The 2015/2016 season officially ended last night after the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup in the most recent 25 NHL campaigns, tying them with the Detroit Red Wings for the most. The New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks have three, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings two, while the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and Boston Bruins have one.
Only eight teams haven’t made the Cup final since 1991; The Toronto Maple Leafs (1967 last appearance) St.Louis Blues (1970) and New York Islanders (1984), while the Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes have yet to appear in a final.
The NHL’s 2016/2017 season unofficially begins on Wednesday when the first of two buyout windows opens up.
In February Andrew Ference told ESPN’s Joe McDonald, “I think that’s it for me. More than likely [the Oilers] will probably buy me out
this summer, and we’ll probably part ways. That’s it.”
However, Ference had hip surgery on March 31st, and unless he is deemed healthy by a doctor, the Oilers cannot buy him out. I was told Ference will not be cleared by June 30th, so he could spend the season on LTIR.
I’ve read some comments suggesting Ference should agree to be bought out. Why? It would cost him $1 million and hockey is a business. If he isn’t healthy, there is no way he should just agree to a buyout.
I know some who crunch analytics would like the Oilers to buyout Lauri Korpikoski, but I doubt that happens considering how Todd McLellan used him last season.
There will be some buyouts. Nashville GM David Poile is on record saying the team will part ways with Eric Nystrom. I’d be surprised if a team trades for Nystrom, who has one year remaining with a $2.5 million cap hit, but $3 million in actual salary. A buyout will save the Predators $2 million in real dollars and cap space for next season. Nystrom would carry a $1 million cap hit in 2017/2018 as well.
Some other options to watch before June 30th.
Thomas Vanek has one year remaining with a $6.5 million cap hit. A buyout would save the Wild $5 million in cap space next year, while incurring $2.5 million cap hit in 2017/2018. Vanek is 32 years old and tallied 18-23-41 in 74 games last season. He can still contribute, but he’s not a $6.5 million player anymore. The Wild only have just over $7.5 million in cap space and only 15 players signed. Saving $5 million on Vanek would give them the space needed to sign RFAs Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker and a back up goalie, if they choose not to re-sign Darcy Kuemper.
The Philadelphia Flyers only have $7.5 million in cap space and they need to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Radko Gudas and try to add some more scoring. RJ Umberger has one year remaining at $4.6 million. He dressed in 39 games last year, scoring 2-9-11. A buyout will cost the Flyers $1.6 million in cap space this year and $1.5 million next season. A $3 million cap space savings likely means Umberger will become a UFA.
The Chicago Blackhawks have just over $4 million in cap space. They only have 17 players signed and they would like to re-sign Andrew Shaw. Bryan Bickell carries a $4 million cap hit for one more season. Bickell only played 25 games scoring 0-2-2 and spent most of last season in the AHL due to his salary. A buyout will leave the Blackhawks with a $1 million cap hit this year and $1.5 million next season. Stan Bowman would save $3 million in cap space this year with the buyout.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have very little salary cap flexibility. Only Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles have less cap space, but those three teams have won six of the previous seven Stanley Cups. The Blue Jackets were a bad team and have some ugly contracts. They need to re-sign Seth Jones. Fedor Tyutin has a modified no-trade clause. He can’t be put on waivers, but he can be traded to 21 teams (he has a list of eight teams he won’t consent to be traded to).
Tyutin finished last season on the Blue Jackets’ third pairing, and they won’t want to pay him his $4.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons. A buyout would cost the Jackets a cap hit of $1.2 million next year, $1.95 million next year and $1.458 million in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020.
Dale Tallon made many really good moves while he was GM in Florida, but the Dave Bolland UFA signing was not one of them. Bolland has been a major disappointment in Florida since signing a five-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit in the summer of 2014. Bolland only played 25 games this season and it is unsure if his healthy enough to be bought out. He has three years remaining, and the Panthers have $20.8 million in cap space, so they might just hold off one year and see about expansion or a shorter buyout next summer. But the new GM, Tom Rowe, hasn’t been afraid to make moves so a Bolland buy out is something to watch for.
- I’m happy for Justin Schultz. Winning a Stanley Cup is every hockey player’s dream and something he surely didn’t expect when the season started, or even when he was traded to Pittsburgh. Good for him, but I don’t buy his hoisting the Cup means the Oilers made a terrible trade. Yes, he was overplayed early in his career, but Todd McLellan gave him every opporutnity to succeed this year and it didn’t happen. He played 7:33 last night, 11:51 in game five and 10:19 in game five. He was the #6 Dman in Pittsburgh, and if Trevor Daley was healthy he likely wouldn’t have played much in the Finals. There is nothing wrong with being a third pairing defender, but the Oilers have loads of them.
He was overplayed at times, and overpaid, in Edmonton, neither of which is his fault, but the weaknesses in Schultz’s game in Edmonton were still there in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won’t qualify him at $3.6 million. They might re-sign him on a much lower contract, or he’ll become a UFA, where he will take a pay cut. For his sake, I hope he rediscovered his confidence and joy of the game in Pittsburgh. He was a beaten man when he left Edmonton, but how he performs moving forward will be on him. He needs to get stronger. He needs to compete harder and more consistently if he wants to stay in the NHL. This playoff run gave him a second chance, and now it will be up to him to work harder. Winning should give him a major boost of confidence and enjoyment, but watching him in the playoffs, even with fewer minutes, I saw the same areas of concern in his game.
