During a phone conversation two weeks ago, one NHL general manager predicted there would be fewer player buyouts than we think. Why?
"Imagine asking your owner to write a big cheque, then seeing that player succeed somewhere else for less money," he said. "That's going to get you fired."
Pretty good argument there.
The window opens Wednesday evening, 48 hours after the Chicago Blackhawks' incredible, improbable Game 6 Stanley Cup clincher. Some GMs are lucky enough to have an understanding owner (Paul Holmgren/Ed Snider in Philadelphia). Others can be pretty confident the player will not burn them (Marc Bergevin/Tomas Kaberle in Montreal).
But as more teams announce to local reporters that they will not be participating, you can understand why. The risk is great, especially when you have another season to decide if your candidate's drop-off was a lockout-induced blip.
There's been a lot of debate about Brad Richards of the New York Rangers (more on him later), but perhaps the best example is Vincent Lecavalier. Jeff Vinik and the Tampa Bay Lightning are working hard to restore the organization's position in the market, but they aren't bathing in $100 bills like Jim Dolan and the Rangers. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman would not specifically address Lecavalier's status at last week's GM meeting. And I can't blame him. Talk about igniting a firestorm.
It's easy to look at this and say, "Tampa can't afford Lecavalier's $7.7-million salary-cap hit, so get rid of him." Okay, but you're still going to be paying him $30 million over the next 14 years. And you're going to have to replace a top-six forward -- a centre, no less -- who has 135 points in 168 games the last three seasons. That's 0.8 points per game.
That kind of production will be hard to replace. Now imagine Lecavalier doing that for less money somewhere else.
The key to all of this is remembering the window closes at 5 p.m. ET on July 4. By that time, the entry draft will be over, the two "visiting days" concluding and free agency about to begin. How different are teams going to look in nine days? Were they able to make the trades they wanted? Do they believe they have a shot at their free-agent targets? Do they need the cap room a buyout can give them?
It wouldn't be surprising to see some GMs wait. In Edmonton, Craig MacTavish brushed off a question about a potential buyout of Shawn Horcoff on Tuesday. It's smart business. Horcoff's agent, Pat Brisson, has permission to search the market and one exec thought he would get dealt before teammate Ales Hemsky does. Horcoff must submit a list of 10 teams he will agree to go to by Canada Day.
Even if there's nothing now, maybe there will be different opportunities on Independence Day. Waiting for an opportunity is a much better option than eating all of the risk.
1. Before we get back to buyout talk, there will be no Stanley Cup puck controversy this time. The NHL collected both the winning goal and final shift pucks from Game 6. They were given to the Blackhawks.
2. I'm hearing Yzerman is trying to trade Ryan Malone. Tampa Bay would prefer to avoid a buyout payout and the Lightning are offering a draft pick as an enticement. Malone has a no-move clause in his contract until July 1, which gives him some control of the situation. It is a limited no-trade after then.
3. As of Monday afternoon, newly hired Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault had spoken to one player on his roster: Richards. Why? "I know him a little bit," he said. "During the [2004-05] lockout, I was coaching in P.E.I. and he skated with us for two months before going overseas. He was outstanding. In junior, you don't have a huge coaching staff, so he would take three or four guys and go work with them. He was so good with those guys ... I just wanted to reach out and have a conversation, see how he was doing after a tough end to the season." Vigneault plans to reach out to the rest of the players starting next week.
4. Hearing that, you might think Richards gets another season in New York to see if things improve with Vigneault. But the new coach wasn't going there. "I'm not involved in that process," Vigneault said. "I really haven't seen him the last two years."
5. Vigneault said he hopes to use his lines the same way he did in Vancouver, deploying the best scorers for offensive-zone draws (Henrik and Daniel Sedin) and the best defenders (Manny Malhotra, Ryan Kesler) to take faceoffs front of your net. "I prefer it that way," Vigneault said. "It's a great way to maximize the strength and potential of your lineup." During interviews, he said he was told the Rangers were built to do that, although he will withhold final judgement until getting behind the bench.
