Mike's Mailbag: Salary Cap, Self-Isolation, Draft Picks, and More!
Thanks once again to everyone who took the time to submit questions to Mike’s Mailbag. Here are my responses to your questions on the Ottawa Senators, National Hockey League, and anything else!
Dio asks: Do you think there’s a real chance compliance buyouts happen? If so, which teams should use them, and on whom?
The COVID-19 situation has obviously had a massive impact on hockey-related revenue, which in turn drives the cap number. Many teams around the league were banking on an increase in the salary cap for next year, but that seems like a near impossibility now. The league is going to have to do something to allow teams to stay in line.
Compliance buyouts seem like a really easy avenue to do that, but at the same time it seems like something the NHLPA would want to avoid. So, do I think there’s a chance? Yeah. Do I think it’s a guarantee? No.
The team that immediately jumps off the page as needing one is Vancouver. They have way too many bad contracts, and sit way too tight against the cap, for a team at their stage of the competitive cycle.
Shawn asks: How much does the cancellation of seasons and tournaments affect team scouting and draft positioning?
I would imagine that the impact is negligible. Draft lists are what they are at this point in the year. Discussions among scouting staffs around the league to determine final positioning would happen regardless. There’s certainly a chance that this hurts players lower in the rankings, who may have had a great playoff run or Memorial Cup, but at the top it shouldn’t matter much.
Gord_Wilson_2.0 asks: How are you filling the void of no sports during this especially strange time?
I’m trying to do my part by staying inside and away from people. That means working from the kitchen table, filling breaks with Netflix (Tiger King was a journey…), and watching lots of news programming. The stricter people are about following the physical distancing guidelines, the faster this will pass. It's not all rose though... Normally I’d be getting ready to watch the Masters at this time of year, and I’m not quite over that loss yet.
I'm also trying to figure out what to do about my currently-scheduled July wedding...
Hyung asks: Do you view Stutzle higher than Byfield? I feel Byfield is overrated compared to Stutzle who has played in the DEL.
It was interesting to see that Stutzle is ranked higher on Craig Button’s newest draft rankings, for sure. He’s also surpassed Byfield on a number of other lists. Perhaps some of the “consensus number two” talk on Byfield is starting to crack. With that being said, it’s difficult for me to say that Byfield is overrated. He’s been near the top all year for a reason, and he’s younger than a bunch of the guys in this draft class.
Frequent readers know that I’ve championed Stutzle as a target for the Sens since the Fall, so if he lands in Ottawa at #2 or elsewhere you won’t see me complain. Whether the second selection is Stutzle or Byfield, the choosing team is likely to get a good player.
tkaCHUCK: If the Sens wind up falling outside the top four in the lottery, would it be a priority to grab Rossi with the top pick since he’s the next highest center, or do you go for one of the top wingers up there?
You take the best player available regardless of position.
John asks: Tyson Barrie. The Sens in my mind should target him. Assuming he doesn’t get what he’s likely to demand, can you see him being a good fit offensively behind Chabot?
I don’t think there’s a major need. I’d rather see the team leave spots open for young players like Erik Brannstrom, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Lassi Thomson to make their way up and into meaningful roles over the last few years. Barrie would require a multi-year commitment, which would leave the Sens with Barrie, Chabot, and Zaitsev taking up real estate. Add in the potential for Borowiecki to be re-signed, and Zub to be signed out of Russia, and things get clogged up fast. There are too many good prospects in the system for that, in my opinion.
Sens604: When will we see the Ottawa Senators with a new jersey? I feel we need a rebrand to shake off all the disappointments. Show up with a new feel and vibe in 2021.
It’s been talked about for a long while now, but nothing ever seems to move. Regardless of when it happens, most people seem to want a return to the 2D jersey. I’d love to see the Sens go with a modified Heritage ‘O'. This my favorite concept of those I've seen:
Sens604: I would love for the Sens to put in an offer sheet for Matt Barzal. Do you think the Sens will do it? He would be a fantastic addition to the roster.
Andre asks: Hi Mike, if Ottawa drafts fifth in the first round, do you think not drafting Drysdale is a good idea because we already have so many defensive prospects and need offensive players like Holtz, Rossi, Perfetti, and Raymond?
Yes, I would tend to agree. If Drysdale is the best player available, you take him, but it’s not like I would be prioritizing defence over grabbing high-end offensive threats.
Richard asks: With the amount of picks and prospects in stock, what combination do you think Dorion will pull together for a trade? What position/player/draft pick should he target?
Despite what the made-up fun in the Sens Marketplace might suggest, I think the team has to be very careful about trading or packaging picks. The only thing I can potentially see happening is using some capital from the second round to move up from the Islanders pick, if there’s someone on the board that they really like.
Shawn asks: Hey Mike, wanted to get your thoughts on the report that the Sens are expected to sign Artyom Zub out of the KHL? Do you see him as a good fit or do you worry that he could be another Zaitsev and drag down some of the young guys like Chabot/Brannstrom? (He has drawn a lot of comparisons to Zaitsev)
This one doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, to be quite honest. The Zaitsev comparisons are concerning enough, but if there’s a desire to bring in a right-shot defender who can play next to Chabot, I’m not sure why keeping Dylan DeMelo wasn’t the preferred option. They’ve basically taken a known, effective commodity and exchanged it for a big question mark. With that being said, if the contract terms aren’t absurd, the risk is relatively low. Maybe it's a gamble worth taking.
