Rumor Roundup: O’Reilly and Avalanche headed towards another contract clash?

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For the second time in as many years, the Colorado Avalanche appear headed to another round of contentious contract negotiations with Ryan O’Reilly.

The Avalanche recently elected to take O’Reilly, 23, to salary arbitration rather than pony up $6.5 million to qualify his rights. The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater reports the two sides can continue to negotiate up until July 15, but if still unresolved a date will be set for an arbitration hearing.

Dater claims the Avalanche prefer to use his annual average salary of $5 million as a starting point for negotiations, while O’Reilly’s agent Pat Morris believes it should begin at his actual salary ($6.5 million) for this season. Should this go to arbitration, the new CBA stipulates O’Reilly cannot receive anything less than 85 percent of his actual salary, which would be $5.5 million for 2014-15. He can also chose a one- or two-year contract.

Morris indicated O’Reilly hopes to remain with the Avalanche, but as he’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agent status in two years, this could become a year-to-year situation until his UFA eligibility. This prompted Dater to speculate the Avalanche could shop O’Reilly, noting rival GMs can contact all free agents – restricted and unrestricted – starting June 25, plus there’s a five-day window (July 1 to 5) where O’Reilly can sign an offer sheet. He suggests O’Reilly’s trade value could fetch the stud defenseman the Avs need to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Do the Calgary Flames want Jason Spezza?

Jason Spezza (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The NHL’s buyout period has begun and runs to 5 p.m. EST June 30. This year is also the final one where teams can use compliance buyouts to shed contracts without the calculation counting against their salary cap.

The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently summarized the details of the buyout calculation and provided a listing of teams that have one or both compliance buyouts remaining. Only players under contract prior to Sept. 15, 2012 are eligible for such buyouts.

It’s expected Buffalo Sabres winger Ville Leino will receive such a buyout. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports Leino’s agent, Markus Lehto, has had a “few very short discussions” with Sabres GM Tim Murray regarding his client. Vogl notes Murray has said it’s a “very good possibility” the two sides will part ways.

Over the course of the playoffs there was growing speculation the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings could respectively buy out Brad Richards and Mike Richards. Of the pair, Brad is the most likely candidate. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes the center will “almost assuredly” be bought out to free up cap space to re-sign several notable free agents, including Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman.

Other compliance buyout candidates could include Columbus’ R.J. Umberger, Dallas’ Erik Cole, New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone and Vancouver’s David Booth.

SPEZZA-TO-FLAMES RUMOR BURNS OUT QUICKLY
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports the Calgary Flames made a pitch for Spezza, offering up Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, possibly defenseman Dennis Wideman and one of their second- or third-round picks. Garrioch considers that offer insufficient and cites sources claiming the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are on Spezza’s 10-team “no-trade” list. Read more

Where is Martin Brodeur headed in his NHL swan song?

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils

This free agent season will be like none we’ve seen before if only for the simple reason the winningest goalie in the history of the game is making himself available to the open market.

If the NHL were run by an advisory board of mentors and guidance counselors rather than businessmen, there would be a meeting to discuss how best to handle this potentially sticky situation.

Isn’t it best served to have Martin Brodeur one day retire in all his glory as a member of the New Jersey Devils? Is it really necessary for 42-year-old Brodeur, with his game in decline, to play another season? How does it look having a goaltending icon serving as a backup, playing just three or four times a month?

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Top 5: Points by a defenseman in a single playoff run

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At 24, Drew Doughty has already etched himself quite the legacy. The Max Kaminsky Trophy for the Ontario League’s best defenseman, two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup, and perhaps a second league title on the way. At his current pace, leading the playoffs in defenseman scoring, a Conn Smythe Trophy could be Doughty’s next accolade.

With 17 points so far, Doughty’s playoff point total doesn’t quite crack the top 30 all-time highest-scoring playoff seasons by a defender. But with the potential to play six more games (though he’d surely rather play only three more), Doughty only needs four more points to leapfrog his way into the top 10. There’s a good chance he does, but there’s no chance he cracks the top three. Here’s the five most productive playoff runs by defensemen. Read more

NHL draft combine: New GMs dive right in

tim-Murray

The NHL draft combine is officially underway right now in Toronto, giving teams a chance to get to know more than 100 of the top prospects available this summer. But for a cohort of new GMs in the league, they also have to get familiar with their new scouting staffs.

“I’m still in the process,” said Buffalo’s Tim Murray, who was hired way from the Ottawa Senators organization in early January. “The first time I met the whole staff was a couple weeks ago at our amateur meetings. You sit in there and listen and right off the bat you’re trying to put a name to a face. But you’re also trying to evaluate who has strong opinions and who doesn’t.”

