30 Thoughts: Kessel, others set market for NHL's elite | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Kessel, others set market for NHL's elite

Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 03:56 PM

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Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who signed an eight-year contract extension Tuesday worth a reported $64 million US, did the team a favour by asking to get it done before the season, writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who signed an eight-year contract extension Tuesday worth a reported $64 million US, did the team a favour by asking to get it done before the season, writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Natural scorers are the hardest thing to find in the NHL. If you want one, it will cost at least $8 million US per season as Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel demonstrated on Tuesday, writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.
When the lockout ended and the new contract structure created -- maximum eight years for your guy (seven for someone else's) and protection against backdiving -- the biggest question became, what did that mean for star players heading towards unrestricted free agency in their mid- to late-20s?

There was some noise that a player like Evgeni Malkin, deprived the opportunity to pursue a 10 to 14-year megadeal, would ask for an enormous yearly salary instead. Something starting in double-figures, perhaps. That did not happen, with Malkin taking a $9.5M average annual value -- which, sources say, isn't that bad. 

But there is a trend. That trend is the number eight.

There are five players, who: 1) have a top 10 finish in scoring, 2) signed a post-lockout contract, and 3) were approaching unrestricted free agency in their 20s. They are Malkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel and Corey Perry. Giroux had one "bridge" year before market freedom, the rest were right there.

Malkin's AAV is noted above. Perry is next at $8.625M, then Giroux ($8.275), Getzlaf ($8.25), and Kessel, now at $8M. So, the market is set. Chicago knows that with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Islanders with John Tavares, the Lightning with Steven Stamkos -- who is at $8M right now. 

Natural scorers are the hardest thing to find in the NHL. If you want one, this is what it costs to keep him. In the last three seasons, Kessel is fourth in goals and seventh in points. He would have hit the market at age 26, younger than either Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise, who set massive benchmarks under a different system.

Kessel did the Leafs a favour by asking to get it done before the season; that's not a headache you need to deal with while playing. Both sides knew he was getting $8 million per. If the Leafs didn't do it, someone else was going to.

30 THOUGHTS

1. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a couple of GMs about signing players to long-term deals. They agreed on three things: the player must be durable, a self-starter and someone you don't have worry about, on or off the ice. Kessel is one of 15 players who hasn't missed a game the last three seasons. That durability is critical.

2. As for the other two, those were legit questions when Kessel was in Boston, which is why the Bruins traded him. He's matured. He's not a leader in the classic sense of the word, but he is always prepared to play and competes hard. What we see publicly barely scratches the surface of who he really is. He is perfect for a nutty market like Toronto because he knows how to seclude himself from it.

3. Kessel has an interesting "hybrid" type of protection in his contract. He cannot be waived or "loaned" (google Cristobal Huet) to another team. But, he will be asked every year to provide a list of eight teams he can be traded to. Apparently, his agency (Newport Sports Management) did similar language with Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson, although Kessel's is a little stronger.

4. Don't think anyone will argue against the adoption of hybrid icing, but there has to be a better process. A rushed decision just 24 hours before the start of the season following exhibition games devoid of any intensity makes zero sense. A suggestion: next time the players want this kind of a veto, they should ask for it at the end of the season. Go through the year, and see how the rule affects games that really matter, especially in the playoffs. That way, we'll have a much truer picture. If the NHLPA hates it, it can rescind after one year.

5. Are we halfway on the road to "no-touch icing?" There are a lot of players and executives who really don't like it. The reasons include everything from "too many whistles," to "too many players standing around just giving up on the play." Maybe it's one of those things that changes over time, but doesn't seem to be a ton of support now.

6. The roster juggling is underway, although it will ease slightly for some teams now that wounded bodies can be put on long-term injured reserve. That can create cap relief for stressed-out teams. "You are going to see some abuses this year," predicted one capologist. The reigning LTIR champion is Philadelphia, which has used this list almost every day since one-time Sharks defenceman Mike Rathje's career cut short due to nerve damage in 2006-07.

