Tuesday 10 Thoughts: NHL Draft, RFA Concerns and More

The 2020 NHL draft is three weeks from today. There will be the usual hype and excitement, as 217 players will hear their name called. It will be a thrill for them and their families, and maybe a bit more special as they had to wait an extra 106 days to enjoy the moment due to the postponement of the original June 26th draft date.

It is a reward for years of hard work, and the next few steps will be even more challenging. Only a few of the players drafted will play in the NHL this coming season, and those who do are in for a massive challenge.

It is very difficult to jump directly from the draft into the NHL a few months later. Very few have done it, and many who did enter the NHL three months after their draft did not have instant success.

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The top three picks — Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kaako and Kirby Dach — were the only players from the 2019 draft class to go directly to the NHL. There were 249 forwards who played 700+ minutes this past season. Here is how the three rookies ranked among those 249 forwards at 5×5.

Player      TOI      PTS      RANK     P/60       Rank
Dach       783       19       196th      1.45      186th
Hughes   714       11       242nd     0.92      242nd
Kaako     767        9        248th      0.70       248th

On the power play, Kaako had the most success. Here is how they ranked among the 193 forwards who played at least 100 minutes on the PP.

Player      TOI      PTS      RANK     P/60      Rank
Kaako     144        13       78th       5.40      52nd
Hughes   194        9        133rd     2.77      161st
Dach       783        3        190th      1.81     189th

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And here is how they ranked among the 34 NHL rookie forwards who played at least 300 minutes at 5×5.

Player      TOI      PTS      RANK     P/60      Rank
Dach       783       19       7th         1.45      14th
Hughes   714       11       20th       0.92      30th
Kaako     767        9        23rd       0.70       33rd

Dach was a much more impactful player for the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
The five-month break helped him get stronger and mature and in the playoffs he averaged 1.91 P/60 at 5×5 and 3.45 P/60 on the powerplay.

We will find out next season how much Hughes and Kaako can improve. None of them were impactful players at 18 — because the NHL is extremely difficult, even for the majority of the top picks who make the jump directly to the NHL — and there is no guarantee they’ll make a big improvement their second season.

Here is a look at the 2017 and 2018 draft where five  players, Nico Hischier (only player from the 2017 draft), Rasmus Dahlin (D-man), Andrei Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Tkachuk, went directly to the NHL.

Player             TOI      PTS      P/60      PPTOI       PPPTS      PP P/60
Hischier         1056     42        2.38        168            6             2.14
Tkachuk         948       32       2.02         158           10            3.78
Kotkaniemi    910       29       1.91         152            5             1.97
Svechnikov   1004      24       1.43         157            5             1.90
Dahlin           1406     22        0.94         233           20            5.14

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Hischier had a solid campaign at 5×5, and played with Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. What is interesting is how, despite playing the fourth most PP minutes on the team he only had six PP points. Hall led the team with 37, while Palmieri and Butcher had 23. Tkachuk and Kotkaniemi were solid at 5×5, while Svechnikov was similar to Dach. Dahlin had excellent production on both units for a defenceman and he played a lot.

Here is what they did in their second NHL season.

Player             TOI      PTS      P/60      PPTOI       PPPTS      PP P/60
Hischier          936       28       1.79       200            11            3.29
Tkachuk         1059     32       1.81        209            8              2.29
Kotkaniemi    397       6         0.91         62             2              1.93
Svechnikov    876       34       2.33        201            20            5.97
Dahlin            888       22      1.28        197            19            5.79

Hischier’s numbers at 5×5 dipped significantly, which in part was due to Hall’s injury, but he was more productive on the PP. Dahlin improved offensively at 5×5 and PP, while Svechnikov took a big step. Tkachuk’s offensive production dipped a bit in both situations, while Kotkaniemi’s offence at 5×5 plummeted and he spent some time in the AHL. However, in the playoffs he scored four goals in 10 games and his 5×5 P/60 was 1.59 and 2.94 on the PP.

Hischier has a slight uptick in his third season.

Player             TOI      PTS      P/60      PPTOI       PPPTS      PP P/60
Hischier          770       24       1.87       156            10           3.83

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I’ve heard many claim that playing as an 18-year-old rookie gives players experience and allows them to be better because of it. I think there is some truth to that, but I also believe that playing them four months after their draft year can do as much harm as good.

For every Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine who have instant success, there is a Kaapa Kaako, Jack Hughes and Jesse Puljujarvi who don’t. If a player is ready to be an impact player, I’d keep him, otherwise I’d send them back to junior or Europe and allow them to develop and gain confidence.

This year’s draft class had their season ended prematurely, and many of them are uncertain when this season will begin. If they haven’t played a game since March, would you want them making their NHL debut in January, when the NHL season most likely begins?


Dec 31, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left winger James Neal (18) is seen out on the ice skating past the Oilers players bench as the New York Rangers take on the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

1. I don’t understand suggestions the Oilers should buy out James Neal. He has three years remaining with a $5.75m cap hit. If they buy him out he will have a cap hit of $1.916m for the next six seasons. So three years after his deal is over, the Oilers will have $1.916m in dead cap space. Stanley Cup contending teams do not have close to $2m in dead cap space. The Oilers don’t have to protect Neal in the expansion draft next summer. If he scores close to 20 goals again this season, Seattle might take him. It would be horrible cap management to buy him out now.

