Four for Friday: Kovalchuk, Colborne, Gunnarsson and Franson

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It’s been an incredibly interesting first week of free agency for the Toronto Maple Leafs and around the NHL.  Here’s four thoughts to get you through your Friday.

Kovalchuk’s retirement a blessing for the Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the world Thursday when the Russian superstar announced his retirement at the tender age of 30.  In doing so, Kovalchuk will be leaving $77-million on the table over the next 12 seasons.  But he also might save the New Jersey Devils.

A couple years back, I made my opinion on Kovalchuk’s contract fairly clear.  It was cap circumvention then, and it still looks of it now.  With only three years burnt off his contract, the Devils will carry a surprisingly fortuitous cap benefit recapture penalty of only $250,000 until the year 2025.  But as the venerable James Mirtle pointed out, Kovalchuk’s early exit from the NHL will benefit the Devils extraordinarily over the course of the next decade.

 

Given the incredibly unstable financial situation in New Jersey, Kovalchuk’s departure truly couldn’t have come at a better time from management’s perspective.   I don’t want to say that Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello pushed Kovalchuk out the door, but he’s probably going to be paying the movers.  Lamoriello is nothing if not shrewd, and had to see the potential calamity facing the team had Kovalchuk stayed a few more seasons.  It’s incredibly interesting that the bulk of Kovalchuk’s salary – $56-million – was to be paid out over the next five seasons.

The off-ice viability of the New Jersey Devils will be stronger in the future without Kovalchuk.  When you’re hemorrhaging money, it’s good to cut $11-million in payroll for fiscal ‘14.  The on-ice product will be more viable for the next 12 years they’ll barely notice the effect of the cap benefit recapture penalty.

Certainly, the Devils are a weaker team today without their best player.  They’ll also forfeit their first round pick next season as a part of the cap circumvention from signing Kovalchuk just three seasons ago.  So they’ll serve as a cautionary tale about long-term deals, and they’ll probably miss out on a top-10 pick.  But it could have been a lot worse, all things considered.

Colborne contract makes a ton of sense

In perhaps his most (only?) prudent move so far this offseason, Leafs GM Dave Nonis re-signed Joe Colborne to a modest one-year contract worth $600,000 on Wednesday.  With about $10-million and change left in cap space and more than a couple roster spots to fill – and hefty raises pending for Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson – the Leafs needed to get some bodies on the cheap.

Colborne, a first round pick in 2008, has had a decidedly checkered professional hockey career.  Once a top prospect and the jewel of the Kaberle trade, Colborne has never truly lived up to his promise since coming to Toronto.  Just two seasons ago, he was considered a potential second line centre and a blue chip future.  Today, he’s a guy who’s tallied 97 points in 150 career games for the Toronto Marlies.  While he’s hardly a has-been at only 23, it’s looking more and more likely that Colborne won’t be the big, skilled centre the team has been looking for.

Amusingly, due to the contract type, this deal is actually nearly a 1000% raise his previous AHL salary.  But for the Leafs, this is a ‘show me’ deal.  Due to the restraints of the falling cap, you can bet Colborne will be stick with the team through camp to fight it out with the pugilists for time on the fourth line.  And it could be his last stand in Toronto.

Under the Gunnarsson

The other bit of Leaf news from the week was that Carl Gunnarsson has elected to go to salary arbitration with the Maple Leafs.  This was an incredibly smart move by Gunnarsson’s camp, if only for the nuanced rules of the CBA.  As a part of the salary arbitration process, the player can only be signed to a one or two-year contract.  This is exactly what Gunnarsson’s agent wants.

Gunnarsson is a bit of weird case as a restricted free agent, because he’s a late 1986 birth.  Had he been conceived just a few months earlier, he would have become a UFA on July 5.  Alas, he’s still chained to the rules of RFAs, and likely doesn’t like what the Leafs are offering him.

My best guess is that the Leafs would like to sign Gunnarsson to a deal similar to that of Roman Polak’s in St. Louis.  The Leafs would LOVE to keep Gunnarsson in the fold for 4-5 years at around $2.75-million a season.  For what he provides to the penalty kill and defensive zone, that’s a steal of a deal for the Buds.

