NHL Rumor Mill – April 2, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – April 2, 2020

The latest on the Golden Knights and Flames, plus some speculation over how the players and teams could cope with revenue losses in today’s NHL rumor mill.


THE ATHLETIC: What to do with Robin Lehner was among Jesse Granger’s five pressing questions for the Vegas Golden Knights. They acquired the 28-year-old goaltender from the Chicago Blackhawks at the February trade deadline. He’s eligible for unrestricted free agent status at season’s end.

Does Robin Lehner have a future with the Vegas Golden Knights? (Photo via NHL Images)

Granger wonders if the front office views Lehner as a rental or a long-term future in net. If Lehner outperforms starter Marc-Andre Fleury during the 2020 playoffs, it raises the possibility of re-signing him and shopping Fleury, who has two seasons remaining on his contract at $7 million annually.

Lehner will likely depart via free agency, leaving the Golden Knights with an aging Fleury and no real backup plan for next season. They could explore cheaper backup options via free agency or promote Oscar Dansk or Garret Sparks.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Lehner were to backstop the Golden Knights into the Stanley Cup Final, moving Fleury could become a serious possibility. After being spurned by the Blackhawks and the New York Islanders over the past year, Lehner will seek the stability of a lucrative long-term deal. He can justifiably claim he’s earned it since turning his life and career around two years ago.

Fleury’s situation is complicated by his age (35) and his 10-team no-trade clause. Even if the Golden Knights wanted to move him, they might not find many takers unless the Golden Knights pick up part of his salary.


SPORTSNET: Eric Francis recently examined the Calgary Flames’ goaltending depth. Where their goalie prospects slot next season will depend on whether or not they re-sign Cam Talbot. The 32-year-old netminder is due to become a UFA after this season.

Talbot’s return seems likely following his return to form this season while David Rittich struggled during the second half. However, his bounce-back season could also entice him to test the free-agent market.

“Will it be status quo, or will the Flames use some of their cap space to chase a significant free agent like Robin Lehner or Jacob Markstrom?”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Talbot walks, the Flames will at least want a reliable backup for Rittich for next season. If they’ve lost confidence in Rittich as a starter, they could pursue a UFA like Lehner or Markstrom.


SPORTSNET: In his latest “31 Thoughts” column, Elliotte Friedman reported estimates of up to $220 million in lost revenue if the NHL resumes the remainder of the 2019-20 schedule, including an extra four percent of escrow claw-backs from players’ salaries. If the season and playoffs are canceled, the losses are estimated at $1.1 billion and 35 percent escrow.

The teams and players agree to defer money could be one way to address the issue. “For example, a player with a five-year contract at a $5-million AAV would still have that term and cap hit, but could agree to hold some of the payments,” writes Friedman. “Teams would get a break on cash flow, and players could save until escrow was lowered. Don’t know if it will happen, but spitballing never hurts.”

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun cited an anonymous player agent suggesting the NHL and NHLPA should merge the two realities of dealing with lost revenue from this season and their collective bargaining negotiations into a longer-term agreement.

The agent envisions a six-year CBA that sets the salary-cap maximum at $81.5 million with a fixed escrow of 10 percent. “It may take 2-3 seasons for that money to be returned to the owners, consider it a deferred payment,” said the agent. “As a trade-off, perhaps the players agree to receive the AAV of a contract going forward (until the owners are made whole) to avoid front-loaded cash over cap issues.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is merely speculation by Friedman and LeBrun, but it’s undoubtedly based on what they’re hearing from sources within the league and the NHLPA. I believe both sides understand the need for short- and long-term stability coming out of the pandemic season.

The last thing they need is a return to the contentious labor relationship of the past. There’s a real opportunity here for long-term NHL labor peace. Here’s hoping the two sides make the most of it.

NHL Rumor Mill – April 1, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – April 1, 2020

No April Fool’s here. Check out the latest on Braden Holtby and Tuukka Rask, plus an update on the Buffalo Sabres in today’s NHL rumor mill.


NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks observed this year might not be an opportune time for Braden Holtby to become an unrestricted free agent. The Washington Capitals goaltender has a save percentage of .897 this season.

Would Braden Holtby be a good fit with the San Jose Sharks? (Photo via NHL Images)

Nevertheless, Brooks wondered if the San Jose Sharks might feel differently. He pointed out they’ve been undone by dreadful goaltending over the last two seasons, ranking next-to-last in overall save percentage and last in five-on-five.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree that the decline in Holtby’s stats will hurt his efforts to land a lucrative long-term contract as a UFA this year. I disagree, however, with the premise that Sharks might feel differently.

Not that they don’t need an upgrade between the pipes. That’s obvious to everyone.

