Welcome to the NHL Draft in chilly Montreal. As we ramp up for what may be another unusual season, with a flat cap that is already causing trouble for some teams, there has already been some activity in the trade market as teams attempt to reshape their team for the start of the new season in January. Elliott, what are you hearing down on the Draft floor?
EF: Thanks James. As you know, there is a lot of talk about Vancouver expected to make a number of moves in the coming days. Not only them, but teams tight to the cap like Anaheim, St. Louis, Tampa, Vegas and others…but also teams who have valuable cap space, like Ottawa, Buffalo, and New Jersey. We’ve also heard the Avalanche, who have a large amount of cap space, are going ‘all-in’ this off-season to make a big push for the Cup before they have to start paying guys like Cale Makar, Gabe Landeskog, and eventually, Nate MacKinnon. So we expect them to be active this weekend. And on that front, we’ve heard quite a bit about the possibility of Marc Andre Fleury moving to the Avs to solidify their goaltending situation. He’s got a big cap hit at $7M a year for this year and next, but Colorado can afford it and move some pieces around next season. No one has confirmed anything, but we expect more on this as the Draft gets underway tomorrow and then free agency starts on Friday. And with Vegas actively pursuing Alex Pietrangelo, they’re going to need the cap room.
JD: Lot of traffic flying around, Elliott. Thanks for keeping us on top of it. And now I turn to our panel of Insiders…
(Two hours later): JD: Elliott, we hear you’ve got some breaking news?
EF: That’s right James. Throw all that stuff out the window that we said about Fleury. He’s going to the Buffalo Sabres! No one saw this coming, as he has a 10-team No-Trade list, most folks would’ve assumed Buffalo to be on the list. Vegas is not retaining any money here, and they are also sending defensemen Alex Martinez, along with a 3rd round pick to Buffalo. In exchange Buffalo sends Vegas Carter Hutton and a 5th rounder. Word is there will be an announcement shortly about signing Robin Lehner to a 5-year deal. This is a huge move. The cap space created by this allows Vegas to really make a push for Alex Pietrangelo. Remember when they came out of nowhere late and landed Mark Stone from Ottawa? This has the makings of the same sort of deal.
TRADE: BFLO Carter Hutton, 5th round pick -> VGK Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Martinez, Lucas Elvenes, and NJ 3rd round pick.
JD: Pierre, thoughts on this move?
PL: This is really a shocker, James. I’m speechless. Really, if you recall Jack Eichel said in his interview on clean-out day that he wanted more veterans in the room. Well, they’ve added Eric Staal as his #2 centerman…now they’ve added a goalie who’s won multiple Cups, played in a Cup Final and a Conference Final in the past handful of years, and is a tremendous presence in the room. How much he’ll play remains to be seen – Buffalo does have Linus Ullmark, who’s shown flashes of being really good – but even with Ullmark, the Sabres likely will be paying less than $10M for goaltending this year. Wow. This is huge for both teams. Martinez is no slouch either, and the Sabres needed another left-shot on the blue line. Elvenes was an AHL All-Star as a rookie in his first year in North America. The Sabres just got better in a big way.
BM: From Vegas’ perspective, this is a massive move. They’ve cleared up their goaltending, first off. But more importantly, amazingly, they’ve cleared almost $9M in cap space. If they can land Pietrangelo in free agency – and Vegas has no compunctions about handing out no-trades and other protections, which Toronto may be unable to do – they can roll out an elite defensive unit and keep almost all of their forward group intact for another run. And they keep Fleury away from a conference rival. Pretty nice piece of work by Kelly McCrimmon.
EF: And we’re hearing Buffalo isn’t done either, guys. Kevyn Adams is really making his money in his first go-round as GM.
(fast forward to the following morning)
JD: Welcome to our pre-show for today's first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. And before we get into the kids who will be getting the unique chance to have their names called, their dreams realized, to become part of the NHL family…we had several big trades by the adults overnight. And none bigger than this one…Elliott?
