Karlsson’s future

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The NHL trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m. ET and we’ve already seen a handful of trades from teams looking to strengthen for a playoff push and others selling off assets with an eye on the future.

There are still plenty of deals to come over the next few days, so the PHT team of myself, James O’Brien, Adam GretzJoey Alfieri and Scott Billeck discussed teams looking to make trades and some of the names out there.

1. What team(s) need to make to make a trade or two before the deadline and why?

SEAN LEAHY: The New York Islanders sit just outside of the playoffs in the East and while we know they can score, they can’t keep the puck out of their net. They lead the NHL in goals allowed (223), so an upgrade in goal would be ideal, but that market isn’t very fruitful with three days until the deadline. If not in goal, then the blue line, surely. Ryan McDonagh is out there, but trading with the Rangers would require an overpayment. Would Peter Chiarelli pick up the phone if he sees Garth Snow calling again to maybe inquire about Oscar Klefbom or Adam Larsson?

Out West, Nashville Predators GM David Poile has never been one to shy away from strengthening his team. He added Kyle Turris in October and will get Mike Fisher back next week. Olympic stud Eeli Tolvanen may also join the team very soon. But after coming within two games of winning a Cup last year, the Predators are once again in position to challenge for a title.

“I think we’re closer to doing nothing than to do something,” Poile said recently. But he’s a general manager, and we shouldn’t believe anything they say around trade deadline. If an opportunity is there, he’s going to take it. Is Rick Nash worth adding if it means giving up someone like a Dante Fabbro after sending Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev away in the Turris deal?

JAMES O’BRIEN: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders. These three teams see a remarkable forking path ahead. Each could easily miss the playoffs entirely, which would be an enormous failure for all involved (in the case of the Isles, for all we know, it may factor into John Tavares‘ future). Fascinatingly, all three teams could also be easily be seen as dangerous with the right tweaks. While they all have varied needs to fill, the general theme is getting that “extra oomph.”

(Note: Apologies for the highly technical jargon.)

With a little more balance, these teams could go from first-round fodder to terrifying dark horse. Sometimes it’s wise just to stand pat; other times GMs need to make that extra effort, even if it merely sends a message to current roster players that they’re going for it.

Missing the playoffs would be bad no matter what, but it would be far better if they went out swinging rather than flinching at strikes.

ADAM GRETZ: If I am Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford I push all of my chips to the center of the table and go all in on this trade deadline. They have a chance to make history and you do not get that opportunity very often. You only get so many years of players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang and you owe it to yourself to put them in the best possible position to win. Once those players get older or retire the team is going to stink and need to rebuild anyway, and there is no prospect or draft pick in the organization right now that is going to change. This is all especially true when you have a chance to go back-to-back-to-back. No prospect or draft pick should be off limits. Get another center. Improve the defense. Get creative with the salary cap. Whatever you have to do.

JOEY ALFIERI: Even though the Penguins have turned their season around, I still feel like they need to add another forward or two before Monday. It doesn’t have to be a major acquisition, but just another capable two-way player that can play on the third line and on the penalty kill.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues have both seen their play drop over the last few weeks, so if they want to make a push for a playoff spot, I feel like they need to give their players a jolt by adding a body. Missing the playoffs shouldn’t be an option for either team, especially after the success they had last season.

SCOTT BILLECK: New York Islanders. They need to stop the bleeding on the back end. They’ve allowed a league-high 223 goals against, which is 12 more than the Senators. Ottawa is nowhere near the playoff picture, but the Islanders right in the mix in the wildcard race thanks to their penchant for scoring goals. A good defenseman would help. Something has to change with that .901 in the team save percentage department. Get in quick before all the good players are gone.

