Here’s a look at what player contracts need to be addressed during the off season.
Athens – The Greeks have been one of the league’s top teams for four seasons now, but they haven’t been able to latch on to the golden ring. That’s led to impatience and frustration in a nation that has been wrestling with major financial stress since before the EURO League was formed. The hockey team had been a lone beacon of hope during the winter months. We will see how thin General Manager Terry Moutafis’ patience has grown as he faces what must be his toughest off season ever. The team’s backbone, captain David Backes, is looking for a new contract, as is the starting goalie and almost the entire defense corps. Blueliners Dustin Byfuglien, Ian White, Nicklas Kronwall, Alex Goligoski and Tim Gleason all have to be resigned. The only contracted member of Season 5’s starting defense corps is Staffan Kronwall, who already has four full seasons and 320 games under his belt at the tender age of 22. Cam Ward, at age 32, may or may not be back in goal for the Greeks. He backstopped the team through all four of its good years after coming from Stockholm in a trade, but the lingering question in Greece has to be is Ward the guy who can take them to the top? Up front, the seasoned group of forwards look to be largely intact for Season 6, although 25-year-old Ryan O’Reilly will command a large salary increase and that could impact what Moutafis is able to spend for defensemen and a goalie. For sure, it’s a very challenging puzzle for Moutafis to solve.
Belfast – The two-time defending champs are the two-time defending champs because GM Chris Patton did a masterful job of collecting some of the best young names in the league and then having enough left over cash to sprinkle on some mega-talented players like Alexander Ovechkin and –last season – Joe Pavelski. But those young names are older now – at least old enough to have seen their rookie contract deals expire. In the category of “No Rest for the Weary,” we present The Off Season in Belfast Before Season 6. Looking for new contracts and presumably lots more reward money from GM Patton will be all these important cogs in the machine: Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Matt Duchene, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, Cody Hodgson, Cody Franson as well as the backup goalie and fourth-line left winger. That presents a significant math equation for Patton as he tries to keep the roster under the salary cap. A few parts are locked in place and appear to be the skeleton on which Belfast must add muscle. Goalie Jonathan Quick has one year remaining on his $6.5 million contract, Nazem Kadri and Matt Moulson have 3 years left and P.K. Subban has two left – all in the $3.5 and $3.75 million neighborhood – and right wing Nathan MacKinnon has four seasons remaining at bargain prices, comparatively. The past indicates Patton will be on the lookout for high-end, low-salary talent to keep the train rolling down the track.
Berlin – The Smurfs came oh, so close to winning their first Cup in Season 5 and they will have less of a makeover in store for them this off-season than their chief nemesis Belfast faces. The top defense pair is locked down for at least the next two seasons, and Nicklas Hjalmarsson will be easy to resign as a restricted free agent. That leaves Matt Carle, Gerhard Unterluggauer and Josh Gorges on GM Guybrush Threepwood’s appointment book this off season. Up front, only Loui Eriksson and Tony Martensson are in danger of leaving the team due to contract issues. Goalie of the Year winner Jimmy Howard has a year left on his $5.1 million contract. With a little luck and perhaps one or two moves by the GM, the Southern Conference champs will be positioned for a solid Cup run again next season.
Bern – Brent Seabrook’s contract expired. That’s probably the biggest thing on GM Randy Rock’s mind as we go from Season 5 to Season 6. Seabrook, a 31-year-old, three-time all-star, missed just 3 Bern Bear games in five seasons, scoring goals in double figures every season. He ranks second all-time in both hits and blocked shots, and he is 5th all-time in scoring among defensemen. The remainder of Bern’s defense and goalie Mike Smith are under contract, with only Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Derek Dorsett to worry about up front.
Bratislava – The Eagles survived a scare already this off season when their top right wing Marian Hossa, 37, didn’t decide to retire like his friend and countryman Zdeno Chara did a year ago. But Hossa will be looking for a new contract this season. Bratislava’s forward lines are made up almost entirely of players who are younger than 30. Only Hossa and Lauri Korpikoski are without contracts. Korpikoski has worked well with Milan Gulas and Andreas Jamtin and GM Chuck Massaro should have plenty of cap room to entice both he and Hossa back. On defense, Tyler Myers and Philip Larsen will need more money and new contracts, but Massaro is believed to be willing to let another unsigned starter walk. Christian Ehrhoff, 34, has fallen out of favor in Bratislava and Massaro has already made a move to replace the German by trading* left wing Luke Adam to Stockholm for Canadian Karl Alzner. Alzner, like Larsen, is defense-oriented, so the Eagles will take a hit in offensive skill, which Ehrhoff provided.
