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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Help Me Understand: NHL, Hot Takes, and More

Welcome to the eighth edition of Help Me Understand.

Sports, hot takes and narratives. Some make sense, others perplex me.

— Help me understand why some people are upset at Tampa Bay for massaging the salary cap rules, but say nothing about Toronto? I assume it is because Tampa is winning, but Toronto acquired Riley Nash, who was on LTIR at the time, just to get an extra body and didn’t activate him until the playoffs. He isn’t as important as Kucherov, but the result of getting an extra player on the roster is the same.

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Tampa Bay did nothing against the rules. You can dislike it, but I sense if the team you cheer for did it, you likely would be fine with it. It is important to remember the NHLPA likes it because it meant more money for players. And this is only the first time it has happened. In a normal 82-game season it likely wouldn’t have as Kucherov would have been healthy with two months remaining. When Patrick Kane was injured in 2015, Chicago still had to give up assets to add players to replace him at the deadline. Tampa had to give up nothing to replace Kucherov.

There are two simple options that would stop teams from doing it in the future.

  1. A player has to be play one regular season game with the team they would be in the playoffs with. If not, then they can’t play in the first round of the playoffs.
  2.  NHL teams have to submit a 23-man roster on playoff game day and that roster needs to be cap compliant. The other players in the organization can be on the “taxi-squad” and recalled and sent back to the TS at any point. There would be no waivers, just simply enforcing that the team is cap compliant. I saw Gord Miller’s suggestion of game day roster (20 players), but teams don’t carry only 20 players all season. I think that would still allow for teams to try and manipulate the cap and hold players out.

There doesn’t need to be an overreaction to what Tampa did. A calm, simple solution would be beneficial as many teams didn’t like what Tampa did, but every team I’ve talked to about it also agreed Tampa didn’t break any rule. I don’t think you will see a change, because there is no benefit for the PA. They’d have to agree with it, and they won’t since it reduces money for players.

— I keep hearing how Tampa players have taken big discounts to play there. Help me understand who? Kucherov signed his $9.5m AAV deal on July 10th, 2018. He had just finished his best season to date scoring 100 points. At the time of his signing the only forwards making more were Jack Eichel and Anze Kopitar ($10m), Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews ($10.5m) and Connor McDavid ($12.5m). Kane and Toews had won three Cups, and got paid for their individual and team success. Kopitar had won two Cups and a Selke. McDavid had consecutive 100+ point seasons and was the new star of the league.

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Valid to say Kucherov’s agent could have easily said he was worth as much as Eichel. But, remember Kucherov’s 128-point season came after he signed his extension. I guess one could argue he could have pushed for $10.5m, but he’d never won a Cup to that point. Eichel was the outlier and $9.5m at the time wasn’t a major discount.

Victor Hedman signed his $7.875m AAV on July 1st, 2016. At the time PK Subban’s $9m AAV was more and that was clearly an overpay by Montreal. Five years after his signing, Hedman has the 10th highest AAV among D-men, and only five make more than $500K: Erik Karlsson ($11.5m), Drew Doughty ($11m), Roman Josi ($9.059), Subban ($9m) and Alex Pietrangelo (8.8m).

Hedman is a great value contract now, but at the time he signed he didn’t take any major discount. Tampa just wisely didn’t want to reach to the overpaid levels of Subban.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was the third highest-paid goalie in the NHL when he signed his eight-year, $9.5m AAV deal on July 29th, 2019. Sergie Bobrovsky signed a UFA deal with Florida earlier that month for $10m AAV and Carey Price got $10.5m in 2017. Everyone agrees Florida made a bad signing, but he was still only $500K more and was in the same no-tax state. Could Vasilevskiy demanded Price money? Possibly. But look at goalie contracts around the NHL. Right now Marc-Andre Fleury is fourth highest AAV at $7m. Vasilevskiy didn’t take a major discount, he just didn’t ask for Price money.

Steven Stamkos signed his eight-year, $8.5m AAV on June 29th, 2016, two days before becoming a UFA. He hadn’t won multiple Cups like Kane, Toews or Kopitar and his $8.5m at the time wasn’t a massive bargain. Toronto did offer more, but he opted to stay in Tampa because he felt they had a better chance to win. He was right. His production in the five years since his signing has been good, although he’s been banged up for parts of three of those seasons. But he hasn’t been a bargain signing based on his overall production under this deal.

