If there was ever any doubt, it’s again clear the NHL doesn’t really have an off-season. Once Boston and Chicago wrap up the season, the off-ice fireworks will begin. Buyouts begin 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is presented. The entry draft goes June 30. Free agency arrives July 5. Expect trades.
The level of intrigue is higher this year, given that the league’s biggest spenders need to dump salaries to get under the $63 million salary cap.
With that in mind, let’s look at the buzz around the Ottawa Senators and the rest of the hockey world.
1-NEAL AND NEIL IN OTTAWA?: Welcome to the financial squeeze play for Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero. Kris Letang is in line for an annual salary of $6 million-$7 million when he becomes an unrestricted free agent following the 2013-14 season. Yet on a team where Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury all own lucrative long-term deals – and with Pascal Dupuis (this year) and Chris Kunitz (next year) waiting in the UFA wings – how can it be done?
If the Penguins don’t re-sign Letang, they’ll trade him. If they sign Letang, something else has to give.
Senators GM Bryan Murray should be one of many calling about Neal, the 26-year-old who has five years and $25 million remaining on his deal. The Senators bargaining chips in a possible trade include young prospects Stefan Noesen, Matt Puempel and Shane Prince.
2-AND ABOUT THE RYAN EXPRESS: Anaheim faces similar issues, with more than $34 million locked up in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Jonas Hiller. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are unsigned.
The Murrays — Anaheim’s Bob and Ottawa’s Bryan – should talk about what it would take to bring Ryan to Ottawa. Ryan has two years and $10.2 million left on his contract.
Ryan has scored 147 goals and 142 assists in 378 career regular season games. Neal has 134 goals and 120 assists in 354 games.
3-TAKING A FLYER ON DANIEL BRIERE?: The 35-year-old Briere, 5-10 and 180 pounds, doesn’t exactly fit the profile of the Senators chief need – a big power forward in his mid to late 20′s. Yet should Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson retire, the Gatineau native could fill part of the void as a veteran with a scoring touch. Briere has 50 goals and 59 assists in 108 career playoff games. Briere has two years remaining on his deal with Philadelphia (with a salary cap hit of $6.5 million), but it’s expected the Flyers will buy him out.
4-THE WAITING GAME PAYS OFF: Former Ottawa 67′s star Logan Couture is only 24, but he now has a five-year, $30 million contract extension from San Jose – thanks to some some sharp earlier negotiations two years ago. Rather than waiting for his entry level contract to expire – where he could have become a restricted free agent and dragged out negotiations – Couture accepted a relatively modest two-year, $5.7 million deal, trusting he would develop and force San Jose’s hand when unrestricted free agency loomed.
5-THE END OF OLD WORLD: Ex-67′s netminder Petr Mrazek followed the road of Senators goaltender Robin Lehner by winning the AHL championship with Grand Rapids, but nobody else will follow suit. Mrazek, a Czech, went from the 67′s to the AHL. Lehner, a Swede, went from Sault Ste. Marie to an AHL title in Binghamton in 2011. Yet now that the Canadian Hockey League has banned its teams from drafting European goaltenders, that path won’t happen again.
6-A PRETTY PENNY FOR HIS THOUGHTS: Alain Vigneault’s career earnings as a player (he had two goals, five assists and 82 penalty minutes in 42 games with St. Louis) wouldn’t make a dent in his annual salary as New York Rangers coach after reportedly signing a five-year, $10 million contract. Vigneault will be a welcome breath of fresh air from the media non-friendly John Tortorella.
7-THE LOVE-HEATLEY RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES: Apparently, Minnesota won’t be able to solve its salary cap issues by getting rid of Dany Heatley. According to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Heatley is still recovering from a shoulder injury, meaning the Wild can’t buy out the final year of the infamous six-year, $45 million contract he signed with the Senators. Sympathy is in short supply: Wild owner Craig Leopold was the ultimate hypocrite last summer, crying about the need to reduce the cap during the lockout after signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to 13-year, $98 million contracts.
8-THE OPPOSITE ISSUE ON THE ISLAND: The biggest issue for the New York Islanders may be reaching the salary cap floor of $44 million. The Islanders have a payroll of $34.8 million and the only goaltender under contract is Anders Nilsson, who went 8-11-0 with AHL Bridgeport last season. It’s believed the Islanders are pursuing Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings in a trade. Bernier is a restricted free agent and could receive big dollars because of the salary floor problems.
9-AD NAUSEUM? THAT’S LIFE IN PRO SPORTS: Canadian Tire’s sponsorship agreement with the Senators, which goes well beyond having the company’s name on the outside of the building, has resulted in complaints about over-commercialization. Get over it. Franchises can’t survive without outside corporate support. If the deal means Senators owner Eugene Melnyk could fork out a few more dollars for contracts, the complaints will fade away.
10-THE CLOCK IS TICKING: Without getting into more eye-glazing details about the NHL’s negotiations with municipal officials in Glendale, Arizona, Seattle could be in fast forward mode to get NHL ready as early as next week when the league’s board of governors meet in New York.