EF: James, this is the kind of blockbuster deal we haven’t seen a lot of in recent years, maybe not since the Matt Duchene trade. And fittingly, the Avalanche and Joe Sakic are part of this one as well. They said they were going all-in, and they were not lying. Here’s the details of the trade:
TRADE: BFLO Marc-Andre Fleury, Samson Reinhart, Brandon Montour -> COL Philip Grubauer, JT Compher, Alex Beaucage, Connor Timmins, COL 1st (#24), 2021 2nd
JD: This is just mind-blowing. Dregs, you thought the League might look at this one?
DD: Yeah, James, with Fleury waiving his no-trade to go to Buffalo, and then getting shipped out several hours later, there’s some interest in the time-line here and if tampering might have been involved, but as of right now this is an absolutely valid deal. And what a deal it is.
EF: Guys, from what I’m hearing Vegas got cold feet about moving Fleury to a Western Conference rival, maybe, potentially, their biggest roadblock to making a deep playoff run next season. Buffalo stepped in and were willing to be the middle-man, and wow, have they been rewarded. A huge move by Joe Sakic, and maybe this makes them the favorite out West. Not only did they get better, they are still really young, as Montour and Reinhart are both 25.
PL: From the Avs perspective, this is a massive deal. They now may have the best top two lines in hockey with the MacKinnon line now paired with a line that has Nazem Kadri centering Sam Reinhart and Andre Burakowsky. Those 3 are all 55-65 point players…on the 2nd line! If Tyson Jost can take that next step and fill in for Compher on the 3rd line with Donskoi or Martin Kaut, look out. And you have a Fleury and Francouz combination in net, plus a really fast, puck-moving defense with Makar, Erik Johnson, Graves, Girard and you add Montour and maybe the rookie Bowen Byram with Ian Cole for depth? They could be downright scary. And while they take on probably $16-17M of cap, they shed $7M by moving out Grubauer and Compher. So they’ve got plenty of space to re-sign Burakowsky, Graves, and Jost. And they got the guy Vegas was trying to keep away from them in Fleury! What a virtuoso performance by Sakic.
BM: Let’s not forget, Pierre, Buffalo made out pretty good in this deal too. Compher was drafted by the Sabres and sent to Denver in the original Ryan O’Reilly deal, he fits in nicely as their 3C behind Eichel and Staal. That’s a pretty good 1-2-3 punch and a huge improvement over what they had. Grubauer fills the same role Fleury would have, but at half the cost and he’s only got one year left on his deal. Timmins is ready to play now, if he’s healthy, and will create some really hard choices for the Sabres’ brass on the back-end, they now have 2 1st round picks in a really good Draft, and don’t forget about Beaucage. The kid is a big, strong power winger who scored 40 goals in 63 games as the #1 guy for Rouyn-Noranda in the Q. This is rebuilding on the fly. There were a lot of questions about whether or not Kevyn Adams could be a GM in this League. There are fewer questions out there this morning.
JD: Absolutely, Bob. And we’ve got more to get to…let’s talk about the Patrik Laine trade…
NHL DRAFT, Day One
1#1 NYR: Alexis LaFreniere, RW
1#2 LAK: Tim Stutzle, C/W
1#3 OTT: Quinton Byfield, C
1#4 DET: Lucas Raymond, W
1#5 OTT: Jake Sanderson, LHD
1#6 ANA: Jaime Drysdale, RHD
1#7 NJD: Jack Quinn, RW
1#8 BFLO: Marco Rossi, C/W
CB: Great pick here by BFLO. Rossi is a stout, strong kid who plays a great two-way game. There are people who say, well, he played on a great team, so his numbers are inflated. The fact is, he was the best player on a great team. He was a big part, maybe the biggest, of making that team great. Yes, he’s small. Yes, he might not be a center at the NHL level as a result. But he’s an incredibly gifted, disciplined player who adds a lot of skill to an organization that needs it.