6. Hockey Night in Canada analyst P.J. Stock mentioned on Hotstove Tonight that he thought John Tortorella would best be served to sit awhile before coaching again. I asked a friend of Tortorella about it. He said, "Forget that. These guys are wired to coach." Vigneault agreed. "When I was fired in Montreal, I had a year remaining on my contract and I wasn't as aggressive as I should have been," he said, believing it slowed his return to the NHL. "This time, the day after I was fired, Dallas called. The day after the Rangers made their change, they called. I was ready to get back right away."
7. Vigneault had a great line about his children. As a divorced father, he noted it was very important to them that dad would only be a one-hour flight away. "But they're more excited about the shopping," he added.
8. With all of the commentary about Tortorella's media approach, what stood out about his introduction as head coach in Vancouver was the desire to use the Sedins as penalty killers. I think one of the things the Canucks talked about during his interviews was what happened with some of the stars (eg. Marian Gaborik) in New York. Everyone's situation is different, but no doubt Canucks GM Mike Gillis understands that Vancouver can't have a repeat.
9. Back when I first started as a radio reporter covering the Toronto Raptors, then-GM Isiah Thomas warned me, "Never believe anything anyone tells you about the draft. At draft time, everyone lies." One year later, Thomas gave me the scoop he was going to take Marcus Camby. I didn't believe him. He did take Camby and laughed, "This time, I was telling the truth." I couldn't help but remember that conversation upon hearing the Colorado Avalanche's newfound openness. Joe Sakic picking up the phone to tell a reporter his team's plans "certainly goes against 'The [Pierre] Lacroix Principle,'" an opposing executive said.
10. There is incredible skepticism about what Sakic, who is Colorado's executive vice-president of hockey operations, and head coach Patrick Roy are saying. However, there are at least two reasons to think they are telling the truth. First, Roy had the best seat in the house in 2012 QMJHL playoffs as Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin led Halifax back from a 3-0 deficit against Quebec. MacKinnon had eight points in the last three games. Second, the Avalanche are trying to rebuild their name in the Denver community. If they are not going to take Seth Jones, who has major local ties, it's not the worst idea to prepare fans in advance.
11. Depending on what other moves Colorado makes, Roy will face lineup decisions should MacKinnon be the guy. Roy told ESPN.com's Craig Custance that Ryan O'Reilly could be moved to the wing. Another possibility is playing MacKinnon on the wing to start. "He's certainly skilled enough to do it," one team's draft guru said.
12. As we approach what could be a wild draft week, GMs to watch include MacTavish: "He's got his fingers in everything," said one compatriot. Another? Dave Nonis of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Somewhere this off-season, he is determined to get a high-level centre.
13. This is going to be an interesting two weeks for the New Jersey Devils. There are some real concerns. There was a rumour that Portland Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher was going to purchase the club, but "that is no longer happening," according to an NHL source. There is a lot of frustration internally and externally that so little business is getting done, especially with important free agents on the market. If guys like Patrik Elias and David Clarkson walk, how will New Jersey replace them?
14. Hotstove nightmare: proclaiming Philadelphia as a favourite for Jonathan Bernier and seeing him dealt to Toronto the next day. My biggest fault on this one is that my information was not as up to date as it could have been. The Flyers were out of it before the weekend for a couple of reasons. First, they did not have a goalie to include; Toronto did with Ben Scrivens. Second, they were not willing to include Sean Couturier (that was mentioned during the broadcast) or Brayden Schenn.
15. Flyers fans live in constant paranoia over what Philly will do with its young players. Maybe this will help. I've found a few teams that have asked about Couturier over the last year or so. Holmgren refuses to do it, with one possible exception. I'm not including it because I can't prove it, but if true, it would have brought a strong (and young) return.
16. One other thing. I don't think the New York Islanders were in at the end on Bernier. I thought they might be, but was told no.
17. When Philadelphia signed Ilya Bryzgalov two years ago, Snider made it very clear he was tired of the theory that you could win without spending copious dough in net. How does he feel now? There is a very legit -- and reasonably cost-effective -- solution: Ray Emery. As his comeback began in 2011, Emery said Philly would be his first choice. Some of those Flyers are gone, but assistant GM John Paddock remains. The goalie was hugely appreciative that Paddock took a chance on him after what happened in Ottawa. Just something to watch for.