By going to arbitration, the Leafs would only be able to eat into one year of Gunnarsson’s UFA eligibility, and he’d finally be able to see what the market would bear for his talents in either 2014 or 2015.  He’ll be 28 at the oldest, and should his offensive game grow, could command a much larger salary than Polak’s.  This is simply smart business, and a part of the transactional nature of professional athletics.

Before you sling fiery comments on his twitter, just remember: don’t hate the player, hate the CBA.

Why Franson didn’t choose arbitration

A corollary to the above section on Gunnarsson, Cody Franson opted to forego salary arbitration this week.  His reason? Another wrinkle in the CBA as it pertains to the arbitration process.

When a player elects for salary arbitration, the team is given the choice of whether they want to offer a 1 or 2-year deal to the player.  (The inverse is true when its club elected).  So in Franson’s case, he’s only 25 years old; two seasons away from UFA eligibility.  The Leafs would almost certainly elect for a 1-year deal, so they could retain Franson’s rights as a restricted free agent for one more year in 2014.  Franson would also be unable to sign an offer sheet prior to arbitration, losing him leverage in negotiations.

So by foregoing arbitration, Franson has as much freedom as his status allows.  His side is probably much more interested in a much higher dollar amount than the Leafs want to pay.  I’d guess he’s more interested in the type of deal Roman Josi and Slava Voynov signed with the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings (respectively).  There’s no doubting that Franson is an offensive talent, but he’s nowhere in the realm of those two.  Franson may be a $4-million a year guy if he continues to finish in the top ten in scoring for defenders (as he did in 2013).  But he’s certainly not a guy the Leafs should think to lock up for 6-7 years at that number.

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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike
  • Dink

    oh

  • Bernier_The_Boats

    Sure hope we can lock Gunner and Franson up at a reasonable rate.  Franson has had a tough run in his tenure with the leafs to date, so I hope he doesn’t get lowballed to badly by NONO..

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Folks !!!

    • Burtonboy

      Mind Bomb Morning MB

      • Mind Bomb

        Burtonboy Mind Bomb  Morning BB. Beautiful weekend coming in my area. Beers BBQ Beaches. I am betting because I am busy this weekend 2 of are RFA’s sign so I cant talk about em.

        LOL

        • Burtonboy

          Mind Bomb Burtonboy Go enjoy your weekend . More important this time of yr .

        • Mind Bomb

          Burtonboy Mind Bomb Well if I am ordered to I guess I have to :)
          P

        • .JVR.

          Mind Bomb
          That’s exactly what happened with the Bernier trade and a bit further back, the Phaneuf trade.

          Was poolside for the Bernier one and found out about the Phaneuf trade when I got to work.
          Also, I was driving down the road with my wife, when the Burke firing was announced.  Can’t quite remember where we were heading though.

  • Zep2

    Bernier_The_Boats  Yeah I hope they give Franson some term . He has 1st PP talent . He has some work to do on his defensive game but that has been improving.
    Id hate to loose him over a pissing match

    • Bernier_The_Boats

      Zep2 Bernier_The_Boats I hear you…defensive zone coverage is sketchy at times, but he is a big body who is coming into his own.  If I were Nonis I would set him up for 3 years at 3 mil/per…or in that ballpark.

    • Burtonboy

      Zep2 Bernier_The_Boats These agents and players are well aware of the limitations the cap places on management . There won’t be a pissing match . It more a matter of finding the deal that’s best for both sides within the constraints of the cap.

      • Bernier_The_Boats

        Burtonboy Zep2  I hope so BB, but I wonder how negotiations work behind the scenes….With the mistreatment of Franson in the past within the Leafs organization, I don’t know whether a conversation such as, “we’ve got a tight cap this year Cody, so we want you to take a million less than you are hoping for, but don’t worry. The cap will loosen up in a couple years, so hang in there and we’ll re-up you on the next one”.
        A player who has not been wronged by the organization might bite on that, but I doubt that Franson wants to hear that type of negotiation. Your thoughts?

