Tag Archives: James Neal

DTFR Podcast #168- 2019-20 Season Preview: Pacific Division

The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced, a major shakeup in the Board of Governors may be ahead, extensions were signed, Jake Gardiner joined the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s time for our DTFR Podcast season previews (starting with the Pacific Division).

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Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 Season Preview

Edmonton Oilers

35-38-9, 79 points, 7th in the Pacific Division

Have made the postseason once in the last 13 years

Additions: F Josh Archibald, F Markus Granlund, F Tomas Jurco, F James Neal (acquired from CGY), F Riley Sheahan, G Mike Smith

Subtractions: F Mitch Callahan (DEL), F Milan Lucic (traded to CGY), F Ty Rattie (KHL), F Tobias Rieder (signed to a PTO with CGY), D Kevin Gravel (signed with TOR), D John Marino (traded to PIT), D Robin Norell (SHL), D Alexander Petrovic (signed a PTO with BOS), D Ryan Stanton (signed with Ontario, AHL), G Anthony Stolarz (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: F Colin Larkin, F Jesse Puljujarvi (has an agreement with a Liiga team, if not traded by EDM), F Tyler Vesel, G Al Montoya

Re-signed: F Alex Chiasson, F Jujhar Khaira

Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Edmonton Oilers have a new head coach and a new General Manager.

Dave Tippett brings his expertise behind the bench in place of Ken Hitchcock’s short tenure as head coach of the Oilers (after replacing Todd McLellan about a quarter of the way into last season), while Ken Holland is large and in charge of the reigns in Edmonton’s front office.

Tippett is fresh off of a few years without an NHL head coaching job, since being relieved of his duties from the Arizona Coyotes after the 2016-17 season.

On May 7th, Holland left the Detroit Red Wings for the Oilers after being “promoted” to a senior advisor role a couple of weeks prior– coinciding with Detroit’s hiring of Steve Yzerman as GM on April 19th.

Over the course of a generation’s time, Holland is known for making small, but deliberate, moves in the offseason to build his roster.

The additions of Markus Granlund and Tomas Jurco reflect the need for flexible top-nine depth.

While scouring the market, Holland found a perfect suitor for Milan Lucic’s massive contract and subsequently dealt Lucic to the Calgary Flames along with a conditional 2020 3rd round pick in exchange for James Neal.

Neal, 32, is a year older than Lucic and signed through the 2022-23 season, which is… just as long as Lucic is under contract for, but now with Calgary.

Oh, and the Oilers retained 12.5 percent of Lucic’s salary ($750,000 per season), because of course.

To top things off, the conditional 2020 3rd round pick becomes property of the Flames if Neal scores 21 goals and Lucic scores 10 or fewer goals than Neal in 2019-20.

Neal had seven goals and 12 assists (19 points) in 63 games with the Flames last season (down from 25-19–44 totals in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18).

Lucic had six goals and 14 assists (20 points) in 79 games with the Oilers last season (down from 10-24–34 totals in 82 games in 2017-18). The new No. 17 for Calgary had been in decline each season while in Edmonton.

Looks like it’s business as usual in Edmonton so far.

What’s more, Holland faces an increasingly difficult 2020 offseason with 14 pending free agents, including 24-year-old defender (and pending-restricted free agent at season’s end), Darnell Nurse.

Nurse is looking to have a breakout year to translate into a big payday thereafter.

Meanwhile, it’d almost be better for the Oilers to just not re-sign any of their pending free agents, but then again teams still have to be cap compliant in order to participate in the league, so…

Holland also traded defensive prospect John Marino to the Pittsburgh Penguins in hopes of landing a touchdown in a conditional 2021 6th round pick.

The “Hail Mary” pass went incomplete as Marino signed his entry-level contract with the Penguins and the Oilers missed out on the draft pick.

At least there’s some stability in the crease with 31-year-old, Mikko Koskinen (25-21-6 record in 55 games played last season, 2.93 goals against average, .906 save percentage and 4 shutouts), and 37-year-old, two-time All Star, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record in 42 games with Calgary last season, 2.73 GAA, .898 SV% and 2 SO).

