It’s a new world, now. A world chock-full of unknowns and apprehension.
And the NHL’s general mangers are sitting center stage, trying to quickly understand and adjust to the new world realities. For the NHL, that means a flat salary cap for the foreseeable future, new internal salary caps, an expedited offseason and an unknown season format ahead.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames. “It’s a significantly different world. There’ll be lots of activity, there’ll be lots of discussion. It’ll take some work, no question, but that’s the job in front of us.”
Things will move quickly immediately following the Stanley Cup Final, with the draft and the opening of free agency occurring just days after the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said the speed at which everything will transpire after the Stanley Cup is handed out will be fascinating.
“It’s really tough to project,” Dubas told the CBC. “The unknowns right now are at a level still far beyond hockey.”
Several teams have already begun shedding salary and making atypical maneuvers in an attempt to streamline costs. The Pittsburgh Penguins shed significant salary last week by trading Nick Bjugstad to Minnesota for a seventh-round draft pick.
The Montreal Canadiens traded a 5th-round draft pick for unrestricted free agent Joel Edmundson over the weekend in hopes of signing him to a cost-friendly deal before he hits the open market at noon on October 9.
“It’s uncharted territory for all of us,” said Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who secured the services of backup goalie Jake Allen in a trade with the St Louis Blues last month before acquiring defenceman Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes over the weekend. “With the cap being flat and without knowing when teams will be able to have fans in the stands, with revenues, it affects the salary cap.
“It’s not something that we’re making up. It’s just reality. Everybody’s going to have to take a hit.”
For teams like the Washington Capitals who are already tight against the salary cap, the job will be a real test of economics. Fielding a competitive team while shedding costs is a daunting task for anyone. While stars will likely get scooped up regardless of the economic conditions, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said it’s going to be difficult for teams at or near the cap to round out the bottom portion of their rosters.
“It’s going to be tight,” he said. “There’s going to be some tough decisions that have to be made.
“We’ll try and do our best to make the right ones.”
The tight economic conditions will also give rise to more straight-up trades as teams try to address needs without increasing spending.
“There’s not going to be a lot of liquidity in the system,” Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher said. “It’s going to be interesting how free agents approach that, how teams approach that. You might see more hockey trades — dollar for dollar trades — where teams need to improve or need to upgrade in certain areas and you don’t have the ability maybe to go into the UFA market. You’ll have to be creative in finding solutions with other teams.
“It’s going to be very interesting.”
It’s likely we will see plenty of cost-cutting throughout the lineup. Pricey bottom six players will be replaced with less expensive farm hands or prospects. Restricted free agents may also be released.
Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said he expects to see some restricted free agents across the league who would have normally been tagged with qualifying offers cut loose.
“There will be some interesting decisions and some interesting discussions — some decisions that some organizations are going to be faced with that they didn’t anticipate,” he said. “There are going to be some tough decisions, certainly in our organization, but in other organizations as well.”
There is no question that significant changes are on the doorstep. Throw in an expansion draft on the horizon and you can see that GM’s will be earning their pay over the next six months. The key will be to move wisely, quickly adjust according to the market and cut costs wherever possible. That’s much easier said than done, but that’s why Brian MacLellan gets paid the big bucks.
By Jon Sorensen