Friday, June 17, 2016

Is the Price Too High for Fleury in Calgary?

It was asked of me this week, who I thought the best fit for the Calgary Flames would be, if they had their pick of a handful of potential free agent or trade bait goalies and my initial response was Cam Ward. Of course, that went south, when he re-signed with the Carolina Hurricanes this week.  I thought he would have been the most cost-efficient goalie, who plays well and knows how to play well behind sub-par defenses.

After the Ward signing, it became apparent, through the reports in the media, that the Flames have indeed extended their desires to Pittsburgh, calling on the availability of Marc-Andre Fleury to possibly be their next number one goalie.

Personally, I would maintain that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be very wise to keep Fleury on for the foreseeable future, because as much as Matt Murray dazzled us through the playoffs, he is far from an established goalie in the NHL.  He now has a good foundation, after a solid playoff run, but goalies get hot and then goalies can get cold, just as easy and it takes a lot more than one solid playoff run, where he was arguably taken care of well by his skaters up front, making up for some shaky play at times.  Surely, once the Penguins got deeper and deeper into the run, it became more about Sidney Crosby and his band of merry skaters, more than it was Murray and his rookie run.

The only way that I can see the Penguins parting with a guy like Fleury, who may not even be a great fit for the Flames, is with a pretty significant package coming back the other way.  And if the Penguins are not sellers, which I don't think should be (or are, for that matter), they can really set the bar high on this one and see if Calgary will bite.

With two weeks before free agency, to which Fleury will not be a part of, since he still has three more years left, the Flames don't have a hockey pool worthy (for more on being pool worthy, check out my actual hockey pool blog) goalie signed on for next season and they have one of the few cap numbers that are warm to the acquisition of Fleury's $5.75 million per year hit.

The Penguins are not in terrible shape at this point against the cap either, which allows them to be patient.  With Pascal Dupuis eligible for the Long Term Injured Reserve, I have the Penguins penciled roster in at $68.8 million for 19 players, including Fleury and Murray.   With only a few spots left to fill and anywhere between $3 and $6 million left to spend (cap number pending), their depth can be filled in quite easily.

With that being said, if I was the Penguins, my first request would be for a 1st round pick in any deal for Fleury.  He's a bonafide starter, he has two Cup rings (one of which he earned) and I can't stress this enough, he doesn't have to go anywhere.  The Penguins don't need to take on salary and the Flames don't need to deal salary, so a roster player doesn't need to be dealt, other than Fleury, so a myriad of prospects and lesser picks, going either way, would likely suffice here.

If the Flames hold out on that deal, they will look to unrestricted free agency to throw around some dollars and it is really slim pickins out there right now.  Chad Johnson of the Sabres, James Reimer of the Sharks, re-signing Karri Ramo, Al Montoya of the Panthers or Jonas Gustavsson of the Bruins... all heading to free agency and played last season.  There is a feeling that the time is dawn on their playoff window, with this core group of players and a starting goalie will give them a good jump on their day in the Sun, before the night falls and the cooler air will mean they have to shut that window again.  Those free agent goalies are not the answer, in my opinion, so it might be well within their interests to negotiate hard with Pittsburgh for a guy like Fleury.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hartnell Could Waive Goodbye

Reports are surfacing that Scott Hartnell was approached by the Columbus Blue Jackets back in February to provide a list of teams that he would approve to be traded to, waiving his no-movement clause to do so.  Obviously, a deal couldn't get done at the trade deadline for the scrappy forward, so he was left to finish the season with the Jackets and didn't exactly have the best of seasons, when it was all said and done.

Now, with the team looking forward, they could really use some more cap space and possibly find a player that is much better suited to the style of play that management and the coaching staff want for their club.  Heading into the Summer, you could look at their signed group of players and establish that they have about 19 players, including Hartnell, who would be in the lineup, when the puck drops in October, in theory.  This group is already coming in at $65.7 million, which wouldn't leave a lot of space for improvement through free agency, with fears that the cap ceiling isn't going to go up much, if at all.  The cap ceiling in the 2016 season was $71.4 million, just for measuring purposes.