The average age of Edmonton’s goaltenders? 34.

Koskinen took over the starting role, while Smith was brought in as the backup in the post-Cam Talbot Era (Talbot was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers last season and signed with the Flames this offseason).

At least the Oilers have Connor McDavid (a career-high 41-75–116 totals in 78 games played last season) and Leon Draisaitl (a career-high 50-55–102 totals in 82 games last season).

Offseason Grade: F

The whole point of trying to trade Lucic was to save money and in the end, the result was not a gain, but a loss in salary cap space. At least the only players with no-trade or no-movement clauses (for now) are Kris Russell, Koskinen and Smith.

Nothing is overnight, but for an organization to have fallen so far* while having one of the best players in the world (McDavid) on their roster is about as bad as intentionally running things into the ground while still hoping the public will pay for a new arena and threatening to move the team if your demands aren’t met in the meantime.

*Relatively speaking from that one postseason appearance in 2017.

2019-20 Pacific Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points
  4. wc1- Calgary Flames, 93 points
  5. Los Angeles Kings, 89 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Edmonton Oilers, 77 points

Vegas Golden Knights: Pros and Cons

Despite a colossal collapse in Game 7 of their First Round matchup with the San Jose Sharks this spring, the Golden Knights are ready for what could be another deep playoff run in 2020.

A full season of Mark Stone– plus the rest of the original and supporting cast (Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, etc.)– should provide Vegas with enough scoring power, while Nate Schmidt anchors the defense with Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill and adopted Vegas son, Deryk Engelland.

Aside from working on the penalty kill and the peaceful transition of power from George McPhee to Kelly McCrimmon as General Manager of the organization (effective Sept. 1st), the Golden Knights have had a quiet offseason.

Sure, they traded Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres which hurts their blue line depth in the event of injuries, but Vegas has a few notable prospects with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) in Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague and Jimmy Schudlt that should be ready for a taste of NHL action if necessary.

Owner, Bill Foley, has his sights set on his original vision for the franchise– winning a Cup within the first three seasons of its existence.

The only downside for the Golden Knights heading into the 2019-20 season? Goaltending.

No, Fleury isn’t in decline from his status as one of the better goaltenders in the league, but his time in the crease has to be managed.

Though he was limited to 46 games in 2017-18 due to injury, Fleury amassed a 29-13-4 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Vegas’ backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, managed a 13-4-2 record in 22 games played that season with a 2.68 GAA and a .910 SV% in his rookie season.

Last season, Subban’s numbers took a turn for the worse.

He had an 8-10-2 record in 21 games played with a 2.93 GAA and a .902 SV%– all while Fleury was forced to carry a heavier schedule load, seeing his stat line slip to a 2.51 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process, but improving his overall record to 35-21-5 in 61 games.

Vegas added Garret Sparks, who carries a career GAA (3.09) and SV% (.898) that’s worst than Subban in six fewer games played over two full-time seasons as a backup (Sparks appeared in 37 games with Toronto, while Subban’s played in 43 with Vegas since 2017-18).

Gerard Gallant can’t rely on a fallback plan if one of them doesn’t yield a significant turnaround at this point in their careers (because there isn’t one) and he also can’t overexert Fleury in the buildup to the postseason.

This is why you can never have too many goaltenders in the system.

How would the Golden Knights fail?

If an Uber driver records their players complaining about their special teams play and/or said Uber driver can’t do a better job at not allowing four power play goals against on a five-minute major penalty kill.

San Jose Sharks: Pros and Cons

San Jose has about $4.683 million in cap space and Joe Thornton is still unsigned. Are we really ready to live in a world where Thornton isn’t on the Sharks and it’s not 1997-2005 again?

Also, Patrick Marleau is still unsigned too, but that’s besides the point– plus he spent the last two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Anyway, the Sharks went all in on Erik Karlsson’s extension, shelling out $11.500 million per season for the next eight years through the 2026-27 season.

