Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fringe Signings (July 31)

The Toronto Maple Leafs added a bit more grit to their line-up and another Randy Carlyle-type player in winger Daniel Winnik, who signed a 1-year, $1.3 million deal on Monday. Winnik had 6 goals and 30 points with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, helping the team to a huge regular season, which was only cut short by an early playoff exit in the Spring.  I don't necessarily see Winnik's numbers improving with the move to Toronto, but put in the right situation, he could bring a much needed X-factor to a Toronto team that will be desperate to make the playoffs again.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild avoided arbitration with forward Justin Fontaine. Fontaine played in 66 games, scoring 13 goals and 21 points, good enough for 256th among all forwards.  Fontaine sits somewhat lower on the depth chart for scoring, but might not be in bad shape, if he was to play 75-80 games in the 2015 season.  The undrafted forward signed a 2-year deal on Tuesday, which will take him into unrestricted free agency, so he would be wise to do himself a favour and play well over these next two seasons, so he can get paid in his next deal.

The Los Angeles Kings avoided arbitration with forward Dwight King on Wednesday, signing him to a 3-year deal, carrying a cap hit of $1.95 million per season.  King had 30 points in 70 games for the Kings in 2014 and provided an everyday presence that was both productive and intimidating at times.  I can see King improving on his numbers slightly in the 2015 season, which may bring him to the fringe of being pool-worthy and there might be a team or two that might take a flyer on him as their last forward.

Also on Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets reached an agreement with unrestricted free agent forward Matt Halischuk, signing him to a new 1-year deal. Halischuk was signed by the Jets last season, after being bought out by the Predators and this Summer, the Jets didn't qualify the restricted free agent, sending him to the open market.  The market obviously wasn't kind to the 26-year old forward, as he had only scored 5 goals and 10 points in 46 games for Winnipeg last season.  Halischuk signed a two-way deal, which will make him a cheaper fit, if he is playing in the AHL for an extended period of time.

The trouble of playing behind a goalie that likes lots of minutes is that your hockey pool stock goes down significantly as a backup goalie.  Robin Lehner has this issue, playing behind Craig Anderson, and that's what makes him somewhat of a fringe signing, because he isn't going to be at the top of anyone's list and there might be a backup or two that could be a better pick for more minutes.  Lehner signed a 3-year deal on Thursday, worth $2.225 million per year, but he may be lucky to repeat his performance of 12 wins and 26 points from 2014, if Anderson remains healthy through the year.

Another successful arbitration diversion, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and forward Nick Spaling came to terms on a 2-year deal, worth $4.4 million in total.  Spaling was acquired by the Penguins in this off-season from the Nashville Predators in a deal that saw James Neal go the other way.  The change of scenery for Spaling, going to a more offensively rich team like the Penguins, could seriously give the 25-year old forward a boost to his numbers, where he totaled 13 goals and 32 points in 71 games for Nashville last year.  If Spaling can get a sniff of the top six in Pittsburgh, he may get an opportunity to become a solid sleeper.

Leafs Lock Down Gardiner

On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the biggest signing of the day, locking up restricted free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner, signing him to a 5-year deal, worth $20.25 million.

Gardiner was set to go to arbitration with the club, but the two side avoided the confrontational negotiations and settled on a long-term deal, which will keep the 24-year old blueliner employed for the foreseeable future.

In the 2014 season, Gardiner finished 46th among all defensemen in scoring, scoring 10 goals and 31 points and his stock continues to rise.  There is a belief that we have yet to see the best from Gardiner, but with the crowded blueline in Toronto, there is also a belief that we may not see him reach his potential in a Maple Leafs jersey, rather he may continue to be on the trading block.

Salary CapThe Leafs now have six defensemen on their projected roster, coming in at almost $21 million.  It is a big chunk of change for only six players, but between their potential and some of the veteran presence on the team, an argument can be made that they have one of the better defense corps in the league.

Overall, I have the Leafs in with 19 players on their projected roster and they still have about $7.1 million left in cap space to the ceiling to slot in those last four players.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frolik Lands Back in Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Jets have been awfully quiet in this off-season, almost too quiet.

On Tuesday morning, the team announced that they had re-signed their last restricted free agent, forward Michal Frolik, to a new 1-year deal, worth $3.3 million.

