I know that the subject has been making the rounds. Every body has been waiting for Nikita Kucherov to sign. Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov have filed for arbitration. Nikita Nesterov and Yanni Gourde remain un-signed.

Using CapFriendly.com and their Armchair-GM tool and plugging in the already signed players that played regularly in the NHL last season, plus Slater Koekkoek, the team has $12,659,000 in cap space. That is for 10 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies. At a minimum, you need 3 more forwards because of Ryan Callahan’s injury to start the year. Realistically, you need 4 forwards and 1 defenseman.

While putting Callahan on Long-Term Injured Reserve has been bandied about, it’s not a real solution as it would only provide temporary relief until he’s ready to return. Once he return’s, the salary cap issues would return. It would realistically only help make room for 1 of the extra forwards that would then return to Syracuse upon his return.

I’ve long predicted that Kucherov will be signed in the neighborhood of $6.5 million per year. Nothing has changed for me to change my prediction. There have been some similar players that have signed recently for $6-$6.5 million and he’s been slightly better than most of those players. Some of those players include Aleksander Barkov ($5.9m), Nathan MacKinnon ($6.3m), Filip Forsberg ($6m), Mark Scheifele ($6.125m), Brandon Saad ($6m), Derek Stepan ($6.5m). How many of those players would you want to have on your roster over Kucherov?

Killorn has a lot of comparables with players that have recently gotten anywhere in the $3.75 million to $4.5 million range. Some of those players include Victor Rask ($4m), Sean Couturier ($4.33m), Jakob Silfverberg ($3.75m), Anders Lee ($3.75m), Adam Henrique ($4m), Mikkel Boedker ($4m), Craig Smith ($4.25m), and Carl Hagelin ($4m). Killorn fits in well with that group as a middle six winger that scores at around a half point per game in the NHL. Expecting him to ask for at least $4 million seems pretty reasonable and he may even be pushing for closer to $4.5 million while the team is trying to get him under $4 million.

Coming off of a 35 point season, it’s easy to see why Namestnikov may be looking for a good raise from what he made this past season. He is a little bit harder to nail down a comparable though. He’s a guy you know can get more than 35 points if he’s given more ice time and opportunity, but he hasn’t yet and hasn’t proven that he can. So a short term deal to continue to establish his value is in his best interests. One contract in particular stood out to me: Brock Nelson.

Brock Nelson is entering the second year of a three year deal with a $2.5 million cap hit. Prior to signing the deal, he had two full seasons playing in the NHL for the Islanders. His first season he had 26 points in 72 games (0.36 PPG) and the second season he had 42 points in 82 games (0.51 PPG). He was also 22, almost 23 when he signed the contract.

While Nelson is a winger and Namestnikov is a center, Namestnikov has a similar amount of time in the NHL, though his first season was shorter than Nelson’s. Namestnikov had 16 points in 43 games (0.37 PPG) and followed it up with 35 points in 80 games (0.44). While his follow up season wasn’t as good as Nelson’s, being a center and likely having more upside should count for something. The team likely wants to get Namestnikov under $2 million, but I think it’s likely he’s asking for $2.5 million in arbitration.

So if we take my assumed numbers of $6.5 million, $4 million, and $2.5 million for our three forwards, that leaves the team over the cap by $341,000. Even if the team could finagle the numbers between the three players to get below the cap, you’re still in a situation where you have the bare minimum of players to play to start the year. If there was an injury, the team would have to play short a player for a game before making an emergency recall that would allow them to exceed the cap. That’s not a situation the team wants to be in.

At a minimum, the team needs to fit one more defenseman, say Nikita Nesterov which should be possible for under $850,000 and one more forward. The forward can be accomplished for under $600,000 with someone like Cory Conacher, Tanner Richard, Tye McGinn, or Joel Vermin. There’s a lot of depth options there.

So where does that leave the team? Something has to give. To give the team the players and the flexibility needed to navigate the rigors of the season, a move is going to have to be made to move salary. The team has a number of options there and so I will list them here.