        • Burtonboy

          Bernier_The_Boats Burtonboy Zep2 Most likely Cody has little to do with the negotiations only to get updates from his agent . These guys all know this is a business and they are well aware the cap has gone down . You just do the best you can

        • Bernier_The_Boats

          -Keon- Not contratually, but he sat more than he should have, and wasted basically a full year in the press box.  None of that was related to his skill…I’m assuming that was a “Wilson” thing, but still with the leafs.

        • Bernier_The_Boats

          Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats Zep2 I hope you are right.  I would hate to lose him.

        • Zep2

          -Keon- He was benched by RW , and pilloried by Leaf fans , particularlily on this site for having the balls to complain about it.
          Sign this guy, on D. next to Rielly/ Gardiner, he has the best offensive chops in the organization

        • Burtonboy

          Bernier_The_Boats Burtonboy Zep2 We won’t . Franson wants to be a Leaf and Carlyle is really starting to trust him so there is little reason for them not to come to some sort of deal that works for both sides

        • Mind Bomb

          Zep2 -Keon-  I remember Zep, his dad even started Piping off

        • Mind Bomb

          -Keon-  Yes but now he has brought it, and is looking to get paid . If you challenge someone to step up, and he does, you better be prepared to reward him

        • Knights2Leafs

          -Keon- 
          The only thing that’s well documented is the face palm treatment RWilson gave to Franson and others such as Kadri.

        • Mind Bomb

          -Keon-  Yes but your selling low then. Tough call really

    • Bernier_The_Boats

      -Keon- I totally agree with that mentality @keon…

  • B_Leaf

    In arbitration I would expect Gunnarsson gets very close to $3M. The Leafs take it for two years, by then Rielly should be knocking on the door having completed one year in the AHL.

    • Burtonboy

      B_Leaf So you anticipate Rielly is two yrs away from playing in the NHL ?

      • B_Leaf

        Burtonboy B_Leaf 
        Yes, I think it is almost for sure he goes back to junior this year even though he would be better suited for the AHL, but that isn’t an option. Next year he would have to be good enough to play top four, basically be better than Gunnarsson or Gardiner and I don’t see that. So yes two years. If he is doing really well in a year and a half he might get the call allowing Gunnar to drop in the line-up or be moved at the TDL for assets.

        • Burtonboy

          B_Leaf Burtonboy Sure doesn’t seem like mannagement are thinking along those line . Comments like it ” it might not be any help for Morgan to play against 16 17 yr olds for another yr ” seem to indicate they believe he is much closer

        • Bernier_The_Boats

          Burtonboy B_Leaf I wonder if he will be able to slot into the top 4…I guess his instincts and hockey IQ are off the charts.  He weighs over 200 lbs.  I know it might be a stretch but crazier things have happenned…I can’t wait to find out.

        • Burtonboy

          Bernier_The_Boats Burtonboy B_Leaf No way to know for sure . Another factor that could go against Rielly is his cap hit which is high at 1.7.

        • Tommy Cat

          Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf If the Leafs are able to get Gunnar at a reasonable rate and Rielly is ready then Gunnar becomes a valuable trade asset heading into the first few weeks of the season and teams have evulated what they have and what they need.

        • Cameron19

          Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf His cap hit will only be 925K though – everything beyond that will go on the bonus cushion.

        • Burtonboy

          Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf Now you will have to explain the bonus cushion because I haven’t looked into that side of it at all.

        • Cameron19

          Burtonboy Cameron19 Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf 

          Basically it’s like a side pot.  It’s how the Wings and Bruins are making Alfie and Iginla contracts work, which makes sense for them, since they don’t have any ELC’s to really take advantage of.  Base salary is all that ever counts towards the cap for a player. With top ELC’s like Rielly, it’s usually just the max 925K, but on capgeek you can just toggle to salary to check.

