Well, there was no question that Nazem Kadri exceeded my expectations of him for the 2013 shortened season. Taking into account that he did well to figure in with the new coach in Toronto and really take charge of his own destiny, the kid scored some goals and racked up some points, which makes him a quality contender for a spot in the hockey pool draft in September.
Kadri is a restricted free agent and is in for quite the pay day, despite very little NHL experience, compared to some of his counterparts that are in the same boat. The 22-year old finished with 44 points in 48 games with the Leafs last season, which has him in the same market as Taylor Hall ($6 million cap hit) down to Matt Duchene ($3.5 million this year, $6 million in 2015) and including John Tavares ($5.5 million).
This doesn't bode very well for the Leafs, as they don't have a lot of cap space, $8.65 million for a max of 7 players, for the upcoming 2014 season. Yes, there has been plenty of speculation as to some trades and such, but nevertheless, if Kadri is going to be a long-term solution for the Leafs, and wants to be, he would be wise in taking a short-term deal, help the team and then look for the big money next season.
Next up on the list is Derek Stepan, who figures to be in a very similar boat as Kadri above him. Stepan has been a player with much growth to his name and actually some reliability for a lot of poolies out there, for his knack to quietly put up some points.
Stepan finished in a tie with Kadri in terms of points and overall ranking in the pool and also now sits in the wings of the New York Rangers organization as a restricted free agent this Summer. Of course, Stepan's road has been paved with more experience than Kadri's, which, if you were to ask me, is worth more in the long run, but I have my doubts that the NHL market will see it the same way, because there is always someone out there who would be paying more (or less), dictating the market. Fortunately for Glen Sather and the Rangers, Stepan is restricted and the offer sheets are not free-flowing with the cap going down.
In terms of the market, you have to believe that Stepan is looking at the same kind of names as Kadri is, albeit with a better argument.
If Kadri's situation with the Leafs is bad, then Stepan's situation with the Rangers is quite pleasant. With the Rangers doing well to clear up some cap space with Marian Gaborik out of the picture, they should have some room to give Stepan a reasonable deal and then fit in the rest of their remaining depth with relative ease.
Our first unrestricted free agent comes out of Philadelphia, by way of the compliance buyouts, given to each team, thanks to the new CBA and it's shrinking cap floors and ceilings. Ilya Bryzgalov signed a monster deal back in 2011, which was going to make him the franchise goaltender for nine years. How well did that go? Well, if the compliance buyout means anything, which it does, not well.
For the sake of cap hits, his is now down to zero for the Flyers and frankly, it doesn't quite matter to me how much the team is paying him out in cash, because it really doesn't affect the building of a team, except in the pockets of the owners. The general manager doesn't have that calculation to deal with when he's building his team... unless the owner says so. Which in the Flyers case... likely isn't occurring.
Bryzgalov is reportedly in Sweden working with one of the Elite teams over there, hoping for another shot at the NHL, but having a quick look at the clubs across the board, there is a pretty good chance that Bryzgalov will not feature in the league in the 2014 season, at least, not to start any way. It is unclear what his salary demands will be, but with cap hits the way they are and the situations outstanding, I can't see him coming back any time soon.
The top "readily available" or "market bearing" unrestricted free agent at the moment, appears to be Brad Boyes, who had himself a bit of a good year with the Islanders in the 2013 season. 35 points in all 48 games is an appealing scoring rate, but to not be signed into August has me wondering why.
It doesn't take long, when you break down the age range, Boyes is 31 and his points from last year, put both numbers into a small range (30 to 32 years old and 33 to 37 points in 2013) and you come up with some bigger names with some large cap hits. Mikko Koivu ($6.75 million), Jason Pominville ($5.3 million), Tomas Plekanec ($5 million) and Justin Williams ($3.65 million). Those are all names you wouldn't necessarily lump Boyes in with, but there he is. Boyes finished behind Koivu in scoring in this range and it's scary to think that this is the kind of money he might be looking for.
Boyes could sit for a while if he is looking for top end money, but if he came down to Williams' money and a reasonable term, I think he could fit somewhere nicely.
The maturation process of Cody Hodgson appears to be going the right way, according to his first full season with the Buffalo Sabres. There was no question that the kid had talent, when he was dealt to Buffalo from Vancouver, but the combination of lack of spots to compete for and a reported attitude problem, because of that lack of spots, meant that the deal was sort of inevitable. Boy, did the Sabres cash in on that. Now that Hodgson is a restricted free agent, does that mean he'll cash in on it too?
Hodgson had a pretty good year with the Sabres, finishing with 34 points in all 48 games, but did suffer from some streaky periods, which you won't really remember, unless you're doing your homework. Hodgson is in for a bit of a pay day, since he finished tops in his range in scoring, which includes names like Evander Kane & Jamie Benn ($5.25 million) and James Van Riemsdyk ($4.25 million), so it will be the job of the responsible GM to get the job done right for his club.
I have the Sabres currently figuring in with 18 locks for the roster at a cap hit of $55.5 million, leaving them roughly $8.8 million for five players. Hodgson is going to take a large chunk of that, but on the bright side, the Sabres do have a lot of talent in the wings, which I don't have as locks, that could figure in at a reasonable cost and get them to the cap ceiling and not over it.
The last name I'll look at right now on my list, finished 112th in pool scoring with 30 points in all 48 games and is an unrestricted free agent at the ripe old age of 38. Vaclav Prospal has been a very reasonable player in the NHL for the better part of his career, even in a place like Columbus, which hasn't been kind to scoring NHL players, since inception.
Prospal finished ahead of where I had him pegged for the 2013 season, but that still hasn't been enough for the Blue Jackets to come back and say, 'play for us again.'
For players 38 years old and older, Prospal did very well in the scoring ranks, finishing 5th, just ahead of Ray Whitney. The problem for Prospal is this... Whitney has a cap hit of $4.5 million with the Dallas Stars and is three years older than him. Is an NHL team, in this era of the lowered salary cap ceiling, going to make a push for Prospal in the $4 million range? Seems highly unlikely to me and at the same time, sort of disappoints me a little, since that could mean that Prospal goes home to play.
Prospal is an old vet that has some play left in his game, but at what price will he go down to and will he fit into that team's mould?