As NHL training camps open, here’s a few random thoughts and notes.
In the wake of Nazem Kadri’s new contract with the Maple Leafs, The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox recently wondered if he’ll be around long enough to get a long-term deal from the Leafs.
Cox noted Kadri’s propensity for butting heads with coaches and management, suggesting his supposedly over-inflated ego could create a problem in the dressing room.
If Kadri goes on to become a point-per-game player, however, I doubt the Leafs let him go. Indeed, if the salary cap increases by an average of $5 million per season as it did during the last CBA, the Leafs will open the vault to keep him in Toronto.
So, who get signed first, Alex Pietrangelo or Derek Stepan?
Both restricted free agents won’t report to their respective training camps until they get a new contract in place.
Pietrangelo reportedly seeks a long-term deal worth around $7 million per season, while the St. Louis Blues countered with $6 million. Stepan meanwhile apparently seeks a five-year deal worth $5 million per, while the NY Rangers are offering a two-year deal worth less than $3 million per.
My bet is Pietrangelo and the Blues get a deal done first. Cap space and term isn’t the issue here, but rather finding a happy medium for the dollars.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have less than $3 million in cap space, and will have a tough time justifying a short-term deal under $3 million for Stepan when they handed Ryan McDonagh a long-term contract worth $4.8 million per.
Given the Rangers limited cap space, Stepan appears to have little choice but to accept the “bridge contract”, but he’s not going to be happy about it.
As more NHL general managers attempt to get more players coming off entry-level contracts to accept cheaper, short-term “bridge contracts” (like the Rangers with Stepan), a few bloggers and pundits are wondering if someday a player in Stepan’s situation might use the threat of a KHL contract as leverage.
For players coming off entry-level contracts, they have no arbitration rights and therefore their only leverage is to stage a holdout, which during the salary cap era has proven for the most part an ineffective tactic.
Inking a short-term deal with a KHL team, however, significantly shifts the leverage back in the players’ favor.
A restricted free agent can sign with a KHL team. As long as he has an “out-clause” in that contract, and doesn’t play any KHL games once the NHL season opens, he can re-sign with his NHL team without passing through waivers.
It’s assume most North American players wouldn’t employ this tactic, but it’s possible a Russian or European player could.
Something worth keeping an eye on in the coming years.
Speaking of things worth keeping an eye on, how about the status of Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne?
After recovering from off-season hip surgery, Rinne saw limited ice time prior to training camp. While it’s expected he’ll be increasing his ice time during camp and pre-season games, the fact remains Rinne wasn’t able to put in as much training time between the pipes this summer as he usually does. That could have an adverse effect upon his performance this season.
Rinne and the Predators obviously don’t want to push too much too soon and risk re-aggravating the injury, but if he’s not fully up to speed when the season opens, they have no experienced backup to turn to entering this season.
If Rinne struggles early or (heaven forbid) re-injures his hip, the Predators – who rely heavily on Rinne’s goaltending for victories – could be in real trouble.
The NHL trade deadline is 3pm ET on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, so mark your calendars, kids.
I’ll be looking forward to the four-day long weekend I traditionally give myself following the trade deadline.