Columbus Blue Jackets. They need some scoring. Desperately, it would seem given their recent slide. Evander Kane, anyone? The return of Rick Nash? Mike Hoffman is available. The sooner the better in this case.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

2. What players who are considered trade bait are being overrated?

LEAHY: Tomas Plekanec’s production has dropped off a cliff since 2015-16 and he has 15 goals and 50 points in his last 137 games. Consider he was good for double digit goals and around 50 points a season for a long time. Teams are always looking to bolster their depth, especially down the middle, and while he can win you a face-off, (52.5 percent) there are definitely better options at center who are out there.

O’BRIEN: Mike Green – It pains me to say this, as in the past, Green’s absorbed excessive criticism for his flaws on the defensive end. Those exaggerations are now sliding closer to being the cold, hard reality for a blue liner who might need a highly specialized, sheltered role to be worth a look.

Jack Johnson – He’s really bad. Maybe there’s a scenario where a team could find the right style fit for him, but considering JJ’s cap hit, it’s tough to imagine him being worth giving up even a so-so asset.

Thomas Vanek – Yes, you can work limited players with specific skills into an advantageous situation. There’s a scenario where Vanek could be an older version of 2016-17 Sam Gagner, serving as the “trigger” on a PP that sets the table for him. Still, he can’t really do much on his own any longer, and you might as well go for a more spry “all-offense” option.

GRETZ: I think Derick Brassard is probably approaching that overrated territory. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good player. But he seems to be slowing down a bit in recent years, he carries a pretty big salary cap, and since the Senators do not have to trade him the price is probably going to be extremely high. Is it worth it? I am not sure. The other guy? Evander Kane. Again, pretty good player. But that seems to be the extent of it. Every year we hear about his talent and how he could have a breakout year and how he can be a dynamic player, and every year he is the same good but not great player. He has topped 50 points once in his career. He is a free agent after this season. He just seems a little overrated. I would also add Patrick Maroon to that list. He had a big shooting percentage driven performance a year ago and he has that “heavy hockey” pedigree hockey people love for the playoffs, but I would not give up a huge price for him.

ALFIERI: I don’t get the fuss over Patrick Maroon. He’s big, he’s scored some goals over the last couple of years, but I just don’t think he should be a priority for any team looking for a winger that can score. Obviously there are much better options on the market as of right now. Of course, it all depends on the price, but I don’t think the Oilers would be interested in giving him away, even if he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Tomas Plekanec is still a useful player, but his offensive game is practically non-existent. I’d take him on my team if he’s slotted correctly on the depth chart. At this point, the veteran should be seen as a fourth-line center on a very good hockey team. There will be a market for him if the Canadiens are willing to deal him.

BILLECK: Thomas Vanek – He won’t help you defensively and is questionable to show up in the playoffs.

Patrick Maroon – He did a lot of good things with Connor McDavid. But anyone can do that. Maybe he needs a change of scenery, but he’s a little too slow for today’s game.

Mike Green – This isn’t your late 2000s Mike Green. Instead, you get a defenseman who doesn’t do play much defense and doesn’t put up points like he used to.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

3. What not-so-outlandish trade do you think should happen but ultimately won’t?

SEAN LEAHY: It’ll never, ever happen (OK, maybe it’s outlandish) but makes a lot of sense for all involved. Henrik Lundqvist to the New York Islanders. King Henrik gets to stay in New York, the Rangers can get some of those extra picks Garth Snow picked up from the Calgary Flames last year and the Islanders solve their goaltending issue. Lundqvist still has three more years left on his contract so future visits to MSG would be preeeeetty interesting.

JAMES O’BRIEN: Freeing Max Pacioretty. For the sake of entertainment, I hope I’m wrong.

More and more, the Montreal Canadiens feel like they’re going to handle things like the Vancouver Canucks did with Erik Gudbranson: clinging onto hope for the present when they should be setting the stage for the future. At 29 and with a deal that expires after 2018-19, “Patches” simply makes more sense on a contender, which the Habs aren’t this season and may not be next year. How refreshing would it be to see a far-too-frequent scapegoat get a new lease on life as more of a supporting cast member?

It smells a lot like Phil Kessel making a huge impact on the Penguins. It’s all so fun that, of course, it probably won’t happen.

