Nicholas J. Cotsonika
The signings came at $100 million per hour. With five days to court free agents, discuss contract parameters and line up deals, NHL general managers burst through the doors when the market opened at noon on Tuesday. They spent about a half-billion bucks by 5 p.m. ET.
Some deals made you shake your head, as usual. The Washington Capitals gave $40.25 million over seven years to defenseman Matt Niskanen, the biggest deal of the day, and $27.5 million over five years to defenseman Brooks Orpik, the craziest deal of the day. The Florida Panthers gave $27.5 million over five years to center Dave Bolland. The Calgary Flames gave $8.7 million over three years to defenseman Deryk Engelland. Yikes.
But some bigger prizes took smaller deals than expected. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff accepted only a one-year, $4 million deal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defenseman Dan Boyle took a two-year, $9 million deal with the New York Rangers. Winger Thomas Vanek took a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. Center Paul Stastny took a four-year, $28 million deal with the St. Louis Blues. Each could have received more term or more dollars elsewhere.
Free agency ain’t what it used to be. There was a time when it was known for big teams and big dollars and big names – like that summer when the Detroit Red Wings traded for Dominik Hasek, signed Luc Robitaille and later signed Brett Hull, too, bloating their payroll to around $65 million.
That was 13 years ago.
Today there is a new system and another dynamic. Teams tend to lock up their best players, so stars rarely make it to the open market. No one can spend more than $69 million because of the salary cap, but everyone must spend at least $51 million because of the salary floor. A few teams are strapped because the cap figure came in a little lower than expected for 2014-15, but many have millions to throw at a few free agents when the market opens at noon Tuesday.
The NHL is more competitive than ever before. Free agency is more competitive than ever before. On a league-wide financial level, the owners are protected because they can’t spend more than 50 percent of revenues. If they overspend, they get back money held out of the players’ checks in escrow. But within the planned economy, more teams are involved in the bidding wars. The free agents have more options.
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Puck Daddy2 mths ago
PHILADELPHIA – Will Joe Thornton captain the San Jose Sharks next season?
“What would happen if nobody wore a letter on our team this year – not a single guy?” asked Sharks coach Todd McLellan on Saturday morning, throwing out the idea at the NHL draft. “What if nobody wore a letter? We’d still be the San Jose Sharks, and we’d have a leadership group.
“What would happen? If we didn’t have a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on our team, what would happen?”
Well, what would happen?
“I don’t know,” McLellan said with a shrug.
The Sharks might want to find out.
Since the Sharks became the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a seven-game series, falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round and adding to their history of playoff failures, general manager Doug Wilson has made strong statements about a “rebuild.” He has openly asked whether some veterans would want to be a part of it – veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Wilson also has talked about the Sharks’ culture. He has said some players told him in exit interviews that they felt like co-workers more than teammates.
PHILADELPHIA — Dale Tallon said he couldn’t sleep. The general manager of the Florida Panthers had two enticing offers for the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft. Should he trade it to the Vancouver Canucks, who had been after it for weeks? To the Philadelphia Flyers?
By noon Friday, Tallon and his staff decided the offers weren’t enticing enough. A little after 7 p.m. ET, just before the Panthers were about to make their selection, the Flyers tried one more time to pull off a blockbuster before their booing, cheering fans at Wells Fargo Center.
“We thought about it,” Tallon said, “and then called them back and said no.”
So the Panthers made Aaron Ekblad the first defenseman to go No. 1 overall since 2006, and the rest of the top five went about as expected. The Buffalo Sabres, who had planned to drop back if the Panthers traded their pick, took center Sam Reinhart. The Edmonton Oilers took center Leon Draisaitl. The Calgary Flames took center Sam Bennett. The New York Islanders took winger Michael Dal Colle.
NEW YORK — The numbers will boggle the mind. After a banner season for the NHL – a record six outdoor games, a record 93 playoff games – the league and the players’ association are about to settle on a final 2013-14 revenue figure and the 2014-15 salary cap.
Expect the revenue figure to hit about $3.7 billion, a record. Expect the salary cap to be announced before the first round of the draft Friday and land in the high $60-million range to the low $70-million range, perhaps a record.