18. Before the Leafs changed goalie coaches from Francois Allaire to Rick St. Croix, they were asked about Bernier. They weren't really interested. Such a subjective business. I guess we'll find out who is right.
19. After watching one of his mentors (David Poile) go through difficult dances with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, is Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero prepared to start the season with Kris Letang heading into unrestricted free agency? This is going to be an interesting one -- and not just because of the money. According to one friend (and it's not the guy I work with), Letang is upset, feeling someone in the organization is badmouthing him to the media. I can't speak to that because no one's said anything to me, but it shows how complex these things can get. Keeping cool will be critical for both sides.
20. Will every Finnish player be linked to Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen? The latest has unrestricted free agent-to-be Valtteri Filppula as a strong candidate for Columbus.
21. Zdeno Chara led the Boston Bruins in ice time in each of their first 15 playoff games. In the last seven, he led just twice. The second was Game 6, when he was fifth after one period, but played 19 minutes in the last two. He's still a beast, but at 36, does the organization look at the way things finished and say, "We've got to rest him more."
22. Chara averaged 29:31 minutes per game during the playoffs. That's the most for anyone who reached a Stanley Cup final in six years. In the last decade, that total was exceeded just four times. Francois Beauchemin, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer all did it for the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and Pronger did it the year before with Edmonton, too. That post-season, he was on the ice for 742:55, a ridiculous total.
23. Chicago's win likely alters a few other team's off-season plans. When Brent Seabrook was struggling and his minutes decreasing, opponents were hoping he might be available, but he was a force as the Blackhawks stormed back to beat the Detroit Red Wings and win it all. I don't see him going anywhere.
24. The other interesting one is Marian Hossa, who was very good until a back problem slowed him down. This is purely an educated guess, but I wondered if Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray might approach the Blackhawks to see if he is available. Things did not end well between Hossa and the Senators in 2005, but maybe time heals the wound. He would be a perfect fit for Ottawa, but that's harder to see now.
25. A few Blackhawks said head coach Joel Quenneville's best move was not re-uniting the line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brian Bickell. It was how he handled himself the day before. Chicago was down 2-1 and there was a lot of negativity after being shut out 2-0 in Game 3. Quenneville was very positive in his comments, not dwelling on mistakes, especially when it came to counter-attacking Boston's faceoff dominance. Apparently, his speech before Game 4 was pretty good, too.
26. Corey Crawford took a lot of abuse after that 6-5 overtime victory in Game 4, but the way he handled himself in the post-game was very impressive. He answered questions for almost an hour. The thing that really stood out was how no one from the team worried about pulling him away. That tells you the organization thinks he can handle it, that he doesn't need to be shielded. Crawford proved that with two more impressive performances.
27. Crawford's recovery explains the Montreal Canadiens' potential interest in goaltending coach Stephane Waite to mentor Carey Price. Waite, who doesn't always talk to Crawford during intermissions, made sure to pump up his student prior to OT in Game 4. Then, the two hit the ice before Friday's practice and Saturday's skate for extra work to correct the problem.
28. So the International Olympic Committee stood up and agreed to pay for NHL players' insurance in Sochi. Those costs probably filter down to someone else (team federations, maybe?), but it is a huge step. What's interesting is that the summer orientation camps will not be able to have any scrimmages or exhibition games. No contact stuff. Insurance won't cover those.
29. Is the NHL's next battle with the NHL Players' Association over goaltender equipment? The league wants change for next year and things are moving slower than it would like. After the GM meetings, Mathieu Schneider of the NHLPA said it might be three to four weeks to name the equipment committee members. The NHL was hoping for three or four days. We're getting to the point when goalies have to order gear for next season.
30. One source on the Phoenix Coyotes: "There is so much going on behind the scenes, you have no idea." Totally believe it. The NHL and the potential Coyotes owners said they were "cautiously optimistic," but the opposition is mounting a fierce campaign. We were supposed to see the proposal Monday, but didn't. Too close to call.
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC
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