Martin Jones‘ performance has declined over the last two years. However, he’s also signed through 2023-24 with an annual average value of $5.75 million and a three-team trade list. Unless Jones’ salary is shed via a compliance buyout (assuming the league goes that route following this season) or the normal buyout route, the Sharks can’t afford Holtby.


NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty reports Tuukka Rask sought to clarify his recent comment suggesting he might retire when his contract expires at the end of next season. He claimed he hasn’t made any decisions regarding his future. Given the current situation, it’s not on his mind right now.

“I’m sure we’re going to have good conversations with (Don Sweeney) after this season and go from there,” said Rask during an interview with WEEI’s Greg Hill. “But I’m only 34, so it’s not too old, might play another year or two and go from there. I don’t want to promise anything either way because you never know what’s going to happen.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Rask decides to play beyond next season, he’ll likely be looking at a short-term extension with the Bruins or a short contract with another club. With no immediate replacement for Rask in the pipeline, they could ink him to a two-year deal to buy time to groom his successor or shop for one via trade or free agency..


THE BUFFALO NEWS: Lance Lysowski believes Sabres general manager Jason Botterill needs to make a significant trade to add a second-line center or top-six winger. He doesn’t feel the solution can be found via free agency, noting the Sabres’ haven’t had much luck in that department.

The Sabres aren’t in a position where they can trade away draft picks or prospects. Lysowski suggested peddling a defenseman like Rasmus Ristolainen or Brandon Montour for a talent forward.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Easier said than done. Ristolainen was a fixture in the rumor mill since last summer, but criticism of his play hurt his trade value. Montour could be a better trade option, but there’s no certainty he’ll fetch a scoring forward.

Nevertheless, with over $47 million invested in 10 players, Botterill is well-positioned to target cap-strapped clubs looking to shed salary, or those in need of blueline help. Perhaps he’ll have better luck addressing his needs in the off-season.

NHL Rumor Mill – March 31, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – March 31, 2020

A look at several veterans who could face retirement in today’s NHL rumor mill.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Steven Ellis lists Dallas Stars winger Corey Perry and Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu among six pending unrestricted free agents that may have played their final NHL games if the league cancels the remainder of this season and the playoffs. Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis, Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patrick Marleau, and Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams round out his list.

Dallas Stars winger Corey Perry is among several veterans who may have played their final NHL games if the season doesn’t resume (Photo via NHL Images).

Perry’s low production (21 points) makes it hard to imagine another team signing him after this season. Injuries have hampered Koivu, who’s slipped down the Wild’s depth chart. He’s also shown no interest in playing elsewhere. Injuries have also taken a toll on Hamhuis’ play.

Howard’s struggles in recent years leads Ellis to suggest a club would be desperate to take a chance on the veteran netminder. Marleau didn’t manage much offense with the Penguins after being traded to Pittsburgh last month. Williams put up decent numbers following his return from a half-season hiatus, but his two-way play was rusty and his ice time reduced from last season.

NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien recently looked at which NHL players may have played their final games if the league doesn’t return to action this season.

He also notes Koivu’s Wild-or-nothing position could make things tricky for the veteran center. He also believes the Stars’ one-year gamble on Perry hasn’t worked out. However, Williams could still be an affordable option if he decides to return next season. For teams with flexibility, a player like Marleau, Toronto’s Jason Spezza or Washington’s Ilya Kovalchuk might be worthwhile signings.

Turning to defensemen, O’Brien suggests injuries could force the end of the careers of Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, Dallas’ Roman Polak, Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley. He also hopes St. Louis Blues rearguard Jay Bouwmeester hangs up his skates following his health scare last month. He feels Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is a “play as long as you want” option, while Hamhuis and Ottawa’s Ron Hainsey could remain good veteran options.

Among the goaltenders, Anaheim’s Ryan Miller could get nudged out the door. O’Brien wondered if Henrik Lundqvist would accept a backup role if the New York Rangers buy him out. He speculates Howard might accept less money and a reduced role to remain in the NHL. Ottawa’s Craig Anderson and Edmonton’s Mike Smith are aging and struggled in recent seasons.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the NHL cancels this season, it will rob those on Ellis’ and O’Brien’s lists the opportunity for a last hurrah.

I think Perry, Koivu, Howard, Hamhuis, Miller, Anderson, Polak, Ericsson, and Daley have probably played their final NHL games. Bouwmeester’s cardiac incident last month will probably bring his playing days to an end.

Lundqvist’s situation will be interesting if he and the Rangers part company. He could move on to a mentor role with another club or call it a career. At this point, it could go either way.

