2020 NHL Free Agency

Capitals sign Nicklas Backstrom to five-year, $46M extension

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The Washington Capitals face big questions about their future, but Nicklas Backstrom will remain a part of it. The Capitals were able to sign Backstrom to a five-year, $46 million contract extension on Tuesday.

Backstrom, 32, will see that $9.2M AAV kick in starting in 2020-21, and then expire after 2024-25. Interestingly, Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8M cap hit) and T.J. Oshie ($5.75M) also see their deals expire after that 2024-25 campaign.

Apparently Backstrom negotiated his own contract, focusing on getting top dollar, while the Caps wanted to account for his age:

Backstrom has ranked as one of the NHL’s more underappreciated stars for years. The Capitals note that he leads the franchise in assists (668) and is also the only active player to generate 50+ assists in six consecutive seasons. Backstrom ranks second in franchise history in points (908), second only to Alex Ovechkin (1,255).

A quick cap outlook after Capitals sign Backstrom

Going truly deep on the Capitals’ future decisions is probably the job for a full post, but we can take a quick peek.

Cap Friendly places Washington’s cap spending at about $71.1M on 16 roster spots heading into 2020-21. If the ceiling remains around $81.5M, that would leave the Caps with about $10.4M in space.

Such comments serve as a reminder that the Capitals face other tough decisions, both soon and off in the distance.

Most pressingly, Braden Holtby (30, current cap hit: $6.1M) needs a new contract after this season. Ilya Samsonov may or may not be the future. If the Capitals find some way to sign Holtby, it would probably require making painful omissions elsewhere.

The Capitals also must determine what Alex Ovechkin’s next contract will look like. The 34-year-old’s $9.538M cap hit runs out after 2020-21.

It will be fascinating to see how Backstrom ages. His smart, borderline Selke-worthy style may grow old quite gracefully. Still, it’s kind of startling to realize that he’s 32 already. Some old folks might take that as a reminder of our (er, their!) mortality.

Did the Capitals make the right call with this hefty extension? Did Backstrom make a mistake by haggling on his own? What should the Caps do with Holtby and others?

With the Capitals running rampant over the league and not that far removed from that glorious Stanley Cup, extending Backstrom certainly feels like a crowd-pleaser right now, at least. Frankly, the slick Swede was so underpaid before, it also seems fair.

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.

Hurricanes sign Justin Williams to 1-year contract

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It was a big night for the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. Less than an hour after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-4, in overtime with a Dougie Hamilton goal, the team announced that veteran forward Justin Williams is returning on a one-year contract.

The contract is worth a base salary of $700,000 for this season, while there are an additional $1.3 million in potential bonuses based on individual and team play in the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Williams spent the past two seasons as a member of the Hurricanes (his second time with the team) and appeared in all 164 regular season games. He scored 23-goals and finished with 53 points a year ago and helped the team on a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final.

An unrestricted free agent over the summer, the 38-year-old Williams decided to take some time away from the game and contemplate his future. There was talk this week that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins showed some interest, but a reunion with the Hurricanes was always the most logical option.

Williams has appeared in 1,244 regular season games in his 18-year career, scoring 312 goals and 786 total points. He has also been a key part of three Stanley Cup winning teams, including one with the Hurricanes during the 2005-06 season. He was also a huge part of the Los Angeles Kings’ championship teams during the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. In 155 career playoff games he has 40 goals and 101 total points.

As for this particular Hurricanes team, his return could be significant. The Hurricanes look like a contender again and have already built a deep, talented roster. Adding Williams to that mix without having to give up anything in return is going to be a big boost. Even at his age his play the past two years showed he is still a strong two-way player that can produce. It is unlikely his game is going to just totally disappear, especially after getting a half season off to rest.

The Hurricanes next game is on Friday at home against the Arizona Coyotes.

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.

Shero: Hall trade ‘the right time and the right move for us’

Taylor Hall Trade Rumors
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NEWARK, N.J. — Trading Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes roughly 18 months after the forward won the NHL MVP award for leading the Devils back to the playoffs was a simple hockey decision based on the team’s poor start and the strong likelihood the player was going to test the free-agent market next summer.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said Tuesday the trade of Hall to the Coyotes 24 hours earlier for two draft picks and three prospects was a hard day for him because of his feelings for the player. It was not a hard decision, he added.

