At what point this summer do we change the “U” in UFA to unwanted?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Washington Capitals

For those NHL players who don’t step willingly into retirement, there eventually comes a day when UFA stands for unwanted free agent rather than unrestricted free agent.

As July ends and August begins, we’re now closer to the start of NHL training camps than we are the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For unsigned UFAs, that’s an added layer of anxiety. What if nobody wants me and I’ve played my last NHL game?

Take a browse through capgeek.com and you’ll see half the NHL teams are already at the 23-man NHL roster limit. Another nine teams are at 22 players. And that doesn’t even include the several dozen or so non-roster rookie prospects who will surely make big-league rosters in October.

So not a lot of roster openings remain.

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With no resolution in sight, Canadiens taking arbitration risk with P.K. Subban

Ken Campbell
P

Barring a couple of last minute settlements, Rand Simon of Newport Sports and Andre Lepage of the BCF law firm in Montreal will have a very busy couple of days. And they’ll probably get to know each other a lot better.

Simon, a former staffer here at THN and now an indispensible contract resource for Newport Sports, is scheduled to argue the salary arbitration cases for Nick Spaling of the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens Friday. Lepage, whose firm is retained by both the Penguins and Canadiens, will be arguing in front of the arbitrator in favor of the teams involved.

Of the 23 salary arbitration cases that were originally filed, only Spaling and Subban remain unresolved. Twenty came to terms before their hearings and Vladimir Sobotka of the St. Louis Blues, who will play in the Kontinental League next season, was awarded a one-year deal for $2.725 million, which he must honor whenever he returns to the NHL.

The arbitration case involving Subban is certainly the most compelling and prominent of all those that were filed and it’s looking as though the two sides are on a collision course that will see this thing go the distance. The two sides have had a history of having difficulty in contract negotiations and as of Wednesday morning at least, were not even close to consummating a deal that is suitable for both sides.

And there’s no doubt the Canadiens are taking a substantial risk here. In their pre-arbitration filings, the Subban camp is asking for $8.5 million and the Canadiens are requesting an award of $5.25 million. The Canadiens could have elected to take a two-year award, but chose only one. And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, Subban will still be one year away from being an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season and the Canadiens have the option of taking him to arbitration next summer. If Subban doesn’t have a banner season, the Canadiens can come in with an offer of up to a 15 per cent pay cut on whatever Subban is awarded.

Secondly, a two-year award would not allow the Canadiens to even talk to Subban about a contract extension for at least 12 months, whereas a one-year deal will allow them to try to hammer out a deal with Subban starting Jan. 1, 2015.

But the risk for the Canadiens is very real. If Subban has an even better season in 2014-15, he could take the Canadiens to arbitration again next summer and really torch them on a one-year deal. If all that happens and he goes through arbitration again, it’s difficult to fathom Subban wouldn’t simply play out his last season before unrestricted free agency then explore the market. And even though the Canadiens can announce as early as June 15 of next year that they intend to take him to arbitration, any team would be free to submit an offer sheet before July 5. The Canadiens would then either face the prospect of losing Subban for draft picks or be forced to match the offer and not be able to trade him for a year.

Either way, Subban wins here. The Canadiens request of $5.25 million represents a 40 percent raise on the $3.75 million Subban made last season. And that’s the worst-case scenario for him. Best case will be arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier chooses Subban’s number of $8.5 million, but she can also pick a number anywhere between the two. (Spaling filed a salary request of $2.85 million for next season, while the Penguins countered with $1.65 million.)

Subban’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday and the decision must come down by Sunday afternoon. The two sides have until the decision to work out a deal on their own, but the reality is that if this one gets to the hearing stage, there almost certainly won’t be a deal.

So the fate of one of the NHL’s best defensemen and one of its most marketable players is very much up in the air. And if it goes to arbitration, Canadiens fans had better get accustomed to uncertainty surrounding Subban, probably for the next two years.