The 26-year old Czech forward and the team were reportedly in negotiations for either a short-term deal to make sure he is in camp or a longer-term deal, in the neighbourhood of five years, to make sure he is in a Jets uniform for the foreseeable future.  If the Jets and Frolik don't come to a longer-term agreement in the new year, the former 2006 1st round pick will become an unrestricted free agent.

In 2014, Frolik finished 118th among all forwards in scoring, picking up 15 goals and 42 points in 81 games, proving to be a good depth scoring forward on the team, as they tried to reach the playoffs in their first season in the Western Conference.

Frolik should be a good candidate for a late-round forward in the hockey pool draft, but I wouldn't project him much further than what he had last season, as the team around him hasn't really improved enough on paper for my liking.  I will have him down around the 40-point mark for the 2015 season.

Salary CapThe Jets still have four spots open on their projected roster, even after the Frolik signing, and they have $11.6 million in cap space left to fill those spaces. The Jets don't have a great deal in the coffers for immediate impact talent, but they may have to use whatever they do have to fill in some gaps, if they don't start shopping in the unrestricted free agent aisles.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Red Wings Re-Sign Tatar

The Detroit Red Wings finalized a deal with restricted free agent forward Tomas Tatar, which will see the 23-year old Slovak stay with the club for the next three seasons for a cap hit of $2.75 million per.

Tatar was a part of the group of young Red Wings that kept the team afloat when the veterans were plagued with injury and that was enough to earn the youngster a likely spot on the opening night roster or at the very least, a spot on the projected roster on Monday.

In 73 games with the club, Tatar finished the season with 19 goals and 39 points, which was good enough for 192nd overall in pool scoring, 136th among forwards.

In 2015, I think it will be the time for Tatar to really take flight, especially if he can find himself a top six role with the team, hopefully playing with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.  My early projection for him will be in the 50-point range, which could boost him into the top 100, assuming a full season is played.

Salary CapThis is a pretty reasonable signing for Detroit, who isn't struggling with the salary cap ceiling as much this season, like they have had in the past.  Tatar's signing brings them up to 21 players on the projected roster with just over $6 million left in cap space, if they decided to fill those last two roster spots.

The Red Wings only have one major RFA left on their list of "things to do this Summer" and that is defenseman Danny DeKeyser.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rangers Avoid With Brassard As Well

The New York Rangers have done it again! Avoiding an arbitration hearing with the third of three restricted free agents, who were scheduled to have such a hearing to talk about the pros and cons over the last season. The third being Derick Brassard, who came away with a 5-year, $25 million deal on Sunday, leaving defenseman John Moore as the only remaining major RFA to sign this Summer.

Brassard's new deal will now take him into unrestricted free agency, as this was the last time he would be eligible under the RFA guidelines.

The 26-year old forward had a good year in the Big Apple in 2014, scoring 18 goals and 45 points in 81 games with the Rangers, which had him ranked 138th overall in pool scoring, 101st among all forwards.

In the playoffs, Brassard played a big role in the team's run to the Stanley Cup Finals (12 points in 23 games), which should have given the long-term Ranger a great deal of confidence going into his second full season in a blue shirt.  Brassard was dealt to New York from Columbus at the 2013 season at the trade deadline and hasn't looked back since.

At first look at some of the projections for the 2015 season, I don't have Brassard as high as his 45 points to start my studying, expecting just a shade less, putting him in the 40-point bracket, working my 5-point brackets for sorting purposes.  There wasn't enough in his game to boost his numbers, plus the changes in the overall scope of the team was another reason to stay closer to the status quo.

Salary CapNow, the Rangers are working their way into a bit of a tight spot with their projected roster and their remaining cap space.  The team now has 18 players on their roster, 11 forwards, five defenders and a goaltending tandem, coming in at $64.1 million, leaving about $4.9 million left to spend on a maximum of five more roster spots.  At this rate, it doesn't look like the Rangers will run with all 23 players, which should help their cause on the books, especially with Brassard being the fifth player to be in the $5 million and above cap hit range.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 Draft Class Signings (July 26)

The Vancouver Canucks didn't wait too long to get their second 1st round pick signed up, as forward Jake Virtanen signed on Friday, making back-to-back days with top end picks being signed on.  Virtanen is set to receive the full $925,000 salary to start his entry-level deal, but much like the two picks before him, there may not be too big of a rush to get him into the NHL.  Virtanen was listed as being one of the more pure goal scorers available in the NHL Entry Draft this year, which was something that had to be enticing for the Canucks, as their goal scoring was abysmal in 2014.  I would expect Virtanen back with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL next season.