Chara will return with the Bruins next season on another one-year, bonus-laden deal. I can see Marleau doing the same with the Sharks, though that’ll depend upon their cap space. Williams could return with the Hurricanes, but they’ll probably want a full-season commitment this time around.

Seabrook could be placed on long-term injury reserve for next season if he needs more time to recover from his surgeries. Smith’s had his inconsistencies, but he’s played well enough to remain in Edmonton in a backup role for another season.

Spezza could stick with the Leafs for another season on a cheap one-year deal. Speculation out of Montreal claims Kovalchuk is all-but-certain to return to the Canadiens on a bonus-filled one-year deal.

NHL Rumor Mill – March 30, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – March 30, 2020

The latest speculation on James Neal and Kyle Clifford in today’s NHL rumor mill.


THE ATHLETIC: Allan Mitchell suggested James Neal as the obvious contract buyout candidate for the Edmonton Oilers, either via a normal buyout or if the NHL and NHLPA agree to compliance buyouts if the salary cap is lower than projected. His age (32), production (19 goals, 31 points in 55 games), and contract length ($5.75 million annually through 2022-23) make him a no-brainer as a compliance buyout candidate.

Could the Edmonton Oilers buy out James Neal in the off-season? (Photo via NHL Images)

Mitchell also argued Neal would be worthwhile buying out under normal circumstances. It would cost just over $1.9 million annually against the Oilers’ cap over the next six seasons. Mitchell feels Neal’s contributions can be replaced for that price. The move would also give the Oilers some additional flexibility when other clubs face cap challenges and free agents find few options on the open market.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mitchell makes a compelling case for buying out Neal. Whether Oilers general manager Ken Holland shares that view remains to be seen.


SPORTSNET: Mike Johnston recently reported Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan indicated the club has a mutual interest with Kyle Clifford in working out a new contract for the 29-year-old winger. Clifford was acquired last month from the Los Angeles Kings. He’s proven to be a good fit for his new club. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Shanahan praised Clifford’s grit, toughness, and leadership.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: With an annual average value of $1.6 million on his current contract, Clifford shouldn’t be an expensive signing for the Leafs. Finding sufficient salary-cap space, however, will be an issue.

The Leafs have nearly $77 million committed to 16 players for next season and will have to replace defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci when they depart via free agency later this year. If the cap remains at $81.5 million, the Leafs could be forced to make a cost-cutting trade or two to find sufficient room for Clifford and replacements for Barrie and Ceci.

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 29, 2020

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 29, 2020

A recent look at some of this year’s top unrestricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.

SPORTSNET: Emily Sadler recently reviewed and ranked this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agents.

Topping the list was Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall. Before last month’s trade deadline, rumors linked him to the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens. Sadler wondered if injury fears and a decline in production would prevent the 28-year-old from landing a double-digit salary-cap hit.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The possibillity of a flat salary cap next season could also hurt Hall’s hopes of landing an annual average value of $10 million or more on his next contract. 

The Avs and Canadiens would have the cap space to sign him. The Avs, however, already have a top-line left winger in captain Gabriel Landeskog on their top line. They must ensure they don’t use up too much future cap space because they’ll need it to re-sign Landeskog and rising star Cale Makar next summer. As for the Canadiens, they have a difficult time attracting top UFA talent. Hall might not see them as a desirable destination.

Early-season reports suggesting St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo could receive around $8 million annually on his next contract seem like a bargain now. Sadler wondered if Blues general manager Doug Armstrong might use this current hiatus to talk contract with his captain.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Recent reports speculated the Pietrangelo camp could seek around $9 million per season. Assuming a flat cap, re-signing him at that price would eat up all of their remaining salary-cap space. They’ll have to shed salary via trade or contract buyout.

Braden Holtby’s struggles with the Washington Capitals this season could hurt his hopes of landing a lucrative new contract (Photo via NHL Images).

Goaltender Braden Holtby‘s career-low numbers and the emergence of Ilya Samsonov puts his future with the Washington Capitals into question. Clubs could be wary of handing him a contract comparable to Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The decline in Holtby’s stats ensures he won’t get $10 milllion per season. Or $9 million per. Or $8 million per.

Despite the Boston Bruins’ shedding some salary at the trade deadline, Sadler believes they’ll be hard-pressed re-signing defenseman Torey Krug. There’s speculation the Michigan native might be willing to return home and join the Detroit Red Wings.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Wings were the powerhouse of yore, I could buy into the theory of Krug coming home. I’m not sure he wants to be part of a long rebuild. He’s already indicated a willingness to stay in Boston. The Bruins will try to keep him in the fold.

