NHL Rumor Mill – May 24, 2018
Latest on the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets in your NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE LIGHTNING?
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski believes the Tampa Bay Lightning’s window to win the Stanley Cup is open for just one more year. After that, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point will be restricted free agents while such notables as Yanni Gourde, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi will be unrestricted free agents.
Wyshynski feels the Lightning must follow the league trend toward younger, faster and cheaper players. Replacing someone such as fourth-liner Chris Kunitz is the easy part but finding upgrades for Coburn and Girardi could be tougher. He suggests the answer could already be on the team with players such as Jake Dotchin or Slater Koekkoek.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Lightning have over $68 million invested in 18 players for 2018-19 with all their core players under contract and Kunitz (UFA) and J.T. Miller (RFA) as their notable free agents. Assuming a cap ceiling of $80 million, they’ll have enough to re-sign Miller, find an affordable replacement for Kunitz, re-sign or replace depth free agents and still have perhaps enough room for an addition via this summer’s UFA market.
General manager Steve Yzerman could keep his roster largely intact for one more run next season. I don’t believe he’ll shake up his core, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him tweaking the Lightning’s depth via trade or free agency this summer.
LATEST PENGUINS SPECULATION
TRIBLIVE.COM: Tim Benz recently examined some recent speculation attempting to link the Pittsburgh Penguins to New York Islanders center John Tavares, who’s due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He dismissed the notion, noting the high cost of signing Tavares (between $10 million-$11 million) and the Penguins’ limited cap space. They would have to dump a lot of salary in cost-cutting deals without taking back or retaining any salary to make it work.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s also the little matter that Tavares would be relegated to centering the Penguins’ third line. Benz noted the Isles did briefly use Tavares on the wing this season, but that’s not his natural position. Anyway, I concur with his take on this subject. Too many obstacles for the Penguins to overcome.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Ron Cook blames the sour relationship between Penguins winger Phil Kessel and head coach Mike Sullivan for torpedoing the club’s hopes for a third straight Stanley Cup championship. He feels Kessel deserves most of the blame, calling him a difficult player to coach. He felt the banged-up winger should’ve taken some time off to rest during the season instead of keeping his consecutive-games streak going.
Cook believes Kessel “probably will be back with the Penguins next season even though I expect Rutherford to seriously look into trading him.” He claims Rutherford “would have moved him for the right offer after the 2016-17 season but couldn’t find any takers because of Kessel’s sizable contract which runs through 2021-22 with an annual cap hit of $6.8 million.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sure, Kessel can be difficult to coach at times, and yes, he had a sub-par postseason. However, attempting to make him the scapegoat for the Penguins failure to win a third straight Cup is absurd. A lack of fleet-footed defensive depth and the physical toll of two consecutive championship seasons were the real factors.
Unless Rutherford intends to rebuild the roster this summer by shedding salary for draft picks and prospects, I believe he’ll keep his roster largely intact – and that include Kessel – for another run at the Cup next spring.
TROUBA OPEN TO LONG-TERM DEAL WITH THE JETS.
WINNIPEG SUN: Ken Wiebe reports Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba doesn’t sound like someone who’ll seek a trade or preparing for another contract stalemate. He downplayed his previous contract talks, saying he’d like to stick around for the long term and hopes an agreement on his next deal can be reached in the near future.
Trouba talked about how much he’s enjoyed playing for the Jets this season, his belief they’re building something special and his desire to part of that going forward. His game has improved since his contentious negotiations two years ago, blossoming into a top-pairing defenseman alongside Josh Morrissey.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Trouba’s previously contentious contract talks ensured his name occasionally popped up in the trade rumor mill over the past two years. However, I expect things will go smoothly this time around. He’s a key part of their improvement and he wants to stay. As long as his asking price is reasonable, he should be under contract well before training camp opens in September.