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Reports have emerged in the past few weeks, first from Pierre LeBrun and then Craig Custance, indicating that the San Jose Sharks are at work on a contract extension for Joe Thornton. It’s a bit of a no-brainer: Thornton has led the Sharks in scoring in each of his five seasons with the club, he’s established himself as a fan-favorite (for good reason), and it seems he enjoys being a part of the community and organization after his experience with Boston. For better or worse—taking into account his playoff shortcomings and laid-back attitude—it’s clear that the Sharks have hitched their wagon to Thornton.
The big question, then, is not if the Sharks should sign Thornton to an extension, but for how long. Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has already re-signed two key forwards to new deals this summer—Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski—both for four years. In talking to Custance, Wilson said, “We don’t have any contracts longer than four years. We are a player payroll team. We operate the way we operate.” We could assume, then, that Thornton might be extended for three or four more years as well. Would it be more prudent for the Sharks to extend Thornton for longer, though?
Tampa Bay announced the addition of Dominic Moore today, a player who brings much more to the table than most pundits give him credit for. Crafty, fast, gritty and great on faceoffs, Moore was a key cog in the Canadiens playoff race in 2010. He’s a smart supplement for the talented roster Steve Yzerman has put together as a rookie general manager in mere months.
What Yzerman and a new ownership team have accomplished in a short amount of time is quite impressive. He’s installed smart hockey people across the organization, from the scouting department to behind the bench. Guy Boucher, as a new member of the NHL coaching fraternity, was viewed as something of a genius by his former employers, the Montreal Canadiens. Literally. He has two university degrees, studies his players carefully and communicates extremely well. He is said to keep books of notes – on each player he coaches. This sort of cerebral approach to the game, combined with the respect Boucher shows his players, is exactly what Tampa Bay needs post-Tocchet - and certainly post-Melrose. The Canadiens were very, very sad to see him go. Boucher was a great hire, and a fantastic first personnel move for GM Yzerman.
It’s no secret around the league that the San Jose Sharks, if they have any hope of contending for the Stanley Cup again, need to improve their defense. General Manager Doug Wilson was characteristically quiet on July 1, despite reportedly making an offer to Dan Hamhuis, and was shot down by the Chicago Blackhawks after signing Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet. With Rob Blake’s retirement this summer, there is a gaping hole somewhere in the Sharks’ top two defensive pairings, and the only conceivable way for Wilson to fill this gap is now through a trade.
Wilson has made his name around the league as a manager thanks to his blockbuster deals, hauling in Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, and Dany Heatley in a trio of trades that look to be long-term successes for the Sharks. These players, along with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, make up the core of a team that should be competitive for several more seasons. In that regard, Wilson has done a fine job in shaping this Sharks squad.
But the story doesn’t end there. Wilson has struck out quite notably with several other trades—all of them, not coincidentally, near the trade deadline. Try to pick a single winner for the Sharks out of any of these deals:
Two subjects have been the topics of heated debate this summer among Kings fans:
1) Ilya Kovalchuk
2) Now that Rob Blake has retired should the Kings retire his #4?
I’m not going to get near the Kovalchuk mess. I think enough has been said ad nausem on the topic and it’s time for Kings fans to move on - unless he somehow ends up in LA after all. I’d like instead to address the question of whether the Kings should retire Rob Blake’s jersey?
For those who aren’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of the story, many Kings fans hold a grudge against Rob Blake because they feel he put money ahead of all else and deserted the Kings for greener pastures in Colorado, and then later in San Jose, when he had the chance. My personal opinion is that Blake was first and foremost a professional athlete and you gotta make your money when you can. It’s a limited window of opportunity for a player to get paid and I don’t begrudge anyone who makes that a priority. Could Blake have handled the situation better? Probably. Only he can really answer that.
August is almost here and one mystery Canadiens fans would like solved is a contract for starter Carey Price. Now the anointed number one goaltender, little to no information has leaked from either side as Price’s representatives negotiate (we presume) with Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier. Is it possible Gauthier has made a fatal error only months into his new tenure as the decision maker in Montreal?
Let’s consider his course of action in dealing with the goaltending “crisis” that afflicted the Habs coming into the offseason. Firstly, the media largely fabricated this “crisis” - it’s not a crisis when a team possesses a plethora of young talent, it’s simply a decision for the future. After all, both goaltenders were on the record that they would be happy to share the load another year. Secondly, crowd favourite and playoff saviour Jaroslav Halak, like Carey Price, was a restricted free agent, s so while the possibility of an offer from another team loomed, his rights were protected. Yet Gauthier chose to cut bait rather than fish out the month of June.
With August only a few days away, a surprising number of quality free agent forwards are still available. And with the way the market is moving, there’s no reason to believe all of these players will be scooped up in the next month.
What we’re seeing is another byproduct of the salary cap era in the NHL. Many of the expected Stanley Cup contenders for next season are looking at big holes in their lineups and little cap room to fill those voids. The non-contenders, builders, and small-market franchises are more willing than ever to hit the cap floor and then fill in with youth. The result? Dozens of solid veterans, 3rd and 4th liners—some of whom are strong penalty killers or have the talent to move up to the 2nd line in a pinch—are waiting out the general managers who know they can strike late and get a bargain.