As long as Karlsson can remain healthy (and the rest of the roster for that matter, unlike in this spring’s Western Conference Final run), then San Jose’s blue line remains one of the most dynamic forces of offensive capabilities from an otherwise non-traditional source of scoring production.

Kevin Labanc is an emerging star in a Sharks uniform and will carry a bigger role this season with the departure of Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars via free agency.

Meanwhile, it’s officially the Logan Couture Era in Silicon Valley– if General Manager Doug Wilson is truly moving on from the days of Thornton and Marleau– with supporting roles from Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane.

While Karlsson’s cap hit tops the league on an otherwise unnerving contract if something goes wrong, Wilson managed to keep Timo Meier in teal for the next four seasons at an affordable $6.000 million cap hit.

Other than injuries, the only thing that could scare the Sharks out of the waters of contention is the inconsistency of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell in the crease.

Despite compiling 36 wins on the season in 62 games played, Jones had a career-worst GAA (2.94) and SV% (.896), while Dell also managed to have a career-worst performance as a backup with a 3.17 GAA and a .886 SV% in 25 games played (of which he won 10).

Yikes.

How would the Sharks fail?

San Jose has had everything imaginable happen to them in the postseason, so what seems irrational, inexplicable and/or unimaginable, because that’s probably how they’d lose (again).

Anaheim Ducks: Pros and Cons

The Ducks have about $8.500 million in cap space with a good mix of pending-unrestricted free agents and pending-restricted free agents next summer, which means they’ll only have more money to spend and reallocate to their better, younger players like Troy Terry and Daniel Sprong.

What’s the bad news?

It’s Anaheim. They’re suffering from buying out Corey Perry’s contract for the next four seasons ($2.625 million in 2019-20, $6.625 million in 2020-21 and $2.000 million from 2021-23), Ryan Getzlaf is signed through 2020-21 and has a no-movement clause, Ryan Kesler may never play again and is also signed through 2021-22 with a no-movement clause and finally, Adam Henrique has a modified no-trade clause and is signed through 2023-24.

Yes, Kesler can be place on long-term injured reserve and shelved for the remainder of his contract and/or traded elsewhere (after waiving his NMC) to free up cap space if he truly cannot return, but the fact of the matter is the Ducks are still too tied up to takeoff and fly.

The depth of prospects is sketchy with the Ducks, considering not much is known about their overall plan.

Are they overcooking some prospects for a better immediate impact in the NHL or should they just play the kids, wait around near the basement of the standings and rebuild?

Though this forecast has Anaheim tabbed for a divisional spot, they’re likely to be looking from outside the division with perhaps only the saving grace of a wild card spot thanks to John Gibson’s existence as one of the best goaltenders in the game (until the skaters in front of him let him down).

At the very least, Dallas Eakins is back as a head coach in the NHL, so all is right with the world (and he did a decent job resurrecting his career with a strong performance in San Diego (AHL) after his dismal days in Edmonton).

How would the Ducks fail?

General Manager Bob Murray holds onto his cards for too long, talent development stalls and/or Eakins turns out to not be one of those classic examples of a coach that just came into the league a little too early, then got a second chance and succeeded.

Calgary Flames: Pros and Cons

The Flames couldn’t win the Cup with two-time All Star goaltender, Mike Smith, on their roster, so they rolling with David Rittich and Cam Talbot– who joins Calgary from their intra-province rival Edmonton Oilers.

Speaking of the Oilers, that’s where Smith ended up. Goalie swap! But without any actual trading involved, since Talbot was most recently serving as a “Plan C” for the Philadelphia Flyers if Carter Hart, Brian Elliott and Co. weren’t ready to go down the stretch.

Anyway, back to the “C of Red”.

Calgary sent James Neal to Edmonton in exchange for Milan Lucic and ended up saving $500,000 per season for the remainder of Lucic’s contract (signed through 2022-23) in the process. The Oilers retained salary in the trade. You heard that right.

Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane are still unsigned RFAs and General Manager Brad Treliving has about $7.757 million to work with in cap space.

