All posts by Josh Wegman

Report: Seattle close to naming Ron Francis GM

The NHL's Seattle expansion franchise is close to naming Ron Francis the team's inaugural general manager, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Francis would become the first major front-office hire owners David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tod Leiweke have made.

Francis is largely responsible for building the Carolina Hurricanes team that made it to the Eastern Conference Final in 2018. He joined the club's front office prior to the 2006-07 season before being named director of hockey operations in 2011, and then general manager and executive vice president of hockey operations in 2014. His contract was terminated on April 30, 2018 - shortly after the arrival of new owner Tom Dundon.

Francis didn't make many major trades during his time in charge of the Hurricanes, and his two biggest moves led to a home run and a strikeout.

In 2016, he took on Bryan Bickell's contract to land Teuvo Teravainen from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a second-rounder and a third-rounder. Teravainen has become a core player for Carolina, and the 24-year-old is coming off a career-high 76-point season.

Francis' worst move was also a trade with the Blackhawks. Needing to find a solution in goal, Francis surrendered a third-rounder for Scott Darling, and then handed the netminder a four-year, $16.6-million contract. Darling struggled mightily with the Hurricanes, and he was traded to the Florida Panthers this summer then bought out.

Francis has often prioritized drafting and developing young players as a GM. In 2015, he made one of the best draft picks in Hurricanes history, landing franchise cornerstone Sebastian Aho in the second round (35th overall).

Seattle is scheduled to begin play in the 2021-22 season.

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5 players who could still be traded this summer

The NHL offseason has slowed down considerably since July 1. Outside of Jake Gardiner, the list of remaining unrestricted free agents is uninspiring.

However, that doesn't mean there won't be any more exciting movement, as there are still a handful of intriguing players who could be dealt this summer

Here are five players to watch:

Rasmus Ristolainen

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Team: Sabres
Position: D
Cap hit: $5.4M

Ristolainen trade rumors are just pure speculation at this point, but the writing seems to be on the wall. The Sabres have acquired three other quality right-handed defensemen since February: Brandon Montour, Colin Miller, and Henri Jokiharju. That indicates Ristolainen's time in Buffalo could be coming to a close.

Ristolainen is flawed defensively, but not enough to scare other teams away. After all, he's still just 24 years old with three seasons remaining on his contract, and the blue-liner is coming off his fourth straight 40-point campaign.

With the logjam on the right side in Buffalo, the Sabres giving him a fresh start wouldn't be surprising if they can get a forward of equal value in return.

Possible fits: Maple Leafs, Lightning, Stars, Jets, Oilers

Kyle Turris

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Team: Predators
Position: C
Cap hit: $6M

For the second time in less than two years, a team decided to upgrade from Kyle Turris to Matt Duchene. The Predators had hoped Turris would be the answer to their secondary scoring needs when they acquired him from the Senators in the three-way trade that sent Duchene to Ottawa in November 2017. But now the veteran is coming off his worst season in nearly a decade.

With Duchene in the picture, it seems excessive to pay $6 million per season for a third-line center, especially with Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino capable of filling that role. The problem that Predators general manager David Poile may be encountering - if he's indeed shopping Turris - is the five years left on the 29-year-old's contract.

However, Turris' long track record of being a productive No. 2 pivot and his strong performance with Canada at the World Championship (10 points in 10 games) could convince a team that his poor 2018-19 season was just an anomaly.

Possible fits: Sabres, Blue Jackets

Chris Kreider

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Team: Rangers
Position: LW
Cap hit: $4.625M

Kreider is entering the last year of his contract, and as general manager Jeff Gorton continues to reshape the roster, it doesn't appear the longtime Ranger is a part of the team's equation moving forward. A trade could come closer to the 2019-20 deadline, but Gorton may not be able to wait. The club holds just over $7 million in cap space, but four RFAs - including Jacob Trouba - are still without contracts.

Every team would want Kreider due to his rare combination of size, speed, physicality, and offensive ability, and he's still young at just 28 years old. He gets a say in his destination, as Kreider's contract includes an 11-team no-trade list.

Possible fits: Avalanche, Bruins, Blues

Jason Zucker

Bruce Kluckhohn / National Hockey League / Getty

Team: Wild
Position: LW
Cap hit: $5.5M

Wild general manager Paul Fenton, for whatever reason, really seems to want to trade Zucker. At last season's trade deadline, a deal to send the 27-year-old to the Flames fell through. In May, Zucker appeared to be Pittsburgh bound until Phil Kessel flexed his no-trade muscles to nix the swap.

