As I’m writing this we are less than 24 hours from the start of free agency. Like every free agent frenzy a few teams will overpay a player in term and salary, the bargain deals won’t really be discussed until midway through the season and some players will reach the end of the month without a contract and end up signing a PTO. The latter group never expects it, and it can be hard to absorb, but Lee Stempniak, Mason Raymond, Alex Chiasson, Luca Sbisa and Brian Boyle are good examples of players who turned a PTO into a solid season and future contracts.
PTO signings will occur in August, but starting tomorrow at 10 a.m. MT the free agency frenzy begins and there will be between 100-130 players signed in the following few days. The Edmonton Oilers will need to sign at least five players, and likely more. They need a starting goalie, and a #3 goalie, one left-shot defender, and at least two wingers.
Goalie Jack Campbell seems destined to sign with the Oilers, while Darcy Kuemper will sign in Washington and their AAVs will begin with a five. All arrows point to Josh Manson returning to Anaheim, and the Ducks will be quite busy in free agency. They need $17m just to reach the salary cap floor. They opted not to qualify Sonny Milano and Sam Steel yesterday, and will be looking to sign four forwards.
Defenceman Brett Kulak will test the market tomorrow. The Edmonton Oilers offered him multiple deals, from shorter term, to four years, but Kulak is curious what other offers he will receive. He wants to go through the free agent process. He has not ruled out Edmonton. Right now the AAV seems to be between $2.5m to $3m. I was told it isn’t about money, more about curiosity about how other teams view him. He feels he owes it to himself to go though the process. I’m sure there is a small part that wonders, will a team pay him more? Rakell just got six years at $5m AAV, which makes little sense to me. So I understand why players would be curious to see what offers might arise. Some players will ultimately opt for the most money. That is fine, I understand it. They will always believe the team they sign with will be good, but the truth is there are at least 10 NHL teams who are unlikely to be in the playoff mix this year and they will all sign players.
Kulak going to market doesn’t guarantee he leaves Edmonton. They made numerous offers, and if he doesn’t find one he likes better they can circle back. However, the risk is once free agency opens, both the team and player can look for other options, and sometimes players end up missing out. That happened to Patrick Maroon in the summer of 2018. He and his agent believed he’d get a deal around $2.5m-$3m, and they ended up missing out. Maroon fired his agent, and then signed a one-year deal with St. Louis. It worked out as he won the Cup, and then won two more in Tampa, but in those three years, he made a total of $3m, which is what he was hoping to make in one season.
There are no top-pair LD on the market. Nick Leddy has the best track record, but he’s 31 with a lot of miles. Ben Chiarot has played top-four minutes, as have Kulak, Nikita Zadorov, and Calvin De Haan at times in the past. Will teams view them as regular second-pairing guys now? Depends on the team. Being a top-four in Arizona is different than being top-four in Colorado.
Edmonton needs a second pair LD and when the market opens I’d expect they call Chiarot. I’d be surprised Leddy would come to Edmonton, but Chiarot has played in Winnipeg and Montreal. He’s very comfortable and familiar playing in his home country. If they can’t sign Kulak they have to look at other options and need an experienced D-man to start in second pair.
Ken Holland granted Evander Kane permission to speak with other teams. Kane’s camp believes they can get a $40m contract, which means at least a six-year deal. Personally, I’d be surprised if that happened, but the Penguins signed Rickard Rakell to a six-year deal yesterday, so nothing should shock me. It only takes one team to offer Kane six years. If he doesn’t get an offer he likes, he could circle back to Edmonton. But again, the risk is they move on to another player and allocate money to them.
The game of cat and mouse can help/hinder teams and players. Usually, I think it benefits players as teams get in bidding wars, and often end up overpaying.
OTHER UFA FITS…
I think Johnny Gaudreau will leave Calgary, which is awful for Flames fans and the Battle of Alberta. I’m intrigued to see what direction they take if he leaves. Will Matthew Tkachuk just sign his $9m qualifying offer and become a UFA next summer? If so, the Flames will likely trade him rather than lose him for nothing like they did with Gaudreau. Or maybe he opts to sign long-term knowing he’s the guy in Calgary now.
Ilya Samsonov should sign with Buffalo. They need a starter and he can work in tandem with veteran Craig Anderson. It could benefit both sides.
I think David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron return for one last hurrah in Boston.
I think the Oilers are more likely to sign Dominik Kubalik than Dylan Strome.
I think Colorado will regret the Valeri Nichushkin deal in a few years. Eight years for non-elite players never works. He’s a good player, but the final few years of that deal will be painful. He had 52 points this year and got a $50 million deal. He got almost $1m per point. Crazy.
I think Evgeni Malkin should sign in Washington. With Nicklas Backstrom out long-term, I’d love to see an Alex Ovechkin-Malkin combination.
I think Vincent Trocheck will sign in Pittsburgh to replace Malkin.
I think Ben Chiarot is the best option for Edmonton if Kulak walks.
I have no sense of what happens with Evander Kane. He wants term, and I’m not sure he will get it. If he doesn’t he might come back to Edmonton. There is no better fit for him and no better winger to fit what Edmonton needs.
I think Andre Burakovsky will get a huge deal. Great for him, but it will be difficult to live up to.
I think Andrew Copp will get a six or seven year deal. Really smart player.
I don’t think Ilya Mikheyev will get the salary is he and his agent are looking for.
I think PK Subban will sign a one-year deal.
PROSPECT DEVELOPMENT CAMP…
I watched both on-ice sessions today and here are some notes.
Xavier Bourgault didn’t skate today. He is still banged up from the Memorial Cup and took the day off. Rapheal Lavoie didn’t skate for the second day as he’s nursing an injury.
Max Wanner (7th rounder in 2021) was the biggest pleasant surprise for me. The 6’3″, right-shot defender can really skate. He took huge strides (no pun intended) last year with the Moose Jaw Warriors. He is very raw, but he has the tools. He is someone to keep an eye in the future. He will go back to Moose Jaw this year, and then turn pro at 20. He is such a powerful skater, and his puck skills are improving. He might be a late-round gem in a few years.
Matvey Petrov put on 10 pounds. He has filled out. His puck skills stood out in the small area drills. He needs to get a bit quicker and strong, but he was the most polished puck handler in the morning session.
Reid Schaefer isn’t as polished as Petrov, but the potential is obvious. A big body who can move and he used his size well in the small area games.
Tyler Tullio is likely to turn pro this season. He is skilled, but will need to add some speed to become a legit NHL prospect.
Michael Kesselring needs to make defending a priority. He won’t be an offensive D-man, so he will need to adjust his thinking and place more value on defending. Many young defenders have to adjust their thinking, and if he does he will have a shot. There aren’t many big, mobile, right-shot D-man available to teams.
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