The one contract that looks like a great value contract is Brayden Point. He signed three years at $6.75m in September of 2019. He had just finished his ELC and scored 92 points. Because Toronto overpaid Mitch Marner many felt Point took a major discount, but his 92-point season has been his best by far. In 2018 he scored 66 points in 82 games. In 2020 he produced 64 points in 66 games and last season tallied 48 in 56. He is a great player and he will get a raise on his next contract, but he also wisely took a bridge deal and will get a higher AAV now than he would have in the summer of 2019. I think many compared Point to Marner, and that made it look like Point was a steal. But most of the other deals signed that summer where much close to Point’s range. He did take less, but Tampa was in a position to win and he still got over $20m on a three-year deal. On his three-year deal how much more would have have got $750K annually?

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Boston has Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on incredible deals. Nathan MacKinnon is a steal in Colorado and Draisaitl at $8.5m in Edmonton is a bargain. There has been a lot of talk about Tampa’s no state tax allowing them to save money on every deal, but I think that is more narrative than reality.

Did Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde and Ryan McDonagh take significant discounts when they signed?

McDonagh signed eight years for $6.75m on July 1st, 2018. Did he take a significant discount? They already had Hedman signed at $7.875m and he was their #1 LD.
Palat signed for $5.3m in July 2017. He’d had one 20-goal season and one 60-point campaign in his first four seasons. He averaged 18 goals and 53 points.
Gourde signed for $5.166 in November, 2018. Gourde had played five years in the AHL and then one NHL season where he scored 25 goals and 64 points. He has produced 0.55 points/game in the three seasons since signing. He has one NHL season and got a six year deal at $5.166. He is a good player. I’d take him on my team, but that is far from a discount.

Johnson signed a seven-year, $5m AAV contract on July 10th, 2017. He’d scored 45 and 38 points in the two previous seasons. He did have a 72-point campaign in 2015, but that was his career best by far. He did score 21 and 29 goals in the first two years of his deal and he has 14 and 8 the last two in 66 and 55 games.

Killorn got a seven-year, $4.45m deal in July of 2016. In his previous three full NHL seasons, he’d produced 17, 15 and 14 goals and 41, 38, and 40 points. He opted for security and signed for long-term at $4.45m. He still got more than Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson who were top-four D-men in Edmonton and New Jersey at the time.

Tampa is great because they drafted and developed incredibly well and they made two astute undrafted signings in Johnson and Gourde. Using the no state tax as the main reason is misguided and misinformed. Nashville, Florida and Dallas have the same tax advantages and they haven’t come close to the success of Tampa. Many teams will get the odd value contract, and I understand those who say Point is that, but the rest weren’t outlandish savings at the time they were signed. And if you say Kucherov saved $500K, you can say Gourde got $500K more than he would have from many teams after only one NHL season.

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Teams should focus on drafting like Tampa has. They draft well in every round, not just the early round. Look at their current roster of draft picks.

1st round: Stamkos (1st, 2008), Hedman (2nd, 2009), Vasilevskiy (19th, 2012), Cal Foote (14th, 2017)
2nd: Kucherov (58th, 2011)
3rd: Killorn (77th, 2007), Anthony Cirelli (72nd, 2015)
4th: Point (79th, 2014), Mathieu Joseph (120th, 2015)
7th: Palat (208th, 2011)

They also used some of their draft picks to acquire good players.
Jonathon Drouin (3rd overall, 2013) for Mikhail Sergachev.
Vlad Namestnikov (27th, 2011), Brett Howden (27th, 2016) and Libor Hajek (37th, 2016) for Ryan McDonagh.
Slater Koekkoek (10th, 2012) for Jan Rutta.
Nolan Foote (27th, 2019) and 2020 first round pick (they received this pick when traded JT Miller to Vancouver) for Blake Coleman.

Don’t be fooled by the narrative that Tampa is good simply due to state tax. That isn’t even a top-five reason they are dominant. Decades of solid drafting, developing and then some really astute trades and signings have led them to being the class of the NHL. And using LTIR to their advantage this season, but they had to build the team up to be in that spot to begin with.

If teams want to even the playing field, simply adjust the salary cap rule for the playoffs.