- The deadline to qualify RFAs is June 27th. The Oilers RFAs are Luke Gazdic, Iiro Pakarinen, Adam Clendening, Jordan Oesterle, Tyler Pitlick, David Musil, Kale Kessy and Niklas Lundstrom.
Pakarinen and Oesterle should be qualified, but I wonder if the Oilers take Pakarinen to arbitration just in case they want to open up the second buyout window later in the summer. When healthy, Pitlick looks like a player, but he can’t stay healthy and this might be the year the Oilers let him go elsewhere. Musil looks like a long shot to become a regular NHLer, but he is a good AHL player so I expect he’ll be qualified. I would be surprised if Gazdic and Clendening are qualified.
- I don’t see the point in comparing Edmonton to Pittsburgh. I understand looking at the champs and seeing what they did well, and you can hope the Oilers become them, no doubt, but overall there are many major differences between the two clubs today. The Oilers have missed the playoffs ten years in a row. The Penguins have made the post-season ten consecutive seasons. They’ve been in the Cup Final three times. They’ve won 15 playoff rounds. They have a lot of playoff experience. They have a legitimate #1 defenceman. They have two future Hall of Fame centres.
Some will say they had three scoring lines. They did for the playoffs, but not all season. Many players got hot offensively during the playoffs, which is what needs to happen to win. The Pens were a solid team, actually the best since January, but many of their supporting player’s offensive totals took a huge jump in the playoffs. What they had were three competent, committed, assertive in all three zones type of lines.
Bryan Rust had 4-7-11 in 41 regular season games. He scored 6-3-9 in 23 playoff games.
Connor Sheary had 10 points in 44 regular-season games. He had ten points in 23 playoff games.
Nick Bonino had 29 points in 63 games. He had 18 pts in 24 playoff games.
The Penguins played smart, dedicated, got some bounces and many players played the best hockey of their careers like Phil Kessel. They deserved to win, but it isn’t as easy as saying Oilers need three scoring lines. The Pens defended very well. They backchecked. They won battles. They possessed the puck. The gap between their consistency and the Oilers is very large at this point, and the differences are much more than height, weight and three scoring lines.
- A tough week for sporting legends. Muhammed Ali was put to rest on Friday, the same day Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, passed away at the age of 88. Both were giants in the sporting world. I watched some of Ali’s funeral and I recommend watching Billy Crystal deliver his Eulogy. It was fantastic and I’m sure we will hear something similar for Mr. Hockey later this week. Howe’s on-ice accomplishments are ridiculous when you take a moment to really look at them. He was top-five in scoring 20 years in a row. Most players don’t play 20 years. He was a physical specimen and an incredible athlete.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Howe when I emceed the Alzheimers Pro Am tournament in 2013. I sat beside him during lunch and what stood out most for me was the love of his family. His son Marty accompanied him on this trip, and watched over his father like his dad did when he was little. During lunch many people came over to get a picture with Gordie. He was so gracious with his time. Three ladies came over and asked for a picture. One of them gave him a kiss on the cheek. Gordie looked skyward, made a sign of the cross on his forehead and jokingly said, “Forgive me Colleen.” When he and I spoke what got him most excited was when I asked about his late wife Colleen and how they met. His eyes lit up talking about her and his kids more than his hockey accomplishments.
My other Howe story is from 1993. For his 65th birthday he toured around 65 minor league and college hockey rinks raising money for Cystic Fibrosis. He would get dressed and take warm up with the home team. It was a thrill for all the players to have Mr. Hockey in their room.
Gordie laced them up with my brother’s (Colin) team one night. “Gordie was three stalls over from me. When he leaned over to tie his skates, his forearms were still shredded,” Colin explained. “In warm up Gordie would shoot both left and right. I’d heard he could do it, but until you see how hard he could shoot both ways you didn’t really appreciate it. He was 65 and ripping shots both ways. It was amazing,” Colin continued.
The previous game between the two teams my brother had bumped/hit/ran Ronaoke’s goalie. Dave Morrissette (longtime minor league tough guy who played 11 NHL games for the Habs) suckered him on the first shift. My brother was livid as he went to the dressing room to get stitches. He stormed into the room cursing, and when he came around the corner he was greeted by Mr. Hockey. “Calm down young fella,” he says. “Instantly, I stop cursing and sit on the table to get stitched up,” Colin laughed.
“As I’m getting stitched up, Gordie leans over the doctor’s shoulder and points to a scar on his face. ‘I got ten stitches here from a stick. Lou Fontinato and I had a good scrap that gave me this one,’ as he pointed to another scar. I’m lying on a bed and Mr. Hockey is telling me all about his career stitches. Turns out he had over 300 stitches in his career. It was incredible. He was such a great story teller and he remembered every detail of every situation,” my brother said.
I’ve heard so many stories about how Mr. Howe would make others feel good, and my brother was amazed how Howe took the time to calm him (someone he didn’t know) down and then regaled him with great stories of his career.
He will be missed. RIP Mr. Hockey.
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