Quite a busy week in the NHL, given the trade deadline, the aborted Vancouver Canucks restart and the continued climb of onetime Seattle Thunderbirds forward Patrick Marleau toward Gordie Howe’s all-time NHL games played record of 1,767.
On the Canucks, the NHL announced they’ve been given two more days additional preparation before resuming their COVID-19-impacted schedule Sunday. Canucks winger J.T. Miller had questioned the intelligence of a planned Friday restart after just a lone workout ahead of playing 19 games in 31 days following a three-week layoff.
As for Marleau, 41, the San Jose Sharks veteran from Saskatchewan passed Mark Messier for No. 2 on the league’s games-played list and should surpass Howe by Monday in Vegas. Marleau, who had 83 goals and 116 assists over two seasons with the T-birds — going to the Western Hockey League Final in 1996-97 — has had an unusually quiet march toward Howe’s mark.
One reason: Detroit Red Wings legend Howe from 1973-79 played an additional 419 games for the Houston Aeros and New England Whalers of a World Hockey Association (WHA) many considered a major professional league. He returned for one final NHL season at age 52.
Marleau won’t match those 2,186 combined games. Nor Messier’s six Stanley Cups captaining two teams, nor Howe’s four with Detroit.
“That’s what I’m chasing,’’ Marleau, who made the 2016 finals with San Jose but has never won a Cup, told reporters. “It’s definitely disappointing that I haven’t won it in my career, but that’s what’s kept me going all these years, is trying to win that Stanley Cup.”
So, both factors likely kept this a quieter pursuit. Still, with 566 goals over 23 seasons, Marleau has had quite a career and deserves the kudos headed his way.
OK, let’s get to your mailbag questions.
Q: @rjarnold asked: Now that the dust has settled from the trade deadline, which teams do you think are most likely for side deals due to salary cap or player protection issues?
A: A year ago, talk was about general managers avoiding side deals so they wouldn’t get fleeced by the Kraken. But COVID-19 and the $81.5 million flat salary cap changed everything, creating leverage out of thin air for Kraken GM Ron Francis even he never really saw coming.
“Everybody was thinking about the cap moving up,’’ Francis told me Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “So I think when you get into a situation where you have a flat cap it certainly presents a few more challenges for teams that were projecting it to go up.”
He added: “A lot of teams have some really good young players whose contracts are coming up, and it’s a challenge to find money to make sure you pay those guys.”
Obvious candidates are contending teams that twisted themselves into knots freeing up cap space at Monday’s trade deadline. The Tampa Bay Lightning come to mind with its Stanley Cup-winning core being held thinly together by a brilliant GM in Julien BriseBois.
Spokane native Tyler Johnson, 30, lags behind stars there but could make a solid fit with a fledgling Seattle team. The Kraken taking his remaining three contract years at $5 million per annum would help BriseBois, but he’d likely have to sweeten things in a side deal. Left wing Ondrej Palat, 30, comes at a similar $5.3 million cap hit for only next season. The Kraken could help with him as well.
The New York Islanders have several young players to sign this summer, such as restricted free agents Anthony Beavillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin and an older one in unrestricted free agent Casey Cizikas, with little cap space. They also have pricey veterans the Kraken could be prompted by a side deal to take on, such as forward Josh Bailey, 31, with three years remaining at $5 million per, and defenseman Nick Leddy, 29, who has one year left at $5.5 million.
The Washington Capitals were also forced to work salary cap magic at the deadline. They have Mount Vernon native T.J. Oshie, a fan favorite in D.C. and still a productive forward at age 34, albeit owed four more years at a $5.75 million cap hit annually. If the Caps take the PR hit by not protecting Oshie, it’s only because they badly need his salary purged. And that’s where Francis can exert pressure for more incentives because — productive or not — players in their mid-30s are always a risk.
Q: @caribouwho asked: Have the divisional alignments been set yet?
A: I’ve been asked this quite a bit lately. Yes, they have been set, and the Kraken will play in the Pacific Division alongside Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Vegas, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Arizona moves to the Central Division.
Previously, there had been only seven teams in the Central, so this balances out all four divisions with eight. This season, there’s been a onetime realignment into an all-Canadian North Division and three regionally grouped U.S. divisions because of COVID-19 border shutdowns, but the hope is to revert this fall.
Q: @Goodall_10 asked: The Kraken could end up with a lot of available cap space depending on how the exp draft goes. Are there any high-end players (free agents or trades) you see them going after with that cap space to be top-end guys to supplement the guys taken in the exp draft?
A: The big contracts for players such as P.K. Subban, Brent Burns and Phil Kessel would generally work best in the expansion draft to burn the $48.9 million minimum required to be spent on picks. For post-draft moves, pending unrestricted free agent Taylor Hall remains intriguing if he revives his career this spring and Boston won’t extend him.
He’s only 29 and was league MVP just three years ago. Sure, Hall won’t come cheap and has had his competitiveness questioned. But this is why teams pay scouts to figure out stuff ahead of time. If he reverts more to 2018 form, you’ll get upside that expansion teams rarely see right away.
Another unrestricted free-agent target could be offensive-minded defenseman Dougie Hamilton, 27, of the Carolina Hurricanes. He’ll likely command about $8 million annually over multiple years, but his offensive talents as a right-handed shot make him a valued commodity in a league that skews left-handed. If the Canes don’t re-sign him as expected, he’d be worth a look.
Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, 30, wasn’t traded at the deadline, and GM David Poile afterward vowed he wouldn’t lose him in the expansion draft. But Poile also said he’d meet with Ekholm to discuss his future beyond next season’s remaining $5 million cap hit. Which suggests, if Ekholm won’t sign long-term, he could still be traded. The Kraken could offer up some draft-day bounty to get in on an elite defender.
Also, the Kraken is expected to take Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Jake Allen in the draft. But free agent Canadiens centerman Phillip Danault, 28, would make for a nice post-draft addition at a valuable position. He has been in a somewhat inexplicable slump that should keep his market value palatable.
Q: @CelestialMosh asked: Assuming that you’ll be able to travel for away games at some point, which trips are you looking forward to the most? And which ones are you least looking forward to?
A: Honestly, I’m most anticipating Canadian cities. I lived in Toronto for eight years and have been back only a few times in recent years. Montreal was my birthplace and home for 29 years, but both my parents have passed away and my brother lives in Vancouver, so I haven’t been back since June 2019. I was last in Edmonton for the 2002 Grey Cup, Calgary for the 2000 Grey Cup and Winnipeg in 1996 covering a CFL game.
On the U.S. side, I’ve never been to North Carolina, Columbus, or San Jose and am excited about all three. I also owned a condominium in Glendale, Arizona, directly across from where the Coyotes play but sold it the summer of 2016 and haven’t been back. So, looking forward to hanging out at the Westgate complex again.
Places I’m not looking forward to? Well, I haven’t been to Ottawa, a nice capital city, since having a successful Toronto Star baseball job interview there in 1998. But the Senators play in the suburb of Kanata, so I’m hoping Sens’ senior vice president P.J. Loyello, who I knew during his Florida Marlins front office days, can guide me to some better dining spots.