NHL Rumor Mill – April 25, 2017
More on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins in your NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO STAR/TORONTO SUN: Damien Cox wouldn’t be surprised if the Toronto Maple Leafs make only two or three changes in the offseason. He suggests re-signing Roman Polak and perhaps adding another experienced defenseman, but he doesn’t see them pursuing a big-ticket blueliner via trade or free agency. Cox also suggests finding someone capable of playing among their top-nine forwards and thinks they could already have that player in promising Kasperi Kapanen.
With rising stars such as Auston Matthews due new contracts in the next couple of years, Cox advocates being mindful of investing in expensive, long-term deals this summer. They’ll also have to reach a decision on left wing James van Riemsdyk, who’s a year away from UFA status. Cox adds the Leafs will know by mid-summer if they have any shot at landing center John Tavares or if the New York Islanders will re-sign him.
Lance Hornby speculates the first order of business for the Leafs is completing the rumored seven-year deal for blueliner Nikita Zaitsev. He also wonders if the Leafs will get into the market for a defenseman in July. They avoided pursuing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline and the other notable UFA options (Andrei Markov, Mark Streit and Dennis Wideman) are well into their 30s.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have no reason to pursue Tavares. None. With Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri, they’re already set at center among their top-two lines. I can see them trying to bolster their defense but probably not via free agency. They have the cap space and depth in draft picks and prospects to swing a trade, either by targeting clubs that must shed cap space or those at risk of losing a defenseman in the expansion draft. If van Riemsdyk won’t commit to a long-term deal this summer, the Leafs could shop him for a blueliner.
MONTREAL GAZETTE/SPORTSNET: In the wake of the Canadiens early playoff exit, Pat Hickey reports general manager Marc Bergevin has no intention of blowing up his roster. Pending unrestricted free agents Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov expressed their willingness to re-sign with the Habs. So did goaltender Carey Price, who’s a year away from free agency and isn’t concerned about getting a new deal worked out.
Bergevin still faces finding a first-line center, a role Alex Galchenyuk won’t be filling to start next season. Galchenyuk is a restricted free agent and Hickey considers it doubtful he’ll get a long-term extension. The Habs GM flatly dismissed the notion of shopping Price for a center.
Eric Engels reports Bergevin, in his season-ending press conference, doesn’t discount the possibility of looking outside the NHL to address his scoring needs. Engels speculates KHL winger (and former New Jersey Devil) Ilya Kovalchuk could be an option. The Habs GM also didn’t rule out trying to sign another team’s restricted free agent with an offer sheet if it could help his club.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens definitely need more scoring punch, preferably at center. However, it won’t be easy to do. I doubt Bergevin will go the offer sheet route. He could, but such moves are rare and almost never successful. I can see Bergevin trying to target clubs looking to shed salary or those at risk of losing a good forward via the expansion draft.
The Habs have over $50 million invested next season in 15 players, though that will be reduced by one player following the expansion draft. Still, with Radulov due a significant raise and Price eligible next summer for a lucrative new deal, Bergevin must invest wisely.
Galchenyuk could be re-signed but he won’t get a big raise over his current $3.1 million actual salary for this season. I still wouldn’t be surprised if he’s shopped in the offseason.
BOSTON HERALD/BOSTON GLOBE: Among the five things Steve Conroy believes the Bruins must do in the offseason are finding a third-line center, extending Zdeno Chara’s contract and identifying a second-line left wing. He doubts RFA forward Ryan Spooner will be back. Despite Chara’s age, Conroy thinks the 40-year-old, who has a year left on his contract, remains their best blueliner. He suggests a one-year, bonus-laden offer. He suggests the Bruins have sufficient prospect depth to acquire a left wing via trade.
Kevin Paul Dupont suggests wingers Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes could be buyout candidates, doesn’t see RFAs Ryan Spooner and Joe Morrow returning and doubts pending UFAs Drew Stafford and John-Michael Liles will be re-signed. He also wonders if UFA forward Dominic Moore will be back.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Bruins should wait and see how Chara plays next season before investing in one more year. It’ll also depend upon how much the big blueliner feels he’s got left to give. If he wants to continue playing beyond next season, the Bruins will be his first choice. I expect they’ll go shopping for a scoring winger. Given their depth in promising young defensemen, they can bolster their defense from within.