It’s not an entirely bad situation for these free agent forwards. The best example from last season is that of Manny Malhotra going to San Jose in September on a pseudo-tryout basis, then signing an under-market, one-year, $700,000 contract with the Sharks. Malhotra is a solid all-around centerman, excellent in the faceoff circle, a decent penalty killer who was coming off his best offensive season, a 35-point campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After a flurry of activity in the first couple days of the free agent season, the market cooled off, leaving a lot of players sitting on the sidelines waiting for their phones to ring. There was a sense that everyone was waiting for Ilya Kovalchuk to sign and then the remaining pieces would start to fall into place. Well we are approaching August and although Kovalchuk is not officially signed, I would be surprised if he did not end up with the Devils shortly.
This past week a couple of the remaining UFA’s (Alexander Frolov and Alexei Ponikarovsky) were inked to one year deals. It appears as though there isn’t an appetite to sign these mid tier free agents to multi year deals. That does not bode well for the players on my list as they too will probably have to settle for a one year deal in hopes of cashing in next year.
I will preface my list by saying that probably the best available UFA, even at the tender age of 40, is Teemu Selanne. However, it is pretty clear the Selanne will either retire or sign on for another year in Anaheim.
Here are my top 10 remaining UFA’s:
The Toronto Maple Leafs ended last season with a 10-5-3 record after the Olympic break, giving them the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference for that time period. Many people consider this garbage time, when the games don’t matter, but the team put up this record playing against teams whose games meant a hell of a lot. Now I do not think the Leafs will finish in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference based on these results, however, with the additions of Versteeg, Armstrong, Lebda, and a healthy Komisarek, this team should be able to obtain a playoff spot. Anything less than a playoff spot should be considered a failure. This may seem like a lofty goal for a team that finished second to last overall last year, but Burke has made moves to make this team better immediately, not five years from now.
Looking at the Leafs roster they are set in between the pipes this year with Gustavsson and Giguere sharing the duties ($7.35M cap hit for the pair). This tandem ended the season well and Gustavsson was much better down the stretch compared to early in the season. On the blue line the Leafs have a log jam with 8 NHL defensemen ($25.5M cap hit) on the roster. Up front the Leafs have some holes to fill. They currently have 10 (Bozak, Kessel, Kulemin, Versteeg, Armstrong, Grabovski, Sjostrom, Brown, Orr, Mitchell) roster spots filled ($20.6M cap hit). Overall the Leafs have committed approximately $53.5M in salaries, along with another $2.4M in buyout and carryover penalties, and another $0.665M in bonus allowance overages. That gives them a total cap hit of $56.55M, leaving the Leafs with $2.85M in space to work with to add 3 roster players (minimum roster size is 18 skaters and 2 goalies, maximum roster size is 23 players).
Probably the most interesting story to all Leaf fans this summer is whether Tomas Kaberle will be dealt or if he will stick with the Buds. More importantly, if he is dealt, what kind of talent will Brian Burke get in return. Although the Ilya Kovalchuk saga has yet to come to an end, a Kaberle deal is likely to happen soon if there is one at all.
Brian Burke has been stubborn on his view of trading Kaberle since he has taken on the Leafs GM job. Burke is looking for a young top six forward as well as a prospect in return. If he doesn’t get that he says that Kaberle will stay a Leaf. In my opinion, if Burke can get a young top six forward OR a high level prospect for Kaberle he will have done well. I don’t see how Burke can hold on to Kaberle as the Leafs have too much money tied up in their defense. The only way I can see Burke keeping and extending Kaberle is if he can some how trade Francois Beauchemin, which doesn’t seem possible right now.
So if Kaberle is going to be traded, then where will he end up and what will the Leafs get back in return? I took a look at the other 29 teams and gave my thoughts on whether I think they could be in on the Kaberle sweepstakes, and what the Leafs would be looking for in return. I assigned a percentage value for each team’s likelihood in acquiring him.
In light of the recent debacle, known as the Ilya Kovalchuk contract saga, and listening to and reading wide ranging opinions on various radio stations and print media, I can’t help but thinking back to the lockout and lost season of 2004-2005.
The main issue of the CBA negotiations was the idea of creating “cost certainty” for the owners. Gary Bettman wanted to ensure that player salaries were linked to league revenues. After a lost season, Bettman and the owners were able to get the salary cap or “cost certainty” that they desired. Player’s salaries are now guaranteed to be 54% of league revenues and teams must meet a salary cap floor.
The salary cap for the 2005-2006 season was set at $39 million with a salary cap floor just over $21 million. In comparison, the current salary cap for the 2010-2011 season is set at $59.4 million with a cap floor of $43.4 million. The salary cap has increased by over 40% in its first five seasons of existence and the cap floor has more than doubled! That is a pretty impressive growth rate considering that returns in the stock market and most people’s pensions have shrunk. What is even more perplexing is that the salary cap floor is now more than 10% higher than the original salary cap.
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