Shero said numerous teams had called to inquire about acquiring the 28-year-old left wing, and the lines of communication remained opened with several of them until the deal with Arizona was finalized Monday.

Shero said trading Hall had nothing to do with the Devils realizing they would not be able to sign the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft before July 1. He also insisted Hall neither asked to be traded or nor said he wanted out of New Jersey, where he played the past three-plus seasons.

”From our standpoint, it was the right time and the right move for us and certainly for Taylor,” said Shero, noting Hall is going to a playoff contender.

Much was expected of the Devils this season. They drafted Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in June and he joined a lineup that included Hall and Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. New Jersey also acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban from Nashville and signed Wayne Simmonds as a free agent.

Things went south quickly. The Devils lost their first six games (0-4-2) and won two of their first 11 (2-5-4). Coach John Hynes was fired earlier this month and Hall was traded Monday. New Jersey has a 10-17-5 record, second worst in the league.

”This was a decision we made that what’s best for us as to where we are,” Shero said. ”It may have been a harder decision if we were five or three points out of a playoff spot or at the (trading) deadline; then what do you do? I don’t think that was that hard a decision based on where we want to go and making sure we have assets coming to us that we like.”

In return for Hall and forward Blake Speers, the Devils got Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft (top-three protected), Arizona’s third-round selection (conditional) in 2021, defenseman Kevin Bahl and forwards Nick Merkley and Nate Schnarr.

The deal has been anticipated for days. Hall was held out of the Devils’ games at Colorado and Arizona on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Shero said he spoke to Hall about a possible deal early last week.

Hall was leading the Devils in scoring with six goals and 19 assists for 25 points. He was limited to 33 games by a knee injury last season, finishing with 11 goals and 26 assists. His career year was in 2017-18 when he had 39 goals and 54 assists in getting New Jersey back to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.

”Taylor Hall never asked for a trade. Never,” Shero said. ”He has never turned anything down. I didn’t turn anything down. I want to be clear about that. His legacy here in New Jersey is important and important to me. He was all-in with this team.”

Teammates knew a trade was imminent when Hall was scratched those two games last week.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was shopping for Christmas gifts Monday and he didn’t find out about the deal until four hours after it was announced.

”He knew it was coming. We knew it was coming,” Blackwood said. ”It was just a matter of time before it came together.”’

Veteran defenseman Andy Greene said Hall was popular and is going to be missed, but this is the business side of the game when a team struggles.

”Those things happen because of us in this locker room and how we played dictated that,” Greene said. ”’We still have what, 50 games left. We can’t sit there and say let’s play the rest of the year out. There’s way too much time.”

Kyle Palmieri, who was the right wing on the line with Hall, said the trade was a shock even though he knew it was coming.

”He was guy who was looked to as a leader and that was how he played and carried himself,” Palmieri said. ”It’s tough to see any teammate go but a guy who has been here for a while, and obviously one who had such a big impact on and off the ice.”

Coyotes acquiring Hall shifts balance of power in West

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John Chayka looked at the Arizona Coyotes roster and their spot atop the Pacific Division and wondered.

The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, and 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall was available. The cost was two draft picks and three prospects but no players from the current roster, so he went for it.

After acquiring Hall from New Jersey, Arizona is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

”We want to take a run at things here,” Chayka said. ”We ask our questions here internally like, ‘Why not us?’ We’ve got a good group. We’ve got a chance to contend. You can always look to future years and say, ‘What if?’ But when we’ve got a chance right now, we wanted to take our shot.”

The Coyotes haven’t had this good a shot at contending in almost a decade. They prevented West rivals like the Colorado Avalanche and defending champion St. Louis from getting Hall, and bolstered a blue-collar roster by adding a 28-year-old wing in his prime.

Hall is a free agent after this season. That doesn’t matter. Arizona is in it to win it now.

”Our team’s played hard,” said Chayka, who’s in his fourth season as Coyotes general manager. ”I think we’ve got a great group of veteran guys here that I would’ve regretted not giving them the opportunity to hopefully realize a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup.”

The closest the Coyotes have come to the Cup is a five-game Western Conference final loss to Los Angeles in 2012. Adding Hall to a core including young leading scorers Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, wing Phil Kessel, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and goaltenders Darcy Keumper and Antti Raanta should ratchet up the expectations in the desert.

