The Arizona Coyotes’ latest acquisition of a big contract player whose NHL playing days are likely over drew mixed reviews across North America. Many lauded the Coyotes for using the rarest of assets, cap space, to acquire another promising prospect (Lawson Crouse) by taking Dave Bolland’s $5.5 million cap hit off the Florida Panthers’ hands for the next three seasons.
Some ridiculed the team for paying yet another player who won’t contribute on the ice, and others wondered how the league felt about the use of what they termed a salary cap loophole. The Coyotes will gain a cap hit of nearly $18 million next season from Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk, and Bolland, but they will only pay $1.675 million in salary for those three players.
Pronger’s final year salary was $575,000 and the Coyotes will not pay Datsyuk anything. A league source told Today’s Slapshot that Bolland would head to long-term injured reserve after training camp this fall. When he does, the Coyotes will only be responsible for 20 percent of his annual salary ($3.3 million over three years; $1.1 million per year) while insurance picks up the rest.
According to generalfanager.com and capfriendly.com, the Coyotes current cap hit sits around $70.65 million, but without those three contracts, the Coyotes wouldn’t be above the NHL’s salary cap floor of $54 million. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that does not concern the league.
“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said in an email interview. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that some describe it as.”
Daly said it’s unfair to place Bolland’s contract in the same category as Pronger’s.
“First of all, I would say that perhaps unlike Pronger (and maybe even Datsyuk), I’m not sure you can fairly characterize Bolland’s contract as dead cap space,” he said. “It’s my understanding the player still wants to play and continues to strive to get to a point physically where he can resume his career. So, I start from the perspective of having a problem with the premise.”
Bolland still has three years left on his deal, but has battled a combination of injuries including the severed ankle tendon he suffered in November 2013, back issues and a concussion history. His agent, Anton Thun, said the back issue is the most significant current problem, but that injury is also impairing his ability to rehab his ankle.
“There’s nothing that he would like more than to play in the National Hockey League again,” Thun said. “Will that happen? I don’t think anybody can project that.”
When asked about Bolland’s long-term prognosis, Coyotes general manager John Chayka said: “My understanding is that he won’t be ready to play for the foreseeable future so that was part of this transaction… and our belief is that he is injured for the long term…”
There is always the possibility that Bolland could report to camp next season or the season after that, pronounce himself fit to play, and the Coyotes would have a dilemma on their hands. Bolland is only 30 years old and was once an integral part of two Stanley Cup championship teams in Chicago (2010 and 2013), but the Coyotes clearly do not believe he will ever play in the NHL again.
Even if that’s the case, Daly said: “I’m not sure that changes my view or my answer.”
When trying to sort out why the Coyotes would be willing to take on so much cap space instead of paying players to play, it’s helpful to remember two key points. First, the Coyotes acquired two Grade-A prospects in these deals: defenseman Jakob Chychrun and Crouse. Second, the Coyotes will not have salary cap issues for several years because they have so many young players with cost-controlled contracts on the books — and more coming as their deep prospect pool begins to flower.
“Other teams have spent to the cap and they’ve acquired assets through free agency,” Chayka said. “We’re spending to the cap and we’re acquiring young players like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse that we feel can be core pieces. That’s what we’re after. As this stage of our organization right now we’re still trying to collect and identify and develop core pieces.
“There is the short-term loss of cap space and (assistant GM) Chris O’Hearn’s job gets a little more difficult, but otherwise not a whole lot of blood shed in that sense and we just continue to move forward with a good group of young players that are cost-controlled for a while so the cap space issue is really irrelevant.”
HUDLER FINDS A HOME
The rich got richer when the offensive-minded Dallas Stars signed free-agent wing Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million contract last week. At that price and term, it’s hard to fault Dallas for bringing aboard another player who will help their production and likely their already strong possession game.
On the flip side, the Stars have not shored up their most glaring weaknesses. They lost two key defensemen in the offseason when Alex Goligoski signed with Arizona and Jason Demers signed with Florida. In their place, the Stars brought in veteran Dan Hamhuis on a two-year contract reportedly worth $7.5 million. The Stars are banking on his addition and the growth of young players such as Stephen Johns to at least stabilize, if not improve the blue line, but Dallas has done nothing to shore up its goaltending.
Kari Lehtonen posted a 0.906 save percentage last season and Antti Niemi checked in at 0.905. That won’t get it done in the postseason. You have to believe Dallas is working on a deal for a veteran goalie, and there are certainly teams out there with interesting possibilities like Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop or Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, but that is easier said than done.
Maybe simply having a healthy Tyler Seguin in the postseason will be all Dallas needs to take the next step, or maybe they’ll find themselves in the same position next offseason.
— You have to wonder about the wisdom of unsigned restricted free agents such as Jacob Trouba, Johnny Gaudreau and Tobias Rieder playing in the World Cup of Hockey. On the one hand, you admire their loyalty and dedication to their nation (or continent?).
On the flip side, the alternate insurance they must buy may not fully cover lost wages, should they suffer a significant injury that impacts their playing status this season, or in seasons to come. As one NHL executive put it: “If it were my son, I’d advise him not to play.”
— The Coyotes earned universal praise for their hiring of Dawn Braid, making her what is believed to be the first full-time female coach in the NHL. Braid acknowledged the historical significance of the hire, but it’s not how she wants to be known.
“I’d like the players and the staff to look at me as just another coach, not as a woman coach,” she said. “Maybe it’s because of my client base or the fact that I have been doing this for a while, but I think that’s already the case. I don’t think they look at me as Dawn Braid, the female. I’m their skating coach and they’re working with me because I’m getting results.”
— If you’re wondering why it took so long for free-agent forward Brandon Pirri to sign a contract — he agreed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Rangers last week — look no further than his defensive habits. Some have argued that Pirri might be effective if given a top-six forward role because his possession numbers are decent and his primary points rate is high.
However, while he was with the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him in the second round (59th overall) in 2009, Pirri quickly fell out of favor with coach Joel Quenneville for his poor defensive play and a seeming refusal to work on improving that aspect of his game. The same thing happened in Florida, where Pirri was regularly in coach Gerard Gallant’s doghouse. Pirri had better get the message in New York. Coach Alain Vigneault certainly won’t tolerate defensive lapses.
— Colorado has an amazing history of hiring coaches with no prior NHL head coaching experience, as the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers and Terry Frei pointed out in recent stories.
Check out this list assembled by Chambers:
1995-98 (three seasons): 209-75-36
(Crawford also coached the Quebec Nordiques in 1994-95)
Previous: St. John’s Maple Leafs (American Hockey League)
1998-2002 (five seasons): 193-118-48
Previous: Hershey Bears (AHL)
2002-2004, 2008-09 (three seasons): 104-89-22
Previous: Avalanche assistant
2005-2008 (three seasons): 131-92-23
Previous: St. Louis Blues
2009-2013 (four seasons): 130-134-30
Previous: Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
2013-2016 (three seasons): 130-92-24
Previous: Quebec Remparts (major-junior)
Previous: Cleveland Monsters (AHL)
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