Copenhagen – A complete overhaul of the Trident team started before Season 5 and the team plummeted in the standings. The wheeling and dealing has already carried over into this off season. GM Dylan Callow is set up for at least a top 6 draft pick – possibly first overall and he has traded* marquee center Joe Pavelski to Lisbon for a another first-round pick and veteran Kyle Brodziak. If this off season is like last off season, we can expect more player travel to or from Copenhagen before the season begins. As for players needing contract offers from Callow, forwards Steve Ott, Kaspers Daugavins and Andreas Nodl won’t be holding their breath. On defense, four veterans are without contracts: Joni Pitkanen, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Brooks Orpik. If the trading of Pavelski signaled a youth movement in Denmark, then any or all four Dmen could be looking for employment elsewhere.
Dublin – With a new general manager this year, the Fighting Irish could also have a new core makeup because four key veteran players are without contracts. The top two centers, Ryan Kesler and Tomas Plekanec, as well as the top two defensemen, James Wisniewski and Keith Yandle are all free agents this season. With top wings Evander Kane and Phil Kessel still on the team, it seems imperative that Dublin keep or get a top center to play between them, so expect Kesler and/or Plekanec to be treated to some nice dinners by Gayle Rock, the new GM. Goalie Brian Elliott will stick around for one more year at $4 million with a player option for Season 7.
Edinburgh – Rick Nash is without a contract. His linemates Claude Giroux and Jamie Benn have at least one year left on theirs and both will be restricted free agents when their current contracts expire, so look for GM John Charles to look for a long-term solution on the right side, whether it’s Nash or not. Forward depth is not Edinburgh’s strong suit and Charles will have to decide between letting young players occupy the bottom lines or resigning adequate veterans like Blake Comeau, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Ales Hemsky and Kyle Wellwood. Their 14th place finish last season will probably prevent them from finding immediate help in the draft, but free agency is another route Charles could take to beef up the forward lines. But there are also holes on defense that will need to be filled. Luke Schenn, Adam Larsson and Gurkan Cetinkaya will be back for the Caps this season, but the other 3 D spots are basically vacant. Jay Bouwmeester is 33 and a free agent, as are the next best options, Fedor Tyutin and Andy Sertich. Edinburgh has an interesting decision to make on goaltenders. Kari Lehtonen is the starter but has only a year remaining on his Type 3 contract. Jakub Kovar is the starter of the future and he served as Lehtonen’s backup in Season 5. That meant James Reimer played only in the minors. Charles will surely be tempted to try to trade Reimer … but what if Lehtonen leaves after Season 6? Reimer would surely come in handy if that happens.
Geneva – Sergei Mozyakin is rapidly becoming Geneva’s most important player. In his second year in the league, Mozyakin will challenge for the top spot at center as an offensively gifted player in a mainly defensive forward scheme. David Desharnais occupied that role last season and was able to generate 215 shots and 54 points. Right now, he is without a contract. So how important is Desharnais to the Generals and GM Andy Rolling? Does Mozyakin’s vast potential erode Desharnais’ negotiating leverage? We’ll find out in a few weeks. In addition to Desharnais, Rolling has four starting forwards including Marian Gaborik to resign as well as three defensemen. The salary cap shouldn’t be an issue with only one RFA to resign in Ilya Nikulin, who made $2.5 million last season. Nikulin will get a raise, but not a huge one that will bust the bank. The team looks set in goal, where Ondrej Pavelec and Frederik Andersen have made 28-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky expendible.
Gothenburg – A team without a GM at the moment, Gothenburg has two superstars to resign. Pekka Rinne, age 34, and Eric Staal, 32, saw their contracts expire at the end of Season 5. The Devils are not young by league standards and it’s a safe bet the remaining players would prefer Rinne as their starting goalie and not Anders Lindback, who has two-plus years left on his contract. Staal is in an interesting position. He may no longer be the top center on the team. Twenty-six-year-old Adam Henrique has been great the last two seasons and Staal very likely could be offered second-line money for the first time in his career. The new GM will see much of his or her cap space disappear when the Type 2 free agents get their new contracts. Expect sizeable pay raises for six players including Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Petr Vrana and Carl Hagelin.
