While the opening of free agency is still almost certainly several months away, it certainly seems as if the Devils will be looking for help on the wing on the open market. They’ve moved from Taylor Hall, Blake Coleman, and Wayne Simmonds in trades this season and as Corey Masisak of The Athletic notes (subscription required), there are some questions surrounding the current NHL readiness of some of their prospects. With Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev each just a season away from unrestricted free agency as well, adding some help on the open market would serve as insurance if New Jersey can’t come to terms on extensions with those two between now and next offseason. Of course, Hall is arguably the top winger that will be available while others like Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, and Tyler Toffoli will also garner plenty of interest.
The current pause in the NHL season has had a major effect on each and every player in the league and could have a lasting impact on careers beyond this year. However, veteran players may be influenced the most, as the past two months have provided insight as to what a life after hockey might look like. The New Jersey Devils’ Cory Schneider and the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Miller, two aging goalies whose futures were in question even before the pandemic, recently spoke on how they are feeling about their current circumstances and the outlook on the rest of their careers.
Schneider, 34, remains optimistic that his playing days are far from over. Schneider told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale that he is using this time to get back into “peak physical condition” and that he has not “entertained thoughts of retirement at all.” Schneider suffered a major core injury in 2015-16 and has not been the same player since. Once one of the league’s top goalies, his numbers have dropped precipitously year-to-year as he has struggled to stay healthy and to rediscover his elite form. Now passed up as the Devils’ started by young MacKenzie Blackwood, Schneider has two years left on his contract at $6MM AAV and would be a prime buyout candidate, standard or compliance, for New Jersey. However, Schneider’s hope is to remain with the team. “”I’m not naive to the business side of things,” Schneider explained, “but I feel that when I’m playing well, I can do a lot for our team on the ice and off the ice. That’s the role that I want to fill.” Schneider best chance to continue playing in a meaningful NHL role may also come with New Jersey. If he were bought out, Schneider would find himself in a free agent market this off-season that is chock-full of veteran keepers looking for one last contract and teams without much money to spend on aging backups.
Miller, 39, is part of that group. While Miller’s numbers in 2019-20 are the worst of his career, they are still palatable, especially in a backup role. Miller has in fact maintained a solid and at times stellar level of performance throughout his late 30’s. While no one would blame the former star netminder for calling it quits at his age with his resume, Miller has maintained that he would like to continue playing. Previously, the obstacles to that plan were Miller’s insistence on remaining in the California area near his family, as well as the aforementioned market, which also includes names like Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, and Brian Elliott as older names who are past their prime and just looking for one last go-round. However, Miller recently spoke to Sportsnet’s Gene Principe and admitted that the COVID-19 pause has placed another roadblock in the way of extending his career: not wanting to leave newfound day-to-day role with his family amid the return to a “new normal” post-pandemic. “There’s a lot of talk here in California that schools are not going to be fully in session possibly into next year. That changes the dynamic around the house and what needs to happen and what’s important,” Miller stated, adding “what that means for sports and life – and wrapped up in that is family and how family is going to need to be taken care of during this time.” It remains to be seen whether remaining with the Ducks would be an option for Miller and if that would even allow him to be comfortable in his role with his family. If not, no one would blame Miller for hanging up his skates and his departure would allow for one other veteran keeper, perhaps even Schneider, to continue pursuing his career dreams.
The recent parting of ways between the Arizona Coyotes and former President and CEO Ahron Cohen leaves a big opening in Arizona for an executive. That could be a chance for former Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli to get back into an executive role.
Edmonton Journal’s Kurt Leavins writes that it wouldn’t be surprising if Chiarelli was a finalist for that role in Arizona. It is believed that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is not happy with Arizona’s alleged tampering of NHL draft prospects and could have enough influence over new owner Alex Merulo to suggest a reliable candidate to take that open role with the Coyotes. While his success in Edmonton as their general manager wasn’t overly successful, Chiarelli might be a better fit in a president’s role and has a good working relationship with Bettman.
- In his most recent mailbag, The Athletic’s Corey Masisak (subscription required) writes that with a number of prospects closing in on bigger roles in the New Jersey Devils’ lineup, the team may look to unload a player or two during the offseason. The team has a lot of AHL-ready players who might get a chance to break into their lineup, including Jesper Boqvist, Janne Kuokkanen, Joey Anderson, Nicholas Merkley, Nolan Foote and the potential of a 2020 lottery pick being ready to go, that could cause a logjam if the team holds on to all their veteran players. While not all of them are expected to make the Devils’ squad, the scribe writes that it would make sense to move a player with the two most likely trade candidates to be Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha. Both would be valuable to other teams as versatile quality depth players. Of course, much will also depend on future contract negotiations between Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev, who both will be unrestricted free agents in 2021.
- TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports that the Edmonton Oilers are considering putting 2019 first-round pick Philip Broberg on their 30-man roster if/when the playoffs begin. Each team will need a group of black aces with the AHL season having been cancelled. Rather than having the 6-foot-3 blueliner sitting at home, it might be a learning experience if he was to join the team during their playoff push. It’s unlikely he would see any action, but the 18-year-old did spend his first full season playing against adults in the SHL this season. He is expected to continue honing his skills in the SHL for one more year before the Oilers bring him over.
- NHL.com’s Jourdon LaBarber writes that Buffalo Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton is considering the possibility of bringing Finnish prospect Oskari Laaksonen to North America as soon as next season. The 2018 third-round pick was considered a steal shortly after the draft due to his impressive skating and passing skills. The 20-year-old has become a leading defenseman on Liiga’s Ilves Tampere squad and could prove to be a key addition for the Sabres. Of course, the question comes down to whether Buffalo could bring the blueliner over as he hasn’t signed an entry-level deal with the Sabres yet and he signed a two-year extension with Ilves Tampere back in 2018 and has only played out one of those years so far. No word on whether there was an out-clause in the contract.
The New Jersey Devils may have to play some additional regular season games if the league ever starts up again, but that won’t stop them from doing some offseason work. The team has already interviewed several head coaching candidates including Gerard Gallant, despite the strong job that Alain Nasreddine has done since taking over. Add one more to the list, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reports that the team has interviewed Dallas Stars assistant John Stevens.
Stevens was a head coach in the NHL most recently with the Los Angeles Kings, though he lasted only 99 regular season games with the club after taking the top job. His first year went well enough, with the Kings posting a 45-29-8 record and making the playoffs, but a sweep at the hands of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights paired with a slow start in 2018-19 left Stevens without work. He had previously held the head coaching position in Philadelphia too, even taking the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008.
It is important to note that the Devils are operating at this moment with an interim GM as well after Tom Fitzgerald took over from Ray Shero partway through the season. There are changes coming in New Jersey, though many have pointed out that Nasreddine is still a contender to keep the job.
The Detroit Red Wings would be the beneficiaries of the revised draft lottery the league suggested in a memo over the weekend, given that they are currently the team last in the NHL standings. Not only would they have the highest chance to win the lottery themselves, but with the winner only allowed to move up four spots Detroit would have a good chance at losing the lottery but maintaining their first-overall selection.
Travis Yost of TSN broke out the numbers today, showing how Detroit went from having a 51% chance of selecting fourth in the regular format to a 57% of selecting first in the revised one. That kind of change is huge for a club like Detroit who are looking for another star to build their next competitive team around. The entire set of odds is in Yost’s article, but it is important to note that this format has not yet been officially adopted by the league.
- MacKenzie Blackwood is scheduled to become a restricted free agent for the first time after this season comes to an end, but it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be a tough negotiation for the New Jersey Devils. The young goaltender told Mike Morreale of NHL.com that he loves playing in New Jersey and hopes the two sides “can figure something out” to keep him there for a long time. The 23-year old Blackwood posted a .915 save percentage in 47 appearances this season and looks to be the Devils’ starter for the foreseeable future.
- Edmonton isn’t the only western Canadian city that is offering to host games should the NHL resume this summer. Ryan Rishaug of TSN reports that Vancouver has also submitted a proposal to the league to be a host city. There is obviously nothing decided yet by the league on where games will be held should they be played at some point in the next few months.
The Vegas Golden Knights already have a roster full of defensemen, including six NHL players already under contract with another four defensemen in Nicolas Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, Dylan Coughlan and Jake Bischoff all waiting to get their chance to break out with the franchise.
That leaves a big question question mark for soon-to-be UFA and team leader Deryk Engelland. SinBin Vegas’ Ken Boehlke suggests that the writing is on the wall that the veteran defenseman’s time with the team could be over soon. The scribe points out that Engelland hasn’t been a favorite of new head coach Peter DeBoer since he took over on Jan. 16. He has only played in five games under the new coach and was scratched in the team’s last 12 games and 17 of the team’s previous 18 games.
