Monday, January 17, 2022

Did we just see rock bottom for the Oilers? Plus thoughts on the Panthers, Bruins, Islanders and more

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not going well in Edmonton.

Oh, you have heard that one. For pretty much the last decade-and-a-half or so. Right, that does ring a bell.

Just in case you’re new to this, let’s round up where we’re at right now with this team. They have the best player in the world, by a mile. They have, arguably, the second-best player in the world. They have a former first-overall pick and a former fourth-overall pick who are both on pace for career years, a shiny new UFA on an eight-year contract that probably won’t age well but has been fine so far, a good young defenseman with a massive extension about to kick in, and a new guy with three Cup rings who can sprinkle magic leadership dust all over the dressing room.

They also have no bottom six, a big question in goal, Cody Ceci for some reason, a coach on the hot seat, and a GM who not only seems completely out on answers, but actually appears to have lost track of the questions.

Also, tomorrow will be the one-month anniversary of their last win. So there’s that.

Saturday night saw them on home ice to face Ottawa, a bottom-five team with little to play for. We all made our jokes about the Sens sickos, but it was a game that the Oilers absolutely had to have. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period, then gave it up by the midway mark on the way to a 6-4 loss that may have been their worst of the season, all things considered. Honestly, the score may have flattered them.

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Kodak Black breaks Hockey Twitter, Connor McDavid comments on Evander Kane, and Jack Eichel's progress towards Golden Knights debut

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Kokak Black enjoys a Florida Panthers game
- Connor McDavid's tepid answer about Evanker Kane
- Tuukka Rask returns
- Bobby Clarke rips Ron Hextall, and I'm not buying it
- Jack Eichel nears a return in Vegas
- Plus Cale Makar's Hart chances, a listener question on the point system, the anniversary of "they're going home", and more

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

I tried to build the best possible cap-compliant roster of 2021-22… three years ago. How’d I do?

I like to make predictions. Most sportswriters do. We’re not good at it, mind you, but it’s an important part of our job description. And every once in a while, when the blind squirrel finds a nut, you never hear the end of it.

But what if you don’t knock the whole prediction thing out of the park? Its tempting to let the near-misses and outright whiffs fade into the hazy past, and just hope nobody remembers how wrong you were. I’ve never gone for that approach. If I’m right, I get to brag about it. But if I’m wrong, you get to point and laugh at me. Fair’s fair, and sometimes the pointing and laughing is half the fun.

So I like to occasionally revisit my old calls and see how I did. Recently, reader Ryan reminded me of a piece I’d written during the 2018-19 season, in which I tried to build the best possible roster for the 2021-22 season, using contracts that were already signed and staying under the projected cap.

Wait, 2021-22? That’s this season. The future has arrived. Which means we should probably check back and see how I did.

You can find the old post here. The idea was the build my best possible cap-compliant 2021-22 team, using only guys who were signed to deals that went at least that far. Why three years? Because that meant that I couldn’t get cute with entry-level contracts, or guys who were on cheaper short-term deals. Anyone can make a cap-compliant all-star team out of ELCs, cheap bridge contracts, and veterans on short-term prove-it deals. Only a true lunatic would try it with long-term commitments. Huh, I guess that would be me.

So how did I do? As I wrote at the time, “it will be fun to look back on this in three years and laugh at some of the players we thought would be good who saw their production nosedive”. Three years later, how many of my picks (and non-picks) still hold up well? And how many are going to look silly?

Let’s find out. And we’ll start with a call that definitely didn’t age well…

So yeah, about that whole “cap-compliant” thing.

Back in 2018-19, the NHL was operating under a salary cap of $79.5 million. That total had gone up from $75 million the year before, and seemed set to keep increasing at a similar rate. If I was going to build a 2021-22 roster, it was only fair that I be able to do it under a realistic 2021-22 cap. I just had to figure out what that would be.

You can probably see where this is heading.

Here’s what I wrote back then, in what would stand in the piece’s first big projection: “Let’s go with $90 million, which would represent an increase of just over $10 million from where we are right now. The cap went up $8.1 million over the last three years, so mix in a little inflation and $90 million seems about right for 2021-22.”

Oops. Yeah, as you may have heard, the salary cap is not currently $90 million. It’s barely gone up at all, thanks to the pandemic, sitting at just $81.5 million. I don’t think I can be blamed for not seeing a global catastrophe coming a full year in advance, but I’ll admit that I’m having some momentary sympathy pangs for all those GMs who gave out long-term contracts assuming the cap would keep climbing. I get it now, guys.

So no, my team won’t end up being cap-compliant after all. In that sense, this whole thing crashed and burned before it even got off the ground. But if you can forgive my cap optimism, let’s find out how well the rest of my picks did.


I ran into a tough call right out of the gate, realizing that back in 2018-19, there were only nine goalies in the entire league who were signed through 2021-22 or longer. None of them were especially cheap either, and a few were the kind of contracts I wanted nothing to do with. I said no thanks to Carey Price at $10.5 million, and even with last year’s playoff magic I think that holds up well. So did wanting no part of Cory Schneider or Jonathan Quick. I also passed on Martin Jones, although I wrote that that one was “at least worth considering”, which it was absolutely not. And I thought about Marc-Andre Fleury, but was worried that he’d be 37. Three years later, he’s the reigning Vezina winner but also the victim of a pure salary-dump trade, so I think I look OK.