Add in the fact he scored 19 goals in 55 games last season. That tied him for 88th among forwards, while he was 227th in TOI. His 1.27 G/60 was 53rd best among forwards. Yes, you would like him to produce more at 5×5, but a powerplay goal counts just as much as a 5×5 goal on the scoreboard. I recognize it is more difficult to score at 5×5, but those goals aren’t more important than a PP goal. It is unlikely Neal will produce enough points to match his $5.75m contract, but it is important to remember he played much of the season injured.

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In the playoffs, when he was healthy, he was quite productive. If the Oilers have to trade him and retain salary in the future, or possibly entice Seattle to take him in the expansion draft then those are much better options than having $1.916m in dead cap space three years after his contract expires. The Oilers are hopeful they will be a Cup contender those three years, and you can acquire some really good players at the deadline for $1.916m in cap space. Just look at what Tampa Bay did this season.

2. Tampa has no dead cap space, nor do the New York Islanders. Dallas has $450K from the Valeri Nichuskin buyout and Vegas has $500K in retained salary from the Tomas Tatar trade. Colorado had none. Vancouver had $1.033 from the Ryan Spooner buyout, Philly had $2.516m from Andrew MacDonald and David Schlemko buyouts and Boston had $1.5m in retained salary from the David Backes trade.

3. Edmonton already has $4,583,333 million in dead cap space for next season due to the Andrej Sekera buyout ($2.5m), Benoit Pouliot buyout (1.33m) and $750K in retained salary from Milan Lucic. The following two seasons it drops down to $2,250,00 ($1.5m Sekera buyout and $750K Lucic retainer). And some people want to add $1.916 from a Neal buyout? That means the Oilers would start next season with exactly $6.5m in dead cap space. So while other teams would have a $81.5m cap to fill out their roster, the Oilers would have $75m. And the following two seasons they would have $4,166,677 in dead cap space. That is exactly the cap hit of Oscar Klefbom. Or the combined cap hit of Shattenkirk, Maroon and Coleman. Buying out Neal would be irresponsible and decrease the Oilers chances of being an actual contender in the future.

4. Peter Laviolette is a good hire for the Washington Capitals. He won a Cup with Carolina and lost in the finals with Philadelphia and Nashville. He is a proven winner and the Capitals have a few seasons left to compete with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, so hiring Laviolette made good sense. I’m also glad the Capitals didn’t hire Mike Babcock. Based on his treatment of Mitch Marner recently, it is clear Babcock hasn’t changed his style. He likes to intimidate and bully at times, and the NHL does not need coaches like that in the league. With Laviolette, Gerard Gallant and some young coaches ready for an opportunity, I see no reason for a team to believe Babcock would be the best option.

5. It is crazy how often PHWA voters don’t recognize defenceman for the Lady Byng trophy. Ryan Suter played 1,700 minutes and took six minor penalties. Jaccob Slavin played 1,591 and had five minors, and two of those were for shooting the puck over the glass. His three infractions against an opponent were holding, interference and tripping. It is amazing to me that Slavin, who faces the best forwards most nights, is able to defend them cleaning without taking penalties. He did receive the second most first place votes (31), but he finished fourth in overall voting.

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The definition of the Lady Byng is to award it to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Slavin had a better season, penalties aside, than Suter, so I can see why he finished higher. Nathan MacKinnon won the award, and he had an incredible season. Outside of his offensive exploits, he took six minor penalties in 1,464 minutes — two tripping minors, a hold, a delay-of-game-over-the-glass and a double minor for high sticking. He likely won because of how great he played, and that is fair, but it doesn’t change the fact voters disregard defenceman.

Nicklas Lidstrom never won the Lady Byng, despite being the best D-man in the league for over a decade, and sometimes the best player in the league. Only one D-man, Brian Campbell in 2012, has won the award in the past 66 seasons. It is baffling to me.

6. I do wonder if MacKinnon’s Lady Byng victory is foreshadowing for Leon Draisaitl winning the Hart trophy. I wonder if voters who gave Draisaitl the Hart, gave MacKinnon a first place vote in the Lady Byng as a consolation prize. I won’t be surprised if that is the case.

7. There are many Oilers connections to the Stanley Cup Final-bound Dallas Stars. Andrej Sekera, Andrew Cogliano and Taylor Fedun skated for the Oilers, while Stars assistant head coach Todd Nelson was an interim head coach in Edmonton and coached their AHL team for five seasons. Also, former Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal is also an assistant with the Stars. I get if many Oilers fans are rooting for the Stars. Unfortunately for Dallas they will face a juggernaut in Tampa Bay.

