NHL Rumor Mill – March 26, 2019

Talk of a “Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen” swap plus the latest on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill. 


WGR 550: Joe DiBiase cited the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson said there’s a scenario out there suggesting the Edmonton Oilers ship center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Matheson was replying to a piece by colleague David Staples examining how the Oilers could bring in fast forwards and defensemen.

Should the Edmonton Oilers trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen? (Photo via NHL Images)

Staples noted the price would be high via the trade market, which would involve moving a player like Nugent-Hopkins. Matheson agreed there are lots of teams looking for centers. He adds you don’t trade a center for a winger, you trade him for a top-pairing rearguard. 

DiBiase thinks Matheson’s claiming a Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen scenario is “out there” probably just refers to social media chatter among fans. He feels Buffalo followers would probably love this move (including himself) but doesn’t think it’s a slam dunk. “You’re acquiring a 50-point forward, in exchange for a 40-point defenseman.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A swap of Nugent-Hopkins for Ristolainen would address the respective needs of both clubs. But is there a willingness by their respective managements to make that move?

As I’ve said before, unless Ristolainen wants out of Buffalo, I don’t think the Sabres should move him. What makes him attractive to the Oilers (young, skilled, top-pairing defenseman on an affordable long-term contract) also makes him invaluable to the Sabres. 

Staples believes getting a young first-pairing defenseman for Nugent-Hopkins would be a sensible move. However, he also said he’s not a fan of making a major trade, especially if it’s moving RNH for a winger. He feels help could be coming on defense from the younger blueliners within their system such as Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear or Joel Persson.

Staples suggests they should put their emphasis on drafting and developing young talent. That will depend, of course, on who the Oilers hire as their next general manager. 


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Helene Elliott believes the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to leave Ilya Kovalchuk back in LA during their current three-game road trip to be yet another puzzling move in a season full of them. Kovalchuk recently complained about his reduced role under interim coach Willie Desjardins.

While Desjardins will be gone after this season, Elliott noted Kings general manager Rob Blake is in a weak position to trade Kovalchuk this summer because of the winger’s no-movement clause. “The bigger question: Will free agents want to play for the Kings after seeing them treat Kovalchuk this way and seeing a team that is several seasons from contending?”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, the decision to keep Kovalchuk in LA was the winger’s idea as he wasn’t expected to play during this road. Still, Elliott isn’t wrong about Desjardins’ handling of Kovalchuk’s playing time and the possible effect it could have upon the Kings’ efforts to sign attract free-agent talent this summer.

The Kings are supposedly engaged in an overdue roster rebuild. However, there’s some media speculation suggesting it could be a short-term one, with bringing in some younger, faster, established players via trade or free agency part of the process to speed things along. 

The lure of sunny Southern California has always been enticing to free-agent players but the Kings’ handling of Kovalchuk and their status as a rebuilding club could make them reluctant to come to Los Angeles this year. A bigger stumbling block is the Kings limited salary-cap space for 2019-20. With over $71 million invested in 18 players, they’ll have less than $12 million to work with if the cap ceiling reaches $83 million as projected.

While they have all their core players under contract for next season, there’s some talk of them perhaps shopping goaltender Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million annual salary-cap hit) to free up more cap dollars. That would give them more room to make a big splash in the UFA pool, but it remains to be seen if that’s what Blake intends to do. 

NHL Rumor Mill – March 25, 2019

Check out the latest on the Buffalo Sabres plus speculation over Taylor Hall’s next contract in today’s NHL rumor mill. 


ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters looked ahead to the Buffalo Sabres offseason now that they’re officially eliminated from playoff contention. Re-signing forwards Jeff Skinner and Evan Rodrigues to new contracts without overpaying and figuring out what to do with defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella are among the main issues to be addressed. After striking out with the Scandella acquisition in 2017 and the Ryan O’Reilly deal last year, they believe general manager Jason Botterill must make a winning move this summer. 

Re-signing Jeff Skinner will be the Buffalo Sabres’ off-season priority (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’d argue acquiring Skinner for peanuts from the Carolina Hurricanes was a winning move for Botterill. Re-signing him will be expensive but I don’t think the Sabres have much choice. He’s got terrific chemistry with Jack Eichel and letting him walk after just one season sends a bad message to the team and the fans that ownership doesn’t want to invest in building a winner. 

There’s no denying the Scandella acquisition failed to bolster the blueline while the players received in the O’Reilly deal (Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson) contributed little to the Sabres this season. If Thompson doesn’t improve or those two draft picks also received in the deal (one of them a first-round selection in this year’s draft), that trade will be a bust for the Sabres.