DeBoer did recently praise Engelland’s dedication to the team:
To a man they all want to win the Stanley Cup, that’s their number one motivation,” said DeBoer. “They are willing to do whatever they have to do to be a part of it. I look at Deryk Engelland as an example of that. Tough situation, veteran guy, we had to scratch him some games here recently before the pause. The messaging to me was ‘I just want to be a part of this. When you need me, let me know, and I’ll be ready to go.’ You can’t have enough of that and that’s what makes groups like this special.”
However, it’s quite obvious that the team may be looking beyond Engelland in the future despite the veteran’s intent on continuing his playing career. He currently has a goal and six points in 49 games, while averaging his lowest ATOI (17:33) in his time with Vegas. With a number of blueliners waiting for their chance in the AHL, Vegas may have seen the last of him.
- TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that while many teams are against the NHL’s recent memo that is suggesting the league have the NHL Entry Draft in June, the Vancouver Canucks are a team that is likely going to be in favor of the deal. The Canucks traded their first-round pick last offseason to Tampa Bay (now owned by New Jersey) and would rather give the Devils a non-lottery pick this year, rather than an unprotected one for the 2021 draft. The Canucks are currently in the playoffs as of this moment. However, if play does resume with a October/November draft, the Canucks could slip out of the playoffs and be forced to move a lottery pick then.
- Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that while there is a lot of talk of the St. Louis Blues buying out veteran forward Alex Steen in the offseason next year in order to make room for UFA Alex Pietrangelo, the scribe believes that’s an unlikely scenario. The scribe says it’s more likely that Steen, one of the most popular players on the team and a leader as well, is more likely to retire at the end of this season. That could solve a tough issue of being forced to buy him out, which the team might hesitate to do after the years of service both on and off the ice.
Veteran Swedish defenseman Theodor Lennstrom has informed Frolunda HC that he will not honor the final year of his contract and will not play in the SHL next season. The question now is where exactly he will play. Swedish source Kvalls Posten seems confident that the answer is the NHL, as they report that Lennstrom is choosing between a number of offers, but seems most likely to land with the Edmonton Oilers.
Lennstrom, 25, was undrafted out of Sweden and has never played anywhere else but his native country, but finally seems ready to take the next step in his career and sign an entry-level contract in the NHL. Lennstrom is an offensive defenseman, excelling in the skating and possession aspects of the game. His defensive game is likely not quite ready for the NHL though and he may need to start in the AHL upon arriving to North America or else play in a sheltered, power play-dependent role at first.
If he is to succeed at the top level, Edmonton seems like a strong choice. Kvalls Posten notes that team has two fellow Swedish defensemen in Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, as well as a former teammate of Lennstrom’s in Joakim Nygard. On the other hand, the Oilers do have a decent amount of depth on the blue line and that position battle would become even more crowded if another Swede defender, top prospect Philip Broberg, also decided to jump to North America this off-season. There remain a number of other teams interested in Lennstrom as well, specifically the New Jersey Devils as a top suitor for his services, so his decision is far from made.
The New Jersey Devils aren’t waiting around to get a jump on their coaching search, despite the NHL still holding out hope that the rest of the 2019-20 season will be completed at some point. Pierre LeBrun reported on today’s Insider Trading for TSN that the Devils have interviewed several candidates for the position including former Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant. As LeBrun points out, that interview was conducted by GM Tom Fitzgerald, who is also only operating under an interim tag after Ray Shero’s dismissal earlier this season.
Alain Nasreddine, who took over as interim head coach when John Hynes was fired, is also still a candidate for the full-time position. Nasreddine has actually posted a 19-16-8 record with the Devils since taking over, much better than his predecessor and perhaps a reason he should be considered moving forward.
Gallant though is a big fish on the market, as we discussed in one of our recent PHR Panels. He was fired after just two and a half seasons with the Golden Knights, despite taking them to the Stanley Cup Final in year one and the playoffs again in year two. Gallant has a career .550 winning percentage as a head coach, which is actually brought down considerably by his first stint behind the bench with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Landing a coach of that stature would certainly be a big step for the Devils who appear to be on the right track towards competitiveness once again, even though their chance at making the playoffs this season faded quite quickly. With two first-overall selections down the middle in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, three first-round picks to make this season and several high-end prospects ready to soon make an impact there are hopefully better times ahead in New Jersey.