Sadler pointed out defenseman Tyson Barrie‘s struggles with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, as well as the club’s attempt to move him before the trade deadline. She also suggested a mid-term deal (three or four years) for Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom at $6 million annually could work for both sides.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barrie’s stock tumbled this season. He could end up getting a one-year for less than his current $5.5 million. The 30-year-old Markstrom’s age could be a factor, but the Canucks can’t afford to lose him. They struggled when he was absent with a knee injury.

Florida Panthers’ underrated sniper Evgenii Dadonov will earn a big raise over his current $4 million AAV, thoug the 30-year-old’s age could deter teams from signing him to a long-term contract. Teammate Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (29) and sits third in points.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s talk of the Panthers’ cutting costs and perhaps shaking things up if they miss the playoffs this season. That could include letting Dadonov and Hoffman depart via free agency.

Sadler wondered if Robin Lehner has a future with the Vegas Golden Knights. With Marc-Andre Fleury under contract for two more seasons, the acquisition of Lehner at the trade deadline feels like a rental situation.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leher wants a lucrative new contract and the opportunity to be an undisputed starter. Unless the Golden Knights pull a swerve and trade Fleury, Leher’s stay in Vegas will be brief.

Winger Tyler Toffoli has played well since being acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, with 10 points in as many games.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I believe the Canucks will attempt to re-sign Toffoli. To free up sufficient salary-cap space, they must find a way to move Loui Eriksson and his $6 million AAV.

Other notables include Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund, Calgary Flames defensemen Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie, Boston Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak, Florida Panthers center Erik Haula, Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Minnesota Wild winger Alex Galchenyuk, Buffalo Sabres winger Wayne Simmonds, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Sami Vatanen, and San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A recent report by Sadler’s colleague Eric Engels claimed Kovalchuk was all but assured of returning to the Montreal Canadiens on a one-year, bonus-laded deal. If Thornton returns for another season, it’ll be with the Sharks on a one-year deal.

NHL Rumor Mill – March 28, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – March 28, 2020

Check out the recent free agent and CBA speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.


SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently speculated this year’s NHL free agents could find it difficult landing a financial windfall. If the remainder of the schedule and the playoffs are canceled, they’ll be robbed of the opportunity to showcase their worth. They could also face a flat salary-cap as a result of the loss of hockey-related revenue.

Could Taylor Hall find it difficult to get a lucrative new contract under a flat salary cap for next season? (Photo via NHL Images)

“If your name is Taylor Hall, Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, Tyson Barrie, Alex Pietrangelo or Torey Krug, this is a concerning development”, wrote Fox. “Same goes for soon-to-be RFAs like Max Domi, Anthony DeAngelo, Sam Reinhart, and Tyler Bertuzzi.” He suggested bridge deals might make more sense until NHL revenue stabilizes.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: One factor Fox neglected to mention was which teams with plenty of salary-cap room might benefit if the cap maximum remains at $81.5 million. They could have a better opportunity to land a quality UFA talent than they would’ve had under a higher cap. They include the Buffalo Sabres (over $47 million committed to 10 players), Detroit Red Wings ($46.2 million invested in 11 players), New Jersey Devils ($55.2 million invested in 13 players), Montreal Canadiens ($63.1 milliion in 16 players), and Ottawa Senators ($41.9 milion in nine players).

The restricted free agents are far more likely to receive bridge contracts than the UFAs. Those with arbitration rights, like Domi, DeAngelo, Reinhart, and Bertuzzi, could use that leverage if their respective teams attempt to use a flat cap as a reason to avoid making more lucrative contract offers. It might also lead to some of those RFAs getting traded if they threaten to go to arbitration to get what they want.


SPORTSNET: During his recent “31 Thoughts”, Elliotte Friedman theorized the current high level of cooperation between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association during these difficult times might lead to a new long-term collective bargaining agreement.

Seattle expansion franchise and a new US television deal are on the NHL’s radar. To make everything work, the league needs long-term labor peace. Friedman noted the National Football League and the NFLPA recently announced a new 10-year CBA. If the NHL can get that new TV deal done, he wondered if the NHLPA would be willing to vote for a 10-year CBA. In return, the players could get the Olympics and some form of escrow relief

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Friedman isn’t the only person observing the improved relationship of late between the NHL and NHLPA. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun recently wrote he couldn’t recall a higher level of cooperation between the two sides.

Since the fall of 2018, there’s been growing cordiality between the two sides, culminating in last September’s mutual agreements not to trigger their respective early out-clauses, allowing the present agreement to run to September 2022.

However, LeBrun also noted that relationship will be tested as the two sides attempt to navigate the tricky financial issues raised by the pandemic. If they can successfully work their way through that, the groundwork will be laid for perhaps a smooth transition into a new CBA and long-term labor peace by 2022.