Three very interesting days in store for the NHL, beginning with Sunday’s one-day, supermarket sweep of a draft in Newark.
On Monday, provided all goes as expected, the league likely will finalize plans to send its best and brightest to Sochi, Russia, for the fast-approaching Olympics. This has been an agenda item since the last Winter Games in Vancouver in February 2010, but the decision yet again was held up by the requisite elbow-twisting and back-breaking inherent in hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players.
And finally (and we say this with fingers and sticks crossed), a vote expected to take place among city fathers Tuesday in Glendale, Ariz., should determine whether the Coyotes stay put or if they’ll pack up in Colt-like fashion, be it to Seattle or Quebec City. As the weekend approached, logic and rumor had them steered toward Seattle for the start of the 2013-14 season. But if logic dictated where NHL franchises land, would there be a team in Phoenix, or Sunrise, Fla., or even Nashville or Raleigh, N.C.?
A quick look at all three agenda items:
■ The draft originally was pegged as a two-day affair for last weekend, also in Newark, but all that changed when the lockout finally ended in January, which necessitated pushing the four-round Stanley Cup run deeper into June. When Chicago boogied down Causeway Street with the Cup late Monday night, the Blackhawks and Bruins were left with less than a week to finalize their strategy for the annual teenage talent grab.
The Bruins do not have a first-round pick on Sunday. They sent it to Dallas at the trade deadline as part of the treasure that yielded Jaromir Jagr. The 41-year-old Czech star didn’t produce a goal in the postseason, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli lauded him in Wednesday’s end-of-season news conference, noting how Jagr “stretched out’’ the power play with his knack for controlling the puck. True, he did that, but overall neither the power play nor Jagr, on the power play or otherwise, factored significantly in Boston’s playoff run.
Jagr was worth the shot, but the deal underscored yet again that deadline swaps typically prove more cost than profit. Lane MacDermid, part of the larder Boston sent to Dallas, scored two goals in his six games with the Stars, while Jagr scored twice in 33 games with the Black and Gold. Chiarelli thanked him for his service in last week’s exit interview and also told him he won’t be bringing him back. The Stars own the Bruins’ first pick, No. 29 overall, in the draft.
Meanwhile, unless they are playing an elaborate game of bait and switch, the Avalanche say they will use the No. 1 overall pick to select slick center Nathan MacKinnon (Halifax/Quebec League). Much of the draft hype in recent months had big defenseman Seth Jones (Portland/Western League), son of ex-NBA standout Popeye Jones, going first overall. But the Avalanche are now under new management with Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, and they said in recent days that MacKinnon is their pick. They believe he’ll be ready for the big time in October. Few kids make that leap that fast. We’ll see if Roy, at times tempestuous as a player, has the patience and touch behind the bench to make it happen.
■ Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday, following his Board of Governors meeting, that the Lords gave him their blessing on Sochi. He and deputy commissioner Bill Daly meet Monday with the other main stakeholders, including the players’ union, the IIHF and the IOC. If everyone makes nice, then the league will shut down yet again for nearly two weeks in the heart of February, allowing the best and brightest to head to Olympus for a fifth time in league history.
This is all but a lock. It’s also a very mixed bag. In the grand scheme, yes, going to the Olympics is a prudent marketing play. But with the significant time difference between Sochi and North America, the broadcast times in NHL cities will be, let’s say, quirky. League bosses felt shortchanged in other Olympics (Nagano, Salt Lake, Turin, Vancouver) when it came to availability and use of game video, especially important in conjunction with the growth and popularity of NHL.com. Nothing is going to change the clock, but the league will have to be better accommodated on the video “highlights’’ issue and overall media access for Bettman to sign off for Sochi.
Practical growth-of-the-game matters aside, it’s the smart thing to do for the league, simply because it should foster good will in the player relations department. Yet, we’ve said that since the first games in Nagano (’98), and that didn’t prevent labor stalemates and lockouts in 2004 and 2012. The players and their union talk incessantly about forging a better, stronger partnership. The Olympics should be an important building block in that process. Here’s hoping both sides keep constructive thoughts in mind.