ADAM GRETZ: Mike Green going back to Washington. Just because it seems like it would have been a lot of fun. But with the Capitals adding two defensemen to round out their third pairing over the past week it just does not seem like something that is in the cards.

JOEY ALFIERI: It’s pretty clear that Max Pacioretty needs a change of scenery. He hasn’t been noticeable on the ice over the last little while, which makes you wonder if the trade rumors are getting to him. 30-goal scorers that can kill penalties don’t grow on trees, so the Canadiens will have to get a great offer to part ways with him. He’s not a rental (he has one year left on his contract), so GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t have to deal him at the deadline to get something for him.

SCOTT BILLECK: Mats Zuccarello to the Winnipeg Jets. Jets fans are salivating at the thought of having another Mathieu Perreault on their roster. Perreault has been so good for the Jets that adding a similar player would have had a bolstering effect throughout their forward contingent. The problem here is price tag. The trend this year is that every player available seems to have a price tag with more markup than a Mercedes. Cheveldayoff isn’t into trading picks and assets. He’s barely into trading at all. It should happen. It’s a trade that has the potential to put the Jets over the top. But the asking price may be too much for  Chevy to budge.

Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

4. Erik Karlsson trade: Does it happen before the deadline or in the summer, and who should be at the front of the line for him?

SEAN LEAHY: I can’t see a GM overwhelming Pierre Dorion with an offer by Monday’s deadline. Unless Karlsson threatens to sit out, the Ottawa Senators GM should wait it out, much like Joe Sakic did with Matt Duchene. The team doesn’t need to trade Karlsson now. Wait for the draft and the summer when the other 30 teams know their salary cap situation and have an idea of what sort of enticing package they could offer.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman should be calling Dorion now planting seeds for a summer deal. Mikhail Sergachev is a nice start, and if you’re a buyer, maybe work out a sign-and-trade thereby ensuring an extra year of Karlsson, who’s signed through 2019.

JAMES O’BRIEN: Karlsson seems most likely to move during the summer.

To start, draft positions will crystallize. The Senators would need one heck of a haul, so why risk moving Karlsson for a package that includes a mystery first-rounder?

Honestly, any team that aggressively wants to contend should ante up. Karlsson would be a lot of fun to watch with Auston Matthews in Toronto, burning everyone alongside Connor McDavid, or even landing on a team like the Dallas Stars. (Imagine trying to protect a one-goal lead with Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Alex Radulov on the ice.)

If forced to pick one team, I’d go with the Oilers, because they need to make a desperate swing to improve. Why not just go the super-obvious route? Karlsson can cure a lot of ills, even if the organization continues to blunder on the margins.

ADAM GRETZ: Think it happens at the trade deadline. It would be an almost unheard of trade given Karlsson’s talent level — players like him almost never get traded — but what choice do the Senators have? They do not seem to be in a position to re-sign him, and you can not lose him for nothing. This is when his value is highest because whatever team gets him gets two playoff runs with him. Who should be at the top of the list? I don’t know, Tampa Bay or Philadelphia.

JOEY ALFIERI: Like Pacioretty, Karlsson has another year left on his deal so the Sens don’t have to make this move right now. I think it’ll get done at the draft. It’s just too difficult for a team to pull that kind of trade off in February. The Tampa Bay Lightning should be all-in when it comes to Karlsson. Imagine having Hedman and Karlsson on the same blue line. Come playoff time, the Bolts could have those two guys play 30 minutes each. No matter when this trade happens, Steve Yzerman should try to pull it off.

SCOTT BILLECK: Before the deadline (although it shouldn’t be happening at all). If the Bruins could make it work, they could continue taking great defenseman from the Senators (see Zdeno Chara) and going to Stanley Cups with them. If the Islanders can’t keep Tavares, maybe there is something there given all the cap space that would free up. Edmonton? That’s a juicy one as well. This is a tough one because whatever team wants Karlsson has to give up so many assets to get him.

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