While new Washington Capitals GM Brian McLellan was an internal hire, Murray is not alone in having a new crew to depend on. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving was with the Phoenix Coyotes before his jump in stature, while Jim Benning went from the Boston Bruins to the Vancouver Canucks. With Buffalo, Calgary and Vancouver all picking in the top six at the draft, stakes are high. Murray plans on letting the Sabres scouting staff ask most of the questions in the interview process with the kids at the combine and that will give him insight into both the player and the evaluator.

“Some of the guys without strong opinions may speak when they feel strongly about a player and that’s fine too,” he said. “You’re evaluating: it’s similar to watching players. Who has strong opinions and who can back them up with facts?”

Luckily for Murray, he doesn’t have to change philosophies when it comes to making picks: The Sabres are rebuilding and can’t get position-specific with their marquee selection.

“Hey, we’re a 30th place team, so we have lots of needs,” he said. “We do have some good young players coming up in different positions but we need to take the best player available. There are a lot of immediate needs, but we’re not going to address them. We’re going to go through this long-term, take the best player available and if he has to go back to junior, so be it.”

It’s a veteran stance from a rookie GM, though Murray has tons of experience in an NHL front office. And while Murray is still getting familiar with his staff, he knows his way around a draft table.

 

Top 10: 2014 unrestricted free agents with biggest cap hits

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It’s the new normal of the unrestricted free agency period: there’s not much talent on the market anymore. And the talent that is available? Veterans past their prime, many of whom hit the market after playing out massive deals.

There’s no way all 10 of the athletes on this list get a raise this summer. At least one will, and not surprisingly, it’s the player who’s a twentysomething and not a thirtysomething. However, they’ll all have numerous suitors. The insanity and desperation of GMs during UFA season is a certainty. Here’s the 10 players with the highest cap hits who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

10. Andrei Markov$5.75 million — age 35 (as of July 1)
If you have a few hours to kill, look up Markov’s injury history. Those knees have been through trench warfare. After scoring 64 points in 2008-09, the Mr. Bean lookalike played 45, then seven, then 13 games in the following three seasons. The Canadiens took a major risk by signing Markov to a three-year deal a season after he’d missed all but seven games, but the gamble paid — the Russian rearguard missed just one regular season game over the next two productive seasons. Despite his age and injury history, Markov should cash in with a deal that pays at least $4 million. Hard to see him signing anywhere but Montreal, but that’s how I felt about Sergei Gonchar before he left Pittsburgh for Ottawa as a 36-year-old. Read more

Benning’s first move as new Canucks GM should be to deal the Sedins, Kesler and Edler

Adam Proteau
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin  (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

If reports regarding Jim Benning taking over as Vancouver Canucks GM this week are correct, his first order of business will be clear: deciding exactly what this team really is. Are the Canucks just a re-tool away from a return to the playoffs, or do they need more substantive personnel changes and a longer timeline to reshape themselves into a bona fide, year-in, year-out Stanley Cup contender?

The answer should be just as clear: as currently comprised, the Canucks are nothing more than an ongoing example of the law of diminishing returns. And if Benning, new team president Trevor Linden and owner Francesco Aquilini deny what many in the hockey world can see plainly, it won’t make a difference which coach is hired to replace the dearly departed John Tortorella; the suffering period will be extended and fan discontent will continue to metastasize.

In so many ways, the Canucks resemble the Calgary Flames when Jarome Iginla was the cornerstone of that franchise. Nothing really changed when Darryl Sutter’s seven-year tenure as GM ended in 2010; Jay Feaster took over and – with the full blessing of team president Ken King and owner Murray Edwards – the Flames still chose not to deal Iginla for more than two years. The Flames continued to struggle and got half-pennies on the dollar when they eventually moved Iginla to Pittsburgh. That was two solid years of delusional thinking that only delayed a long-overdue basement-to-rooftop rebuild.

Should Benning decide he must hold on to the Canucks’ veterans at all costs, Vancouver will find itself in the same situation. Read more

Copycat alert: Does Montreal’s win change the NHL’s emphasis from big and strong to small and crafty?

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

If the NHL is a bunch of copycats like we’ve come to expect over the years, what will the league do now that bigger, meaner teams like Boston and St. Louis have fallen by the wayside and smaller, quicker teams like Montreal and the New York Rangers have advanced to the final four?

Follow suit and shift away from size and strength towards a more up-tempo, active game?

We shall see next season.

If the biggest and meanest team of all, the Los Angeles Kings, fall to the middle-of-the-pack size-wise Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal Friday, rest assured the league will take notice.

Montreal’s seven-game victory over Boston was a triumph for the small guy. For several seasons now, the Canadiens have made a concerted effort to get bigger, stronger and meaner, drafting the likes of Jarred Tinordi and Michael McCarron with high selections. But those players haven’t stepped in yet and Montreal remains pint-sized, icing a roster with a league-high nine forwards and four defensemen who stand 6-foot or smaller. The Habs are at the bottom of the NHL weight scale as well with just one regular (Alexei Emelin) weighing 220 pounds or more.

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