Get a deal done with Tkachuk and the Flames will go on without any interruption as a team that pleasantly turned a lot of heads in the regular season last year, then sputtered out in the First Round in five games to the Colorado Avalanche.

Bill Peters is ready for his second season behind the bench in Calgary and the roster looks set to remain in contention for a divisional berth, if not leading the Western Conference once again.

How would the Flames fail?

Simply put, if they flame out at the end of the regular season like they did last season– March was a bad month, which led to their demise in five games against Colorado in the First Round.

Los Angeles Kings: Pros and Cons

The good news for the Kings? Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, Mario Kempe, Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue, Joakim Ryan and Jack Campbell are all pending-UFAs after next season and Carl Grundstrom, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid are all pending-RFAs.

The bad news? Drew Doughty is signed through 2026-27 at $11.000 million per season, Anze Kopitar is making $10.000 million per season through 2023-24 and Adrian Kempe is currently an unsigned RFA.

General Manager Rob Blake has a lot to sort through this season, but he’s already made some corrections to his blunders in his first two seasons as an NHL GM.

For starters, he replaced Dion Phaneuf with Ryan in free agency, brought back his stable backup goaltender in Campbell on a one-year deal and didn’t give up on Ilya Kovalchuk, but rather hired an actual NHL head coach fit for the contemporary game in Todd McLellan.

Though Marco Sturm remains one of the best looking assistant coaches in the league, we’ll let this one slide, Los Angeles.

Are the Kings actually that much better than they were last season? Time will surely tell, but one thing’s for sure– they can’t possibly be much worse, right? Right!?!

If anything, the Kings are a wild card team at best or situated behind either Vancouver or Arizona at worst in the standings, but they should be lightyears from the basement in the division this season with some solid additions through the draft over the years in Alex Turcotte, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Gabriel Vilardi.

Los Angeles should be able to (somewhat) bounce back from their regression last season, but at the same time, the year isn’t 2012 or 2014 anymore. It’s time to start cutting the chord with former “glue guys” turned placeholders on a roster that needs an influx of youth sooner rather than later.

How would the Kings fail?

If Jonathan Quick gets hurt in any fashion and Blake can’t get rid of at least one of the eight players on the 23-player roster over aged 30 or older.

Vancouver Canucks: Pros and Cons

The Canucks are looking to make it back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015, but did General Manager, Jim Benning do enough this offseason to set Vancouver back on the right track for 2020?

Benning went out and acquired J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 3rd round pick and a conditional 2020 1st round pick in June, then signed 29-year-old defender, Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30.000 million contract.

Miller and Myers are two quality assets compared to previous transactions made in the offseason by the Canucks. For once, Benning didn’t overpay an aging veteran player, but he also hasn’t cleaned up what might be a costly (both in price and on ice) fourth line in a league that runs four lines deep.

There’s a very real chance that none of the players on Vancouver’s fourth line any given night are making less than $3.000 million per season.

That’s unfathomable in a salary cap driven sport and only speaks to the number of misguided happenings in asset management by the Canucks.

Come to think of it, Vancouver only has five players out of a possible 23-player roster making less than $1.000 million per season. Sure, nobody’s making $10.000 million, but all those $2.000 million-plus, $3.000 million-plus, $4.000 million-plus and $5.000 million-plus contracts add up.

At least Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are worth watching night-in and night-out. Plus, Thatcher Demko should pan out to be one of the league’s better goaltenders.

There’s just one concern for Benning as the offseason continues– Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin are still unsigned RFAs.

And Boeser is certainly worth the four-year, $7.000 million cap hit he’s looking for. Too bad the Canucks only have $5.058 million in cap space though.

How would the Canucks fail?

By being close, but not close enough in yet another race for the playoffs. Things are heading in the right direction, however.

Arizona Coyotes: Pros and Cons

Mastermind GM John Chayka has landed this offseason’s biggest prize in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins– two-time Stanley Cup champion, Team USA representative and hot dog enthusiast, Phil “The Thrill” Kessel.

Kessel brings his goalscoring prowess to the Western Conference for the first time in his career, having been drafted by the Boston Bruins 5th overall in the 2006 NHL draft, then playing with Boston until being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 and then again the Pittsburgh in 2015.

