When I was growing up, Kenny Rogers was at the height of his popularity. By far, his biggest hit was “The Gambler.” You can’t spell Gambler with “G-M.” Every NHL GM is The Gambler.
Now, most people remember the catchy refrain quoted in the title. But, there’s another pearl in the song that is important to keep in mind as the offseason gets underway in full force today:
“Every gambler knows, that the secret to surviving, is knowing what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep, ’cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser….”
So, that’s where the Jarmo Kekaleinen starts the offseason–with a hand that’s a winner or a loser depending on what he throws away and what he keeps. To make the stakes higher, the Jackets are near the salary cap, and one of the cards they certainly hope to keep in the form of Seth Jones, needs a raise that would likely put them very close to or over the cap. This might be fine if it weren’t for the team’s budget, which is lower than the cap.
It is clear two cards the team would like to throw away–Scott Hartnell and Fedor Tyutin. Neither is likely to play a part in the team’s future as they try to move towards contending. Both are 30+ and being paid over $4 million/year. To make maters worse, both have No Movement Clauses and would need to be protected in any expansion draft. As I discussed in my last article, that could mean exposing David Savard to the expansion draft, in the case of Tyutin, and making a choice between exposing Wennberg and Atkinson in the case of Hartnell. So, it becomes imperative to find a way to move these two.
For Tyutin, that may mean a buyout. The window for buyouts closes next week and retaining Tyutin after the window closes carries the risk of losing Savard. If the team can’t find a trade for Tyutin, it is probably in their best interest to buy him out. Yes, that means 4 years he’ll stay on the book, but it also means immediate cap savings of $3.2 million this year and $2.5 million next year and cash savings of $2.9 million over the next 4 years. Looking at the last 5 years of NHL trades in the summer, I just cannot see a comparable for a Tyutin trade.
Now, we have seen guys like Hartnell get moved this time of year. Heck, we’ve seen Hartnell himself moved 2 years ago. The thing is, those deals usually involve a contract coming back. Which negates some of the reason for moving Hartnell in the first place, but, ultimately, you have to move a player with an NMC if you want to protect both Atkinson AND Wennberg. Which explains the Foligno rumors–it makes sense, if you can’t move Hartnell, to explore moving a younger player who may be more tradeable. Yes, Foligno is coming off a bad year, but his shooting percentage was below his career average and other GM’s know that.
The difficulty of clearing cap space in a Hartnell move is also likely behind rumors that the Jackets are trying to attach Hartnell to any potential trade of the 3rd overall pick. If you have some offers that are pretty close to what you want for that pick, why not also try to move Hartnell as part of the deal? It’s smart. However, what I don’t think is going on, which some people seem to worry about, is that the Jackets are moving the #3 JUST to move Hartnell and create space and move his NMC.
Flying under the radar as another issue is the goaltending situation. I was incorrect in my initial review of Korpisalo’s situation vis a vis the Expansion Draft. Because of his loan to Ilves in his first year of his Standard Player Contract, he would be eligible for the Expansion Draft. As is Forsberg. To make matters worse, Bobrovsky has an NMC that kicks in July 1, which means he has to be protected if he’s on the team…and neither of the Jackets promising, young goalies can be protected. The best the Jackets could do if they wanted to protect their future #1 goaltender (whichever guy they believe that is), is to move Bobrovsky and protect that goalie, leaving the other exposed. But there is no way to protect both guys. So, there’s the difficult decision of trading Bobrovsky now (which almost certainly would create some cap space, even if some salary comes back) or holding onto him and leaving both youngsters exposed. There seems to be little to no discussion of Bobrovsky out there as a potential trade candidate, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he was moved tonight or sometime in the next week, particularly if the Jackets have a favorite between Korpisalo and Forsberg.