Helsinki – Perennial free agent Thomas Vanek will again spend much of his off season on the phone with his agent. Vanek has bounced around to four teams but seems to have found a comfortable fit in Finland, where – on the list of things to do – generating offense is a notion that traditionally fell below hitting, intimidating, defense, saunas, vodka and fish dishes. GM Trevor Grimm loves Vanek and the sniper’s career-best scoring numbers from last season (35 goals and 78 points). The questions are: How much money will Grimm offer the guy who earned $9 million last year and will that be good enough to convince Vanek to eschew the open market. Brad Marchand and Zack Smith are the only other forwards to resign and both are restricted free agents. Jack Johnson and Daniel Fernholm are in the same position on the back line. Those four cost the team about $10 million last season and while Fernholm will earn more, the others might not, so Vanek should get a very friendly offer.
Lisbon – Moving from Germany to Portugal was a headline-making move last year for the franchise. But it was overshadowed by the changes in personnel that followed. Trading away Joe Thornton, Max Pacioretty, Claude Giroux, Dougie Hamilton and a couple of first round picks was gigantic; and acquiring Shea Weber, John Tavares and Zach Parise was simply earth-shattering. In Lisbon, with Bryan Camara pulling the strings, the hits keep coming. Joe Pavelski and his $9 million salary are now making their way to Lisbon once a trade* with Copenhagen is finalized. That salary figure seems unfathomable given the fact Camara still has to sign Tavares, Drew Doughty and God-like Steven Stamkos to new contracts. On top of that, Weber, Parise, Alexander Steen, Jared Spurgeon and two backup goalies have their hands out too, waiting for Camara to get to their agents on new deals. The saving grace for the GM is the fact that only one player currently under contract makes more than $3 million.
London – The Dons were always known as a young, up and coming team, and they are still not too old. General Manager Geoffrey Paul will make a lot of contract offers to free agents this off season, but almost all of them will be of the Type 2, restricted free agent variety. The only unrestricted free agents on the roster who seem essential are Daniel Sedin and Carl Gunnarsson. David Clarkson and Jiri Hudler also will be up for contracts but both could be bumped to the farm club by younger talent anyway. The biggest name among the Type 2s, is Taylor Hall, who should command a salary similar to the $5.86 million he earned last season with the 10th-place Dons.
Madrid – The Royals finished 11th overall last season and many of their pieces are locked in place for Season 6. On defense, Nick Leddy is without a contract but as a restricted free agent, he’ll be back if GM Roland Lavoie wants him, which he will. Management will have to shell out more than the $1.4 million Leddy earned last year, however. Veterans Roman Polak and Kevin Klein, who have been with the team since its inception, will be a little harder to keep, given that they are unrestricted. Neither is likely to see top minutes on a deep team, and Nick Holden’s presence will chip away at their negotiating power. Holden earned only $600,000 last season and as a promising, capable option and restricted free agent, he’ll use up more cap space. Up front, 28-year-old Patrik Berglund will do the same, but to a much lesser degree because he made $3.3 million last season. Brooks Laich and R.J. Umberger are unrestricted free agents and they are the real wild cards on the team this off season. The team needs both men. Negotiations with Laich and Umberger will be crucial to the team as it tries to improve on its Season 5 finish. If agreements fail with one or both, Lavoie will be very nervous come free agent signing day or he may be forced to consider trading.
Milan – The Guerriero are in a rebuilding mode and they anxiously await draft day. The team finished second last in Season 5 and the draft lotteries will determine whether GM David Bell will pick first, second or third overall with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Stone on the table. It’s obvious the future is more important than the present in Milan, so veterans without contracts like
Brian Campbell, Trevor Daley and Sean Bergenheim can expect Bell to say “Thanks for your service” rather than “Here is the incredible amount of dollars I’m willing to give you to stay in Italy.” Bell will be more focused on contracts of younger restricted free agents Niklas Danielsson, Ben Bishop, Mikkel Boedker, Marcus Kruger and Jamie McGinn. But Bell has a lot of flexibility because he has lots of cap space. Last year, he dangled $9 million to Luca Sbisa to hook him and set up a long-term contract and he probably has the cap space to do something similar this off season as the young Guerriero start hitting their growth spurt.