Elliotte Friedman suggests in his 30 Thoughts from Saturday that teams are being considered are probably not keen on how much is left on Hartnell's deal, three more years at $4.75 million against the cap per year.  That's fair, especially since Hartnell hasn't exactly been a sure thing every year.  Between Nashville, Philadelphia and Columbus, already 15 seasons deep, how much does the 34-year old have left in the tank and what kind of consistency are you going to get from him?  Both are great questions, thus becoming a much bigger gamble.

Since he is already getting up there in age, you would have to believe that he is looking at teams that are trending upwards in their championship trajectory.  With those in mind, a lot of those teams are already facing cap issues, either already having players signed or they have building blocks that they want to take care of first.

Without any doubt, you can bet that Hartnell likely won't move until the salary cap numbers are announced and even more likely, when free agency opens up, teams start spending and then find out what they have left for Hartnell.

And then there is the return that the Blue Jackets want for Hartnell and Friedman reported that the deadline request for a return was quite high.  With the way the market is shaping up and likely how much the team wants to shed his salary, that the asking price will be somewhat lower than what it was at the deadline.  No team is going to take on this salary without sending some back in return and/or having the Jackets retain some of his money for the next three years.  The latter being less than ideal for the Jackets.

One team I could see making a move for Hartnell this Summer would be the New York Rangers, who have been cycling through the rumour mill, more so for their overhaul that could be coming this Summer, including a move to get Rick Nash off of their books.  I am not suggesting that Nash would go back to Columbus in a deal for Hartnell, that doesn't make any sense, rather, once the Rangers move Nash, if they do, they would have a lot more space to work with and they never seem to be afraid of sizable cap hits.

In a much less likely deal, the Buffalo Sabres could send troubled forward Matt Moulson and his $5 million cap hit for the next three seasons to Columbus for Hartnell and his three years remaining on his deal.  It's troubled player for troubled player, but this deal would not solve Columbus' salary cap crunch, rather it would make it less comfortable and that's not really what they want to accomplish here.  The Sabres could use Hartnell's leadership for the kids, while Moulson might be able to find some more scoring in the Jackets' system, which would make it a hockey trade, but still a head-scratcher.

The Anaheim Ducks also fall into the category of a perennial playoff team, which really showed some promise in the 2016 season and currently has some potential openings, where Hartnell's experience, grit and nose for the net could come into play.  They are a team that could absorb a good portion of Hartnell's contract, sending pieces in return and could be a pretty good fit.  The Ducks are closely looking at the numbers that the league comes up with, in terms of the cap ceiling, and they have decisions to make with restricted free agents, but it could be a good move on either side of the conference border here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Where Does Stamkos Land?

As we draw closer and closer to the NHL silly season, one of the big questions leading up to it is, "where does Steven Stamkos sign?"

First and foremost, the leading factor for this decision is how Stamkos' relationship with the team, general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper is going forward and even before the blood clot issue, which cost him the back half of the season and most of the playoffs, we were under the impression that things were not very rosy.

Speculation sucks.  Basing a lot of what these rumours are on is a bit rough around the edges and we will never know the full story, until someone writes a book and even then, we should take some of those reports with a grain of salt as well.

Nevertheless, out of boredom, we trudge along and have a little bit of fun, at the expense of looming questions about a superstar player.  Let's all try and offer a guess, as to what goes on, in an attempt to kill some time, yeah?

Does Stamkos re-sign in Tampa Bay?  I don't see why Stamkos wouldn't want to try and field some offers from other clubs, since the Lightning have seemingly moved on, in a sense, feeling very comfortable making it to the Eastern Conference Finals without him in their lineup and not really finding a boost when he returned to the lineup for that final game.  There were reports that the coaching staff wanted to shift his position, there is a sense that he is now a second line player for this team and he isn't being leaned on as a superstar anymore for this club.  That's the impression I'm getting.