8. The Lightning have been the best team in the NHL the best two seasons, by a wide margin. In the past two seasons they have won 105 games. Boston is second with 93 and they defeated the Bruins in five games. The Bolts had a brutal four games against Columbus last year and they made a hasty exit out of the playoffs. The organization didn’t panic. Instead they looked at their weaknesses and addressed them. They added some skilled grit in Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Patrick Maroon. They signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a team-friendly one-year, $1.75 million contract after the Rangers bought him out. And they added Zach Bogosian, after he and the Sabres terminated his contract. Shattenkirk and Coleman have nine points in the actual playoff games, while Bogosian and Goodrow have four and Maroon has three. Shattenkirk (19:04) is averaging 11th most minutes on the team, Goodrow (18:51) is 12th, Coleman (18:32) is 13th, Bogosian (17:39) is  14th and Maroon (12:46) is 16th during their playoff run. They aren’t the leaders, but have complemented the top scorers by adding a different dimension to the team.

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Tampa wins the Cup Final in five games.

9. Brayden Point is my favourite for the Conn Smythe right now, followed by Victor Hedman, then Jamie Benn and Anton Khudobin. I don’t include the seeding games in my analysis, but those games wouldn’t change anything anyway, and they should have zero impact in the Conn Smythe voting. In actual playoff games, Point has 22 points in 12 games and 19 of them have come at even strength. In the playoffs he is +14 at 5×5 outscoring the opposition 18-4.

10. Usually, the deadline to submit qualifying offers to restricted RFAs is the Monday after the draft at 3 p.m. MT. However, this year the draft is Tuesday, October 6th and 7th, and the free agent frenzy begins on Friday, October 9th. So the deadline to submit a qualifying offer will be Wednesday, the 7th at 3 p.m. MT. The Oilers have 10 RFAs. Ethan Bear, Andreas Athanasiou, Matt Benning, William Lagesson, Cameron Hebig, Ryan Kuffner, Nolan Vesey, Logan Day, Ryan Mantha and Angus Redmond.

Bear and Lagesson will be qualified. Day, Hebig, Kuffner, Vesey and Redmond won’t be. They might sign Day or Kuffner to an AHL deal. Mantha’s career is over due to an eye injury so he won’t be qualified either. Athanasiou and Benning need to be qualified at $3 million and $2 million respectively. Both are NHL players, and the Oilers would like to sign them, but not at that price. Will either sign for lower, or will they want to test the market?

There are a few other teams and RFAs in a similar situation as Athanasiou and Benning.

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Toronto will not qualify Evan Rodriguez at $2m.
Columbus won’t qualify Devin Shore at $2.4m.
I don’t see Pittsburgh qualifying Matt Murray at $3.75 million either.
The Sabres are slashing budget everywhere. I don’t see them qualifying Brandon Montour at $3.525m.
Will Vancouver qualify Troy Stecher at $2.325? If they re-sign Jacob Markstrom, I don’t think they have room to sign him.

Then there are players teams want to qualify, but will be leery of arbitration. The arbitration market needs to be reset, but it will take a few years of salaries being capped across the league on middle tier players, and that hasn’t happened yet. So going to arb this off-season could be a risk.

If the Canucks qualify Jake Virtanen at $1.5m, he could file for arbitration, and after scoring 18 goals he’d get a healthy raise. He might get $3 million. And they can’t walk away from that.
Matt Grzelcyk played 19 minutes a night for the Bruins in the playoffs. He needs to be qualified at $1.4m, which is a no-brainer, and with Torey Krug testing UFA, he likely will be able to reach a deal without going to arbitration. But if he did, he’d get a healthy raise.

Radek Faksa needs to be qualified at $2.4m. He’d be looking at $3.5m, likely, more from an arbitrator.
Andrew Mangiapane will get a healthy raise from his $715,000 salary. After scoring 17 goals he’d have a strong case for an arbitrator.
Valeri Nichuskin is an interesting case in Colorado. He was bought out last summer by Dallas and signed a one-year deal at $850K. He had a solid season, although him being eighth in Selke was a massive reach by some voters, but scoring 13-14-27 will get him a raise. I’d think the Avs have earned some good faith by signing him last year, so a deal shouldn’t be that hard, but you never know.

And Andre Burakovsky is also and RFA. He made $3.25m last year and had a career high 20 goals and 45 points in only 58 games. His situation is fascinating to me. Do the Avs players remain status quo with their salary, or just a slight raise knowing they have a good team and can compete for a Cup? Or will one of them look for a bigger deal?

Victor Olofsson scored 20 goals and 42 points and will be looking for a big raise from his $792,500 salary in Buffalo.
Tyler Bertuzzi will be getting a healthy raise from Detroit after scoring 21-27-48. How much does he go up from his current $1.4m? Steve Yzerman will want a deal done before Bertuzzi goes to arbitration.

And what about the cash strapped Ottawa Senators? Connor Brown ($2.1m and 16-27-43)), Anthony Duclair ($1.65m and 23-17-40) and Chris Tierney ($2.975m and 11-26-37) are all RFAs. Brown and Duclair would be ideal arbitration cases looking for a big raise.

The flat cap, and a high arbitration market are just more wrinkles in this unprecedented off-season.

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