Expect the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to receive contract extensions with eight-figure average salaries, and expect free agents to make a lot more than they seem to be worth once the market opens July 1.
Expect to hear a lot about the lockout, too.
Didn’t the NHL just have another lockout in 2013-13? Isn’t the league destined for another?
Just know the business is booming and the system is working largely as the owners wanted, and if not for the lockout and the changes to the labor agreement, the money flying around would be even worse (for the owners) or better (for the players).
LAS VEGAS — It sounds like if the San Jose Sharks rebuild after their latest playoff failure, they will do it with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts. Both plan to stay.
“We’re looking forward to next year,” said Marleau at the NHL Awards on Monday. “It’s going to suck having to go through all the 82 games to get back into the playoffs to get to that point to actually do something about it.”
Asked if he and Thornton expected to be back, Marleau said: “Yeah. As of right now, yeah.”
General manager Doug Wilson has used the word “rebuild” since the Sharks became the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and lose a best-of-7 series, falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
- Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Puck Daddy2 mths ago
LAS VEGAS – Claude Giroux woke up to a text message Monday morning. It was friend and teammate Scott Hartnell, telling him they were now friends and former teammates.
Giroux didn’t believe Hartnell, so he started chirping him. Then he found out it was true: The Philadelphia Flyers had traded Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for R.J. Umberger and a fourth-round pick.
“It’s sad,” Giroux said. “It’s not a fun day.”
Not a fun day, said a guy who was in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards as a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the league’s most valuable player.
“It’s shocking,” Giroux said. “But it’s the business side of it, and you’ve got to move on. You can’t stop and start thinking about it too much. Everything happens for a reason. It could be good for him.”
Hartnell loved Philly. He was one year into a six-year, $28.5-million contract extension he signed with the Flyers, and he had a no-movement clause.
He did not get his man, and he knows how it looks.
Jim Rutherford, the new general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, offered the chance to coach Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company to Willie Desjardins, an AHL coach who has never held a head job in the NHL. Desjardins declined.
The rejection is embarrassing, the latest in a series of troubling moments for the Penguins. Not only that, it means whomever Rutherford hires will be at least his second choice, which isn’t ideal for anybody involved.
But as Rutherford passed through the airport late Friday afternoon, headed from Pittsburgh back home to North Carolina for the weekend, there was no panic in his voice. He said he would restart his coaching search and perhaps widen it, looking at a couple of candidates on his original list whom he didn’t interview. He said he would take his time.
“You know what?” Rutherford said over the phone. “I feel fine where we’re at. I know everybody’s in a hurry and everybody’s anxious. They want to know who the new coach is and everything.
Doug Wilson says the San Jose Sharks are committed to a “rebuild.” The general manager says they are now a “tomorrow team” and this is a phase the organization maybe should have gone through “many years ago.”
But what does that mean?
It does not mean the Sharks plan to tear down everything to build it back up again. It does not mean they’re trying to trade captain Joe Thornton and winger Patrick Marleau. At least not yet.
What it means is this: The Sharks feel they are not close enough to the Stanley Cup, and so they are not in win-now mode. They will not trade draft picks or young players for veterans – nor sign free agents who would leapfrog young players – to put this team over the top in the short term. They will put younger players in better positions to play, lead and develop for the medium and long terms. How the ice time is distributed – and whether Thornton keeps the ‘C’ if he returns – will be up to the coaches.
LOS ANGELES – He received the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player, and almost immediately he handed it to someone else. He stood there, holding back tears. On that thing are names like Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman.
And now the engraver would add Justin Williams, a guy from a little town with an ordinary name who became a legend in his own right with the Los Angeles Kings.
“I can’t believe I won that,” Williams said later. “That will I don’t think ever, ever sink in.”
Just before he went to receive the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, as Staples Center roared around them, Kings captain Dustin Brown looked into Williams’ eyes. He had something simple to say: “I love you.”
It was more than a delirious I-love-you-man moment. The love has been a long time coming for Williams, who has been an excellent player for years, started to get his due because of the rise of new-school statistics and then won the Conn Smythe for an old-school trait – clutch scoring.