Milan Lucic

NHL Power Rankings: Off-season buyout candidates

Monday would have marked the latest day that the NHL’s buyout period would open. Per the CBA, the window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or “the later of June 15.”

Well, since this season is like no other, we won’t be seeing Commissioner Gary Bettman handing out the Cup until the fall — if that even happens at all.

The financial implications of the COVID-19 shutdown will have a major affect on the NHL’s salary cap going forward. Before the pause, it was believed that the 2020-21 cap ceiling would rise to between $84-$88.2 million. Now? It may remain at $81.5 million, squeezing some teams who have money committed and more extensions to give out.

That will cause plenty of teams to get creative in trying to get under the ceiling and be able to ice a competitive roster. Compliance buyouts have been discussed but owners are reportedly against them. While keeping the compliance buyouts costs off your books may not be an option once the NHL’s regular business resumes, traditional buyouts will still remain a tool for teams to ease the pressure on their salary cap picture.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at five players who would make for prime buyout candidates this off-season.

1. Karl Alzner, Canadiens: It has been not a fun ride for Alzner in Montreal since signing a five-year, $23.125M deal in 2017. Since cashing in during free agency, the 31-year-old defenseman has played 95 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. He’s played nearly as many (87) with their AHL affiliate in the last two seasons. Alzner has two years left on a contract that carries a $4.625M cap hit, which includes a $1.5M signing bonus due this off-season.

A buyout would put a heavy hit on the Canadiens’ cap for next season — $3,958,333M — but for 2021-22 that would go down to $1,958,333M and then $833,333 in the final two years. Montreal is already at $63M committed for next season and that doesn’t include extensions for restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete.

2. David Backes, Ducks: The 36-year-old forward was part of that 2016 free agent class of forgettable contracts that featured the likes of Frans Nielsen, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, and Troy Brouwer. Backes’ production and ice time diminished over his four seasons in Boston as he battled through injury and an inability to find a consistent spot in the lineup. He moved on in February in a deal that sent Ondrej Kase to the Bruins.

Anaheim is attempting to trend towards youth, and while a Backes buyout won’t free up a large amount of cap room ($3M in 2020-21, $750K in 2021-22), the move would open up a roster spot and ice time for one of their younger players. It would also help a team that is currently tied to nearly $76M in cap space for next season.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The emergence of Igor Shesterkin has put Lundqvist’s future in New York in doubt. The 38-year-old netminder has one year remaining on his deal, which carries a pricey $8.5M cap hit. Considering the Rangers are in a transition phase and looking to get younger, getting out from Hank’s number would assist long-term in easing cap pain and helping continue to build for the future.

The Rangers spent big last summer, bringing in Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. That’s put them with a little over $67M committed for next season. Due for extensions are RFAs Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, and pending unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast. One more RFA who’s owed a new deal is goaltender and long-time piece of trade bait Alexandar Georgiev.

Buying out Lundqvist would mean $5.5M on the Rangers’ books next season, plus Shesterkin’s $925K and either a few million for Georgiev to be part of the picture or a cheap, veteran backup. New York’s cap picture in 2021-22 would see Lundqvist’s buyout hit drop to $1.5M.

Before any move happens with Lundqvist he has to agree to waive his no-move clause. GM Jeff Gorton could always seek a trade, but the goalie’s cap hit would make that difficult.

Getty Images

4. Kyle Turris, Predators: Nashville has $72M committed for 2020-21 and it’s clear Turris’ place in their lineup has diminished. He’s been a healthy scratch at times and still has a $4M cap hit with him for the next four seasons. A buy out would put $2M on the Predators’ cap picture through 2027-28.

In a normal off-season there would always be the possibly of David Poile looking to dump Turris’ contract to a team looking to get above the cap floor. But that will likely not be an option for teams looking to unload money in a tight-cap world.

5. Loui Eriksson, Canucks: Part of that rich 2016 free agent class, Eriksson has not been able to recapture the scoring touch that saw him net over 25 goals four straight seasons in Dallas and hit 30 in his final year with the Bruins. In 245 games with the Canucks he’s scored only 38 times. If compliance buyouts were a thing, he’d be a no-brainer, but a regular buyout? That decision would be a tough one for GM Jim Benning.