So who did I end up with? For my starter, I narrowed it down to John Gibson at $6.4 million and Connor Hellebuyck at $6.1 million, which ends up feeling bang on as the only two guys who are worth considering. I went with Gibson, though, where Hellebuyck would have been the better choice.

For my backup I just took the cheapest guy available in Ben Bishop at $4.9 million, but wrote that I was worried that “we just wasted a big chunk of our cap on a guy who’ll be on LTIR”. In hindsight, we did indeed, although I’m honestly not sure that’s a worse outcome than taking some of these other guys would have been. Goaltending was tough.

In the end, I think the right call here would have been to take Gibson and Hellebuyck at a combined $12.5 million and squeeze the space somewhere else. But as you’ll see, I didn’t really have much space to squeeze…

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Does Logan Couture have a bad contract? How about Tyler Seguin? Cap court is back in session

Please rise. Salary cap court is back in session.

If you’re new to cap court, the concept is simple. We’ll take five NHL players who might (or might not) have a bad contract. We’ll weigh both sides of the argument, then deliver a verdict. This will be the court’s fourth session, with previous editions having seen us weigh in on names like Erik Karlsson and Jonathan Toews, Carey Price and John Tavares, and Nicklas Backstrom and Jacob Trouba.

For those keeping track at home, the dreaded “bad contract” verdict has been delivered six times out of 15, so we tend to be pretty generous. Some of the decisions hold up better than others, and there were certainly some moments when we tip-toed right up to the line but couldn’t quite convict. Will we get that sort of unsatisfying conclusion again today? Probably, yeah.

The key thing to remember is that we’re judging contracts based on how they look from this point on; we’re not worried about the past. It’s possible that a player’s deal could have been reasonable at the time it was signed, but looks bad now due to declining play or the flat cap or shifting circumstances or whatever else. If so, that’s a bad contract. There’s no room for appeals on the grounds that “it was good for the first few years”.

We’ve got five new cases on the docket today, and they total 40 years of commitment and $326.4 million. That’s a lot. But is it too much? Let’s find out…

Tyler Seguin, Stars

The details: The forward, who turns 30 at the end of the month, is in the third year of an eight-year deal that carries a cap hit of $9.85 million that was signed in 2018.

The case that it’s a bad contract: The cap hit ranks tenth among forwards, ahead of names like Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Mark Stone. Of the nine players ahead of him, eight have won an award or been a postseason all-star; Seguin hasn’t done either. (The only player with a higher cap hit who hasn’t won anything is Jack Eichel.) Put simply, Seguin is being paid like an elite player and has never really been that, topping out as a guy who could score a point-per-game or maybe a bit more.

And that was before a hip injury threatened to derail his career. He missed almost all of last year, and this year’s comeback, while inspiring, hasn’t been especially productive. It looks increasingly unlikely that Seguin will ever be an elite offensive force again, which is bad news when a contract that pays you that way still has five full years left to go.

The case that it might be OK: We’re focused on today and the future, but it’s still worth making the obvious point that the Stars didn’t know Seguin would get hurt when he signed his deal. (Like every other team in this post, they also didn’t know the cap would be flat for years due to a pandemic.) Given what Dallas knew at the time, the contract wasn’t outrageous when it was signed.

Still, bad stuff happens and we said we’re only judging contracts based on what they look like right now. This one admittedly doesn’t look great. That said, let’s wait and see what Seguin looks like when he’s fully recovered. He’s been a very good scorer in this league before, and it’s possible that this year’s numbers are partly due to the grueling recovery he went through just to get back on the ice. If he can get back to his point-a-game ways, this deal won’t seem awful as the cap slowly rises and other centers pass him on the cap hit list.

Key witnesses: Other guys near Seguin’s age and cap hit include Artemi Panarin, which isn’t a flattering comparison, and John Tavares, which is a little better. You’d probably still take Seguin over fellow 29-year-old Jeff Skinner’s $9 million, even as Skinner is more productive this year. And while it’s depressing for Stars fans, the closest comparable might be 31-year-old Jamie Benn at $9.5 million.

The verdict: We haven’t mentioned it yet, but the deal is also heavy on bonuses, meaning a buyout doesn’t offer much relief. Seguin’s hip problems weren’t something anyone could have predicted, but this deal was on shaky ground even before then. Now? It’s a bad contract.

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Puck Soup: Kane, Klingberg, Rask, and the debut of Gordle

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- More Evander Kane drama, and why the NHLPA needs to fight this
- We try to figure out which team might give him another chance
- The John Klingberg trade watch has arrived
- We get into just how bad this Coyotes rebuild could get
- Running down the various weird Atlantic goalie situations, including Tuukka Rask
- Plus Marc Bergevin, Bob Saget, and the debut of a new game called Gordle

>> Stream it now:

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