In an exciting story, the first Australian player was drafted into the NHL in June and then signed on Friday, as the Washington Capitals put pen to paper with their 3rd round pick, Nathan Walker.  Walker has already been a part of the Capitals organization, albeit not as officially as being drafted, but was under the watchful eye of the team, as he played with the Hershey Bears, the Caps' AHL affiliate, last season, scoring 5 goals and 11 points in 43 games.  It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the 20-year old will have in camp, but at least he'll get another crack at it.

Reimer Signs, Waits For His Way Out

The back-up goaltending position is anything but sorted out with the re-signing of James Reimer to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.  Last year's second goaltender for the Leafs signed a 2-year year deal, worth $4.6 million, avoiding arbitration just before the end of the working week.

Reimer, 26, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this deal concludes, which should open some doors down the road.

At the start of the 2014 season, Reimer was embattled with Jonathan Bernier for the number one job in the biggest hockey market in Canada and was possibly slighted by the fact that the team went after a number one goalie after Reimer led the team back into the playoffs after eight years and almost made it into the second round of the 2013 playoffs.  At any chance Reimer had to redeem himself and try to earn the job, the Toronto media circles were not too kind and when Reimer wasn't seeing time, they were awfully caring then, trying to stir up a story and I would say that hurt his play and his numbers by the end of the year.

His totals in the 2014 season were minimal, winning 12 games and earning 26 points for the hockey pool, making him only the 46th ranked goaltender in pool scoring, barely being a viable pool goalie.

Since the end of the season, it has been out there that Reimer has asked the Leafs organization for a trade out of Toronto and the Leafs will try to make good on that for him, but if you were to look at the market today, there isn't a lot of options open for a goalie like Reimer.  He may have to be patient and even head to Leafs camp before a deal can get done.

Salary CapIt has been pretty well-documented on the blog that the Maple Leafs may be keeping a number of their roster spots open for some of their European signings, so when I say that their projected roster is only at 18 players, as of the Reimer signing, it should have a few more, but who is really to say that those guys will earn their spot? The inclusion of Reimer now brings their cap number up to $57.9 million with five spots open to fight for, leaving $11.1 million to pick from.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fringe Signings (July 25)

On Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens announced the signing of forward Lars Eller to a new 4-year deal worth $14 million. This looks to be a pretty pricey deal for a player that only scored 12 goals and 26 points in 77 games, ranking 324th overall in pool scoring, 219th among all forwards.  I don't think Eller has enough in his game to really make that leap into being pool-worthy, let alone a $14 million deal, but the Canadiens seem to think he's worth while, so he will be an interesting wild card come draft day.

The goaltending situation on Long Island appears to have changed a great deal, as there are a couple new faces expected to take over, but one roster goalie from last season, Kevin Poulin, has signed a new deal with the club on Thursday, and he could make the decision difficult on who backs up Jaroslav Halak.  Poulin won 11 games on an injury-riddled Islanders team last season, so he is somewhat deserving of another kick at the can in 2015 and he may have a legitimate shot at being the back-up, which means he could be worth a few points as a depth goalie next year.

2014 Draft Class Signings (July 25)

On Thursday, the Vancouver Canucks locked in one of their two 1st round picks from June, the 24th overall selection, centre Jared McCann, giving him the rookie maximum salary for his 3-year entry-level contract.  McCann was nearly a point-per-game player with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL in 2014, but was listed more as a two-way centre in prospect file, according to the Hockey News.  McCann has also been a member of some of teams at the National level, playing in the U17's in 2013 and the U18's in 2014 and will likely be on the radar for the World Juniors.

On Friday, another one of the draft class' big four, Sam Bennett, put pen to paper with the Calgary Flames, signing his 3-year entry-level deal.  Bennett was believed to be in the running for the 1st overall pick, heading into the draft, acknowledged to have some top-tier talent, but fell through to the 4th overall pick.  Bennett played for the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL, developing his blend of physical and two-way play, something that should blend in well with the new crop of Flames players in their system.  I would have to imagine that he'll push for a spot as early as this Fall.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sabres Add Benoit to Blueline

The Buffalo Sabres may have added a steal to their Summer list of accomplishments, as they signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Andre Benoit to a new 1-year deal, reportedly worth $800,000.