— I don’t understand how I can enjoy a TV show, but loathe virtually every character. Succession is returning for a third season and I can’t wait to watch it, even though I don’t like any of the characters. That is what makes the show so good for me. Even though I’m never cheering for a character or supporting them I still follow the show. Kudos to the writers and actors. I’m curious to see which character I will loathe the most this season.

— Help me understand why some are comparing Jeff Petry to Ethan Bear or Caleb Jones. They aren’t similar players. Petry is 6’3″, very mobile, deceptively physical and was a pending UFA when he was traded. Edmonton should have at the very least offered him a contract. No debate. However, the draft picks they got in the trade were used to acquire Cam Talbot and Jones. So the deal, years later, wasn’t horrible. It would have been much smarter to re-sign Petry, but the deal wasn’t crippling.

If the point is to say don’t rush to judgement on young players I would agree. However, Bear will never be Petry, nor will Jones. They aren’t as big, don’t skate as well nor are they as physical. Bear is a proven NHL player, and at worst will be a #5 on a competitive team, and could play top-four minutes, while Jones is still finding his way to being a regular. I don’t think Edmonton has any plans, today, to deal Bear. Jones isn’t as established, and I think his ceiling on a competitive team is likely a third pairing defender. But that isn’t guaranteed just yet. Right now a more realistic comparison for Jones might be Martin Marincin at this stage of his career.

Marincin was promoted by some for being a solid player based on his possession numbers. That never panned out. He was good on paper, but not on the ice. Many who were correct on Petry, were equally incorrect on Marincin, but they don’t mention the latter very often.

This coming season will be big for Jones. He needs to establish himself as a regular NHL player. I don’t view him in the same light as Petry, who established himself as an NHL player right away.

— I don’t understand exactly how to feel regarding 100 meter sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s Olympic ban for a positive cannabis test. I believe the IOC needs to re-look at why cannabis, which is legal in many countries, is still on the banned list. They should change that. However, Richardson knew the rule and still opted to smoke marijuana. She said the stress of her biological mother’s recent death combined with the pressure of preparing for trials led her to use the drug.

“I was definitely triggered and blinded by emotions, blinded by badness, and hurting, and hiding hurt,” Richardson said on NBC’s “Today” show.

Having lost a parent, I can relate to the sadness and stress. I have empathy for her, but I don’t believe that gives her a pass to break the rules. We can disagree with the IOC rule, but until it is changed you can’t let one person break it while others abide by it. I think marijuana shouldn’t be considered a performance enhancing drug, just like alcohol isn’t, but until that changes athletes have to abide by the standards if they want to compete.

— I don’t understand why Jake McCabe isn’t getting more UFA hype. He’s been on a struggling Buffalo team and he only played 13 games last season, so maybe people are forgetting about him, but he is a solid defender. I suspect he and Jamie Oleksiak will be the top LD free agent targets. I suspect both will be in similar salary and term range as Adam Larsson.

— I’m guessing many bottom-six RFAs and pending UFAS weren’t excited to see pending UFA Nick Bjugstad’s one-year, $900K deal with Minnesota. Bjugstad scored 6-11-17 and averaged 11:49/game with the Wild. He had solid possession numbers. He also just finished a six-year contract where he made $24.6m. So money wasn’t his primary focus, but if this sets the bar for players like him then many will be taking a pay cut.

Jujhar Khaira can’t expect to be qualified at $1.3m now can he? And others like Ondrej Kase ($2.6m), Ryan Donato ($2.15m), Nick Ritchie ($2m), Jason Dickinson ($1.6m) and Ivan Barbashev ($1.55m) could be in the same boat. Will they understand the market and accept a lower offer from their team, or choose to try free agency? Andreas Athanasiou wasn’t qualified at $3.1m last season by Edmonton. They did offer him $2m and he turned it down and went to free agency. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.2m with LA. And the Kings might not qualify him this season, because he has arbitration rights and could get a decent raise.

The Ducks won’t qualify Danton Heinen at $2.8m. He is a solid player, but not at that price in a flat cap. Some teams do have more cap space this off-season than last, so some players might test free agency, rather than taking a lower offer from their team, but Athanasiou is an example of the risk involved if you go to market.

I don’t see Edmonton qualifying Khaira at $1.3m after Bjugstad’s deal. Fair or not, the market in a flat cap is much smaller for players in the bottom third of the lineup. But with very few UFA centre options and not much centre depth in the organization, offering Khaira $1m seems reasonable.

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