rebuilding

Why rebuilding teams should trade for players like Marleau

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The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, and others have discussed an intriguing possibility that the Los Angeles Kings might trade for Patrick Marleau from the cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs.

On its face, that seems like an ill-advised trade. Why would the already-old-as-dirt, expensive Kings seek out a near-40-year-old who carries a bloated $6.25 million cap hit?

Yet, in the cap era, it’s a deal that could make a ton of sense for both sides, if the right deal could be hashed out.

The Kings should go even bolder

While LeBrun discusses the Kings wanting to get rid of a different, cheaper problem contract to make the Marleau trade work (sub required), the real goal should be for both teams to acknowledge their situations. The Maple Leafs needs cap space; the Kings need to build up their farm system with picks and prospects.

Instead of trying to move, say, Dustin Brown or Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings should instead find as creative ways as possible to bulk up on futures, while accepting the (admittedly grim) reality that they’ll suffer through 2019-20, if not 2020-21 and beyond.

In fact, if I were Kings GM Rob Blake, I’d pitch sending over Alec Martinez for Marleau, with the goal of really making it costly for the Maple Leafs. Imagine how appealing it would be for the Maple Leafs to move out Marleau’s contract and improve their defense, and imagine how much more of a ransom the Kings could demand if they’re absorbing all the immediate “losses” in such a trade? Could Los Angeles land yet another Maple Leafs first-rounder, say in 2020 or even 2021? Could such a deal be sweetened with, say, the rights to Andreas Johansson?

That trade might not work, but it’s a blueprint

The Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott believes that a deal probably won’t actually work out, and that’s understandable. There are a lot of ins and outs to a would-be trade that could send Marleau to L.A., particularly since Marleau would need to waive his no-trade clause to complete a trade.

But, really, this is just one example.

Rebuilding teams should apply similar logic to any number of other situations, while contenders can be forgiven for thinking more short-term.

Of course, a rebuilding team would also need to embrace the rebuilding reality, and not every team is past the denial stage.

Potential rebuilding teams

The Kings are in a decent position to absorb a tough year or two, what with being not that far removed from two Stanley Cup wins. The Ottawa Senators have already prepared fans for a rebuild, although they also need to avoid making things too brutal after an agonizing year. The Detroit Red Wings could be less resistant to rebuilding under Steve Yzerman than Ken Holland. Other teams should probably at least consider a short pulling off of the Band-Aid, too, with the Anaheim Ducks coming to mind.

What are some of the problem contracts that could be moved? Glad you (may have) asked.

Also, quick note: these mentions are based on my perception of the relative value of players, not necessarily how their teams view them.

Marleau-likes (challenging contracts ending after 2019-20)

  • Again, Marleau is about to turn 40, and his cap hit is $6.25M. His actual salary is just $4.25M, with Cap Friendly listing his salary bonus at $3M. Maybe the Maple Leafs could make his contract even more enticing to move if they eat the salary bonus, then trade him? If it’s not the Kings, someone should try hard to get Marleau, assuming he’d waive for at least a few situations.
  • Ryan Callahan: 34, $5.8M cap hit, $4.7M salary. Callahan to the Red Wings almost feels too obvious, as Yzerman can do his old team the Lightning a cap-related favor, get one of his beloved former Rangers, and land some much-needed pieces. Naturally, other rebuilders should seek this deal out, too, as the Bolts are in just as tough a spot with Brayden Point as the Maple Leafs are in trying to sign Mitch Marner.
  • Nathan Horton: 35, $5.3M cap hit, $3.6M salary. The Maple Leafs have been placing Horton on LTIR since acquiring his contract, but with his reduced actual salary, maybe a team would take that minor headache off of Toronto’s hands?
  • David Clarkson: 36, $5.25M cap hit, $3.25M salary. Basically Vegas’ version of the Horton situation.
  • Zach Bogosian: 29, $5.14M cap hit, $6M salary. Buffalo’s said the right things about liking Bogosian over the years, but with big spending coming up if they want to re-sign Jeff Skinner, not to mention get better … wouldn’t they be better served spending that money on someone who might move the needle?
  • Andrew MacDonald: 33, $5M cap hit, $5.75M salary. Like Bogosian, MacDonald’s salary actually exceeds his cap hit. Maybe you’d get a better return from Philly if you ate one year of his deal? Both the Flyers and Sabres have some added urgency to be better in 2019-20, after all.
  • Martin Hanzal: 33, $4.75M cap hit, $4M salary. The Stars already have a ton of cap space opening up while they made big strides during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’d think they’d be eager to get more room, earlier, and maybe make a run at someone bold like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson? They were one of the top bidders for Karlsson last summer, apparently, but now they could conceivably add Karlsson without trading away a gem like Miro Heiskanen.
  • Dmitry Kulikov: 29, $4.33M cap hit and salary. Maybe the Jets could more easily keep Jacob Trouba along with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor if they get rid of an underwhelming, expensive defenseman? Just a thought.

If you want to dig even deeper, Cap Friendly’s list is a great guide.

Two years left

Seeking contracts that expire after 2020-21 is a tougher sell, but maybe the rewards would be worth the risk of extended suffering?