Trading Ristolainen should fetch a solid return but I still believe it would be a mistake to move him unless he wants out. He’s only 24, signed through 2021-22 and carries a reasonable $5.4-million annual average value. Scandella’s decline hurts his trade value but he’s got just one year left on his contract with an affordable cap hit ($4 million) and might interest a club looking for short-term blueline depth for next season.


THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently wrote about the New Jersey Devils facing a crucial offseason with their efforts to re-sign left wing Taylor Hall.  Winner of the 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy, Hall has become the face of the Devils’ franchise. However, he’s a year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

If Hall’s not re-signed this summer, the Devils will spend next season trying to convince him to re-sign or moving him before next year’s trade deadline. Devil GM Ray Shero intends to meet with Hall and his agent in the offseason in hopes of working out a long-term extension. Masisak believes the Devils are willing to re-sign him to a lucrative new deal and doesn’t feel money will be a sticking point. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Cap Friendly, the Devils have just over $30 million invested in nine players for 2020-21. Their notable free agents this summer include Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher. Assuming they make a major acquisition or two this summer via trade or free agency, they should have plenty of room to re-sign Hall to a big raise. There certainly seems a willingness by the Devils to do this.

What it’ll come down to is whether Hall believes his long-term future is with the Devils. He could take a “wait-and-see” approach toward next season, which will certainly make Devils fans nervous and raise the possibility of his departure via free agency next July.

If the Devils struggle through next season you can bet Hall will dominate the rumor mill leading up to next year’s trade deadline. That speculation could start in the days leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft if there’s any hint that he won’t re-sign this summer. 

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 24, 2019

Check out the latest on the Rangers, Leafs, and Oilers in today’s Sunday NHL rumor roundup.


ESPN.COM: With the New York Rangers officially eliminated from playoff contention, Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters looked at the club’s potential offseason plans. While they have plenty of salary-cap space to pursue a big-name unrestricted free agent like Columbus’ Artemi Panarin, Kaplan and Peters believe they must be disciplined in their spending. Going the quick-fix route could cause more harm than good. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Rangers have over $61.9 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20, with Pavel Buchnevich, Neal Pionk, Brendan Lemieux, and Anthony Deangelo as their notable free agents. All will be affordable re-signings, leaving enough room to pursue a quality player via free agency. However, that player must be a good fit within their rebuilding roster. The last thing they need is an aging star coming there solely for the money and the experience of living in New York.

They’ve been linked to Panarin, Erik Karlsson, Jeff Skinner, and Matt Duchene. It’s believed Panarin could be their primary focus, but he could cost over $10 million annually. While he puts up good numbers, I don’t think he’s got the leadership qualities the rebuilding Rangers need. Karlsson might be a better fit in that regard, but his recent injury history could be cause for concern plus he might not be keen to join a team in transition. 

Can the Toronto Maple Leafs find a way to move Patrick Marleau this summer? (Photo via NHL Images)


TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox believes Patrick Marleau’s contract will be a problem for the Maple Leafs this summer. While the 39-year-old winger is beloved by his teammates and his declining play hasn’t hurt the Leafs’ overall performance this season, his $6.25-million salary-cap hit will make it difficult for management to find enough cap room to re-sign younger, better players.

Marleau’s on a “35-plus” contract, meaning he was over 35-year-old when he signed the deal, thus his cap hit still counts against the Leafs cap payroll if he retires or is bought out. He also holds a full no-movement clause. If he’s unwilling to waive it, the Leafs could be forced to move another player to free up cap space.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have over $74.2 million tied up in 17 players. They’ll get $5.3 million in cap relief by placing all-but-retired Nathan Horton on long-term injury reserve, but that will quickly evaporate when Mitch Marner signs his new contract. Even if it’s under $10 million per season (and I doubt it will be), it’ll push the Leafs’ payroll to around $78 million, with RFAs like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to be re-signed and UFAs like Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey to re-sign or replace. Assuming the cap reaches the projected $83 million, that won’t leave enough for the Leafs to address those needs.

Someone under contract for next season will be moved. That could mean a good player like Nazem Kadri, or GM Kyle Dubas going back on his word and trading Wiliam Nylander or finding a sucker, er, I mean, a taker for Nikita Zaitsev’s contract.

Some have suggested Marleau might accept a trade back to the San Jose Sharks, who have over $57.5 million committed to 14 players. Assuming they don’t re-sign Erik Karlsson, they’ll have plenty of room to re-sign UFAs like Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, as well as perhaps Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi, plus pay the hefty raises for RFAs Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. Beyond that, they probably won’t have enough room for Marleau even if they wanted to bring him back.  And if they do re-sign Karlsson, they certainly won’t have enough room for Marleau. 


THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Allan Mitchell recently examined some ways the Edmonton Oilers could trim their salary-cap fat and put the savings toward adding speed, skill, and goaltending depth. Noting how noxious a buyout of Milan Lucic’s contract would be, he suggests packaging a prospect plus picking up part of Lucic’s salary in exchange for a depth draft pick.

Mitchell suggests buying out the final two years of Andrej Sekera’s contract, saving $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He also advocates trading defenseman Kris Russell ($4 million annually through 2020-21). 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Of those three, the contracts of Sekera and Russell will be easier to shed than Lucic’s. Even by picking up half of his $6-million annual cap hit, his performance has deteriorated so much that I don’t see any takers for the remaining four years of his deal.

While trading Sekera would be a better option, buying him out makes sense. Trading Russell might require retaining some of his salary, but there could be some interest in him as a third-pairing shot-blocking rearguard. 

NHL Rumor Mill – March 23, 2019

Updates on Ilya Kovalchuk and Duncan Keith plus the latest on the Canucks in today’s NHL rumor mill. 


LOS ANGELES TIMES: Curtis Zupke reports Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk feels he didn’t have a chance after Willie Desjardins took over last November as head coach. Kovalchuk began the season on the top line but he’s gradually seen his ice time reduced. He’s fallen down their depth chart and was a healthy scratch in two recent games.

Los Angeles Kings winger Ilya Kovalchuk feels he’s not getting a chance playing for interim coach Willie Desjardins (Photo via NHL Images)

Kovalchuk has two more years remaining on his contract with an annual average value of $6.25 million. He dismissed the notion that he might prefer a change of scenery, pointing out his family is now established in Los Angeles. He’s determined to see his way through this. 

For his part, Desjardins acknowledged the difficulty Kovalchuk feels. He said he respects the winger and his love for the game, but the club is currently at a point where they need to look at some younger players. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kovalchuk is also aware that Desjardins is an interim coach. I daresay he’s looking forward to playing under a new bench boss next season. He’s got a full no-movement clause for next season and obviously doesn’t have any intention of waiving it. 


THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Pierre LeBrun recently reported the midseason upturn in the Chicago Blackhawks fortunes has long-time Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith keen to remain part of the club’s future. It’s expected general manager Stan Bowman will meet in the offseason with Keith and the club’s other “legacy players” to discuss their roles within the club’s plans.

Keith has spent his entire NHL career with the Blackhawks and carries a full no-movement clause in his contract. While he knows the roster has to be better, he also pointed out their improvement since late-January and how they’re still in the playoff chase. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Before the Blackhawks turned things around in late-January there was growing speculation Keith and Brent Seabrook (another legacy player, along with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Corey Crawford) might be asked to waive their movement clauses. It’s possible Bowman could approach Keith about moving on this summer but the Hawks GM probably intends to use his veterans to complement the younger talent being brought into the lineup. Keith won’t be going anywhere this summer. 


SPORTSNET: Earlier this week, Elliotte Friedman reported there have been no contract extension talks yet between the Vancouver Canucks and goaltender Jacob Markstrom. He has one year remaining with a salary-cap hit of $3.6 million. With Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen earning $4.5 million annually, Friedman wondered how much Markstrom could make. The two sides can’t officially sign a new deal until July 1 but they can talk. 

Friedman also believes the Canucks will be in the market for a young defenseman in his early- to mid-twenties. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I daresay the Canucks and Markstrom will wait until their season is over before opening those contract discussions. As for a possible trade target in that early- to mid-twenties range, would Benning have interest in the Ottawa Senators’ Cody Ceci? He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer who might not fit into that rebuilding club’s plans. 

NHL Rumor Mill – March 22, 2019

Latest on Erik Karlsson, Matthew Tkachuk, and Tobias Rieder in today’s NHL rumor mill. 


NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wondered if the New York Rangers might target San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson via free agency in July. Despite Karlsson’s injuries this season, he’s played well when healthy. He thinks the two-time Norris Trophy winner would love playing in New York. 

Could the New York Rangers pursue Erik Karlsson via free agency this summer? (Photo via NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bear in mind Friedman is simply speculating here. There’s no indication Karlsson intends to test this summer’s UFA market or that the Rangers will pursue him if he does.

Since he joined the Sharks last September, reports out of San Jose have consistently indicated the Sharks willingness to re-sign Karlsson and his interest in staying there. Nevertheless, re-signing him will be expensive for the Sharks, who have over $57.5 million invested in 14 players with Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi also due to become UFAs while restricted free agent forward Timo Meier is due for a significant raise.