■ There’s a buyer able and eager to bundle up the Coyotes and drop them, skates and sticks and hockey tape, this week in Seattle. The main money guy is Ray Bartoszek, who heads a Connecticut-based investment firm, RLB Holdings, with Anthony Lanza. They’ve been working to buy the franchise from the NHL for at least a year, with an eye aimed at setting up shop in Seattle’s aging KeyArena (hockey capacity about 11,000) for a couple of seasons until Seattle investor Chris Hansen gets a new $490 million arena built downtown (for both NHL and NBA tenants). Sounds dandy.
Meanwhile, there is a buyer in place in Glendale, hoping that the City Council on Tuesday will sign off on a favorable leasing deal at Jobing.com Arena. If so, then the league will sell the franchise to Renaissance Sports and Entertainment (headed by Canadian businessmen George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc) and the Coyotes will continue to try to make ice in the desert. Thus far, the sun’s won.
It will come down to the will of Glendale’s city fathers. If they don’t acquiesce to the Renaissance group’s leasing demands, then they’ll have a state-of-the-art arena on their hands without a primary tenant to put in it. Surrounding businesses will sag, some likely will fold, turning that bit of suburban Phoenix into the Rust Belt West Mall. From here, it looks like they’ve made their bed of ice with the NHL and now they have no choice but to sleep on it.
Of all the options, the best would seem Quebec City, where construction of a new arena (fully funded with public money) and a fan club (Nordiques Nation) of 90,000 is in place. The old Colisee could serve as a suitable residence until the new building is ready to go (autumn 2015 at the latest). However, a number of insiders believe the league will wait on Quebec City and bring it aboard at a higher ticket (upward of $400 million) in a next round of expansion (date unknown) that likely will add two teams.
The best news, at this hour, is that there has to be a decision. Finally. The 2013-14 season will begin right around Oct. 1, less than 100 days from now. With Phoenix in flux, the league has yet to issue a regular-season schedule. Sans a schedule, ticket sales and marketing plans have been held back across the league. Imagine the chore ahead of Bartoszek, et al, if they drop the franchise out of the Seattle sky later this week a scant three months before dropping the puck.
Bruins have plenty to do
No telling what, if anything, the Bruins will do upon the start of free agency on Friday. General manager Peter Chiarelli said on Wednesday that he would like to keep unrestricted free agent Nathan Horton, whose now-expired deal carried a $5.5 million price tag in 2012-13. There could be another team out there willing to pay him that or more for the next, say, 3-5 years, which would likely price him out of Black and Gold plans.
Meanwhile, the more critical issue for Chiarelli is getting something done with restricted free agent Tuukka Rask, who took a one-year deal last summer for $3.5 million, banking that he could light it up with Tim Thomas gone and the No. 1 job in his hands. Now, it’s bank time. It’s likely Chiarelli will try to employ Harry Sinden’s old strategy, which was forever to use Ray Bourque’s contract as the club’s salary ceiling. Today, that’s Zdeno Chara’s $7 million.
Maybe $7 million per year gets Rask done on a short (two- or three-year) deal. Again, maybe. More likely, however, agent Bill Zito shoots longer term, perhaps the maximum eight years, through the 2020-21 season, at which time a $7 million average is sure to look antiquated. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is already at $7 million. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist’s deal, with a cap hit of $6.875 million, expires after next season.
There is also the remote possibility, similar to what happened when Phil Kessel hit the market as an RFA in the summer of ’09, that someone threatens an offer sheet. In Kessel’s case, the Maple Leafs and Predators came close, until Chiarelli and then-Leafs GM Brian Burke finally agreed on a trade, netting the Bruins a pair of first-round picks (Tyler Seguin, then Dougie Hamilton) and one second-rounder, Jared Knight.