1#9 MIN: Slava Askarov, G
1#10 WIN: Alex Holtz, RW
1#11 NAS: Cole Perfetti, C/W
1#12 FLA: Seth Jarvis, RW
1#13 CAR: Anton Lundell, C
1#14 EDM: Lucas Reichel, LW
1#15 TOR: Dylan Holloway, C/W
1#16 MTL: Hendrix Lapierre, C
1#17 CHI: Noel Gunler, W
1#18 NJD: Rodion Amirov, RW
1#19 CAL: Ridly Greig, C/W
1#20 NJD: Braden Schneider, RHD
1#21 CBJ: Dawson Mercer, RW
1#22 NYR: Connor Zary, C
1#23 PHI: Jean Luc Foudy, C
1#24 BFLO: Marat Khusnutdinov, C
CB: A little off the Board here, but this Russian kid is the real deal. Intensity level is off the charts, he’s a strong 2-way player, creative offensively, and possesses great speed. He’s been a killer in the MHL already this season and has been promoted to the KHL. And he’s still growing, he added a couple inches since the end of last season. Another explosive forward. This could be a dynamite addition to the Sabres if he can develop properly.
NHL DRAFT, Day Two
JD: Well, there’s been a lot of movement last night, much like the night before. We’ve got a new frontrunner in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes, and a new…
…also, we saw Buffalo make another, smaller move with Nashville.
TRADE: Colin Miller -> NAS MIN 3rd, 2021 4th
PL: With the deals yesterday, Buffalo still has a glut of defensemen. And Connor Timmins, one of the players they got from Colorado, is ready for the NHL. So this move makes plenty of sense for the Sabres as they clear some cap. For the Preds, they saw Dante Fabbro struggle last season as he transitioned to more minutes at the NHL level. I think Miller is a nice depth option, he can play as the #4 guy with Ekholm or on the bottom pair, a good value for only a couple of picks.
2#38: Sam Colangelo, RW
3#67: Eamon Powell, RHD
3#74: Blake Biondi, C
4#99: Ian Moore, RHD
7#192: Slava Skotnikov, G
7#215 (DAL): Matthias Rajaniemi, LHD, FIN
JD: So, another Draft in the books. Several teams were active the last couple of days…there was so much activity, its hard just to focus in on individual teams’ drafts. We’ve already talked about Montreal, Ottawa and Carolina…but you have another team you want to focus on, Lawts?
BL: Well, Kevyn Adams is certainly not shy! Even if we ignore all the moves they made on the trade front, the sheer quality of the Sabres’ draft should be really exciting for fans of the team. You’re looking for pieces to put around Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, and even Dylan Cozens. You select Marco Rossi, who has a chance to make the team outright out of camp. And then another centerman, the Russian kid Khusnutdinov, is a dynamic player. For a team really lacking in explosiveness, you just added a pair of players that do that for you. And then you add a big, bruising forward who can really play in Colangelo in the 2nd round. That’s a very solid group. Then you have to add in the kids they picked up in the two trades as essentially draft additions. Connor Timmins, Alex Beaucage, and Lucas Elvenes. If any, or all, of these players can be legitimate NHL contributors, this is a very strong Draft. If they can develop these players, this could be a really turning point for a franchise that’s struggled for a long time to find their way.
FREE AGENT FRENZY
JD: We’re back here on Day Two of Free Agent Frenzy, and with some of the biggest names off the board yesterday afternoon, we’re on to some of the players who won’t command a huge contract, but are often essential to regular season, and sometimes playoff, success. There’s already been some action to catch up on. Elliott?
EF: Thanks James. The Sabres continue remaking their roster, signing a former client of Kevyn Adams during his brief time as an agent, Kyle Clifford. Looks to be only a 1-year deal, around $1.3 million, which is a bit under what he made last year in Toronto. They also announced the signing of defenseman Casey Nelson, a player who’s bounced between the AHL and the Sabres for a few years now, to another 1-year deal at $815 thousand. Two depth players who will be useful as the Sabres continue to develop their young players….
SIGN: Kyle Clifford, W -> 1 year @ $1.3M
SIGN: Casey Nelson, RD -> 1 year @ $815K
JD: …and we’re back for Day Three, most of the action has subsided as nearly all of the Top 20 free agents on TSN’s Board have been signed in one way or another. A few remaining, and Chris Johnston has more on that.
CJ: James, the Buffalo Sabres have nabbed one of the best under-the-radar players left out there, that’s Derrick Brassard, formerly of the Islanders. Brassard scored nearly 20 goals for the Isles, and can play center or wing. At 32, he’s not going to win any awards, but he’s a strong bottom 6 option who can play any position and gives you plenty of flexibility. He held out for a bigger deal, and the Sabres obliged. Nice signing here for GM Kevyn Adams to continue to add depth through free agency.