If the Sharks can’t re-sign Karlsson, maybe the Rangers will consider pursuing him. With over $61 million committed to 17 players and all their core players under contract for 2019-20, the Blueshirts can afford to sign Karlsson to a big contract. However, they’re also a rebuilding team. Management will have to sell Karlsson on what they’re doing and how quickly they believe they can become a Cup contender. 


NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: Appearing on Ottawa’s TSN 1200, Darren Dreger speculates Calgary Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk could become the Flames’ highest-paid player this summer. He’s a restricted free agent coming off an entry-level contract but Dreger notes his performance and impact upon a deep Flames roster entitles him to his share of the pie. He points out the rising salary cap since the Flames re-signed Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan means there’s more money in the system and to spend. Dreger suggests Tkachuk’s new salary could be between $8.5-million to $9-million per season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I can already hear some of you saying Tkachuk doesn’t deserve to be paid more than Gaudreau and Monahan. And if the salary cap was the same as it was in 2016-17 when those two signed their current contracts ($73 million), he wouldn’t get more than those two.

But Dreger’s right, the rising cap changes the market value each year. In three short years, Tkachuk has emerged as a top-tier power forward, averaging just over a point-per-game this season. At 21, he’s yet to reach his full potential. And potential is what teams pay for when they sign their young players. Some of you might not agree with it, but that’s the reality. 


THE SCORE: During a breakfast in Edmonton yesterday for Oilers season-ticket holder, team CEO Bob Nicholson singled out winger Tobias Rieder for the club’s woes this season. He said the team wouldn’t be re-signing Rieder, noting he hasn’t scored this season and missed “so many breakaways”, then said if Rieder had scored 10-12 goals, the Oilers would be in the playoffs. Nicholson later apologized to Rieder, saying his remarks were out of bounds and claiming the two laughed about it.  Rieder’s agent Darren Ferris called Nicholson’s remarks about his client “unacceptable”. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s understandable why the Oilers will part ways with Rieder, who’s due to become a restricted free agent this summer. Perhaps his performance this season spells the end of his NHL career.

Still, he didn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus like that. The Oilers woes run deeper than an underachieving depth forward. Nicholson understands this but if he doesn’t, he has no business being team CEO.

NHL Rumor Mill – March 21, 2019

Check out the latest Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill. 


TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos and Steve Simmons noted recent comments by Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock aimed at general manager Kyle Dubas regarding the club’s perceived lack of roster depth. Babcock was unhappy over management not addressing the issue at the trade deadline, which has been exacerbated by recent injuries to defensemen Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott. He’s also been critical of the roster’s lack of physicality and its goaltending depth.

Is there growing discord between Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock? (Photo via NHL.com)

Traikos speculates Babcock may be “planting the seeds” if the Leafs should suffer another first-round playoff exit. However, he also pointed out the Leafs core players – John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and Frederik Andersen – are healthy and playing well for the most part. Meanwhile, the team ahead of them in the standings, the Boston Bruins, lost four key players at times this season to injuries (Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy) and haven’t missed a beat. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Both pundits also suggest the rumors of discord between Babcock and Dubas will disappear if the Leafs start winning. Both believe the Leafs’ woes are collective and not confined to one area, but I maintain defense remains their primary concern.

That blueline weakness, especially on the right side, was apparent last season but seemingly ignored by management.  Instead, they put themselves into potential salary-cap jeopardy this summer by signing a player they didn’t need in center John Tavares last July to a massive contract.

Tavares is a superstar forward but his addition did nothing to improve the Leafs’ defense. I don’t know how much input Babcock had in that decision, but if he was okay with it he deserves his share of the blame. 


ESPN.COM: Finding the right coach and weaponizing their salary-cap space should be priorities for the Ottawa Senators this summer. Regarding the latter, they would be perfectly positioned to take on contracts from cap-strapped clubs that also include draft picks and prospects as part of the return. Some of those players might have no-trade clauses, such as Edmonton’s Milan Lucic, but perhaps they’d waive them for the opportunity to play big minutes again. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Senators have nearly $45 million invested in 13 players for 2019-20. Apart from restricted free agent Cody Ceci, their other free agents would be affordable re-signings. That would still leave them plenty of room to take on an expensive contract packaged with picks and prospects from a club looking to shed salary.

I doubt they’ll consider doing that for a player like Lucic, who has more than two years remaining on his contract. A better option could be someone like Florida Panthers goaltender James Reimer, who’s got two years left on his deal with a cap hit of $3.4 million. He also lacks no-trade protection. 

Another option would be acquiring the rights of an all-but-retired player whose career has been ended by injuries. Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen would fit the bill.