NHL coaching is now about relationships as much as it is Xs-and-Os

Adam Proteau
Evgeni Malkin (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston traveled to Russia this weekend to talk with star center Evgeni Malkin about the team’s new direction in the wake of sweeping change to management and the playing roster. The trip is a must for Johnston, because, now more than ever before, relationships can mean the difference between coaches winning and losing at hockey’s highest levels.

The days of autocrat bench bosses barking orders at their charges are long-gone. Just ask the short-gone John Tortorella and his former employers in Vancouver who can’t do enough to distance themselves from that awful experiment. The Canucks replaced Tortorella with Willie Desjardins, an affable, considerate man who paid his dues in the hockey world, but who also has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in social work. Desjardins may not succeed in his new gig, but his well-rounded background will serve as the template for NHL coaches in the years to come.

Seeing the continued evolution of the coaching profession brings to mind something former Leafs executive Dave Poulin told THN a few years back: he believed the label “coach” didn’t accurately describe what the men who served in the role did every day. He thought baseball had it right in calling their coaches “managers”, because so much of the average NHL coach’s job today is about managing: managing on-ice strategic adjustments – in-game and game-to-game – and, more importantly, managing the personalities of players as they attempt to form a cohesive unit. Read more

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews & Mario Lemieux lead list of all-time most uncomfortable NHLer commercials

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Endorsing products has been a part of being a top talent in the NHL for nearly as long as the league has been in existence. Advertisers want the star power of hockey players, even if the low-key personalities of those players don’t make them natural public pitchmen.

Although some players do well in the role, more often than not, NHL players hawking products on TV is an exercise in embarrassment. In reverse order, here are the five most embarrassing TV ads featuring NHLers of the modern era:

5. Adam Oates goes dating for the NHL. When he was a member of the Boston Bruins, Oates inexplicably said yes to this commercial, which paints him as a lovelorn hockey star wearing his equipment in a restaurant, as as lovelorn hockey stars are wont to do. From the unfortunately-phrased “loose rebounds” comment to Oates’ weirdly shame-ridden “It wouldn’t be the first time” answer to getting shot down, this ad doesn’t make you want to buy an NHL ticket. It makes you want to sign him up for eharmony.com.


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The five most evil hockey photoshops we could come up with

Lucic_MTL_Fixed1

Summer is a time for fun in the hockey world. But sometimes that fun can be a little dark. One of my favorite THN issues every year comes before the trade deadline, when we often take a player likely on the move and photoshop him into another team’s uniform based on his possible destination. For instance, we once had Mats Sundin in a Vancouver sweater – the team he would eventually leave the Leafs for, albeit not at the deadline.

With that in mind, I dare you to peruse the five photoshops here, which can only be characterized as wrong.

Above, we see what would happen if Boston’s Milan Lucic had a change of heart and joined Montreal, where he could celebrate goals with current enemy Alexei Emelin. With a special thanks to Andre Valle of the The Hockey News art team (who did all the hard work), here are more of the worst offenders we came up with.

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Rumor Roundup: Brodeur’s patience will extend into the season

MartinBrodeur

Former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur remains available in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market. The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti recently reported Brodeur spoke with Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay about their backup jobs, but both clubs went with other options.

Gulitti also reports Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan confirmed on June 28 his club expressed interest in the future Hall of Famer as a backup for Jonathan Bernier, but said at Brodeur’s age (42) “it’s really about fit”.  The Leafs still hold the rights to James Reimer, who has an arbitration hearing slated for July 28 unless he and the Leafs reach an agreement on a new contract.

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The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Long-term deals great if you give them to the right players

Doughty

At one point during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement during the 2012 lockout, a juncture during which things weren’t looking particularly good, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly outlined the league’s insistence on limiting contracts to five years and called it, “the hill we will die on.”

Everyone knows you never end a sentence in a preposition – the correct way to say it would have been, “It’s the hill on which we will die” – and you don’t make extreme statements during negotiations that you’re going to later have to retract. The NHL did not get its five-year contract limit and it didn’t die on any hill. Read more