As the current Coronavirus crisis wears on, it seems more and more likely that the NHL will not return to action soon and when play resumes, it will almost certainly not be the full remaining regular season schedule. That lost revenue is expected to impact the 2020-21 salary cap, perhaps even keeping the current $81.5MM upper limit in place. Given that teams expected an increase, initially projected to be between $84-88.2MM, this stagnation could have a harsh impact on a number of clubs’ cap situations. As such, many expect that compliance buyouts will return in some form or fashion to ease that pain. These buyouts, which do not count against the salary cap, would allow for teams to open up space that they otherwise expected from a cap increase.
After taking a look at the first ten teams, we move on to the middle third of the NHL:
Detroit Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader
– When Abdelkader signed a seven-year extension with an AAV of $4.25MM following his career-best season in 2014-15, it was perceived to be a bargain at the time and few expected that it would turn out poorly. Yet, with three years still to go Abdelkader has failed to impress in each of the first four seasons, recording a total of just 78 points and consistently missing time due to injury. On a young rebuilding team, the 33-year-old forward’s slow, plodding game is not a fit and his salary is not commensurate to his role on the club. New GM Steve Yzerman wouldn’t hesitate to buy out the career Red Wing if given the opportunity.
Edmonton Oilers: James Neal
– Last summer’s swap of Neal for Milan Lucic was labeled as two teams exchanging bad contracts. However, Neal got off to a hot start and ended up with 19 goals and 31 points despite being limited to just 55 games due to injury. That being said, the 32-year-old forward, who was a -20 this season, is still probably the worst contract on the team. The likelihood of Neal playing up to his remaining $17.25MM over three years seems slim and the Oilers could use the cap space to add a younger, better winger. If Neal has earned the trust of the team, Kris Russell could be bought out before his final year at $4MM.
Florida Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky
– Would the Panthers move on from Bobrovsky just one year after handing him a seven-year, $70MM deal? That could be the biggest question of the off-season if compliance buyouts become reality. The star goalie’s first season in Florida could not have gone worse as he posted a career-worst GAA and didn’t boast a shiny save percentage either. Expected to be the Cats’ savior in net, Bobrovsky was anything but. If they hesitate to cut ties with Bobrovsky and his play does not improve, he would undoubtedly become the worst contract in hockey. Though on the other hand, if Bobrovsky goes elsewhere and succeeds and Florida cannot find a suitable location, some would surely say that they didn’t give him enough of a chance.
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
– The rebuilding Kings have been trying to move Quick for a couple of years now and it would be a surprise if they did not take advantage of a compliance buyout opportunity. A holdover contract from the days of yore, Quick’s ten-year, $58MM deal signed in 2012 remained a bargain for the first half of the term until Quick hit a wall last year. While his play rebounded this season, Quick is still not playing up to the all-world level that had become the norm. L.A. is still a ways away from contending and can make more use of extra cap space over the next three years than a goalie who is past his prime.
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise
– The Wild and new GM Bill Guerin came awfully close to trading Parise at the deadline this season and in recent years players who have been rumored to be leaving Minnesota are always eventually dealt. However, the potential trade included the team taking back bad salaries to facilitate the movement of Parise’s remaining five years and $37.69MM. Although Parise showed a return to form somewhat over the past two years, he has never been able to replicate his numbers from earlier in career and the team has generally been unhappy with the results of their 13-year gamble. If the possibility to dump the 35-year-old Parise without any cap repercussions opened up, it would become a serious conversation. More interesting would be if the Wild also discuss Mats Zuccarello as a buyout candidate after he was a bust in the first of a five-year, $30MM deal.
Montreal Canadiens: Karl Alzner
– While there will be those that find some of the bigger names on Montreal as intriguing buyout candidates, Alzner seems like an obvious choice that will improve the roster without any risk of releasing a good player or upsetting team chemistry. Few players in recent history have had their team turn on them following a major contract as quickly as the Canadiens did with Alzner. After signing the physical defenseman as a top free agent in 2017, the Habs decided just a year later that he was not worthy of an NHL roster spot following a difficult first season. Alzner has played just 13 NHL games over the past two years, buried in the AHL for the remainder. With two years at $4.625MM remaining, Montreal would be happy to be completely rid of Alzner’s contract rather than receiving just minor saving from sending him to the minors instead.