Benoit was a bit of a surprise contributor to a potent Colorado Avalanche team in 2014, scoring 7 goals and 28 points in 79 games for the Central Division regular season title holders.  Benoit finished 57th in defenseman scoring, thanks to his good year and he will definitely get some consideration at the hockey pool draft.

Of course, moving from the high-powered Avalanche to the rebuilding Sabres will take a toll on his numbers, so tread carefully when selecting Benoit.  This kind of move will likely hurt his projections for the 2015 season.

Salary CapRebuilding comes at a reasonable cost in Buffalo, as they remain more of a budget team going into 2015. The signing of Benoit brings their cap number up to $53.5 million, just over the floor number, with only two roster spots left to fill. I would expect some of the team's youth to fill those spots, so they won't be spending much more, unless they get a screaming deal on another unrestricted free agent.

Avs Re-Sign O'Reilly

One of the more intriguing restricted free agent stories of this off-season comes to an end and it did so without the use of arbitration, where the hearing was to go today.

Ryan O'Reilly has re-signed with the Colorado Avalanche, receiving a new 2-year deal, worth $12 million, which will give him a $6 million cap hit for each of the two seasons.  It works out to be a $1 million raise on his last cap hit for the 2014 season.

O'Reilly was a key feature of an Avalanche offense that was quite potent through the 2014 season.  In 80 games, O'Reilly scored 24 goals and 64 points, while only taking two minutes in penalties, earning him the Lady Byng Award for the year.

The 23-year old forward is one of six Avalanche players going into the 2015 season that finished in the top 100 of pool scoring last season.  Colorado should be an interesting team to watch, despite losing Paul Stastny to free agency, but gaining Jarome Iginla in the process.  Projections for the Avalanche should be positive going into this season and this team could be a contender when it is all said and done.

Salary CapThe addition of O'Reilly to the projected roster was not a cheap one, which now leaves the Avalanche with about $6.7 million left against the ceiling with three spots left to fill.  The team will likely still add at least another forward and defenseman and with the depth they have in the system, they could be relatively priced additions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rangers Sign Two Over Two Days

The New York Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with their two of their biggest restricted free agents, as forward Mats Zuccarello signed on Tuesday to a new 1-year deal, worth $3.5 million and on Wednesday morning, forward Chris Kreider signed a 2-year deal, worth $4.95 million, a $2.475 million cap hit each season.

Both players were big parts of the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Spring and each narrowly signed new deals before they had to go through the arbitration process.

Zuccarello had a great 2014 season in the Big Apple, playing in 77 games, scoring 19 goals and 59 points with the club, ranking 67th overall in pool scoring and 50th among forwards.

In a 24-team hockey pool draft, he would be sitting in the 3rd round area of scoring, but the unfamiliarity of his name to the overall scope of most hockey pools may see his stock drop a little.  I don't necessarily think it's unfair, but I think he could surprise a few people again in 2015, as his overall game is straight-forward, without a great deal of flash and dash, which can go away from time to time.

The 26-year old Norwegian also played in the Sochi Olympics for his home country, played in three games and was unable to register a point in round robin play.

Kreider also had a pretty good season, as the 23-year old played in 66 games for the Rangers in 2014, scoring 17 goals and 37 points.  Those numbers have him more in the fringe of forwards scoring, as he finished 211th overall and 148th among all forwards.

The playoff run should boost some of the marginal hockey pool players for the Rangers and Kreider may fall into that category, but I think that will play well for someone in the hockey pool draft, as his talent is certainly on the upswing and his game can only get better amongst a reasonable playoff team like the Rangers.

Salary CapThe Rangers still have quite a bit of work to do on their roster and with these two contracts now on the books, the purse strings just got a little tighter for free agents like Derick Brassard and John Moore, their last two big restricted free agents.

On my projected roster for the Rangers, they only have 17 players listed on it, leaving about six spots left to fill, roughly four forwards and a couple defensemen.  The Rangers are now running with only $9.9 million in cap space, which only works out to $1.6 million per new deal left to go to fill up the roster.  The team does have a number of prospects that can come up and fill those voids for cheap, which is a definite option, but you know they are still working their way through the free agent market for one more big ticket item.