”I’m joining a team with some young studs, a lot of really good defensemen and obviously two goalies that have played amazing this year, you mention those things and that’s really what you need in a contender and that’s what it looks like the Coyotes are,” Hall said. ”I’m not here to guarantee any playoff predictions or anything like that. But you look at the standings, they’re in first place in the division and really I’m coming in to help with that.”

Hall has only made the playoffs once in nine NHL seasons with Edmonton and New Jersey, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. He wants to take some time to adjust to expectations before setting them too high but is excited about the prospect of returning to the postseason.

”Not every day as a player can you jump that many spots in the standings and come to a team that’s in first place in their division,” Hall said. ”I’m really just looking forward to winning games.”

The Coyotes traded for Hall to win games now and in the spring. The opportunity to add him before the holiday roster freeze maximizes the benefit and gives them a better opportunity to shift the balance of power in the West for real.

”We felt like if there was an opportunity to improve the group, it was something we were going to look into, and when this opportunity came along, it was something where we wanted to really bolster the group, hopefully give them a shot in the arm,” Chayka said. ”We feel like adding guys like Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, they’re players that we haven’t seen the likes of these guys in Arizona in terms of their offensive mindset in a long, long time, and we couldn’t pass up any opportunity.”

Hall focused on helping Coyotes make playoffs following trade

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It took a few days and plenty of speculation, but Taylor Hall trade watch is over and the forward is feeling good about his change in fortune.

Following Monday’s trade to the Coyotes, Hall left a Devils team sitting 30th in the NHL to join one atop the Pacific Division with an eye on making the postseason for the first time since 2012.

“I think the opportunity I have with the Arizona Coyotes is awesome,” Hall said on a Monday evening conference call. “To jump that many points in the standings overnight and to join a team that is in first place. Hockey guys will tell you that as the season goes on and the playoff push is really starting to become more important, hockey becomes so fun. I’ve only played five playoff games but those five playoff games, I can remember those in great detail because they were so fun and really was the highlight of my NHL career. So much opportunity for me in the next few months and really just looking forward to that, meeting with the group.”

Hall, who will wear No. 91 in Arizona, is likely to make his Coyotes debut Tuesday against the Sharks.

“It’s a rare opportunity, potentially once in a lifetime, where you get a chance to acquire a player of this caliber, with his background, that again we think fits directly a need that we have if we want to be a contending team,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka. “He’s got great character, he’s a good person, and he’s an elite player in the League. So to check all those boxes was something we felt we couldn’t miss out on if the price is right, and we felt like it was.”

[RELATED: Devils send Taylor Hall to Coyotes for picks, prospects]

How Hall’s time in New Jersey ended was a possibility, but given GM Ray Shero’s aggressiveness in free agency Hall, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, being traded in mid-December was low on the list of expected outcomes.

The Devils’ poor start could not be saved and head coach John Hynes was fired on Dec. 3. That started the countdown clock to a Hall trade. Since it was very unlikely he was going to sign an in-season extension, there was no choice for Shero but to recoup assets. 

When trade talks heated up Friday the Devils made the decision to keep Hall out of the lineup against the Avalanche. Nothing materialized that night, so he was scratched Saturday in Arizona. It was only a matter of time before a deal was made, and no one was more happy to see it all come to a conclusion than Hall.

“The first day was fine, missing the first game was fine, but after that, you start to think a little bit,” Hall said. “Really, I was just anxious to get moved and see where I end up, and obviously it’s a great spot for me. So that’s what kind of transpired. It’s been a whirlwind few days, but at the end of the day, it looks like I’ll be playing hockey [Tuesday] night, so I’m happy.”

It’s still early days, but the potential of Hall lining up alongside Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel makes for a dangerous top line. Chayka will certainly wait before gauging Hall’s interest in an extension, so for now his focus is on winning hockey games.

“I’ve been open to anything and I haven’t closed the book on signing with any team prior to July 1,” Hall said. “Talking to John Chayka, that’s something we can discuss as time goes on, but I think both sides are really comfortable with just playing and letting the contract stuff sort itself out. Really, that’s not what I’m focused on. I just want to come and help win games, get to the playoffs, and do some damage there.”

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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.