Nashville Predators: Kyle Turris
– For a long time, Nashville GM David Poile was opposed to handing out expensive, long-term contracts. That policy served him well for quite a time, as the Predators ended up with a number of tremendous values on the roster. Since the team has started to move away from that practice, things have not gone so well. Turris is the poster boy for this statement. He signed a six-year, $36MM extension with Nashville not long after being acquired by the club early in the 2017-18 season and has never lived up to the expectations. His 54 total points over the past two years is less than the one-year total the season prior to his joining Nashville. Turris has become an expendable player, not only missing time due to injury but also as a healthy scratch. The team has been eager to move him and they likely wouldn’t hesitate to do so with a compliance buyout.
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
– An overpaid, under-performing starting goalie is one thing; an overpaid, under-performing backup is another. It has been quite a time since Schneider was the top man in net in New Jersey and young Mackenzie Blackwood has now taken the reins. However, Schneider’s horrific numbers over the past two year suggest that he isn’t even capable of being an NHL backup at this point in his career. With two years remaining at $6MM, Schneider’s might be the worst goalie contract in the league and a rather obvious buyout candidate.
New York Islanders: Andrew Ladd
– Ladd, part of the infamous 2016 class of terrible free agent contracts, Ladd has never provided adequate value to the Islanders compared to his $5.5MM AAV. The team finally buried him in the AHL this season after recording just 71 points through his first three years. With the majority of their forwards signed to substantial long-term deals, there is almost no chance that Ladd can ever work his way back into the NHL mix for the Islanders. New York was ready to move him at the trade deadline and would be quick to buyout the final three years of his deal rather than continue to pay major money for him to play in the minors.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
– While it would be a sad day for the Blueshirts and their fans, the reality is that Lundqvist is the best use of a compliance buyout on the team. New York was considering moving young Alexandar Georgiev at the deadline rather than continue to carry three goaltenders, as Igor Shesterkin looks like the starter of the future and King Henrik has become an immovable contract. However, the team would be far better off retaining both young goalies and moving on from Lundqvist, who at 38 years old had the worst season of his career and still has a season remaining at $8.5MM. That’s a hefty salary to pay the man who would be your third-string goalie next season if Georgiev is not moved. The Rangers have no shortage of options though if they cannot overcome the loyalty they feel toward Lundqvist. Defensemen Marc Staal, $5.7MM AAV, and Brendan Smith, $4.35MM AAV, have both outworn their welcomes in New York and would not be missed in the final years of their respective contracts.
Stay tuned for Part III coming soon.
While the season remains on hold due to COVID-19, many players are getting every chance to get back to full health. In fact, the delay in the season could be a huge benefit to several teams that lost key players late in the season, which now might make them available if the NHL is able to continue the season or at least the playoffs.
The Columbus Blue Jackets look like they could be huge benefactors to that end as injured defenseman Seth Jones, a crucial linchpin to the team’s shutdown defense announced that he stepped on the ice today for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in which he required surgery to repair a sprain an hairline fracture on Feb. 11. He was given an 8-10 week recovery time after suffering the injury three days earlier against the Colorado Avalanche.
While Columbus had fared well despite suffering numerous team injuries over the course of the year, Jones’ departure from the lineup had quite the effect. The team picked up just three wins after his injury, with a 3-5-6 record.
The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline adds that while players are not allowed to use their teams’ facilities at the moment, Jones is permitted to do so as part of his rehab from ankle surgery, allowed by deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Injured players are allowed access to team’s facilities since the beginning of the league’s suspension.
- The Athletic’s Corey Masisak (subscription required) writes in his most recent mailbag entry that the longer the suspension goes on, the more and more likely the New Jersey Devils will had the permanent general manager position to current interim GM Tom Fitzgerald. With most candidates still under contract until the season ends, New Jersey has been unable to interview any candidates that are associated with a team. The team has interviewed former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis (twice), but if the season goes deep into the summer, there is a good chance they will keep Fitzgerald, who took over for Ray Shero on Jan. 12 and had a successful trade deadline. Fitzgerald was already a top candidate for the job, but the Devils were interested in a full search, which now may be difficult.
- With rumors that the New York Islanders are already getting Russian goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin under contract for next season, Sport-Express’ KHL writer Igor Eronko reports that another Russian prospect is considering coming stateside for the 2021-22 season. According to Eronko, 25-year-old forward Anatoli Golyshev has looked at houses in New York and wants to join the team in 2021. Golyshev, an Islanders’ fourth-round pick in 2016, had an injury-plagued campaign this year with just 11 goals and 25 points in 38 games, but scored 37 goals over his previous two years with Yekaterinburg Automobilist in the KHL.