Within the next few days, the NHL will crown the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Dallas Stars as its 2020 Stanley Cup champion, the culmination of two months of life and hockey in the bubble.
It’s a remarkable achievement. Consider all the challenges that the league navigated to stage the playoffs while keeping players and staff members safe.
Once they get out of the bubble, Lightning and Stars players will get some time to relax and reunite with their families. But there are no days off for the NHL’s 31 management teams. They’re working to assemble next year’s roster under a salary cap that’s flat at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 season — and with no clarity yet on when that season will start or how it be structured.
Here are the critical dates for the next few weeks:
- Sept. 25 – Oct. 8: first buyout window opens
- Oct. 6-7: 2020 NHL Draft
- Oct. 7: deadline for qualifying offers for restricted free agents
- Oct. 9: free agency opens
- Oct. 10: deadline for player-elected arbitration
- Oct. 11: deadline for club-elected arbitration
- Oct. 18: expiration of qualifying offers
Is Bobby Ryan a Fit?
The buyout window opened Friday with word that the Ottawa Senators are cutting ties with winger Bobby Ryan, who had two years left on a contract with a cap hit of $7.25 million per season.
Ryan received a 2020-21 signing bonus of $2 million on July 1 and will be paid $7.33 million over the next four years under the terms of the buyout.
The 33-year-old was named the winner of the 2020 Masterton Trophy on Sept. 7, following his late-season return to the Senators after undergoing treatment for alcohol issues. With his challenges now behind him, it will be interesting to see if Ryan can resurrect his career on a value contract with a contender. If he does, he’d follow in the footsteps of recently bought-out players like Corey Perry, Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian, who are all having success in the Stanley Cup Final.
Ryan was born in Cherry Hill, N.J., near Philadelphia, and lived in the area for the first 10 years of his life. But his childhood was atypical, to say the least. If he was interested in returning, could he help the Flyers score more goals? At his best, he’s an offensive force, but he’s now eight seasons removed from the four-straight years with more than 30 goals that kicked off his career.
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Chuck Fletcher has completed two pieces of business since the Flyers’ season ended on Sept. 5.
On Friday, he inked goaltender Alex Lyon to a new one-year contract at the league minimum of $700,000. Now 27, the Minnesota native signed with the Flyers organization as a free agent out of Yale University in 2016. He was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in his senior year.
Over the past four seasons, Lyon has amassed a record of 73-53-15 in 145 games with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He has appeared in 16 total games for big club, including three this season.
Friday’s signing represents a slight pay cut for Lyon, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent after finishing a two-year deal that paid him $750,000 whether he was in the NHL or the AHL last season. But the contract does provide Lyon with job security, with the free-agent goalie market looking like it will be crowded.
It will be interesting to see if Lyon spends most of his time in the AHL again next season. Carter Hart’s regular backup, 35-year-old Brian Elliott, is also headed for unrestricted free agency, but the Flyers are believed to have interest in bringing him back.
Aube-Kubel Gets Two-Year Deal
Last week, Fletcher also re-signed restricted free agent Nicolas Aube-Kubel to a new two-year, one-way deal, with an average annual value of $1.075 million per season.
That’s a decent raise and some solid security for the rugged 24-year-old, who was on a one-year, two-way contract last season that carried a cap hit of $700,000 at the NHL level and just $85,000 with the Phantoms.
Drafted in the second round in 2014, Aube-Kubel played his first nine NHL games during the 2018-19 season. At Vigneault’s first training camp last fall, prospects like Joel Farabee and Carsen Twarynski caught the coach’s eye. Aube-Kubel became an early cut.
After he was called up to fill injury holes in mid-December, Aube-Kubel didn’t look back. The versatile winger chipped in 15 points in 36 games. He also led the Flyers with 82 hits while he was with the team.
Vigneault scratched Aube-Kubel just once during the regular season. He went on to become a mainstay during the playoffs. Again, he led his team in total hits despite missing three games of the first-round series against Montreal with a bruised knee from a shot block.
“You see the speed, the size, the physicality, big body that can go in the tough areas,” said Vigneault in February, as Aube-Kubel was cementing his place in a lineup that was red hot before the regular-season was paused in March.
Since then, he has done nothing but raise his stock. Expect Aube-Kubel to be one of Vigneault’s regulars when the 2020-21 season begins.