On Sunday, the NHL and NHLPA officially announced that there would be a shortened 56-game 2020-21 season for the beginning on Jan. 13, and with that, an already boiling NHL Trade market is trying to find a way to alleviate the building pressure.
“About to boil over,” one industry source told Off the Record.
The Vegas Golden Knights won’t be active on the free agent market with no cap space but others will try to scoop up some marquee names such as forwards Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund, and longtime Boston Bruins captain and defenseman Zdeno Chara still out there. Will they get the money and term they’ve been asking for, or will they be forced to take less because of salary cap restraints and fiscal restraints some teams are under due to COVID?
Before the puck drops on the 2020-21 NHL season, there are still some logistical nightmares ahead. The league and players agreed to a deal, but that doesn’t mean politicians and health ministers, especially in Canada, are on board.
One of the biggest questions right now is what to do about the Canadian Division. Not all teams may be able to play at home, and the number may be shrinking, not growing. A reliable source from one of the Canadian teams offered a little insight regarding the owners’ discussions—more on the emerging options below.
That and more in the latest ‘Off The Record’!
1. Waiting For The Lightning To Strike
All eyes are on the Tampa Bay Lightning to jumpstart the NHL Trade market and make a deal to become cap compliant before the season begins on Jan. 13.
On Monday, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Tampa Bay Lightning superstar forward Nikita Kucherov has an injury “that could keep him out awhile” and end up on long-term injury reserve to start the season. The Lightning is currently $1.9 million over the flattened $81.5 salary cap and still need to sign RFAs Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak.
Placing Kucherov on LTIR would allow them to start the season several million under the cap, but Kucherov will eventually return, and Tampa Bay’s problems begin again. They would prefer to solve the problem permanently via a trade before the season.
Multiple sources told OTR that Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois is still is trying to move forwards Alex Killorn ($4.4 million, Modified NTC) and Tyler Johnson ($5 million, NTC) on the NHL Trade market. BriseBois is also listening to offers on Cernak. Four teams that continue to be linked to Cernak are the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, and Winnipeg Jets.
Cernak projected to make somewhere around $3 million annually, but that was before the market clogged.
One Lightning strike will likely spark the NHL trade market.
Off the record: “I can tell you that Julien has already been working like crazy to get under the cap, and I’d expect him to do whatever he can to avoid using LTIR to make it happen,” one NHL management source told OTR on Monday. “You have to remember if you acquire a player via trade, that player is going to have to quarantine, so you’re going to want to get that sooner rather than later and not wait until the April 12 deadline, right? If you use LTIR, you still need to eventually address your cap issues, but a trade can now take care of it.
I think the Lightning will strike soon.”
2. Beware Of The Blues
Since our last OTR, word around the league is that St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong has been busier than most of his GM brethren, if not the busiest in recent days. With dates to work with now, Armstrong could end up being the most active NHL GM on the NHL Trade market before the season begins.
He gained $5.75 million of cap space when forward Alexander Steen retired last week, and winger Vladimir Tarasenko will provide temporary cap relief when he starts the season on LTIR.
Sources have confirmed to OTR that Armstrong has indeed explored what it would take to sign Hoffman or Granlund. He’s also listened to offers for 23-year-old RFA defenseman Vince Dunn but would really prefer to keep the highly coveted Dunn. The Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, and the Winnipeg Jets have all looked into Dunn.
Though not all teams mentioned, such as Pittsburgh, can immediately acquire the mobile puck mover who needs to be a little stronger in the battles.
In light of the report here last week that the Jets ‘won’t mind moving on’ from sniper Patrik Laine, one NHL scout had an interesting NHL Trade idea.
Off the Record: “Imagine if Doug goes out and gets Laine?” the scout said with a laugh. “But seriously, why not offer a package that includes Dunn. I know for a fact the Jets love him. Clearly, there are some huge cap hurdles there, but with Tarasenko out on LTIR for a while, you never know. I do know Doug wants another Cup and wants it now!”
3. Could Som UFA’s Take PTO’s?
The never-before-seen circumstances derived from this prolonged pandemic forced unrestricted free agents to remain on the market. Chara, Hoffman, and Granlund will likely have to compromise and take less than they expected from the open market.
But will others need to sacrifice even more?
There was some chatter over the weekend amongst NHL management sources and pro scouts that UFA’s who don’t sign this week could begin training camp on PTOs. With not much time for rosters to gel, we could see a legit player buckle and gamble on a team of his choice.
An important note from my Boston Hockey Now partner in crime, Joe Haggert. Based on conversations with numerous NHL sources, it sounds like the Bruins would prefer to move on from Chara, and team President Cam Neely hinted at that to the media on Monday afternoon.
Off the Record: “Look, training camp is going to feel like two minutes long basically, and in a shortened season, with so many teams facing cap issues, GM’s are being extra careful on what they add and subtract to their teams,” one NHL source pointed out over the weekend.
4. Canadian Owners Discuss Hubs
A team source confirmed to OTR that multiple Canadian team owners expressed their willingness to be a temporary Hub City to the NHL should they need to keep the seven Canadian NHL teams in the Great White North.
One owner in an unexpected market went as far as to send a memo to the staff to be ready for such a measure.
The British Columbia and Quebec Ministers of Health have not yet agreed to teams traveling in and out of their provinces. Montreal is now under stricter lockdown measures.
Another NHL source confirmed the various rumors that Edmonton is once again a top choice if the NHL needs a hub city.
As for teams that will actually have fans in them, you can officially count out the Boston Bruins for at least the month of January, as Bruins President Cam Neely confirmed to BHN writer Joe Haggerty on Monday.
5. NHL Hockey In Saskatoon?
On Monday morning, OTR asked NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly if the NHL is considering non-NHL Canadian cities as temporary hub cities. Daly replied with the following:
“There is nothing that’s not being considered.”
Both wow and yikes.
One of the reasons we asked was because an NHL source that is involved with NHL programming on both NBC and CBC told BHN recently that the home of the Saskatoon Blades (WHL) SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has been mentioned as a potential temporary hub for the NHL if cities like Montreal, Toronto or Edmonton can’t get COVID more contained.
Off the Record: “Yes, there’s a chance we could be playing NHL hockey not a little bit south of Saskatoon but actually in Saskatoon,” the source joked, referencing the best hockey movie ever, Slapshot! “It’s all just talk and ideas now, but buckle up because if things don’t change in the Canadian NHL cities, the NHL will need to move to plan B fast.”
Finally, to everyone out there, Happy Holidays and stay safe! Thank you for reading and all your support!