SIGN: Derrick Brassard, C/W –> 1 year @ $2.9M
A few hours later…
SIGN: Nick Shore, C -> 1y @ .800M
Olofsson -> 3y @ $3.4M
Kahun -> 2y @ $2.15M
Extension: Jokiharju -> 5y @ $3.9M
CAP: $69.9M ($81.5M CAP CEILING; maybe $70M INTERNAL CAP)
Skinner (9) – Eichel (10) – Olofsson (3.35)
Thompson (1) – Staal (3.25) – Kahun (2.4)
Brassard (2.9) – Cozens (.925) – Compher (3.5)
Clifford (1.3) – Lazar (.895) – Okposo (6)
Rutsolainen (.925) – Shore (.8)
Dahlin (.925) – Joker (.925)
Martinez (4) – Risto (5.4)
McCabe (2.8) – Timmins (.925)
Ullmark (2.95) – Grubauer (3.3)
CAP: $69.89M (including CoHo buy-out and entirety of Cap overage penalty).
Smith – Mittelstadt – Elvenes
Oglevie – Asplund – Murray
Pekar – Dea – J Olofsson
Biro – Cornel – DiPietro
Paetsch – D Smith
Bryson – Borgen
Sammy – Fitz
Jones – Laaksonen
Spencer – MacWilliam
UPL – JJ
LD: Bryson/Samuelsson/Ry Johnson/Worge Kreu/Cronholm/Rajaniemi
Protected For the Expansion Draft:
F: Eichel – Skinner – Olofsson – Compher – Mitts – Tage – Kahun
D: Dahlin – Joker – Timmins
After all that crazy maneuvering, Kevyn Adams accomplished what he was hired to do.
1) improved the center situation in BFLO by adding Staal, Brass, and Compher to all shield Cozens, and drafted two potential centers (Rossi, Kushnutdinov) high.
2) cleared out some of the logjam on D by moving out Montour and Miller.
3) lowered costs while improving the team (they stayed under the $70M internal cap!).
You could also add ‘shield the roster from the Expansion Draft’, which he did, and ‘bolster the prospect pipeline’ which he also did in this scenario. Perhaps most importantly (for the Pegulas?), he allowed the ownership to maintain their lifestyle.
They also have a bunch of players on 1-year deals (Staal, McCabe, Nelson, Martinez, Grubauer, Clifford, Brassard, Shore) which will, if they let them all walk, clear another $19M off the books on top of the $11M they are already under the Cap. So they can deal players for assets at the Trade Deadline, they can use that Cap Space to their advantage in the Expansion Draft to gain more assets, and they can essentially replicate what they did in this imaginary off-season again next year by using all that Cap Space to their advantage.
Let’s say that the NHL doesn’t start until January, that they don’t have fans in the building during the early part of the season, and they don’t get a full 80 game season in. I think all of these things are entirely plausible. So they continue with the 24 team playoff. I think this team almost certainly gets into the play-in round – the goaltending will be better, the center position will be solidified, and Year 2 under Krueger hopefully improves the defense. Not having 10 guys back there on the blue line should help establish some consistency. So they make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Eichel is happy, the Sabres re-up Rasmus Dahlin (6 years at $8.6M) and Henri Jokiharju (5 years at $3.9M) to long-term deals. Will Borgen is chosen by Seattle from the Sabres Expansion Draft eligibles. They promote Mitts, Rossi and Elvenes to the big club for, say, Brassard, Clifford and Staal? On D, they promote Bryson for McCabe. Then you bring up Rousek, Weissbach, Cronholm, and maybe even Kushnutdinov and/or Ryan Johnson. Now you’ve got a pipeline going. And they’re not done. Even if they don’t make any deals at the Deadline, they still have a 1st and 2 2nds for the 2021 Draft.
They could draft Logan Mailloux, RHD from London with the 18th overall pick. They draft Matt Knies, C/W from the NTDP, and Oskar Olausson, Swedish W in the 2nd.
Boom. Sustainable growth and lots of room to add a couple mid-range UFAs or lock-up long-term your young players. On our way to contention!