In this week’s online mailbag, Adam Proteau answers questions on NHL buyout candidates, the reasons behind the Leafs’ struggles, the Oilers’ potential trading of their top draft pick this summer, and more.
Welcome once again to another THN mailbag. Here, a selection of your submissions is answered on a weekly basis. This concludes the latest introductory paragraph for the THN mailbag.
I think most people were surprised when Mikhail Grabovski was among the players who received compliance buyouts during the last off-season. Do you think there are any NHL players who might receive a similarly surprising pink slip this summer? Are there any teams facing particularly acute salary pressures who might be tempted to go the buyout route?
Daniel Greyson, Montreal
I don’t think there are any darkhorse buyout candidates, but there are some frontrunners: Buffalo’s Ville Leino (who has three years remaining on his contract at an annual salary cap hit of $4.5 million), San Jose’s Martin Havlat (one year left at a $5 million hit) and the Rangers’ Brad Richards (six years left at $6.7 million per year) all fit the bill.
As for teams under the gun, Chicago has less than $4 million in available cap space; the Flyers have less than $7 million to spend; and the Bruins have less than $8 million. And all those totals are only if the cap rises to $71.1 million. If the Canadian dollar continues falling, the cap ceiling will as well – leaving those franchises in even worse cap shape.
However, seeing as Philly and the Hawks have used their two amnesty buyouts, only the Bruins (who haven’t used either) have the ability to do so this summer.
The Maple Leafs had a playoff spot in hand this year before blowing it. Is Toronto just such a pressure cooker that players can’t cope with the stress, or is it just a bunch of dumb luck?
Derek Davis, London, Ont.
To be honest, I don’t think either of the explanations you’ve suggested are the issue in Toronto. It wasn’t all that long ago the Leafs made six consecutive playoff appearances (1999-2004), but their more recent struggles speak to management/ownership errors more than any pressure or luck.
After having numerous discussions with NHLers during and after their time as a Leaf, I can tell you the idea that Toronto is a suffocating environment in which no player can thrive is nonsense. Yes, players here face never-ending media exposure, but that’s not the same thing as “pressure”. And what they endure on the media/fan awareness front is usually worth it when you consider the perks that come along with working for the league’s most visible franchise: sponsorship deals and the city’s vibrant culture are at or near the top of that perks list.
Besides, the so-called vicious Toronto media are anything but. Go compare what’s written about the Leafs to the degree and amount of vitriol aimed at, say, baseball’s New York Yankees. You’ll see the Leafs have it relatively easy.
The reasons the Leafs continue to struggle, at least, in my opinion, are that (a) ownership/team brass have been unwilling to embark on a full-on, basement-up rebuild; and (b) it takes time to stock a prospect cupboard that’s been nearly bare when former GM Brian Burke took over in 2008. Chalking it up to stress or luck removes the responsibility from the people who’ve been in charge and the practical realities of building the right way.
Can you explain the NHL draft lottery? Why were the New Jersey Devils the only non-playoff team excluded from this year’s lottery drawing?
Michael Markarian, Washington
The NHL’s draft lottery was tweaked this year, with all 14 non-playoff teams having a chance to win the No. 1 pick. In the past, only the top five teams were eligible. The Devils were excluded from this year’s lottery as punishment for their salary cap circumvention with Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract; initially, they weren’t supposed to receive any first round pick, but the league changed the punishment and gave them the No. 30 pick instead.
Should the Edmonton Oilers trade the third overall pick in this summer’s NHL entry draft, assuming defenseman Aaron Ekblad is gone? Which team would be willing to trade a top pairing defenseman for this pick? Who should they target?
Rich Morrison, White Rock, B.C.
I don’t think they have to deal the No. 3 pick, especially if they move one or more of their talented young forwards. But there’s no justification for Oilers brass to make (and keep) that pick and keep the rest of the team together. This group of youngsters are clearly talented, but they’ve done zilch to demonstrate they deserve another chance to try making a competitive leap together in 2014-15.
Top pairing defensemen are arguably the most valuable asset any team possesses, so there’s no franchise that jumps to mind as a candidate to deal one to Edmonton, or any other team. So I think any deal for an elite blueliner would have to include the No. 3 pick and one of the Oilers’ top young players. We’ll see if GM Craig MacTavish has the guts to make a move like that.
Can a KHL team and an NHL team make a trade?
Eric Duncan, Toronto
No, the NHL doesn’t permit player trades with any other pro league. But as we saw when Kovalchuk left New Jersey to return to Russia last summer, NHLers can finagle their way out of their North American contract to play in the KHL if they so chose. If more players did so, the NHL might take a harder line, but they also realize a protracted court battle with a star Russian might not be a productive use of their time.
Ask Adam appears Fridays on THN.com. Ask your question on our submission page. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.