The cap for next season drops to $64.3 million, down from $70.2 million, which makes it all the dicier for clubs like Boston that already were near the cap. If Chiarelli’s priorities remain Rask, Horton, and the looming long-term extension for Patrice Bergeron (still a year to go on his deal), then something will have to give.
One X-factor here is the cap figure for 2014-15. With league-wide revenues reportedly recovering quickly, the cap could rebound quickly, making 2013-14 a sort of “bridge” season, leading to more financial breathing room next summer.
My guess on Rask: six years/$46.8 million. A cap hit of $7.8 million. He’ll be a UFA again at 32, the same age Thomas finally cracked the Boston lineup.
Being paid not to play
The Rangers waited until Friday to declare they would not make Brad Richards their second amnesty buyout (Wade Redden was No. 1). The mega scrapheap last week took on the Flyers’ Ilya Bryzgalov and the Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier. As of this upcoming Friday, those two will be categorized UFA, each fitted with gigantic golden parachutes. Bryzgalov has $23 million over 14 years coming his way. Lecavalier will collect a total $32.67 million. In both cases, paid not to play, all for the right of their respective clubs to wipe their cap numbers from the books. The betting around the league is that Lecavalier will end up with an Eastern team, but not with his hometown Canadiens, where smart money says he is smart enough not put himself in that pressure cooker at age 33. The Leafs could use his size and skill at center. But again, pressure cooker. If not for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh might offer the right fit. Long shot: Vancouver, where John Tortorella last week was named head coach. Torts won a Cup in Tampa in ’04, with the then-24-year-old Big Vin his No. 1 center.
The Leafs should be all the tougher next season after last week’s deal that brought in goalie prospect Jonathan Bernier from the Kings. Bernier and James Reimer can battle it out for No. 1. The Leafs also sent forward Matt Frattin to the Kings and retained $500,000 in the swap. Leafs GM Dave Nonis now has to cut a new deal with Bernier, but that likely will be short money, something akin to the two years/$2.5 million Jhonas Enroth accepted in Buffalo. Bernier isn’t a proven product, but many believe he is a bonafide No. 1, if not elite, goaltender.
Old friend Tomas Kaberle was designated Montreal’s second “compliance” buyout. It’s the final chapter to the crazy three-year/$12.75 million deal he signed with the Hurricanes shortly after he won the Cup with Boston in 2011. To expunge his $4.5 million cap hit, the Habs will pay him $1.5 million each of the next two years. They previously ditched Scott Gomez via compliance . . . Chicago might have considered ditching Marian Hossa’s megaton deal, but he hurt his back in the playoffs, could require surgery, and injured players are exempt from buyouts. Instead, the Blackhawks decided to erase the deals of ex-Bruins defenseman Steve Montador and forward Rostislav Olesz . . . Big news in Ottawa Friday when Daniel Alfredsson made clear that he’ll play another year. Now agent J.P. Barry must cut a deal with GM Bryan Murray. If it lingers, look for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to kick the tires on the 40-year-old Super Swede right winger. And if you think that would fire up the ire of Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, you are correct . . . With Bryzgalov out in Philly, the Flyers might swap for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, who has only one year left on his deal. That would give the Broad Streeters a Miller-Steve Mason tandem for, you know, at least a week, maybe two . . . With Jacques Lemaire not going back to Olympus, Boston coach Claude Julien will join the Team Canada coaching staff for the Olympics (if). Chiarelli is also expected to be part of the Red Maple Leaf cognescenti . . . Sad to learn of the death last week of longtime agent Don Baizley, a non-smoker who succumbed to lung cancer at age 71. Amicable and honest, Baizley was highly respected among his peers, managers, and media . . . Mark Messier resigned from the Rangers front office last week, noting it was not because he was snubbed for the bench boss job (Alain Vigneault the new hire). Messier now will turn his attention to help develop the biggest ice arena in the world, the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the northwest section of the Bronx. The 750,000-square-foot center will convert a nearly 100-year-old armory into an arena with no fewer than nine ice sheets, four of them on the second floor. Total cost: $275 million. I see Zambonis. Lots of them.