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Ten Thursday Thoughts

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Photo credit:Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
9 months ago
The NHL off-season is upon us. The free agent frenzy is over, although there are still 63 free agents who played at least 20 games last season unsigned. Some notable names and numerous value-contract depth players will be signed before the start of the regular season. Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, and 15 other free agents scored at least 10 goals last year. There will be some good deals signed in the coming months.
1. There are currently 19 restricted free agents who weren’t offered qualifying offers and became free agents. I didn’t include RFAs like Klim Kostin, who weren’t qualified, but signed a contract right away. They range in age from 24-26. Denis Malgin (13-8-21 in 65 GP), Jesper Boqvist (10-11-21 in 70 GP), Noah Gregor (10-7-17 in 57 GP), and Max Comtois (9-10-19 in 64 GP) were the most productive of the young UFAs. Denis Gurianov is an intriguing option due to his size and potential skill. Zack MacEwan’s robust style will earn him a contract and there are a few other names who will be signed.
Ethan Bear had surgery last month and is out six months. I could see him signing once his shoulder is fully rehabbed. Jesse Puljujarvi had double hip surgery and is out indefinitely. He might miss an entire season depending on his rehab.
2. Yesterday was the deadline to file for arbitration and 22 players from 16 teams filed. Boston and Seattle have three players each, while Minnesota and Winnipeg have two. Their cases are scheduled between July 20th to August 4th, but the majority will be settled prior to their hearing date.
Anaheim: Troy Terry
Arizona: Jack McBain
Boston: Trent Frederic, Ian Mitchell and Jeremy Swayman
Chicago: Philipp Kurashev
Colorado: Ross Colton
Edmonton: Ryan McLeod
Minnesota: Brandon Duhaime and Filip Gustavsson
New York Rangers: Brandon Scanlin
Philadelphia: Noah Cates
Pittsburgh: Drew O’Connor
Seattle: Vince Dunn, Will Borgen and Cale Fleury
St. Louis: Alexei Toropchenko
Tampa Bay: Tanner Jeannot
Toronto: Ilya Samsonov
Vegas: Brett Howden
Winnipeg: Morgan Barron and Gabe Vilardi
Vince Dunn made $4m last year and is due for a large raise after producing 14 goals and 64 points. He is one of the few players who could receive a contract above $4.54m from arbitration, which is the threshold that teams can walk away from and make the player unrestricted. I don’t see that happening with Dunn. Seattle values him a lot.
I’m interested to see what type of deals Ilya Samsonov and Jeremy Swayman receive. Swayman was 24-6-4 with a .920Sv% and 2.27 GAA, while Samsonov went 27-10-5 with a .919Sv% and 2.33 GAA.
Tanner Jeannot is another interesting case. After scoring 24 goals and 41 points as a rookie in 2022, he struggled tallying six goals and 18 points last year. I think those could easily be his career high and low in goals over the next 10 seasons. He’s a hulking third line winger who can kill penalties, chip in some offence and is very tough. If Kostin got $2m for one year, Jeannot would get at least that and likely more on a multi-year deal.
3. Ryan McLeod had a solid sophomore season in the NHL. He tallied 11-12-23 in 57 games. Injuries slowed him down at times, but he had a few long stretches with no goals that impacted his confidence. For 80% of the players in the NHL, the toughest part of learning to play in the NHL is finding consistency and dealing with offensive slumps. Most players have never had to deal with the latter in junior. They were usually one of the better, if not best, players on their junior teams. But the NHL is the best of the best, and many players won’t produce close to the same number of points they did in junior or NCAA. It’s just reality.
McLeod’s season outlined this struggle quite well.
Three goals in his first six games.
Zero goals in the next 22 games.
Then seven goals in 12 games.
One goal in the final 17 games.
He was injured during his 22-game goalless streak, so that played a role, but a lack of luck and confidence (as the streak grew) were factors. McLeod performed well in the playoffs, and I see a lot of upsides in his play. He wanted to be more physical and showed that in the playoffs. I’d argue he is the Oilers’ second-fastest forward behind Connor McDavid, and his ability to transport the puck is a major asset. The next step in his evolution will be using his speed to attack the net, not just take the outside lane all the time. Part of that is confidence, part of it is a willingness to drive the net. And the latter often ties in with confidence. The more it grows, the more shots he will take, and he’ll drive to the net more frequently.