          The overage on their cap hit, or their potential bonuses, just go on the bonus cushion, which can be up to something like 7% of the cap.  Any bonuses achieved over this year’s cap of 64.3 million, will be deducted from that team’s cap ceiling the following year. But since rookies rarely achieve their bonuses, it almost never matters.  The only time it ever did in a meaningful way, was when the Hawks won the Cup the first time, and Toews and Kane both maxed their bonuses, and Chicago had way less space to use the following year as a result.

        • Burtonboy

          Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf Well that makes it a bit more palatable. Might see Rielly after all

        • Cameron19

          Burtonboy Cameron19 Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf If you look at the Bruins, they could be taking a huge risk with that Iginla deal. Basically, they got him for just 1.8 million guaranteed on the cap this year, but if he hits all his bonuses, and their injuriies pile up this year, they could end up being with a cap 4.2 million lower than the ceiling next year…..

        • B_Leaf

          Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf 
          Rielly was in no way off the charts in his significant AHL stint this spring. He wasn’t horrible or anything but neither was he above average. Obviously at his age and development curve that is OK. While I agree he won’t get much help from jr, but if he plays in the 6 or 7 role and participates in practice will that be better? It is honestly a tough call. I don’t think he is better than Gunnar and Gards at this time and Fraser is a lock on left side bottom pair. So it is a catch 22…back to jr. or practices with Leafs…either way he is not playing top four, and probably wont for at least 18 months.

        • B_Leaf

          Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats 
          Did anyone think Rielly showed well this spring in the AHL?

        • Burtonboy

          B_Leaf Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats We will see what happens in camp . I’m not making any predictions one way or another . To definitively say he is going back to Jr which some people have made is a bold statement and people can look very foolish if he does make the team.

        • Cameron19

          B_Leaf Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats Well, some thought he was underwhelming, but I suspect Eakins probably wasn’t counting on him for much, either.

        • .JVR.

          Burtonboy
          How much of that is bonus money though?
          His cap hit is probably alot closer to the league minimum, as any bonuses reached go against the cap for the following season.

        • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ DeclanK

          B_Leaf Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats Eakins thought he was great.

        • B_Leaf

          DeclanK B_Leaf Cameron19 Burtonboy Bernier_The_Boats 
          Great for an 18 year old or great overall. What I saw I think he must have meant as an 18/19 year old

      • Zep2

        Burtonboy B_Leaf Next year at the latest. He gets a 9 game look this year. If he turns heads, he makes the squad this year  and spends a 4  weeks with the WJ  team. No one in the org. thinks junior is a good option

    • Dink

      B_Leaf hopefully 6 million can land the 2 defensemen, then on to Nazem

      • B_Leaf

        @Dink B_Leaf 
        We have to leave some space for Fraser too.

        • Dink

          B_Leaf eek

      • Bernier_The_Boats

        @Dink B_Leaf What kind of money/term do you think Kadri will get?

        • Dink

          Bernier_The_Boats B_Leaf I was thinking 3.25

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Michael, I am somewhat confused by this coment : There’s no doubting that Franson is an offensive talent, but he’s nowhere in the realm of those two. 
    Now, I admit I do not get to watch Josi at all and limited Voynov, But from what I have seen and reviewing the final standings, I am left wondering why he is nowhere close to them ?

    http://www.nhl.com/ice/playerstats.htm?season=20122013&gameType=2&team=&position=D&country=&status=&viewName=summary

    Sincerely
    MB

    • Zep2

      Mind Bomb  As the season progressed, Fransons game got stronger as Carlyles confidence grew in him. He started the season in the pressbox again didnt he.
      By game 7, his offensive game was beyond just the big shot. He was making great passes, jumping into rushes a la Gardiner and going to the front of the net .
      A full season playing 1st PP with Gardiner and then maybe we can revisit the Josi/Voynov argument

      • Mind Bomb

        Zep2 Mind Bomb   He did get better as he was given ice time, not sat on the Bench :) He was a decent player in Nash. Wilson is an Idiot

      • Jantz

        Well said.He also was alot more physical in the Playoffs. This year will be very telling as to whether he can elevate his physical game during the regular season.

