As training camp nears, many teams are feeling the pressure. While some fight to re-sign star RFAs, others look for ways to fight their way under the salary cap. This has sparked a host of NHL rumours. Today, the Last Word on Hockey team will cover NHL rumours surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Minnesota Wild.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Rumour: Joe Smith of The Athletic reports that many high-end agents are reporting that star RFAs are waiting for Mitch Marner to sign his deal with the Leafs. It is speculated that Marner’s deal will set the bar for players like Brayden Point and Matthew Tkachuk.
Analysis: This doesn’t come as much of a surprise despite never being explicitly stated. Marner has been the most outspoken of all current restricted free agents. He’s fought with Kyle Dubas, Toronto’s general manager, to reel in a staggering, likely double-digit, cap hit on his next deal. Auston Matthews recent five-year contract extension, which slots him in at an $11.63 million cap hit.
Since this deal was inked, the league has seen a revolution among star RFAs. These stars are holding out, hoping to be paid a top-end dollar for their top-end skillset, with Marner leading the pack. Players like Charlie McAvoy, Brock Boeser, and Mikko Rantanen have yet to sign new contracts, fighting to find a middle-ground between cap hit and contract length. Their high asking price has also caused drama for their teams, with most of the NHL being fairly short on cap space.
With all negotiations seemingly coming to a stalemate, players now await Marner’s new deal to set the bar. Yet, there is one RFA that could very likely cross no-mans-land and sign a deal before Marner does. Point has constantly mentioned how much he wants to re-sign with the Lightning.
With the team recently moving the injured Ryan Callahan to the Ottawa Senators, effectively bringing their cap space up to $11.1 million, they now have plenty of cap space to re-sign Point. If he does re-sign before Marner, there could be a collapse of the aforementioned revolt. Point scored more than any other RFA last season, arguably making him the most deserving of a hefty contract. If he signs a deal with a single-digit cap hit, worse free agents could lose much of their negotiating strength.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Rumour: John Ramano of the Tampa Bay Times dives into the after-effects of the contract extension given to Andrei Vasilevskiy on Tuesday. He notes that, with Point likely to receive at least $8 million, the Lightning will be giving out 60 percent of their salary cap to only six players. This will inevitably mean cap issues in the near future.
Analysis: This is something that Smith also mentioned in the aforementioned report. While the Lightning are a star-studded team, they also have eight, soon to be nine, players that will make at least $5 million during the 2020-21 season. This will likely force the team to make more cap-shedding deals, similar to their dealing away of J.T. Miller earlier in the off-season.
Lightning general manager, Julien BriseBois, seems to be aware of this. He mentioned that these cap-shedding deals are, “reality of the cap system”. He continued by noting that, “a year from now we’re going to have other tough decisions to make.”
Ramano mentions three players that could be on their way out, as the team looks to save money. Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat all ring in at a notable cap hit. Of the three, Killorn seems to be the most likely to go. He makes the least out of the trio, tallying a $4.45 million cap hit, but is also the least effective.
While Palat plays top-line minutes, Killorn and Johnson are stuck to fight over a role on the second-line. Of the two, Killorn is less productive. He set a point-per-game average of 0.488 last season (40 points in 82 games), the lowest of the three. With four seasons of at least 40 points, Killorn would also bring in an admirable return in any trade.
Rumour: The Wild surprisingly let go of Paul Fenton as their general manager on Tuesday. Now, they’ll begin the process of finding his replacement, hopefully before the season begins. A new addition to the NHL rumours broke only a few hours after Fenton’s firing. Many noted that the Wild have already reached out to Ron Hextall to replace Fenton.
Have to think there will be more than one contender, but word is MIN has already reached out for permission to speak to Ron Hextall for newly vacant GM position.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 30, 2019
Analysis: This is, again, not much of a surprise. While the Wild boast a strong defence and starting goalie, they lack any sort of depth among their forwards. They haven’t been able to construct any sort of a prospect pool, with good-not-great players like Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin headlining their group.
Hextall is a terrific option to fix this. He served as the Philadelphia Flyers GM from 2014 to 2018. In that time, he created a tremendously deep prospect pool. The Flyers pool now features names like German Rubstov, Morgan Frost, Matthew Strome, and Isaac Ratcliffe. All four of these players, as well as many others on the Flyers depth charts, could make a serious impact in the NHL one day. Their additions are all thanks to Hextall. While he was expelled from Philadelphia in 2018, his tremendous additions will make an impact for a while to come.
For such a prospect-less team like Minnesota, Hextall’s work seems impeccable. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of other candidates for the job, there’s a strong feeling that Hextall is out to a very early lead.