7. David Perron scored five goals on his first six exhibition shots. That's somewhat unsustainable, but certainly speaks to his talent. Perron and Ken Hitchcock clashed on things like how to approach a two-on-two rush. The forward always wanted to try for a scoring chance, the coach wanted a safer play (like a dump-in) if Perron could only achieve such an opportunity about one-quarter of the time. It will be interesting to see how he does as a more unleashed offensive player.

8. The other thing to watch about Edmonton is how it defends a neutral-zone push. One of the biggest issues management had with last year's system was how wide the defencemen set up in that area, which forced forwards to cover the middle. It didn't work.

9. The Oilers' waiver claim of Luke Gazdic puts them at 49 contracts. That's really tight (maximum is 50). Teams generally don't like to be that close because it limits flexibility, especially if you want to make a big move. Have to believe they will try and clear one or two.

10. Here's an example of why that can matter. When Dallas was fighting through its bankruptcy, it knew payroll would be limited. So the Stars challenged themselves to find minor-league free agents who could possibly develop into low-cost NHLers. Three will start this season in the NHL: Jordie Benn (although there might be a bit of nepotism on that one), Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel. All of them played below the AHL for a time. Roussel was grabbed when the team had about four contracts to spare. He's a great find, but it's hard to take those chances when you are at the limit.

11. Brett Connolly, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk are disappointed right now, but should listen to Stephen Weiss, who just signed in Detroit. After seeing how prepared the Red Wings' young players are for the NHL, Weiss said, "In Florida...a lot of times the young guys come up, they come to the big time right away and maybe they're not as ready. Maybe I wasn't as ready as I could've been at 19...You can see it [in Detroit] with these kids, they're big and strong and ready to be pros now."

12. It's tougher to figure out Mika Zibanejad's situation. He's played one year in the AHL and many of the Detroit kids get at least two, which Paul MacLean certainly knows. But, it's kind of fishy to see him sent down and watch the Senators carry one below the limit days after owner Eugene Melnyk said the team is already over budget for 2013-14. They are 26th in salary for this season.

13. Ottawa's got potential to do big things. The goaltending is excellent, the defence is strong and the offence should score enough. Melnyk promises he will add help if the team is good enough to warrant it. He's an emotional guy, but it is particularly important he not detonate verbal bombs. When things were crazy, Daniel Alfredsson would tap a pr guy on the shoulder, say, "When do you need me?" and calm everything down. Until this group establishes its identity without him, it doesn't need extra noise.

14. Another player who was not rushed: Dallas forward Alex Chiasson, who scored six goals in his first seven NHL games. Chiasson wanted to turn pro after his second NCAA season, but the team asked him to wait one more year, partially because his first stride was "clunky," according to one source. Good call, he is much-improved. Word is the Stars fought hard to keep him in the big trade with Boston. The Bruins knew what they wanted -- Chiasson played at Boston University.

15. Back to Weiss, on his biggest adjustment in Detroit: playing man-to-man defence after a lifetime of zone coverage. During an exhibition loss to Pittsburgh last week, he said he was "looking to play the zone and then thought, 'Wait a minute, I gotta find somebody here.'"

16. His stall is right next to Henrik Zetterberg's. The captain requested Weiss replace the departed Valtteri Filppula. "For a new guy coming in, who signed for five years, it might be a little easier if he sits next to me. We can go over things: plays and whatnot," Zetterberg said, adding he wanted Alfredsson next to Joakim Andersson. "You need to try and mix up the Swedes a little bit. I think it made more sense to have Weiss there than Alfie." (Thanks to Bill Roose, who got those quotes for me.)

17. One former Duck smiled when he heard Randy Carlyle planned to give James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier one game each in Toronto's back-to-back that opens the season. Apparently, that is a basic move in Carlyle's playbook. "He is starting the competition right away. He will make his goaltending decisions with only one interest in mind: who he thinks gives him the best chance to win."

18. Carlyle does, however, like playing more than one guy. Only once in his coaching career has a goalie played 60 games -- Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Carlyle's first Anaheim season. Also, there would be occasions where the starter would not find out until the morning of the game.