No. 81 had 82 points in 82 games played last season, which was down from career-high 34-58–92 totals in 2017-18. Additionally, he hasn’t missed a game since 2010.

Along with Carl Soderberg– another offseason acquisition in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche– Kessel and the Coyotes are revamped and poised to make a run for the postseason.

Arizona’s only ranked low in this forecast because of nearly a decade of middle of the road rosters and missed opportunities since losing in the 2012 Western Conference Final in five games to Los Angeles.

The Coyotes haven’t been back to the playoffs since, but they’re trending upward.

With Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun and Oliver Ekman-Larsson locked up on long-term contracts, the core has really come into fruition while Chayka remains active in the draft and trade market.

Now they just need a little luck on their side to avoid losing Antti Raanta to the injury bug again.

How would the Coyotes fail?

If this forecast actually turns out to be true and Arizona finished 7th in the division, because otherwise who would actually want to see them fail?

Edmonton Oilers: Pros and Cons

Pro: New GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett).

Con: Another new GM and a new head coach.

Pro: Connor McDavid!

Con: Plays for the Oilers.

Pro: They were able to trade Milan Lucic.

Con: While acquiring James Neal and retaining part of Lucic’s salary in the process, thereby spending more money than in the first place.

Pro: They should actually be better this year.

Con: We keep saying every year, even about a team that has the second-greatest player in the game behind Sidney Crosby on the roster.

Pro: There’s a lot of pending UFAs and RFAs on the roster.

Con: That means at least half of them are now going to have a career-year in a contract year and be overpaid either by Edmonton or other teams in the next offseason.

Pro: Two-time All Star Mike Smith signed a one-year deal to backup Mikko Koskinen.

Con: The average age of Edmonton’s goaltending duo is 34.

How would the Oilers fail?

How there’s any such thing as optimism besides having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton is incredible. If they make it to a wild card berth, it’d take McDavid playing every position, probably.

DTFR Podcast #166- New New New York

Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #126- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part III)

The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 Season Preview

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Vegas Golden Knights

51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division

Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1

Additions: F Daniel Carr, G Zach Fucale, F Alex Gallant, D Nick Holden, F Curtis McKenzie, D Jimmy Oligny, F Max Pacioretty (acquired from MTL), F Paul Stastny

Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: D Chris Casto, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, D Clayton Stoner

Re-signed: F William Carrier, G Oscar Dansk, F William Karlsson, D Colin Miller, F Tomas Nosek, F Brandon Pirri, F Ryan Reaves, D Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.

Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.

The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.

Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.

Foley wants to do it in half the time.

McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.

A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.

Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.

Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.

At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.

But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.

At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.

Why’s that?

On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.

Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.

Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.

Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.

With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.

One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.

Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.

It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.

Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.

Offseason Grade: B+

McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.

And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.

Calgary Flames 2018-19 Season Preview

Calgary Flames

37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Austin Czarnik, D Noah Hanifin, F Elias Lindholm, RW James Neal, RW Anthony Peluso, C Alan Quine, C Derek Ryan, LW Kerby Rychel

Subtractions: RW Troy Brouwer, LW Micheal Ferland, LW Tanner Glass, D Cody Goloubef, D Dougie Hamilton, C Rod Pelley, C Matt Stajan, RW Chris Stewart, RW Kris Versteeg

Re-signed: G Jon Gillies, RW Garnet Hathaway, C Mark Jankowski, LW Morgan Klimchuk, D Brett Kulak, G David Rittich

Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.

In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.

Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.

Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.

Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.

Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.

The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.

The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.

I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik

On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.

Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.

The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.

The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson

In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.

Offseason Grade: C-

They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-

They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-

They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-

They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-

Down the Frozen River Podcast #113- We’re Still UFAs for the Record

Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

It’s July 1st… Here’s some UFAs*

*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.

With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).

First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.

Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.

Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).

Five of the best UFA forwards:

1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)

Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.

He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.

For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.

2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)

van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.

Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.

Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.

Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?

3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).

Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.

4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.

Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.

Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.

5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.

Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.

If you can’t sign one of these five forwards, take a pamphlet on David Perron (66 points), Thomas Vanek (56 points), Riley Nash (41 points), Patrick Maroon (40 points) or Michael Grabner (36 points).

Five of the best UFA defenders:

1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).

Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).

If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.

2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)

Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.

Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.

He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.

3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)

DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).

Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.

4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.

de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.

5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)

Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.

Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.

If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.

Five of the best UFA goaltenders:

1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?

At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.

If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.

2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)

Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.

Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.

Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.

Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.

3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).

The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.

Khudobin will be overpaid simply because he’s a “durable” backup, but mostly because he’s younger than Lehtonen (34), Cam Ward (34) and Jaroslav Halak (33).

Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.

4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).

At 34, Ward isn’t getting any younger, but signs are pointing to the Chicago Blackhawks, where, at least they have Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the blueline to limit shots against.

Oh and a healthy Corey Crawford, hopefully, to really limit Ward’s workload. This is going to be like that time Marty Turco was Chicago’s backup, isn’t it?

5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.

The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).

Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).

If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*

Top-10 pending-UFAs based on 2017-18 cap hit

The 2018 offseason is sure to bring lots of spending with several high-caliber talents testing the waters of unrestricted free agency. Here’s a look at the top-10 available players with the highest cap hits from 2017-18 courtesy of CapFriendly.com.

The free agent market opens Sunday at noon ET.

1) C Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks), $8.000 million

Thornton has yet to win a Cup and re-signed with the Sharks last July for a little more than what Patrick Marleau got in his average annual value on his way out of San Jose with his three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 38-years-old, Thornton’s entering– if not well beyond– the twilight of his career and may retire.

Or he’ll come back for one last ride with San Jose as General Manager Doug Wilson looks to stockpile another Cup-or-bust roster with Evander Kane having re-signed for another seven years and the Sharks as a legitimate contender for John Tavares and others. Much like last season, Thornton could be playing the waiting game to a) not tie up any spending money San Jose has yet and b) to see what Wilson brings in.

He had 13-23–36 totals in 47 games played with the Sharks last season and battled injuries that kept him out of postseason action.

2) LW/RW Rick Nash (New York Rangers –> Boston Bruins), $7.800 million

Nash will gauge the open market and wait to sign a deal after July 1st as he is contemplating retirement altogether.

Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has indicated he’s open to bringing the 34-year-old winger back for another season in black-and-gold after Boston failed to snag 35-year-old KHLer returning to the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk, last week.

Sweeney also has plans to pursue John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Michael Grabner and others to solidify Boston’s second line as the Bruins are open to moving David Backes in a trade.

In 71 games with the Bruins and Rangers, Nash had 21-13–34 totals. He also scored three goals and had two assists (five points) in 12 postseason games with Boston after suffering a concussion in March.

3) C Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues –> Winnipeg Jets), $7.000 million

Winnipeg and Stastny, 32, have had a mutual interest in each other since the Jets acquired the veteran center at the trade deadline, however, Stastny could cash in as one of the better centers left in the market. The Montreal Canadiens have been rumored to be in touch with Stastny’s camp and may take a stab at the son of former intra-province rival Québec Nordiques legend, Peter Stastny.

Paul Stastny had 16-37–53 totals in 81 games with the Jets and Blues this season.

4) D Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings), $6.000 million

After spending his first 10 NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, Green spent the last three seasons with the Red Wings. The 32-year-old blueliner cashed in on a three-year, $6.000 million AAV deal in the midst of his prime and is beginning to reach the tail-end of optimal athletic ability in the modern game.

Despite having a no-movement clause, Green was open to whatever Detroit General Manager Ken Holland had in mind around the deadline as the defender is still in search of his first Cup. Green was not traded and had 8-25–33 totals in 66 games this season with the Red Wings as a top-6 defender.

5) C Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens –> Toronto Maple Leafs), $6.000 million

Plekanec broke into the NHL as a member of the Canadiens in 2003-04 and spent his entire career in Montreal before being traded to Toronto around the deadline this season in search of a Cup.