It's unclear what's motivating Fenton, especially after he signed Zucker to a five-year extension last summer as one of his first major moves after becoming the club's GM. It's also unknown what Fenton would want in return for Zucker. The Wild appeared to be heading toward a rebuild, but then Fenton handed 31-year-old Mats Zuccarello a five-year deal in free agency. The team's direction is confounding.

Zucker is coming off a bit of a down season, but he's just one year removed from a 33-goal campaign. He's quick, smart, and plays a solid two-way game.

His contract includes a 10-team no-trade list, so it's possible we'll see another Zucker deal collapse.

Possible fits: Avalanche, Devils, Sharks

Nikita Gusev

PressFocus/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Team: Golden Knights
Position: LW
Cap hit: RFA

The Golden Knights have reportedly explored the trade market for Gusev. Vegas is up against the cap, and the team hasn't been able to agree on a deal with the restricted free agent.

Gusev is the KHL's reigning MVP. The 27-year-old is highly skilled, an explosive skater, and he possesses great hockey intelligence - traits that suggest he'll be able to make a smooth transition to the NHL.

Despite his potential, it's tough to gauge Gusev's trade value, especially considering Vegas doesn't seem to hold much leverage.

Possible fits: Sabres, Devils, Blues

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Report: Blue Jackets spoke to Marner’s agent about offer sheet

The Columbus Blue Jackets are among a list of several teams that have spoken to Mitch Marner's agent Darren Ferris about a possible offer sheet, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline.

However, the meeting doesn't necessarily mean an offer will come to fruition. Portzline sees no indication that Marner wants to leave Toronto, and the Jackets are convinced the Maple Leafs would match any offer sheet, perhaps by trading fellow young forward William Nylander, he added.

Nylander inked a six-year, $45-million contract on Dec. 1, 2018 with the Leafs after a well-documented holdout. He struggled after rejoining the team, tallying 27 points in 54 games.

Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said previously it's not a foregone conclusion he'd match any offer sheet for Marner.

The Maple Leafs have $3.8 million in projected cap space, according to CapFriendly, but that'll increase by $5.3 million when Nathan Horton is placed on long-term injured reserve. They could add slightly more cap space by optioning players to the minors, as they currently have 23 on their roster.

Regardless, the Maple Leafs would be hard-pressed to match an offer sheet exceeding $10.6 million. The Blue Jackets have the required draft pick capital to submit an offer sheet with a cap hit either below $1,395,053 or above $10,568,589. An offer sheet with a cap hit exceeding the latter would cause the club to forfeit four of its next five first-round picks.

The Blue Jackets have a projected $15.8 million in cap space but have some internal housekeeping to take care of; fellow RFA Zach Werenski remains without a contract, while Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson are also due for raises next summer.

Marner would undoubtedly reinvigorate a fan base that just watched Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky walk as free agents on July 1. The 22-year-old winger tallied a career-high 94 points for the Leafs in 2018-19.

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Report: Stars’ former top prospect Honka on trade block

The Dallas Stars are trying to trade defenseman Julius Honka, reports Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News.

The club's former top prospect was chosen 14th overall by Dallas in the 2014 draft. As a right-handed, mobile blue-liner with offensive instincts, Honka has many qualities teams covet, but it appears he's fallen out of favor with the Stars.

In 87 career NHL games, the 23-year-old has yet to leave his mark, tallying just 13 points. He was scratched for the final 35 games of the 2018-19 regular season and didn't appear in the playoffs. He would have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors.

Honka has been productive in the AHL, tallying 108 points in 201 career games with the Texas Stars.

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Devils sign Hughes to entry-level contract

Jack Hughes is officially a member of the New Jersey Devils.

The club signed the first overall pick of this June's draft to a three-year, entry-level contract Friday. The deal carries a maximum average annual value of $925,000 plus performance bonuses.

Hughes, 18, led the U.S. National Development Team with 112 points in 50 games this past season. The shifty center set the program record for points with 190 over two campaigns.

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Holmgren steps down as Flyers president, will become senior adviser

Longtime Philadelphia Flyers executive Paul Holmgren is stepping down as team president and will transition into a position as a senior adviser, the team announced Thursday.