19. I see Carlyle. I see Jake Gardiner. I hear what they say about each other and think, "Well, 50 per cent of all marriages do end in divorce."

20. At some point, the Maple Leafs are going to have to ask themselves if it would help their cap situation to eat some of John-Michael Liles's salary in a trade with another team. The thing they must be careful with is a club can only do this with three players per season. They are now at two, taking small amounts of Ben Scrivens's and Matt Frattin's contracts. Doing it with Liles locks them in.

21. On the other end of the spectrum is Calgary. The Flames have what one exec calls The Holy Grail: cap room, cash and flexibility. Obviously, it makes no sense to add bad contracts that don't help. But you look what Vancouver did with Zac Dalpe. The Canucks liked him and got him when Carolina needed to save Jeremy Welsh's $1M. There will be opportunities for the Flames to do similar.

22. Brian Burke showed some displeasure with Sven Baertschi for a "lack of commitment." It may seem early, but there's a method to this. Burke, Jay Feaster and Bob Hartley know this is going to be a hard season, but also know it will be critical for young players to compete through it. It's easy to accept losing and develop bad habits. Forget the wins and losses, the Flames need to grow their youth. It's easy for things to slide in tough seasons.
 
23. Did Ryan Kesler ever watch the San Jose games after the series ended? "I watched them right after we played them. I think the series was a lot closer than people think it was...There's things that we're going to learn from that series and move on." What did he learn? "We've got to adapt as a team. We can't go into a series and have a set game plan...We've got to adapt as a team."

24. San Jose outscored Vancouver 8-6 at even strength, which is close for a sweep. Coach Todd McLellan had a good quote about Brent Burns's 2013 move to forward: "We don't know what he's doing so [our opponents] sure don't. He's aggressive and reckless, which creates a ton of space for himself and others." His ability to keep it up is going to be important for them. Burns had 17 even-strength points in 30 games. The only other Shark with similar production was Logan Couture. San Jose was 25th in five-on-five goals.

25. Here's the percentage of Pittsburgh's games Marc-Andre Fleury has played from 2008-09 to 2013 -- 76, 82, 79, 82 and 69. That lowest figure was last season, when the Penguins got Tomas Vokoun to ease his workload. Ray Shero says Jeff Zatkoff will be the backup while Vokoun recovers from blood clots, which will test Pittsburgh's willingness to rest Fleury. What might help? The Penguins have one game out of the Eastern Time Zone before Jan. 7 (Nov. 9 in St. Louis.) Just eight back-to-backs before then, too. If they want to ride him, it's set up for that.

26. The NHL's hockey operations department has modified how it will enforce the "jersey tuck" rule. If the sweater tucks while a player is skating, there will be no warning/penalty providing it was untucked at the beginning of a shift. That eases one of the bigger complaints, while allowing to league to pursue players who deliberately flout this crackdown.

27. After both Paul Bissonnette and David Clarkson ran afoul of the NHL's Rule 70.10, leaving the bench during an altercation or for the purposes of starting one, a reminder was sent out to the players about its existence. Clarkson is out 10 games, Bissonnette's suspension was reduced to three, due to a lack of video evidence.

28. Mike Babcock gave a short lecture to some minor hockey coaches before last Saturday's exhibition game in Toronto. (He was with assistants Tom Renney and Bill Peters.) He opened the speech with two great pieces of advice: "It's a cop out to say I'm a volunteer, so it's okay to not be prepared," and "Your job is to make sure [your players] loved the game more after you're done with them than when you started."

29. Division winners: Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh. Playoff teams: Anaheim, Minnesota, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Jose, Vancouver (West crossover). Detroit, Islanders, Montreal, Ottawa, Rangers, Washington. Cup champion: Well, I'm going to wait and see what the Blues and Capitals look like after the trade deadline.

30. It never failed. Whenever we did a Devils game, we'd ask where Denis Brodeur was sitting ... just because. If Martin made a big save or had a big game, we'd want to show that smile. Maybe we'd bother him for an interview, which he never refused. We're going to miss that. Best to the Brodeur family.

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