So, what do you do? Tyutin is a card I’m throwing away via buyout if I have to. This also makes room for Werenski in the lineup. This is an easy choice and immediately creates almost $3 million in cap room. I’d be willing to take back a salary to move Hartnell’s no movement clause. And, the more difficult one, I’d move Bobrovsky. The reality is that his contract expires right around the time I’d like to see this team contending and I’d want to protect one of Forsberg or Korpisalo—based on the evaluations of my coaches as to which they thought was more likely to be my number one going forward. No doubt, I don’t end up with as much cap room as I might like after signing Jones (probably $3-5 million after sending Boll to Lake Erie and saving another $950,000), but I can look forward to Boll and Campbell’s contracts expiring next offseason and try to find a taker for Jack Johnson sometime in the next 12 months.
Of course, the other big thing going on tonight is the NHL Draft. The Jackets have the #3 overall pick and theree are thousands of rumors of what they might do. Unless the Jackets get some really absurd offer that gets them an elite prospect and only moves them down somewhere in the top 10, don’t expect a trade. I see a lot of people sweating this and I don’t think they should. The one offer that could get me interested would involve Arizona’s Dylan Strome. The Jackets get last year’s number 3 in this scenario and one who happens to fulfill a positional need (center). I’m sure there are some other offers that could give me pause, but this is the most intriguing one. Otherwise, I’d be quite happy to see us get one of the two Finns.
For what it is worth, here’s my top 10:
- Auston Matthews—He’s elite. He’s a center. So, he edges out the next two who are wings.
- Patrick Laine—Honestly, I could make a good case for Puljujarvi at #2. He’s the more complete player, but scoring ability wins out and Laine lands at number 2 in part because, if you are sitting at #2, you know that is the concensus at this point. Which is why, if I were the Jets, I’d certainly entertain an offer from Columbus.
- Jesse Puljujarvi— Naturally the Jackets who could use help at most other positions would get a draft position that is likely to go to an elite, playmaking wing. Don’t feel too bad about this though, this kid is pretty damn good and NHL-ready.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois—Remember what I said about position and Matthews? Well, it is less likely Dubois plays the pivot in the NHL, but it is still a possibility. Hence, he gets the edge over the next guy.
- Matthew Tkachuk—I still wrestle with what Tkachuk’s ceiling is. Up until the OHL playoffs, he really had not performed up to expectations, but he picked the right time to play well. Does this mean he “excels under pressure” or was it just a statistical anomaly?
- Olli Juolevi—Part of the reason I debate Tkachuk is because I like Juolevi a lot. Played extremely well against the best-of-the-best at his age in the World Junior’s. A complete defenseman who can play at both end’s. Not sure he’ll be a #1, but he’d be a very nice piece to have long a guy like Zach Werenski.
- Mikhail Sergachev—May actually have higher upside than Juolevi, but I’m concerned about downside risk as well. Still think whoever gets this kid is getting tremendous value.
- Alexander Nylander—Not as complete as some of the forwards ahead of him, but he’s going to make a lot of highlight reals.
- Clayton Keller—This guy may be the most underrated player in the draft. Some NHL GM is going to ignore the size thing and get a heck of a player.
- Logan Brown—If you are concerned about Keller’s size, Logan Brown may be your guy. A huge, 6’6” center who is capable of playing at both ends of the ice. His name gets mentioned a lot in connection with the Jackets if they move down.
Some other guys that are worth keeping an eye on:
Jakob Chychrun—Limbo time! How low can you go? Stock has fallen tremendously. Is he this year’s Cam Fowler…or Brandon Gormley. Some team might get good value on him if he slips past #10. Not sure I’d want to take the chance at this point.
Luke Kunin—I really like this kid. Did I mention he’s a center? Likely to go somewhere around 20th. If only we could land another pick.
Cam Dineen—Put up some pretty impressive stats. Not a large physical specimen, but he could be a nice addition with the Jackets second round pick.
Cam Morrison—Will be interesting to see whether he makes it through the second round. Another Youngstown Phantoms project. Upside isn’t quite as high as Kyle Connor’s was last year, but if you can get this guy in the late 2nd or early 3rd, do it.
Goalies—At some point late in this draft the Jackets really need to rebuild the goalie pipeline. Expansion draft risk and loss of Elvis Merzlikins to a contract extension in Switzerland have made this more a priority than it first appeared it would be.