General manager Chuck Fletcher will add president of hockey operations to his title and report directly to chairman and CEO Dave Scott.

Holmgren just completed his 40th year with the organization. He played for the Flyers from 1975-84, was an assistant coach from 1985-88, head coach from 1988-92, general manager from 2006-14, and president from 2014-19.

"It's been an honor to serve this franchise in many different roles throughout my life and I look forward to this next chapter," said Holmgren. "I approached Dave about my idea to step aside to spend more time with my family. I have complete confidence in Chuck in his new role, leading the Flyers to great things."

The Flyers missed the playoffs just twice under Holmgren's reign as general manager, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.

Holmgren was unafraid of big moves - for better or worse. In 2009, he signed Chris Pronger to a massive seven-year extension. On June 23, 2011, he shook the hockey world by trading away core pieces Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract. He also inked Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet in 2012, which the Nashville Predators matched.

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Stars sign Dickinson to 2-year, $3M deal

The Dallas Stars have signed forward Jason Dickinson to a two-year contract with a $1.5 million average annual value, the team announced Thursday.

Dickinson, a restricted free agent, had an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 20.

"Jason is a conscientious player who plays a very detailed, 200-foot game," said general manager Jim Nill. "As last season progressed, he began impacting games night in and night out, and he really established himself during the playoffs. We fully expect him to continue to build upon that and be a big part of our team for years to come."

The former 29th overall pick recorded 22 points in 67 games during his first full NHL season in 2018-19. The 24-year-old added five points in 13 playoff games with the Stars.

The Stars now have just under $1 million in projected cap space with a roster of 22 players, according to CapFriendly. Defensemen Julius Honka and Niklas Hansson are the club's remaining RFAs.

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Coyotes ticket sales up 550 percent from 2018 after Kessel trade

Arizona Coyotes fans are thrilled to see Phil.

Following the acquisition of Phil Kessel, the club's ticket sales have increased by 550 percent compared to the same week last summer, according to the Arizona Republic's Richard Morin.

The Coyotes have also seen an uptick in their website traffic, mobile app visits, and social media engagement since the June 29 trade that brought Kessel to the desert. Additionally, 94 percent of season-ticket holders have renewed for next season - the highest mark since 2004.

"It's certainly satisfying and exciting to see us doing something as a franchise that we feel makes us a much more competitive team and puts us in a better position to win," Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen said, according to Morin. "The fact that other people in this market are seeing that, fans are seeing that, and they're jumping on board, it's good, positive momentum for this organization."

Kessel ranks eighth in the NHL in goals since entering the league in 2006-07 and hasn't missed a game since 2009-10. He's totaled 174 points over the past two seasons, marking the most productive two-year stretch of his career.

"Obviously, Phil is an elite player," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said earlier in July. "Personally I can't (recall) the last time we've had a player of this caliber who has had this production and this resume on this team. I think it's exciting for our fans and it's exciting for our players."

The Coyotes finished just four points out of the playoffs last season despite an injury-riddled campaign. They were one of the league's top defensive teams but finished 27th in scoring - a weakness that Kessel will certainly help address.

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Kings, Iafallo avoid arbitration with 2-year, $4.85M deal

The Los Angeles Kings have signed forward Alex Iafallo to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $2.425 million, the club announced Wednesday.

Iafallo, who was a restricted free agent, had an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 20.

The 25-year-old scored 15 goals and added 18 assists during his second NHL season.

He signed with the Kings as an undrafted free agent in April 2017 following a standout collegiate career at Minnesota Duluth.

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3 teams that should sign an RFA to an offer sheet

This is supposed to be the summer of the offer sheet. We've seen one so far, but the Montreal Canadiens' attempt to pry Sebastian Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes served more as a lesson for other teams on how not to extend an offer sheet.

Of this year's star-studded restricted free-agent class, only Aho and San Jose Sharks sniper Timo Meier have signed contracts. Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Patrik Laine, and many others remain available.

Due to the required draft-pick capital and salary cap space, few teams are equipped to pursue some of the aforementioned young superstars. There are three teams, however, that should sign an RFA to a legitimate offer sheet, and not one like Marc Bergevin's laughable attempt.