Minsk – The Minsk Hussars rocketed up the standings in Season 5 but were unable to knock off Belfast in the Northern Conference. Their momentum won’t be stalled at all through the off-season. General Manager Igor Kirunov has 14 free agents to consider resigning but 13 of them are of the easy, Type 2 variety. Only old man Mark Giordano, 33, who played an average of 18 minutes per game, is unrestricted. But Kirunov has to set the team up with a salary structure that will enable the Hussars to challenge for the top spot in the next 3 or four years. Patrick Kane has a year left on a $4 million contract, so he might cost more to retain for Season 7 and beyond, but the rest of the salary structure will be set during the Type 2 resigning steps. Carey Price and Nicklas Backstrom are obvious places to start for Kirunov. He will be looking for long-term deals with as little financial commitment as the players and the agents will demand. Kris Russell, Alexander Burmistrov, Milan Lucic, Gustav Nyquist and Jordan Staal are among the other Hussars who Kirunov will meet with this off season to hammer out new contracts.
Moscow – There’s a new GM in Moscow and Ronnie Walker has already hinted at remaking the team in a new image. Goalie Alexander Salak is an important part of Walker’s plan and 31-year-old Jaro Halak isn’t. Walker will be looking to deal away Halak’s $4.75 million salary and put some of that money into the long-term deal he will offer Salak, who is currently a restricted free agent. In front of Salak and Halak for years have been Duncan Keith, Jason Garrison and more recently Ryan Suter. All their contracts are up. So are the contracts of captain Andrew Ladd, top centreman Anze Kopitar and winger Blake Wheeler. Moscow was always operating tight to the cap and when Walker gives Salak a raise over the paltry $746,250 he made heretofore, something might have to give.
Munich – The Dire Wolf have spent a couple of seasons tumbling down the standings and new GM Mike Felter has been left with cleanup duty. There are a few large salaries the young GM might have to eat for a couple more seasons as he rebuilds. Tomas Fleischmann might not be worth the $5.2 million he will be paid next season and season after. The same might be said of Chris Campoli and Henrik Sedin, who each have three seasons left on their contracts. Felter has shown a willingness to bite the bullet and give young players experience. Twenty-year Nikita Zadorov, for example, played 81 games for Munich last season, while Braydon Colburn, 31 and one of the team’s best defensemen, was limited to 58 games. Coburn’s contract has expired and it’s likely so has his tenure in Bavaria. Likewise, Dany Heatley (45 games played last season) will probably not get an offer from Felter. Unrestricted free agents on the roster include Josh Bailey and Damian Brunner up front and defensemen Ryan Wilson and Michael Sauer. The GM will be hoping for a favorable bounce of the draft lottery balls. Felter could be picking anywhere from first to fifth in his first EURO draft.
Oslo – The Outlaws set a league low for points with 41 last season, putting them 17 points behind the 23rd-place team. A first or second pick overall is guaranteed. General Manager Chris Lee will show how patient he is with the selection when he opts for either a prospect without attributes (McDavid or Eichel) or a forward who can skate in his lineup right away (Gaudreau or Stone). Then he will turn to the free agency periods where he has more decisions to make. Tyler Seguin has a year left on a Type 2 contract, so he seems to be the team’s key building block. He would go nicely with any one of those draft stars, wouldn’t he? Viktor Antipin, last year’s top overall pick, will be the base upon which the defense corps will be built and Semyon Varlamov could be a long-term solution in goal. The pieces around those three are coming together. Morgan Rielly, Tomas Hertl, Elias Lindholm and others have long-term contracts already. The question is what to do with the veterans on the team – keep them around, teaching until the younger guys are ready to shift gears, or jettison them to give younger guys more playing experience? Fitting into that veteran category are Mikhail Grabovski, Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Matt D’Agostini, Mark Fayne and former Spartak star Andrei Markov, who at age 37 is the team’s most talented defenseman.
Paris – It’s a little surprising that after their impressive Cup-winning season in Season 2 that Paris didn’t win it again. They seemed that strong. The French team is still among the very best teams in the league and they are assured of having the services of these players for at least Season 6: Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang, Evgeny Malkin, Corey Perry, Travis Hamonic, Ossi Vaananen and Tuukka Rask. But to keep up with Belfast, Berlin and others, GM Ralph Booth might need a little luck at the negotiating table. The Rouge Eiffels have some decisions to make. Mikko Koivu, Alexander Semin and Joffrey Lupul are unrestricted free agents. Players of that caliber can be the difference between an excellent team and one that has some good pieces but could use a little more help. Kyle Turris’ contract might be an important one for Booth. The 27-year-old center should be retained, especially with Koivu’s status unsure. But Turris will likely cost the team more than the $1.75 million he made last year. His new contract, along with Rask’s new deal might make it harder for the Eiffels to keep the whole gang together.
Prague – Prague’s crazy, up and down Season 5 will be followed with a relatively tame off season. Ryan Miller in goal and Jason Spezza – one of three excellent centers the team owns – will be up for contract renewal and both will come in handy of the Wolf Pack wants to make another playoff run. But if both leave the Czech Republic for whatever reason, the team will still have promising youth around to replace them. In Miller’s case, Niko Hovinen showed he is ready to assume the starter’s role, compiling an 89 save percentage while splitting the job with Miller, who saved at only an 87 percent rate. Spezza was excellent, scoring 61 points in 70 games, but Mark Scheifele and Cory Canacher are down the depth chart and both would like more ice time. Key Type 2 players who should be resigned are Martin Ruzicka and Bryan Little, both right wings, and defenseman Roman Josi.
St. Petersburg – Three-time all-star Brent Burns will be the top St. Petersburg free agent for GM Michele Castaldini to speak with this off-season. Burns is in the top 20 all-time in most key statistics categories among EURO defensemen.
He has scored 19 goals in three different seasons and is the best blueliner on his team. Dmitri Kalinin’s contract has also expired and he was a top 4 Dman on the team last year, too. So Castaldini has a couple of worries on defense. Among forwards, Wayne Simmonds and Artem Anisimov are Type 2 free agents, so they should be back, but Brad Richards, a 36-year-old center and team captain who showed no signs of slowing down last season, remains a question mark. If he is resigned, he might get bumped off the top line by Jonathan Huberdeau. If he signs elsewhere, the Red Stars will have a bit of a hole at center and on their powerplay units.
Stockholm – The Eagles offer a great example of what veteran players can do for a team. Last season, Stockholm was predominantly a group of young, promising players, with a small group veterans leading them. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Green led the way for heir apparents like Brendan Gallgher, Sean Monahan, Ryan Johanson and Olli Maatta and the team chugged along in the middle of the Northern Conference pack for much of the season. Bobby Ryan, 29, led the team in goals with 30 and assists with 40, and he is locked into a three-year deal, but Carter and Richards were up there in scoring too. Where would Stockholm have been without them? GM Michael Sauer might find out this season because they, along with Datsyuk and Green, are all unrestricted free agents at the moment. If the sides don’t work out deals this off season, Sauer will be faced with decisions ranging from going after free agents, making more trades, or playing the kids who might not yet be ready. The team seemed to make strides last year until a late-season swoon left them out of the playoffs. The most painful moments of the off season for Sauer will be when he offers new contracts to goalie Braden Holtby and then to defenseman Cam Fowler. Holtby, 26, is one of the most promising players in the EURO and he was only paid $637,777 last year. His new salary won’t exactly be a 10-fold increase, but it will seem like it to the GM. The 25-year-old Fowler is a key part of the team and only made $1.75 million last year. He will get a lot more cash this season.
Zurich – The Lions, long known for their potent forward lines, face the prospect of losing up to four of them before Season 6 starts. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Sharp, Jussi Jokinen and Jarret Stoll are all unrestricted free agents. So are the top two goalies on the roster – Roberto Luongo and Devan Dubnyk. The entire defense corps seems in place for two or three seasons, but the uncertainty in goal and up front has to worry GM Dennis Sullo a bit. The GM has done a good job of supporting the veteran forwards with good youth like Ryan Strome, Tomas Tatar and other, slightly older forwards. If the aforementioned veterans leave the team, the youngsters will be thrust into starring roles sooner than planned.
*Trades mentioned in this story are currently in front of the Trade Committee.