By Ryan Lambert
Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
While Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman are kicking up dust at each other on behalf of their constituents, like discontented baseball managers whose players just got tossed for arguing balls and strikes, there remains the whole business of the current collective bargaining agreement still being in effect.
You might have noticed a little bit of an uptick in activity and rumors over the last week or so. While these are the summer doldrums, no doubt about that, some teams have been getting to work by locking up some players and exploring their options.
Witness both the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers having recently signed restricted free agents Max Pacioretty and Wayne Simmonds to six-year extensions worth $4.5 million and $3.97 or so per year, respectively. (Though obviously that's under the current CBA and doesn't take into account any salary rollbacks, over which Fehr will engage Bettman in a knife fight if he has to.)
Meanwhile, the Flyers also continue to kick the tires on a number of defensemen to make up for the fact that most of the ones they have under contract are either not very good or injured; or, in Andreas Lilja's case, both.
The same is true of the Red Wings, who acknowledge a glut of forwards but have a relative paucity of defensemen who are actually good enough to play top-six minutes in the National Hockey League. Rumors swirl around both teams continually, as you would expect, and will do so until they find any NHL-quality defenseman still out there.
Other semi-notable moves include Colorado's extending JS Giguere to continue his tutelage of young Semyon Varlamov; while New Jersey, Toronto, and Vancouver getting Stefan Matteau, Tyler Biggs, and Brendan Gaunce, respectively, signed to entry-level deals. Edmonton, meanwhile, is reportedly pursuing extensions with both Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.
One thing you might notice about these deals, however, is that with the exception of the Giguere extension by Colorado — which still has a very small way to go before even reaching the cap floor, though one suspects a contract for Ryan O'Reilly will get them comfortably over the hump — is that they're getting done by teams that have a little bit of money in reserve: Edmonton, Toronto, Detroit, Montreal, Philadelphia, Vancouver.
All of them likely have piles of money just lying around the basement of their arenas, looking for players to which they would happily give it if not for the salary cap.
While these teams don't and likely cannot know what the final collective bargaining agreement will end up looking like, none are especially near the current salary cap, and therefore pursue whomever they want in filling out their organizational depth charts in one way or another. Other teams, such as Boston and Los Angeles, don't want to get involved in this kind of thing. Their housekeeping is largely taken care of and there are a few players whose contracts will be expiring in the near future to whom they would prefer to commit their resources.
Still more, though, do not have this luxury, which I guess just goes to highlight the inherent inequities between rich and poor teams under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Because there isn't necessarily a lot out there in terms of high-quality players remaining on the market, there are teams with the financial wherewithal to make moves without really fear; and to their credit, they are doing so by choosing instead to get their internal needs squared.
It's smart, but it's a move only available to them. There is a lot of uncertainty out there, but they know they can sign guys under the current CBA parameters and worry about what to do should their player costs exceed the new salary cap later on. These teams more or less print money anyway, so if it comes to stashing contracts in the minors, buying guys out, and so forth, then that's just what they'll do.
These big money-making teams can also make decisions like these because they're the ones steering the conversation from ownership's side of the CBA negotiations. Whatever benefits them most, and not ownership overall, will likely be what's eventually part of the new deal, whatever shape it takes.
Who can blame them for making these moves? They're setting themselves up to succeed on both fronts, and that's what you have to do to get ahead in this league.
The CHL, the AHL, the lockout, and you
A lot was made of the news earlier this week that the Canadian Hockey League's transfer agreement with the NHL, which effectively keeps not-yet-NHL-ready QMJHL, OHL and WHL players with their junior teams until they age out of the league, had expired.
Many asked if this could mean there would be an influx of top-19-year-old players into the AHL?
But soon after the revelation, Jeff Marek tweeted that, "[T]he CHL expects the AHL to honour their leagues['] deal with players and not allow a flood of 19 year olds into the league if [there is a lockout]."
The reason for this, Marek told me, is that the AHL doesn't need 19-year-old wunderkinds next season, as it will likely be knee-deep in high-quality, young NHL players next season if there is a lockout. However, those 19-year-olds who have NHL seasons under their belt (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, etc.) and junior eligibility remaining would still likely play in the AHL, though that's apparently the NHL's call.
Recall that in the 2004-05 lockout, guys like Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew, Cam Ward, Mike Commodore, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Jason Spezza, Mike Cammalleri, Rene Bourque, Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, Tom Vanek, and so forth. And these are just guys I remember watching. They laid the AHL to waste. Scott Gomez, meanwhile, played in the ECHL — hold your jokes, please — and scored 86 points in 61 games. (Bourne says that was because he got to play home games on Olympic-sized ice, which doesn't seem fair.)
The rule at the time was, if you are an NHL player under the age of 22, you were AHL-eligible. Here, then, is a brief list of notable NHL players who will be under 22 when the AHL season starts: Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Skinner, Ryan Johansen, Taylor Hall, Alex Burmistrov, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Cam Fowler, Tyler Seguin, Justin Faulk, and Sean Couturier.
That's a pretty decent list of players who will elevate the AHL's quality substantially. I saw more than a few AHL games during the last lockout (RIP Lock Monsters) and I can tell you unequivocally that the players who usually play in it were not remotely ready for the influx of high-quality youth that came in. In particular, the line of Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew and (I think) Colin Forbes basically shredded every defense. Cam Ward's numbers that season were pornographic at 1.99 and .937.
If there is a lockout, the AHL doesn't need major junior players because it will be getting NHL players. If there isn't a lockout, well, it probably won't get major junior players because of a gentleman's agreement.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on an upgrade in responsibilities: "Anyone taking beer league applications? Need a place to play during the lockout. Looking for 3rd line minutes + 2nd unit power play time."
If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.
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