4. I don’t expect McLeod to go to arbitration. I think he and the Oilers will settle on a deal beforehand. A two-year deal around $1.8m to $2m seems logical. I see McLeod’s arrow as pointing up, and Jay Woodcroft using him more next season is very plausible. Darcy McLeod (no relation) had a good write up about McLeod here.
5. I expect the Oilers to sign at least one, and possibly two more forwards. They will have to sign for a $775K-$850K AAV as the Oilers don’t have much cap space. On top of the UFA names listed above other options include Derek Grant, Tyler Motte, Tomas Nosek, Auston Watson, Colin White, and Zach Aston-Reece. The Oilers and Reece talked contract last year, but he opted to sign in Toronto instead. Grant was 55% in the faceoff dot last year. The Oilers need a right shot forward ideally, and White, Watson and Malgin are the only righties. Oscar Sundqvist shoots right, but I think he will command closer to $1.5m which is too pricey for Edmonton.
6. Drake Caggiula‘s contract guarantees him $500K in the AHL and $775K when he’s in the NHL. That is great AHL money and if they are willing to offer veterans similar money that will entice them to come — especially those who are tweeners. Although they might argue Lane Pederson got $775K on a one-way and he’s only played 71 NHL games and has scored 4-7-11. Pederson did have 3-3-6 in 27 NHL games last year split between Vancouver and Columbus. If I’m Ken Holland, I’d want another fourth line centre option just in case.
7. I like the bets Brad Treliving made in Toronto: One-year deals for Tyler Bertuzzi ($5.5m), John Klingberg ($4.15m), and Max Domi ($3m) gives them more depth. They do have potential cap issues, however, especially once Samsonov signs his new deal. I suspect Matt Murray and Jake Muzzin will be on LTIR, which frees up $10.3m. But that puts them at $82.3m before signing Samsonov. Treliving will need to move someone out before the regular season begins. William Nylander’s name keeps popping up as the trade option, and it makes sense financially. But would they be better off keeping him and going for a run, and then seeing what happens at the end of the season?
8. Logan Couture has four years remaining on his $8m AAV in San Jose. The Sharks will not be competitive next season. I wonder how long before he asks for a trade. Currently, he has a very limited no-trade clause (only three teams on list he would be traded to), but eventually, he will open that up to more teams. In the first 10 years of his career (2010-2019) he played the sixth-most playoff games in the NHL with 116. He scored the second-most playoff goals with 48 and had the fourth-most points with 101. He’s missed the playoffs the past four seasons. He’s used to winning and he was excellent in the playoffs. When the cap increases next season his $8m cap hit (likely a bit lower if SJ retains some) will make him much easier to acquire. Maybe it occurs at the trade deadline. He’s a trade piece to watch next season.
9. The Elks are awful. Sadly, it was somewhat predictable when they gave Chris Jones the general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator roles. He doesn’t have enough time to do all three successfully. The Elks’ drafting and scouting has been as inept as their play calling, on both sides of the ball. The problem is they gave Jones a four-year deal and firing him would only limit their ability to bring in a solid staff, because of the salary cap on management and coaches. The Elks have done a much better job in marketing and promoting the team this year, and making games an event, but it is difficult to support a constantly losing product. The organization has never recovered from firing Ed Hervey. He had built a strong culture in the organization, but the board didn’t like him because he didn’t pander to them.
They fired him on April 7th, 2017. That season the team went 12-6 and was filled with players he had recruited and drafted. Since that season they are 24-48. They were 3-11 in 2021, 4-14 last year and are 0-4 so far this season. They are 7-29 in their last 36 games and haven’t won a home game since October of 2019. Jones hasn’t won a home game since he was hired on December 21st, 2021. They are 0-11 at home, and he has two more years after this on his contract. Something has to change, but there is no quick fix, even if they force him to give up one of his three roles or fire his offensive coordinator.
10. It was great to see the Edmonton Stingers on TSN last night. The CEBL is growing and gaining popularity. The Stingers’ in-game experience is excellent and $5 beers, $4 chicken fingers, $3 hot dogs and other reasonably prices food makes the game much more affordable for fans. They play at home this Saturday and next Thursday. If you haven’t been to a game yet, I recommend going. There are lots of games and activities for kids, and parents, outside the Expo Centre before tip-off.

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