Yzerman has publicly said that he would like to re-sign Stamkos, but I do get the feeling that it is a bit more posturing for the off-season, more than a genuine statement, but that's just my opinion.  I truly believe that Yzerman needs to keep up appearances, making sure that if he moves the negotiating rights for Stamkos, he gets a decent return for them.

Will teams want a guy like Stamkos?  Well, of course they would, dummy.  His expiring cap hit in the 2016 season was $7.5 million, which isn't a small chunk of change, but for a potential 50-goal scorer, that's not an unreasonable number.  It also begs the question about his negotiating rights and how much they are worth, if a team is going to end up with such a quality player.  A 2nd round pick?  A package of picks?  There is certainly no guarantee that he will even sign with the team that acquires his rights.

Two teams that have popped up the most in the  Stamkos discussions have been the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, but it would be silly to think that there isn't more teams in the weeds, waiting to offer up a tasty package to attract the rights of Stamkos or in a much better scenario, hope that the 26-year old makes it to unrestricted free agency and the open market.

The Maple Leafs have to be the favourite destination for those trying to predict the future. Their rebuild allows them some cap freedom, it gives Stamkos the opportunity to get back to some big minutes on the ice and it is close to home as well.  The downside to signing in Toronto is that they are still a little ways from being a great playoff threat, which is the ultimate goal for any player, especially the superstars.  If Toronto could land a marquee player like Stamkos, add Auston Matthews to the mix at the draft, they will expedite the process, without any doubt.

The Red Wings are a different kettle of fish altogether and their involvement in the Stamkos scenario hinges on the future of Pavel Datsyuk and rightly so.  If Datsyuk comes to the final conclusion that he will sign his retirement papers in the NHL, giving him the free and clear to sign with a KHL team of his choosing, the Red Wings will still be on the hook for his salary cap hit, which is still very significant ($7.5 million).

Datsyuk's 35+ contract will count against the cap, if he chooses to retire, so the only way that the Red Wings could possibly afford Stamkos, would be to move that cap hit to a team that could absorb that hit and offer up an asset for their troubles.  Those teams are becoming few and far between and the asking price to eat up that much cap room would likely be high.  Most teams won't likely know if they're in or out on this situation until after the 2017 season cap numbers are announced, which should be soon.

There are more ifs than answers in this scenario, but the Red Wings would certainly benefit by having a talent like Stamkos join their ranks, as the old guard of Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg age themselves out.  The move would also keep the Red Wings in the playoff relevant conversation and give them a building block to work around.  Stamkos isn't the end-all solution for the Red Wings though, as their depth in other spots is questionable, but at least they would have an attractive piece to sway other free agents their way.

Instead of being a team that would want to take on the cap hit to allow the Red Wings to sign Stamkos, why couldn't the Arizona Coyotes throw their hat into the ring and possibly offer him a key spot in their future?

Much like the Maple Leafs, the Coyotes are not short on cap space and flexibility for a top end player like Stamkos.  The Coyotes are rich in draft picks this year, able to shift something to sway the negotiating rights over.  They would get an established superstar into their market, after missing out on the draft lottery for one of the top end draft picks and let's not forget, they have lots of top end talent to play with Stamkos, making it into a remarkably great fit in the end.

It would be a daunting task to help this Coyotes team succeed in the desert, which would be a possible downside to moving out to Arizona, but if there is one guy that could give it a solid swing, it would be Stamkos.

I honestly can't see Stamkos re-signing in Tampa Bay, when there is opportunity for more hockey and more responsibility elsewhere.  There are going to be established teams that wish that they could afford to talk to such a great player, but they would have to give up on someone, in order to make that deal go, which is too big of a gamble for those teams.  I like the rebuilding and retooling teams to come around with reasonable offers to pry the negotiating rights away and you will know when Tampa Bay has realized that they have nothing left to offer, because they will likely move his rights for a bit less than what they valued him at.

It's anyone's guess around here... but it's sure going to make for good hockey news when it all goes down.