  • Corey Perry: 36, $8.625M cap hit. $8M salary in 2019-20; $7M salary ($4M base; $3M salary bonus) in 2020-21. If you’re offering to take on Perry’s contract, you’d probably want a significant package in return. If the Ducks are in rebuild denial, then they’d get a fresher start if they managed to bribe someone to take Perry. Ryan Getzlaf‘s deal also expires after 2020-21 with similar parameters, though it’s less appealing to move him.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk: 32, $6.65 cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. Marc Staal, 34, $5.7M cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. The Rangers’ future is blurry now, as they could go from rebuild to trying to contender if they get Panarin. If they’re really gearing toward contending, maybe they’d want to get rid of some expensive, aging defensemen?
  • David Backes: 35, $6M cap hit, $4M salary each of the next two seasons. The bottom line is that Backes has been a pretty frequent healthy scratch, and the Bruins should funnel his cap hit toward trying to keep both Charlie McAvoy (RFA this offseason) and Torey Krug (UFA after 2020-21).
  • Alexander Steen: 37, $5.75M cap hit, cheaper in 2020-21. Paying this much for a guy who’s become a fourth-liner just isn’t tenable for a contender. He’s been great for the Blues over the years, yet if you want to stay in the mix, you sometimes need to have those tough conversations.
  • Lightning round: Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Niskanen, Artem Anisimov, and Jake Allen, among others. There are a lot of other, less-obvious “let’s take this off your hands” considerations. Check out Cap Friendly’s list if you want to dive down that rabbit hole.

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As you can see, plenty of contenders have contracts they should try to get rid of, and rebuilding teams should capitalize on these situations.

Interestingly, there are fascinating ideas if rebuilders would take on even more than a year or two of baggage. Would it be worth it to ask for a lot for, say, James Neal, particularly if they think Neal might be at least a little better than his disastrous 2018-19 season indicated? Might someone extract a robust package while accepting Milan Lucic‘s positively odious contract?

It’s easier to sell the one or two-year commitments, which is why this post focuses on those more feasible scenarios. Nonetheless, it would be fun for the armchair GMs among us to see executives get truly creative.

Should your team seek these trades out? What level of risk is too much to stomach? Do tell in the comments.

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.

Is Scott Howson the right man for Blue Jackets’ rebuild?

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If you’ve ever stayed awake long enough in a government class, you’ve probably heard about how the U.S. presidency changes hands in a “peaceful transfer of power.”

The NHL provides some rather interesting transitions between general managers, but not every new one has a particularly placid first year or so. (Example: as much as I disagree with Jay Feaster’s general philosophy in Calgary, it’s not like former Flames GM Darryl Sutter left him with a rich set of options.)

Blue Jackets hit the reset button (again)

For all the mistakes he’s made, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has made things a lot better in the last week than they were before. Antoine Vermette is a nice player, but it’s hard to argue with stockpiling picks because the two-way forward simply makes more sense on a mid-level contender such as Phoenix. Jack Johnson carries many of the same flaws as Jeff Carter – really, it only makes sense that he’ll wear No. 7 in Columbus too – but getting a quality young player like him and a solid first-rounder remains impressive.

Still, the question remains: whether Rick Nash stays or goes, does Scott Howson deserve to be the architect of the next rebuild?

My instinctive response is probably the same as most: “No.”

source: APPossible parallels

That being said, I cannot help but see some parallels between Howson’s situation and that of Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray. Both read the tea leaves and cleaned house. Each received a lot of heat for their teams’ failings.

Murray’s Senators are now on the verge of a surprise playoff run and play a captivating style to boot.

Naturally, there are some differences, too. Murray’s hockey resume is much larger – and more distinguished – than Howson’s comparatively limited experience. Being far-from-loyal to coaches is one of things that spawned a lot of mockery of Murray, but he wouldn’t have been able to hire likely Jack Adams finalist Paul MacLean if he didn’t have that itchy trigger finger.

(Some call it deflecting blame; others might say he was decisive. It’s probably both.)

The man in charge in Columbus will have some appealing assets to work with next summer, especially if Howson trades Nash.

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Obviously it would help to know which GM candidates might be available this summer, but humor us with your thoughts: is Howson worthy of a chance to rebuild the Blue Jackets? Would it be wiser to clean the slate with a bountiful stash of draft picks in the next season or so?

Senators defenseman Chris Phillips: “I want to help team rebuild”

It’s obvious now that the Senators are selling now and getting ready to rebuild the team. They’ve already traded Mike Fisher to Nashville for draft picks and traded Chris Kelly to Boston for a second round pick. The player that was getting a lot of attention around the league to be a great defensive rental was Chris Phillips.

Phillips is a stereotypical defensive-defenseman. He’s not going to score lots of points (his career high is 26 points in 2006-2007) and he’s genuinely solid along the blue line. Of course, this season has been brutal for him and the rest of the team and his stats have taken a huge hit racking up just four assists and an astoundingly bad -27 plus/minus rating. Despite the bad hockey climate in Ottawa this season, Phillips says he wants to stay and help the team rebuild.

“I do and I know people will call me crazy for saying that,” Phillips said, “but I think you need some veteran guys that have been around to help and guide the young guys coming in. I’m okay and would take on that responsibility.”

Let’s give some credit here to Phillips, if for nothing else he’s loyal. Sure he might sound crazy wanting to stick it out in Ottawa as he’s due to be an unrestricted free agent after the year and surely his statistics aren’t going to win him any extra cash. Phillips was a first round pick of the Senators back in 1996 and it’s clear his ties to the team and community are hitting close to him.

Wanting to be the good soldier to help the team through their darkest days since the early 90s is beyond admirable. We’ll see how much that loyalty counts for if he hits free agency in July, however. Battles between loyalty and money always make things a bit uneasy and if the Senators could improve more by dealing him, would Phillips be OK with that and would a team deal for him knowing if he wanted to sign back with Ottawa? It makes for quite the potential conundrum for everyone.