Salary cap crunch makes for early NHL trade opportunities
The echoes of a Stanley Cup parade in Pittsburgh have only just faded and NHL teams are already getting down to business preparing for next season.
There are still a few days left before the draft and the free agent negotiating window that follows, and general managers are wasting no time making trades to prepare for the jockeying that's about to come. On Monday, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers all made moves to address their immediate future.
With the salary cap going up just $1.6 million to $73 million for next season, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were opportunistic in giving up draft picks to acquire NHL-caliber help. The Maple Leafs traded first- and second-round picks to the Anaheim Ducks for Frederik Andersen and signed the 26-year-old goaltender to a $25 million, five-year deal. The Panthers sent a sixth-rounder and a conditional fourth-round pick to the New York Rangers for the rights to pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Keith Yandle.
The Panthers could have talked to Yandle for nothing beginning Saturday, but general manager Tom Rowe wanted to get a head start.
''I thought it was a risk worth taking, given the ability of the player and the way the game's going,'' Rowe said Monday. ''It gives us a few extra days before free agency starts (on July 1) to pitch him on the type of program that we have, the type of ownership we've got, the type of players we have.''
Yandle had 47 points last season, 15th among defensemen, and over 50 in the previous two years. If the Panthers sign Yandle, perhaps as a replacement for the smooth-skating Brian Campbell, it would make them much more serious contenders in the Eastern Conference, even before free agency.
The Maple Leafs aren't ready to contend for the playoffs yet and are picking first in the draft Friday night. But that didn't stop them from acquiring a legitimate No. 1 goaltender.
Andersen was sought after, especially by the Calgary Flames, but Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello jumped at the opportunity to give up a couple picks to acquire him.
''Timing, you never know when that will come,'' Lamoriello said. ''The opportunity of acquiring him came now, and I believe, and our organization believes, that this will help the growth of our young players.''
Young players on cheap, entry-level contracts are more valuable than ever for teams, no matter their status. It's what led the Chicago Blackhawks to trade 21-year-old potential star Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes last week along with Bryan Bickell, whose contract they had to shed to stay afloat.
''It's hard these days when you have young guys that are entering the final year of his first contract and then things get tricky when players get raises and you're always looking to have that next wave of young guys coming in,'' said GM Stan Bowman, who turned around and signed 2014 first-rounder Nick Schmaltz to a contract as a potential replacement.
Another incoming prospect, Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, will cost the maximum entry-level deal available, but the Sabres traded a third-round pick to the Nashville Predators for his rights. Vesey could still test free agency Aug. 15, but Buffalo GM Tim Murray considered it worth the gamble.
This time of year is all about calculated risks. Florida didn't give up much for Yandle, but Rowe hopes the acquisition pays big dividends because patience isn't at a premium.
''We want to win, and we want to win now and we want to follow our blueprint and stay with it,'' Rowe said. ''All the moves that we do going forward every single move is going to be predicated on us winning a Stanley Cup.''
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