  • Trade or walk away from Alex Killorn
  • Trade Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Trade or buyout Valtteri Filppula
  • Trade Jason Garrison
  • Trade Ben Bishop

One issue to consider as well in making any of these decisions is the expansion draft coming next June. Currently by my count, the forward list is Steven Stamkos, Callahan, Filppula, Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin. The last spot will be one of Tyler Johnson, Killorn, and Namestnikov.

Trading Killorn or Namestnikov is certainly an obvious stone for two birds. It would eliminate the possibility of losing one of them for nothing in the expansion draft and it would clear up the salary cap jam. Namestnikov may or may not have a future with the team depending on the future of Tyler Johnson, as well as Brayden Point and Matthew Peca. Killorn is older and a complementary player. While you need players like them, they are a little easier to come by than good centers. Either one would draw a first round pick or good young prospect at a minimum with Namestnikov having more value because of his age and potential.

Walking away from Killorn is also a possible solution. Because it is a player elected arbitration, if the award is above a certain value, the team will have the option of walking away from the award and making Killorn an unrestricted free agent. However that seems very unlikely because of his potential trade value.

Moving Filppula would clear up one of those spots and allow the team to protect another forward. I think it is highly likely that Filppula will not be with the team when the protected lists are submitted. However, it remains to be seen if it will be now, at the deadline, or after the playoffs. Because of the arbitration filings, if the award for either one is high enough, it would trigger another buy out period for two days following the award.

Jon Cooper obviously values Filppula, but he is not producing enough for his contract. He’s also gotten pushed down from the 2nd center spot. Clearing his contract, even if through a buyout, would give the team the cap space they need now to make the contracts work, but creates more problems down the road. A buyout would mean $3.5 million in dead cap space between Filppula and Carle’s buyouts over the next 4 years and I don’t think that’s something the team can afford.

Filppula has a reported limited no trade clause, but there are no details of what it entails. It’s possible that it doesn’t even kick in until the last year of his contract. So Yzerman’s hands may be tied if Filppula is uninterested in a trade or has only give a limited list of teams he’ll accept a trade to.

A little bit of an off the wall idea is the trade of Jason Garrison. I think it’s probably the least likely to happen but at the same time it wouldn’t surprise me. Garrison carries a $4.6 million cap hit. While his point production was diminished last season, he is still a solid defenseman that plays 20 minutes a night. Particularly for a team that would have a spot for him as a point shooter on their second power play unit, he can be attractive. If he could bring back a young defenseman, even if just a third pair guy that can play now, that would help plug the hole he would leave.

The biggest issue with trading Garrison is that it would push Braydon Coburn back into playing top 4 minutes, likely along side Andrej Sustr. With the lack of right handed defenseman though, it could also mean that Coburn stays on the third pair and young Slater Koekkoek is forced into big minutes. I think Koekkoek can handle it eventually, but I’m unsure that he can do it right now while he’s still developing. If a trade or some other move didn’t bring in a defenseman, it would also mean using Nesterov, Luke Witkowski or Matt Taormina as the sixth defenseman. That’s not a very attractive situation either and would look even worse in the event of an injury or two.

The last one is obviously an idea that has been around for some time now to trade Ben Bishop. It didn’t happen at the draft even though the Calgary Flames were reportedly in discussions with Yzerman about him. Instead they went with a cheaper option. Meanwhile, Bishop at least for now is still a Bolt. If Yzerman were to get an acceptable deal in the next couple weeks though, the $5.95 million cap hit that Bishop is currently taking up would provide more than enough room to handle the needed contracts while also bringing assets back to the organization.

With the arbitration hearings coming up for Killorn on July 20th and Namestnikov on July 29th, something will have to happen. Because of the two filings, the team won’t have to make a decision on a buy out or on walking away from Killorn until the 48 hour period after Namestnikov’s award is announced. Either way, something is bound to happen by August 1st. Bet on it.

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