The 35-year-old shaved his trademark goatee at Lou Lamoriello’s discretion and even bought a new turtleneck, but amassed two assists in 17 games for the Maple Leafs down the stretch. Plekanec did, however, yield 6-20–26 totals in 77 games for Toronto and Montreal this season and added four points (two goals, two assists) in the Leafs seven-game series loss to the Boston Bruins in the First Round this postseason.

All signs point point Plekanec rejoining the Habs this summer.

6) G Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars), $5.900 million

Lehtonen, 34, shifted to a full-time backup role in Dallas this season as a result of Ben Bishop joining the Stars last summer and– despite a 14-14-1 record in 36 games (slightly below .500)– it paid off. His 2.58 goals against average and .911 save percentage is exactly what you ask from an average-to-slightly-above-average backup goaltender.

Stars General Manager Jim Nill doesn’t have a plan laid out for the eventual backup behind Bishop for the remainder of Bishop’s contract, but Nill’s in luck as this year’s backup goalie market is full of quality candidates for at least a year or two.

Lehtonen could be back on a smaller deal or Nill could pursue Carter Hutton, Anton Khudobin or literally anyone else and get a few more wins while Bishop rests.

7) D Toby Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets), $5.750 million

The Winnipeg Jets youth movement ultimately forced 33-year-old Toby Enstrom into the land of the obsolete. He had one goal and five assists (six points) in 43 games played.

He won’t be making anywhere near his $5.750 million cap hit from this season, but he still can provide an organization with some much needed defensive depth as a bottom-pair blueliner or seventh defender.

Meanwhile, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can utilize the newfound salary on other important pieces, like Patrik Laine‘s next contract after the 2018-19 season, for example.

T-8) D Brooks Orpik (Washington Capitals/Colorado Avalanche/UFA), $5.500 million

Orpik won his second Cup this season (first with the Capitals) and was subsequently traded with Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche as part of Washington’s salary dump venture to re-sign John Carlson (spoiler alert: it worked) at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic bought-out the remaining year on Orpik’s contract, making the 37-year-old defender a free agent a year ahead of schedule. Before he makes a comeback, he’ll have to sign elsewhere for much less than his $5.500 million cap hit.

T-8) C John Tavares (New York Islanders), $5.500 million

If Tavares doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders this offseason, he’ll become the biggest prize on the free agent market. Thanks to the interview period, we already know he’s met with representatives from six organizations (in no particular order)– the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Islanders have a new General Manager (Lou Lamoriello) and new head coach (Barry Trotz), but will front office moves that are sure to shake up components of the roster ultimately sway Tavares to stay or is the 27-year-old star-center going to pursue a chance to win the Cup elsewhere a lot sooner rather than later? We’ll know as soon as Tavares’s agent or a team announces a deal.

T-10) C/LW Valtteri Filppula (Philadelphia Flyers), $5.000 million

At 34-years-old, 11-22–33 totals in 80 games played isn’t terrible for someone that’d make a great third liner on any organization. Unfortunately for Filppula, a $5.000 million cap hit will.

The Flyers will undoubtedly move on and replace the veteran forward with someone younger from Lehigh Valley or elsewhere in the system, while Filppula should be able to secure a two or three year deal elsewhere at less value as a key “glue guy”.

T-10) LW/RW James Neal (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million

Instead of trading Neal by the trade deadline, Vegas General Manager George McPhee held onto the veteran winger for the ride and the Golden Knights came three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.

All season long, the 30-year-old NHL veteran came in clutch with dazzling highlight reel goals and 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) on the season in 71 games for the Knights. With a $5.000 million cap hit, Neal’s value could skyrocket– thanks to supply and demand– or stay around the same and provide a Cup contending team with the necessary offense and depth to get them over the hump.

T-10) C/RW Mikhail Grabovski (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million

Career-ending concussion related issues prevented Grabovski, 34, from suiting up with the Golden Knights in their inaugural season as Vegas utilized his $5.000 million cap hit to surpass the salary cap floor.