  • Dink

    I am starting to think Holzer is likely to be dealt

    • Jay_Berg

      For what? A 7th round pick?

      • Dink

        Jay_Berg lol probably anything

        • Cameron19

          @Dink Jay_Berg Holzer is quality depth. I don’t see him being tossed away for just anything.

    • Zep2

      @Dink Playing Holzer on the 1st pairing was lunacy. Worse than using Kostka IMHO 
      He was thrown to the wolves. Carlyle/ Noni may have turned a a useful bottom pair guy into chickens hit

  • MaxwellHowe

    So many of the deicsion left to the Leafs hinge on the fate of Liles.  If his contract can be traded, the Leafs will have no difficulty signing the RFAs.  Course the Leafs might have to retain some salary.
    If Franson / Gardiner play as they did in the playoffs, if Gunnar has a full healthy season and Blacker/Granberg/Reilly show real progress – I believe this may be Phaneuf’s last season with the Leafs.  The Leafs will want to keep him, but not for $6 million + per season.  And I’m not so sure he will be willing to take a cut

    • Greg Fenton

      MaxwellHowe I don’t think Phaneuf is going anywhere unless Carlyle wants him gone, which there is no indication of. He is their best D-man (even in the playoffs), their best goal scorer and one of their best point producers from the blue line, and the captain. They’ll pay him and keep him around.

      • mcloki

        Greg Fenton MaxwellHowe and it’ll on;y cost them 3 million in cap to keep them both. The Leafs get that back from Tucker and Artmstrong. Especially if this team build upon their success. Who’d want to leave a resurgent Toronto.

        • Greg Fenton

          mcloki Greg Fenton MaxwellHowe I think it will cost a bit more then that. Its funny, the same people who seem to over rate Kessel’s play are also the people who want to under pay him……Also they on’y get 2 million from Tucker and Armstrong. The issue next year ist hey only have about 26 million coming off the books and a lot of key players, who will be getting raises, to resign. Even if they are able to keep everyone (and I don’t think it will that difficult), there won’t be room for improvements. 
          Its more a question of, should they be locking into this group, not are they able too/do they have to the cap space too.

      • MaxwellHowe

        Greg Fenton MaxwellHowe Phanuef has worked his ass off and he has been an important part of the team.  But he has certain glaring weaknesses – he is not very mobile and he does not impress with his ability to carry or pass the puck.  I’m going to be very interested to see how negotiations proceed thru the next year.

        • Greg Fenton

          MaxwellHowe Greg Fenton I would his decision making and overall defensive ability on that list of weaknesses as well. But he is still their best D-man, their #1, their captain, their #1 minute eater etc….

        • MaxwellHowe

          Greg Fenton MaxwellHowe Thats why I prefaced my initial remark by saying Phaneuf’s position with the Leafs depends on the progress of Franson/Gardiner/Gunnarsson and the up and comers.  He may be the Leafs best dman this year and next.  But how long beyond that will he hold that title?  Long enough to justify big money for a long term?

        • Greg Fenton

          MaxwellHowe Greg Fenton I don’t think it does. I think he’ll be kept regardless. Sure in 5 years he might not be their best D-man, but a team can’t make ever decision based on 5 years down the road and/or on “spec” of their other players. 
          Personally, I wouldn’t resign him (but i wouldn’t lock up this core group but Nonis appears to be doing so) but I think Nonis and Carlyle and Lieweke will.

  • Burtonboy

    JVR just said Kessel is a really funny guy and the fans never see that side of him. That’s why they all love teasing and chirping him

    • dlb eh

      Burtonboy 
      and why Bozak is in love with him

  • mcloki

    Morning gents. A bright beautiful day here in Toronto. Now start the dog days of summer, July 15th till August 15th, Not much news, lots of BBQ recipes. SHould be fun.
    I don’t even care about these RFA’s, they’ll all get signed. the question is fir how much. but at the end of the day who cares as long as they wear Blue and white.
    Have a great day.