Eriksson has two years left with a $6M cap hit per season. The Canucks would be stuck with $5,666,667M and $3,666,667M on their cap the first two seasons post-buyout before a more palatable $666,667 in the final two years. Right now they have almost $64M tied up for next season and have UFAs and RFAs to decide on like Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Chris Tanev, and Troy Stetcher.

As Benning navigates this off-season for his transitioning Canucks, he’ll more certainly be keeping an eye on the summer of 2022. That off-season is when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can become RFAs. Cap room will be needed to re-sign those two cornerstone pieces.

All salary cap data via the wonderful CapFriendly

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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 clarifies how conditional picks will be handled for 2020 NHL Draft

Teams had plenty of questions after the NHL announced its return-to-play plan. Of the dangling threads, “How will conditional draft picks be handled?” represented one of the tougher conundrums. Certain details still need to be determined, yet the Athletic/TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that a memo cleaned up some of the biggest questions about conditional draft picks.

LeBrun’s full report at the Athletic (sub required) is well worth a read, as he drills deep on many questions on a case-by-case basis.

For this post, we’ll ponder broader strokes, and then ask some other questions.

How conditional draft picks from trades might be addressed for 2020 NHL Draft (and 2021)

Again, not every conditional draft pick situation was settled. After all, NHL teams got pretty creative, and thus things got pretty specific. But, thanks to LeBrun, we get to glance at the bigger picture.

One of the most common conditions revolves around whether a team reaches the playoffs or not. When NHL teams exchanged such conditional picks — during the trade deadline, or even before the season began — they of course didn’t realize there would be a 24-team format thanks to a global pandemic.

So how will it work? Via LeBrun, we can see how the league memo addressed this question:

“More specifically, for Trade condition purposes, a Club will not be deemed to have qualified for the Playoffs unless or until they have progressed into the Round of 16, and ‘Playoff Games/Rounds’ will only include the games/rounds played in the Round of 16 or later. We believe this interpretation will best reflect the intentions of the parties at the time of the Trade …”

Short version: making the cut for the 24-team format doesn’t meet the “make the playoffs” standard. Instead, you need to make it to “the Round of 16 or later.”

Seeing an actual example might help. Take, for instance, the Canucks’ 2020 first-round pick (and/or their 2021 first-rounder) that was conditionally tossed around in the J.T. Miller and Blake Coleman trades. Will the Devils make that 2020 first-round selection, or will it be the Canucks?

The parameters might make the most sense to you see if you see them via this screenshot from essential resource Cap Friendly:

Coleman Miller conditional draft pick Devils Canucks
via Cap Friendly

So who gets it? Well, that’s still to be determined:

  • If the Canucks win their Qualifying Round series against the Wild, then the Devils receive Vancouver’s 2020 first-rounder.
  • If the Canucks lose their Qualifying Round series vs. the Wild, then the Devils instead receiver Vancouver’s 2021 first-rounder.

That all seems pretty fair, really. At least considering the circumstances. But there are some other tricky situations, and maybe a few burning questions.

More complicated conditions and situations

On one hand, you have easier-to-resolve issues such as that conditional Canucks pick situation. LeBrun notes that there are still some details to hash out.

If you want to pinpoint a fairly zany situation, consider the performance-based elements regarding the Milan LucicJames Neal trade. Again, it might be easiest to get your head around things quickly by looking at the Cap Friendly screenshot first:

Lucic Neal conditional draft picks Flames Oilers
via Cap Friendly

That third-round pick is in flux, as Neal sits at 19 goals, 11 more than Lucic (eight). Lebrun guesses that you would “prorate” Neal’s goals over a full season, and give the Flames the third-rounder.

There’s room for argument, there, though. After all, it’s plausible that Neal could have been injured. It’s also worthwhile to note that Neal’s scoring was frontloaded. Neal started red-hot with 11 goals in 14 October games, and 19 goals through December 31. He failed to score a goal once the calendar turned to 2020, however, managing four assists over 13 games. What if that slump persisted?

So there are some tricky situations, at least if teams want to harumph about it. A more interesting discussion revolves around which situations teams might want to play out.

