Cody Ceci

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Point shines in return as Lightning dismantle Maple Leafs: 3 takeaways

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The Tampa Bay Lightning were happy to welcome one of their most important players — Brayden Point — back to the lineup on Thursday night and he wasted no time making a huge impact in a 7-3 dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Three quick takeaways from the Lightning’s big win…

1. That Point contract is going to be a steal for the Lightning 

As soon as the terms of Brayden Point’s three-year contract with the Lightning were revealed it was obvious that it was a huge win for the team. Point is already one of the NHL’s best all-around players thanks to his elite scoring and often times overlooked defensive impact, and at age 23 he is probably still only getting better. After missing the first three games of the season following offseason hip surgery, Point was back in the lineup on Thursday and wasted no time making an impact. He opened the scoring just 2:28 into the first period before adding another goal and an assist later in the game to finish with three points. The line of Point, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov was almost unfair with each of them recording at least three points in the win (Stamkos and Kucherov both had four points).

2. The Maple Leafs haven’t exactly erased their defensive concerns just yet

The Maple Leafs have done a lot of work to try and fix their blue line — probably the one Achilles Heel the team had the past few years — by adding a bunch of new faces over the past few months. Jake Muzzin came over from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, while Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Rasmus Sandin were all new additions at the start of the season. So far, the early results are not promising. They have now allowed 19 goals through the first five games, including at least three goals in every single home game. We know they can score, and we know the top of their lineup is great, but until they prove otherwise their ability to prevent their opponents from scoring is going to be a significant concern. The common trend with this team over the past few years is that when Frederik Andersen is on his game in net they can look like an unbeatable team. When he is not — as he has yet to be this season — things can quickly start to unravel for them.

3. Pay close attention to Anthony Cirelli this season

Not that the Lightning need another outstanding young player, but they may have one in Cirelli, a second-year forward that chipped in three assists in Thursday’s rout of Toronto. Playing on a 62-win team that had a league MVP and a number of other award winners it was easy for his rookie season to kind of get overlooked. But with 19 goals, 39 totals points, and quite a few Selke Trophy votes (one second place, five third place, 12 fourth place, and 23 fifth place) he has already shown he can be a force all over the ice. Just another impact player for a team that is already full of them.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 ink Kerfoot, Ceci to extensions

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Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has done a great job of creating cap space for his team, and it’s allowed him to re-sign a pair of trade acquisitions in Alex Kerfoot and Cody Ceci.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Kerfoot has inked a four-year, $14 million extension ($3.5 million AAV) with the club and Ceci has signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract. Before these two deals were handed out, the Leafs had just over $11 million in cap space. Once these two contracts are made official, they’ll be down to roughly $3.765 million in cap space.

Kerfoot is expected to serve as the third line center for the Leafs heading into this year. Last year, that spot was occupied by Nazem Kadri, who made $4.5 million per year, so there’s a $1 million savings there. As for Ceci, he’ll serve as a replacement for Nikita Zaitsev, who was also making $4.5 million but on a long-term contract. So even though there’s no cap relief this year, there could be some coming in the near future.

The Leafs, of course, still have one more player they need to re-sign and he’s going to be expensive too. So what kind of money to they have left over for Mitch Marner?

We mentioned the $3.765 million in cap space they currently have, but that number will increase once they put Nathan Horton‘s $5.3 million cap hit on long-term injured reserve. That puts them back close $9 million in available cap space.

Including Kerfoot and Marner, Toronto has 14 forwards under contract. They’ll likely be sending at least one of those extra bodies down to the minors, which means another $700,000 could be coming off the books. They also have eight defenseman on the roster, so they can opt to carry seven guys if they wanted to.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So let’s recap the cap situation:

The Leafs currently have $3.765 million available to spend. They’ll put Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million hit on LTIR ($9.065 million in available space after that move is made). They can also send two players making roughly $700,000 each to the AHL without them counting on the cap. That would give them $10.465 million in available funds to spend on Marner. Will that be enough? No one can say for sure, but it’s in the ball park.

The team will look different when it hits the ice next year, but we always knew that was going to be the case because of the salaries they already had on the books. Dubas has done a good job of improving the roster as a whole while leaving himself some money to play with to make sure he could bring back key parts, too.

Now they just have to iron a contract out with Marner.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.

Trade target Cowen says Sens’ support has been ‘awesome’

It’s safe to say Jared Cowen knows he hasn’t lived up to expectations in Ottawa.

And it’s safe to say he appreciates the Sens sticking with him — even though teams have called about a potential trade.

“It’s awesome to have that support and I feel that same way about myself,” Cowen said this week, per the Ottawa Sun. “I know that it’s not just me that feels I can be a lot better and be the player that I know I’m going to be and I want to be.”

Cowen, taken ninth overall in 2009, has struggled to replicate the success he found during his rookie year in 2011-12, when he scored 17 points in 82 games, averaged nearly 19 minutes a night and received a handful of Calder votes — pretty impressive for a 21-year-old defenseman.

Injuries have played a role in Cowen’s declide — hip and abdominal issues sidelined him for extensive periods — and that’s led to teams inquiring about potential availability, given his size (6-foot-5, 228 pounds) and the fact Cowen only turned 24 in January.

Doesn’t sound like Ottawa is willing to make a move, however.

From the Sun:

Senators GM Bryan Murray along with assistants Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have received a lot of calls from teams interested in Cowen but dealing him wasn’t an option because it’s difficult for any organization to give up on a young defenceman who still has upside potential.

With two years left at $3.1 million per-season, the Senators want to see what they’ve got in Cowen and that’s why he hasn’t been dealt. He’s looking forward to a big year under coach Dave Cameron and wants to show he can return to the form.

One would assume Cowen’s in the group of seven defensemen Ottawa will mostly rely on this year, along with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Cody Ceci, Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Phillips.

That said, there are other blueliners knocking on the door, including Chris Wideman, a minor-league standout that won last year’s Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman.