The Las Vegas expansion franchise will be given a head start when it comes to free agency.
Sources told ESPN.com that as part of these fascinating expansion-draft rules we keep learning about, the Vegas organization will have a 48-hour window ahead of the expansion draft in June to speak with and sign any pending unrestricted or restricted free agents whom the 30 teams left unprotected for the expansion draft.
So, for example, let's say for whatever reason Brent Burns remains unsigned by the San Jose Sharks by June (and I’m not saying that’s going to happen, just using him as an example). Would the Sharks want to protect Burns in the expansion draft if they feel he’s walking out the door July 1?
Let’s pretend they don’t, and Vegas has the opportunity to negotiate with Burns ahead of the expansion draft and sign him. Pretty unreal, right? But it’s possible, according to these rules.
Now, one can’t imagine Vegas would want to launch its franchise by overpaying a number of UFAs. But for a real difference-maker? Who knows.
And the same goes for RFAs, who obviously are younger. Any RFAs left unprotected for the expansion draft can become property of the Vegas franchise if they agree to terms on a new contract within that 48-hour window.
Another important detail: If any of the 30 teams loses a free agent to Vegas during this 48-hour window, it no longer can lose anyone in the expansion draft. In other words, that free agent lost counts as the one player lost in the expansion draft.
This Vegas expansion thing is getting more interesting by the minute.
Credit to Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray for re-signing defenseman Hampus Lindholm; Murray stuck to his guns on the $5.25 million average annual value as his final offer. Lindholm wanted $5.5 million a year as recently as last week, but came down in part I think because of the realization the Ducks have very little wiggle room under the salary cap. The Toronto Maple Leafs re-signed Morgan Rielly for $5 million a year while Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres each got $5.4 million a year; this deal falls right in between those defensemen, which is where Anaheim felt it should. Smart of agent Claude Lemieux, though, to have the salary fluctuate in the contract so that it’s only $3.75 million for the 2020-21 season, which could be a shortened or canceled season if the CBA is reopened (players don’t get paid during a lockout). That’s lockout protection -- if the season is canceled, Lindholm would lose less than he would have if he had been making his full salary -- and that’s what you want if you’re any player signing a new deal these days. Lindholm will make $3 million this season, $6 million next season, then $6.75 million, $5.25 million, $3.75 million and finally $6.75 million in the last season of the deal.
You can put those Cam Fowler trade rumors to rest, at least for this season. Murray made it clear on a media call after the Lindholm signing Thursday that his cap situation is good enough that he doesn’t need to move a key player. "I’m going to do the best I can to give this group one more shot at it," Murray said. "And I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it that way."
And the reason he doesn’t have to move Fowler now is because Simon Despres and his $3.7 million salary are on long-term injured reserve. It also doesn’t sound like Despres will be back anytime soon. Murray’s comment about the situation Thursday suggested the concussion issues aren’t the only ones at play.
"The Despres situation is one that ... is a very sensitive issue and it’s one that ... my whole goal hopefully is make it that Simon at the end of all this lives a happy, healthy, normal life," Murray said. "It’s going to take some time before we get to that point. Really, it’s all I want to say at this time on that because it is sensitive and I feel real bad for Simon."
The NHL is hoping to bring back regular-season games in Europe as early as next season, a source told ESPN.com. The league is looking at potentially having two regular-season games in Europe. It’s not a done deal and we’re already getting late into the calendar, so perhaps it won’t get done on time, but there’s still hope for next season. As well, word is the NHL is also looking at staging preseason games in China, which I would read as a reminder of the NHL’s interest in making sure it has its players participating in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
The NHL and NHLPA will have another Olympic meeting with the IIHF sometime in November as the clock continues to tick on a decision about participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. I’m told the IIHF will meet with the IOC before that and report back to the NHL and NHLPA in their November meeting. It’s another reminder of how this is working: This isn’t yet a direct negotiation between the NHL/NHLPA and the IOC; the IIHF is directly communicating with the IOC and then reporting back to the NHL/NHLPA. At some point, though, one figures the NHL/NHLPA will sit down with the IOC directly when it’s time to decide.
And finally, although I know this bores most hockey fans, it's mighty important to players. The NHL and NHLPA have set the first-quarter escrow payment at 15.5 percent of each player’s paycheck. Last season, players paid out on average 17 percent in escrow payments, but the final tally as to how much they get back still hasn’t been finalized. But I can’t imagine they’ll get a whole lot back of it.
"Escrow" is a word that makes NHL players wince. But it’s been around for a while and it’s how the league and NHLPA make sure there’s a 50-50 split in revenues between both sides.
"A lot of guys are used to it [escrow], guys grumble about it, I mean, who wouldn’t, honestly?" said Tampa Bay Lightning veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn, a player rep with the Philadelphia Flyers during the last round of CBA talks, in 2012-13. "But the CBA is agreed upon and that’s the terms we came to."
I suspect the NHLPA will want in the next CBA to find a way to somehow limit escrow, but just how you do that and make sure it’s a 50-50 revenue split with owners is beyond me.
Here’s a table of how escrow has played out since coming into effect with the salary-cap system in 2005 (keep in mind players’ share of hockey-related revenue was higher before 2012, anywhere from 54 to 57 percent):
2015-16: Not yet determined.
2014-15: Players earned 87.05 percent of their contract.
2013-14: Players earned 89.7 percent of their contract.
2012-13 (shortened) season: Players (after prorated salaries and escrow) earned 49.96 percent of their contract.
2011-12: Players earned 99.48 percent of their contract.
2010-11: Players earned 97.7 percent of their contract
2009-10: Players earned 90.59 percent of their contract
2008-09: Players earned 87.12 percent of their contract
2007-08: Players earned 100.66 percent of their contract (includes the shortfall and interest).
2006-07: Players earned 97.51 percent of their contract.
2005-06: Players earned 104.64 percent of their contract (includes the shortfall and interest).
In the meantime, the NHLPA continues to discuss how to dole out profits from the World Cup of Hockey. The debate has been how to dispense the money between the players who actually played in the event and the overall rank and file. It sounds like something of a 70/30 split or close to it -- 70 percent for players who played in the World Cup, 30 percent for those who didn't -- is being talked about, but still not finalized.