If you’re the Devils, do you prefer the Canucks’ 2020 or 2021 first-round pick? If you get the 2020, you get a prospect into your system, developing sooner. The 2021 pick would be more of a gamble. The Canucks could take another step to become a dominant team in the Pacific. On the other hand, they could slide back and present a situation like Ottawa earning a lucrative Sharks pick for 2020.

These are interesting questions to debate. They also might be useful ones, if you’re missing hockey and rooting for a team that won’t be able to return to play until whenever 2020-21 kicks off.

Of course, the NHL must also determine when the 2020 NHL Draft will actually take place, among other questions …

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 agent poll hits many topics, shows optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

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For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.

Then again, for every outspoken agent like Allan Walsh, there are plenty we don’t hear a whole lot from. That’s part of what makes Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll so fascinating.

While the full post is worth your time, here are some of the highlights from Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll.

NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.

Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.

Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.

Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.

Other issues the poll covers

  • When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.

Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).

As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.

  • Some of the best contract votes (Nathan MacKinnon as team-friendly) and worst (Milan Lucic, Brent Seabrook) ended up being far from surprising. Others were a little bit unexpected, though.
  • On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
  • The positives inspired some interesting choices, too. I’m not sure many people would rank Calle Jarnkrok alongside David Pastrnak, but they were tied at 14 percent. Jarnkrok’s deal being more team-friendly than Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Brad Marchand? You do you, 14 percent of those NHL agents.

NHL agent poll ends up reasonable — for the most part

For the most part, this NHL agent poll seemed to produce some understandable results. They certainly seem to have more grounded expectations than the sometimes-audacious things NHL executives want to change about the CBA, at least.

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 team executives dream up some interesting CBA changes

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Craig Custance and Thomas Drance collected seven changes NHL team executives would like to make to the Collective Bargaining Agreement at The Athletic (sub. required). It’s an illuminating story that’s worth your time, even if you don’t find it funny. (Personally? I chuckled several times. There might have been a snort or two.)

At times, it felt a lot like someone grumbling that, sure their yacht has a movie theater in it, but not an IMAX screen.

In my opinion, the final three items on the list rank as the most reasonable. Players, not just team owners and GMs, would probably be fine with salary arbitration being tweaked. I’m not sure anyone’s blood pressure would go up if the league clarified LTIR rules, either. And while I’m not enthused about the idea of compensating teams with picks for most reasons, it’s also a smaller deal.

For more on those smaller details, check out that piece from Custance and Drance.

Going forward, the first four ideas are worth a deep dive.

Mistake insurance / NHL CBA changes would aim to limit player movement even more

If you walk through the stages an NHL player goes through, you might get an idea of how unfair the process can sometimes be. To start, they don’t get to choose which team drafts them. Thus, you get Connor McDavid making that face when the Oilers won the lottery in his draft year.

After being drafted by a team they didn’t choose, said player could face about a decade before they hit unrestricted free agency. By then, smart teams will realize that player is either approaching their decline, or already there.

But that’s what a lot of the grumbling is really about. We’ve seen plenty of changes in free agency over different CBAs, yet plenty of teams make the same basic mistakes. They overvalue veteran and midrange players, handing out cap-compromising contracts over and over again.

So it’s not surprising to see that many NHL team executives basically want insurance against their own bad habits. They essentially demand that all midnight snacks retroactively become vegetable trays.

For me, the most amusing/insulting idea would be not allowing players to receive no-trade/movement clauses until age 30.

Broadly, a team could control a player’s movement until they’re 27, and a player couldn’t protect against being traded on a whim until they’re 30+. That’s … kind of audacious, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong. When you’re negotiating, you often start by asking for the moon. Some of this stuff feels more suited for another planet or solar system, though.

With the next CBA, NHL team executives should be careful what they wish for

One of the most interesting ideas would be changing term limits. The NHL already got its wish to cap contract terms at eight years to re-sign your own player, and seven for free agents. Custance and Drance report that NHL executives would instead like to limit that to five years.

This, again, feels like a rule that would aim toward keeping GMs from making self-destructive moves.