Before we dive in, here's a reminder of the compensation a team would receive if it loses an RFA based on the average annual value, according to CapFriendly:

$0 - $1,395,053: No compensation
$1,395,054 - $2,113,716: One third-round pick
$2,113,717 - $4,227,437: One second-round pick
$4,227,438 - $6,341,152: One second-round pick, one third-round pick
$6,341,153 - $8,454,871: One first-round pick, one second-round pick, one third-round pick
$8,454,872 - $10,568,589: Two first-round picks, one second-round pick, one third-round pick
$10,568,590 and up: Four first-round picks

Colorado Avalanche

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty

Projected cap space: $23.95M
Most sensible target: Marner (Maple Leafs)
Proposed offer sheet: seven years with a $12M AAV

Is Marner a $12-million player? No. Is he worthy of being the league's second-highest paid player? Absolutely not.

But Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic is in an enviable position. He's assembled a young roster that's ready to compete for the Stanley Cup, and there's ample cap space at his disposal. With Nathan MacKinnon playing in Colorado at a bargain $6.3 million annually, it's OK to overpay a bit for the supremely skilled Marner.

Sure, $12 million is excessive, but over time that deal wouldn't seem so bad. The AAV is high enough to entice Marner, and the cap-strapped Maple Leafs wouldn't be able to match. Remember, a team only gets one shot at retaining an RFA.

The four first-round picks the Avs would surrender also seems like a heavy price, but Colorado would contend every year, pushing those selections into the 20s. The chances of landing a difference-maker like Marner that late in the draft are slim. Plus, the club held two first-round picks - including the fourth overall pick - in the 2019 draft, so the Avs' farm system is well stocked.

On the ice, Marner would provide a running mate for the newly acquired Nazem Kadri. There was excellent chemistry between the pair during the second half of the 2017-18 campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they were split up this past season after the arrival of John Tavares. They would give the Avs a dangerous second line to complement one of the league's best trios in MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.

New Jersey Devils

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Projected cap space: $20.77M
Most sensible target: Marner
Proposed offer sheet: seven years with a $12M AAV

The same thinking applies to the Devils. Yes, $12 million per season is a drastic overpay, but it would likely be high enough to lure Marner, and too expensive for the Maple Leafs to match. And eventually, the contract wouldn't look so ridiculous due to inflation. This scenario doesn't seem too far-fetched either after Ray Shero's comments in June.

However, the Devils aren't quite at the same stage as the Avalanche. They're not a Stanley Cup contender yet, but adding Marner, along with P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes, would show the team is serious about winning. That could help to convince Taylor Hall - a UFA in 2020 - to re-sign. A core of Marner, Hughes, Hall, and Nico Hischier would be capable of something special.

Even if Hall leaves in free agency next summer, it's doubtful a team with Marner, Hughes, Hischier, and others would be picking high in the draft over the three seasons after giving up the picks to get Marner.

The Leafs star is a logical fit for the Devils, too. With first overall picks Hughes and Hischier down the middle, there would be no need to give a center like Tampa Bay Lightning pivot Brayden Point an offer sheet. And of the RFA wingers, Marner's team is the least likely to match an offer sheet given the Leafs' limited cap room. It's the perfect storm.

Carolina Hurricanes

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Projected cap space: $10.39M
Most sensible target: Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals)
Proposed offer sheet: 7 years with a $6M AAV

The likelihood of the Hurricanes signing a player to an offer sheet after owner Tom Dundon called the process a "waste of time" isn't very high. And while the club no longer possesses the cap room to target one of the premier RFAs, it's still in a position where it makes sense to grab a mid-tier player.

A $6 million cap hit would be an overpay for Vrana, but that's the cost of doing business in restricted free agency. Eventually, the contract would turn into a bargain for a player with the potential to become an annual 30-goal scorer. The speedy Czech winger potted 24 goals in 2018-19.

The Capitals face just $4.29 million in projected cap space, and they likely wouldn't be able to match unless GM Brian MacLellan pulls a rabbit out of his hat.

For Hurricanes GM Don Waddell, sacrificing first- and third-round picks is more than fine. Even if the 2019-20 season goes sideways, the Canes still own the Maple Leafs' first-round pick next year and two additional third-rounders.

Vrana would help Carolina because the Hurricanes could use more scoring depth, and there are spots up for grabs in the team's top-six forward group.

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