Sens604 asks: Do you think the Sens will trade up their Isles first round pick to the top 10?
Moving into the top-10 might be a bit of a stretch, but I could certainly see them moving up a small handful of spots if there’s a player they really like still on the board.
Jim asks: What’s going to happen to the season?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Woody asks: When do you think the NHL comes back, and what will Brady Tkachuk’s salary number be? When do you think Seattle will release their name, and do you think Ottawa will get a new arena in the future?
1. If there’s anything happening on the ice before August 1, I’d be stunned.
2. Bo Horvat’s deal in Vancouver seems like a reasonable comparable for Tkachuk, with a couple years of inflation added. If the Sens can keep his AAV in the $6.5M range (give or take), I think it’s a fair deal for both sides. Getting the deal done now before he has a chance to put up godly point totals next to a top-five pick next season should be a priority.
3. I thought we might see Seattle release its name around the upcoming draft, but that idea is out the window now. The COVID-19 situation has thrown so many things into the air.
4. It doesn’t feel like it’s a short-term wish, that’s for sure. Still, the dream isn’t dead. If the NCC plan for the Flats still has room for an arena as has been reported, it’s reasonable to think that it can happen down the road. It might just take someone else driving the bus to make it happen. There’s currently a lot of baggage…
Bob asks: This is likely going to be a long break from games played, so you might need some story ideas. Would you consider tacking on a short “where are they now section of the players at the end of your articles. Many of my favourite players over the years I am sure have gone on to other things post playing. Alternatively, we only have 30ish years since the franchise was relaunched. Maybe you’d consider retelling some of the fantastic stories of seasons past. I love that you are still producing content and I check every day for something to do outside of the family and the greater concerns of the modern world.
This is a really neat idea. I’ll definitely consider it.
Tron asks: Given Jayce Hawryluk's lofty draft selection, hot start with the Sens and Ottawa's thin depth at forward - what are his chances of establishing himself as a bonafide top-6 or middle-6 player?
Brian asks: Who should the Sens focus on selecting with their three first round picks, even though the draft order is not known yet?
Alexis Lafreniere is obviously target number one. Other names that intrigue me are Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Lucas Raymond, and Marco Rossi. It’s tough to know who to target with the Islanders pick until we know how the draft order is going to be established – that pick could theoretically land anywhere right now.
Brian asks: Should the Sens take the Russian goaltender (Askarov) with one of their three first-round picks?
Kevin asks: With such a low payroll for next season, which player by trade or free agency should the Sens target to get to the cap floor?
If you’re looking for a straight cap-related acquisition, Loui Eriksson in Vancouver might make some sense. At the same time, though, re-signing the RFAs combined with a relatively flat cap due to COVID-19 should let the Sens get relatively close without having to do much.
CalvinNHobbes asks: The Avalanche are a stacked team up front. Our first round pick from 2017 Shane Bowers was sent over there in the Duchene trade. How do you think Bowers fits in with the Avalanche? In your opinion, does he cap out as a second-line center? 27 points in 48 AHL games puts him 8th on the Colorado Eagles in points.
Saying that he “caps out” makes it sound like he’s a disappointing, but I do think that he has what it takes to be incredibly effective in that role for them moving into the future. He was really close to making the Avalanche out of camp this past season, and the fact that they needed to go out and acquire Kadri and Namestnikov suggests that they don’t have a ton of immediately-ready center depth. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Bowers get a long look in 2020-21.
Mark R asks: We all expect at least one blue-chip centre to be drafted by the Sens with one of their two top-10 picks in the upcoming draft. If the unthinkable happens, and the centres are not available to the team at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, who are your four centres next year?
Brown, Norris/Tierney, White, Anisimov
Bubba Gump asks: Will Marian Gaborik play another game for the Senators?
Alex asks: Assume the Sens with the draft lottery and pick Lafreniere (stranger things have happened, like this quarantine). Assume that they also have the #4 and #17 picks in 2020 from SJS and NYI. Who would be the two guys available you’d want to draft at those positions to develop with Lafreniere? I’d go with Rossi and Lapierre, but would a solid D like a Poirier or a Drysdale be a better complement given the current pipeline we have?
If Stutzle is still available at #4 in the scenario you describe, he’s the guy I’d be targeting. It’s really tough to know who would be available at #17, but taking the risk on Lapierre is something that might be worth doing if they end up with #1 and #4 (theory being that they’ve cashed in so heavily at the top, that taking a risk down lower is worth it). I certainly wouldn’t explicitly target defence with #4, but if a defender is the best player at #17 that would be fine as well.
Laurie asks: Do you feel the Stanley Cup will be awarded in 2020?
It’s best to have low expectations and be pleasantly surprised. So I’ll say no.
Jason asks: With the rumors of Zub maybe picking Ottawa as his team to play for, has Ottawa changed their tune on Russians?
Zaitsev. Anisimov. Abramov. Namestnikov (though he’s about as North American as someone born in Russia can be). If there’s been a shift, it took place long before the rumors of Zub.
Brendan asks: If the Sens are lucky enough to get the first overall pick in the draft, do you think they should go for the best player or the best centre?
As always, thanks for reading.