Let’s face, it, though. We haven’t always needed even five years to figure out when an especially bad contract is rotten. The Maple Leafs probably regretted the David Clarkson contract by exhibition time. Milan Lucic‘s contract would be less existentially frightening if it ended after 2020-21 instead of 2022-23. But it would probably carry more than a $6M AAV to balance that out.

Teams also would lose out on potential long-term bargains. Nathan MacKinnon would be entering a contract year next season (and again, would probably cost more per year).

Yes, things can get funky with signing bonuses and uneven year-to-year salaries, two things NHL team executives would like to see changed with CBA tweaks. But would that be as beneficial as teams think? It would certainly take some creativity out of the hands of agents, so maybe that’s enough of a “win.”

Pondering the players’ side, and other CBA thoughts

Look, it’s a bummer that a lower-budget team in a bad-weather market faces disadvantages. At some point, though, you need to recognize that there’s only so much you can do about reality.

Here’s the other thing: chaos and mistakes can be good. To be specific, big names hitting free agency creates buzz. Bad offseasons are bad for the league.

If anything, the NHL is guilty of making it too easy for teams to keep most of their best players. While the NBA and NFL create headlines almost all year long, there are some dreary off-seasons for hockey fans.

Let’s also realize the players will want CBA concessions, too. Back on May 1, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun hypothesized (sub. required) one main push for players:

From a players’ perspective, I have to think finding a way to limit escrow long term, finding a way to collect a closer percentage of their actual negotiated salaries has to be, as always, of utmost importance. But perhaps more than ever on that front with revenues taking a hit.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with NHL teams or players asking for more in CBA talks, as long as such ideas embrace reality. After all, the current CBA has to be pretty good for such a lockout-hungry group of owners to mainly aim for tweaks rather than drastic changes, right?

With the league (and world) still needing time to assess the full impact of COVID-19, the NHL and NHLPA face big questions in both the short and long-term. It’s promising that the two sides are trying to figure out an extension before the current CBA’s September 2022 deadline, but it’s also clear that they all have more work to do. Maybe a lot of it.

MORE: Decision coming soon on early-June NHL draft; could be a ‘toss-up’

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.

Revisiting biggest NHL trades from the 2019 offseason

Big trades of 2019 NHL offseason Subban Miller Kessel
via Getty Images

Upon reflecting about his first season with the Maple Leafs following a trade featuring Nazem Kadri and Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot admitted that he wasn’t as consistent as he would have liked. Indeed, people don’t look back favorably for the Maple Leafs’ side of one of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason.

(There’s some interesting insight from Thursday’s Kerfoot conference call, which you can peruse via reporters including TSN’s Kristen Shilton.)

As interesting as it is to hear about the highs and lows of Kerfoot’s season, this also gives us a chance to revisit the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason as a whole. Some teams made enough momentous trades to earn their own categories, such as Kerfoot’s Maple Leafs.

Misadventures for Maple Leafs in 2019 offseason NHL trades

When judging a trade, it’s crucial to consider context. Even when you grade on a curve, the trades didn’t always pan out for Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.

Following another ugly postseason suspension, many believed the Maple Leafs needed to trade Nazem Kadri. They also were feeling the cap crunch, so getting a discounted Tyson Barrie provided a nice replacement for outgoing Jake Gardiner.

While the gap between Kadri and Kerfoot might be a bit exaggerated …

Big NHL 2019 offseason trades Kadri Kerfoot comparison Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

… the bottom line is that the trade didn’t meet expectations for the Maple Leafs.

The oddest part, really, revolved around how adamant Dubas was about Cody Ceci being better than people believed. Instead, Ceci was kind of a disaster.

If the Maple Leafs divest themselves of Ceci after 2019-20, then it was still worth it. Zaitsev’s contract was bad, and much longer. But it was a funky situation that rounded out an all-over-the-place offseason. Maybe there were shades of appeasing an eventually outgoing Mike Babcock?

To some extent, Toronto’s flexibility was limited. They didn’t fare as well as some of the other savvy teams, though.

Deals with the Devils not scorching teams as much

Is it “poetic” that you could say trades did Ray Shero in as Devils GM?

OK, that’s not totally fair. If we’re being sober, the wheels came off of the wagon thanks to some mix of atrocious goaltending and questionable coaching.

Even so, the Devils made aggressive moves to improve, and splashy trades set the stage for disappointments and dysfunction. The headliner that went horribly, horribly wrong was, of course, the P.K. Subban trade.

While it still feels like the Predators could have gotten more for Subban, they did clean up space to sign Matt Duchene, and in a more abstract sense keep Roman Josi. Even those with tempered expectations didn’t expect this season from Subban. Consider that Subban ranked dead last on the Devils according to Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric:

Big 2019 offseason NHL trades went poorly for Devils Subban
also via Evolving Hockey

Yikes. Yikes.

While there’s hope that Subban may rebound, the extended collapse of his game played a big role in the front office upheaval in New Jersey.

Nikita Gusev‘s situation wasn’t nearly as dramatic, and while Gusev performed reasonably well, he didn’t light the hockey world on fire. The Golden Knights probably aren’t losing much sleep over his departure … at least yet.

The Devils recouped some of their draft capital by trading the likes of Taylor Hall during the deadline, but coughing up four significant draft picks for Subban + Gusev didn’t work out so well.

Pondering other teams making one or more noteworthy trades

Vegas Golden Knights

No, the Golden Knights didn’t parallel the Maple Leafs in every way. They didn’t have the same enormous RFA headaches, and the uncertainty that surrounded those situations.

But they still needed to shed some salaries. While I can’t say I loved every move and thought process, things worked out reasonably well for Vegas in the grand scheme of things.

They managed to land something for Gusev’s rights in the form of a second and third-round pick. They also landed a second-rounder for Colin Miller, who couldn’t seem to stay out of the doghouse, and who didn’t have the greatest season in Buffalo. Nicolas Roy may just make them break even (or better?) in the Erik Haula trade.

Again, not sure about every decision — all of this straining, yet spending so much on Ryan Reaves? — but the Golden Knights got a lot right. Toronto might even feel a little jealous.

Fascinating Miller trade between Canucks, Lightning

Speaking of desperate situations, the Lightning didn’t have much of a choice but to trade J.T. Miller. So, to get a first-round pick (and third-rounder) for their troubles? More Lightning wizardry.

On paper, it looked like the Canucks might be overreaching in much the same way the Devils did. Miller cost more in assets, after all.

But … Miller ended up being a tremendous player; he was a legitimate first-line winger for Vancouver. Subban, well … yeah.

So this was a rare deal where you could make a strong argument for both sides. I think the Lightning were more shrewd, especially considering limited options (Dubas grumbles again), but the Canucks received big returns from their risky investment (now Shero’s grumbling).

Penguins, Oilers often busy making trades

You might not top the steal the Penguins pulled off in nabbing splendid rookie defenseman John Marino for just a sixth-round pick from the Oilers.

That ended up being the best move during a summer where they unloaded some problems. That included the staggering Phil Kessel trade, and also convincing someone to take on Erik Gudbranson‘s contract. With Kessel mainly offering “meh” in Arizona, and Alex Galchenyuk being part of the Jason Zucker trade, the Penguins have to feel pretty good about their latest series of dramatic decisions.

The Oilers likely received a decent confidence boost from seeing James Neal start so much hotter than Milan Lucic that it became a punchline. With Lucic being a better possession player, that gap narrowed when Neal cooled off.

Really, the true winner might not be crowned until we see if the Oilers can wiggle free from the Neal contract and/or the Flames get rid of Lucic’s deal. Really, that might be the key takeaway even after all these assessments: we may not yet know the final “winners” of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason for some time.

Quick thoughts

  • My issue isn’t and wasn’t with the Blues trading for Justin Faulk. Instead, handing him a pricey extension looked risky, and he hasn’t really soothed those concerns with middling play. Hmm.
  • Would it be fair to lean toward “TBD” on the Andre Burakovsky trade, at least when realizing things were going sour between Burakovsky and the Caps? That’s the way I lean.
  • Speaking of TBD, the intriguing Henri JokiharjuAlex Nylander trade remains unsolved.
  • The Canadiens really got the best of the Blackhawks by nabbing a second and third-round pick for Andrew Shaw.
  • You’re forgiven if it slipped your mind that Carl Soderberg and Jimmy Vesey were traded.

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.