NHL Rumor Mill – April 27, 2017
Updates on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers in your NHL rumor mill.
TSN: Kristen Shilton looked at possible offseason changes for the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. She believes the blueline is the most obvious area where the most sweeping moves could be made, as Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick are over-30 and unrestricted free agents in July.
Whether general manager Lou Lamoriello swaps a talented young forward for a defenseman depends on several factors, such as the impact of the expansion draft upon this summer’s trade market. Veteran forwards James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are a year away from UFA status. With coach Mike Babcock saying William Nylander not moving to center next season, it seems Bozak will return. UFA center Brian Boyle has expressed interest in re-signing.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox noted Lamoriello praised the respective performances of van Riemsdyk and Bozak this season. But with the club’s promising young forwards coming off their entry-level contracts within the next couple of years, it could prove difficult to re-sign the duo before next summer. Fox wonders if the Leafs should move the duo while their trade value is high to fetch a return that plugs their holes on the blueline or keep them and see how next season plays out.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Leafs prefer to retain van Riemsdyk and Bozak, but that will depend upon what the duo seeks to re-sign. Contract discussions can begin on July 1. It’ll also depend upon the effects of the expansion draft upon the trade market, as well as how many cap-strapped clubs look to shed salary. The Leafs could keep both for next season in hopes of staging a deeper playoff run next spring, but having that uncertainty over their futures hanging over their heads could prove an unwelcome distraction.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: In a recent mailbag segment, Joe Smith speculated the Lightning will go the trade route this summer to address their need for a top-four defenseman. He expects they’ll target teams at risk of losing a blueliner to the June expansion draft, such as “Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota and St. Louis.”
Smith believes winger Jonathan Drouin or center Tyler Johnson are the most likely trade candidates to land that top-four rearguard. He also thinks the Bolts could make smaller deals, perhaps with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, or trying to unload defenseman Jason Garrison’s contract ($4.6 million cap hit).
FANRAG SPORTS NETWORK: Chris Nichols cites hockey insider Bob McKenzie telling Montreal’s TSN 690 he thinks “it’s more likely than not” that Drouin gets deal this summer. He cites “economics” and the needs of the Lightning roster, pointing out concerns over their salary-cap space, the cost of re-signing Johnson and Ondrej Palat and to address their blueline depth. He acknowledged it’s possible to re-sign Drouin, Johnson and Palat if they’ll agree to hometown discounts, but they’ll still need to bring in that top-four defenseman.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning have over $55 million invested in 13 players. They’ll lose a salaried player to the expansion draft, which could free up a little more cap space. GM Steve Yzerman was able to get notable stars such as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman to accept less than market value to re-sign with the Bolts. He could do the same with Drouin, Johnson and Palat, find a taker to dump Garrison’s contract and get creative to bring in a top-four blueliner. But if those RFAs all seek significant raises and if he can’t shed more salary, Yzerman will have a difficult time bolstering his defense corps.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin recently reported Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen could find it difficult to find sufficient salary-cap room to add a top-four defenseman or a frontline forward, let alone both. They currently have just $2.9 million in cap space for next season.
Kekalainen must re-sign restricted free agent forwards Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson, as well as backup goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg. Larkin notes the Jackets will get some additional cap room when they lose a salaried player to the expansion draft (possibly Matt Calvert and his $2.2 million cap hit), but what they really need is to convince Scott Hartnell ($4.75 million annually through 2018-19) to waive his no-movement clause and then to find a taker for him.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Aaron Portzline also recently reported on possible offseason decisions for the Jackets. In addition to touching on the points raised by Larkin, he notes the Jackets have to reach a decision on pending UFAs Sam Gagner and Kyle Quincey. He also considers it unlikely Hartnell will waive his no-movement clause to be exposed in the expansion draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kekalainen has his work cut out for him this summer. Wennberg and Anderson could be re-signed to bridge deals with the promise of more lucrative deals next time. A couple of pundits have also suggested convincing Brandon Dubinsky to waive his NMC, but I don’t see that happening. They will get some cap relief next season with David Clarkson on permanent LTIR. That could give them enough to re-sign those restricted free agents, but not enough to pursue any players via free agency.
NEW YORK POST: Brett Cyrgalis recently wondered what the future holds for New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein. Once an invaluable part of their blueline, Klein’s play slipped over the last two seasons. He was also hampered by back injury. He has a year left on his contract ($2.9 million cap hit) and could be exposed in the expansion draft or possibly moved via trade.
Larry Brooks noted the improved play of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, but speculates this could be his last season with the Blueshirts. Brooks thinks Girardi is facing a possible contract buyout of the final three years of his contract ($5.5 million annual cap hit).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Rangers could buy out Girardi to free up cap space to add more speed to their defense. However, it’ll cost the Rangers over $2.6 million for next season, over $3.6 million annually for the next two seasons, followed by over $1.11 million annually for the final three seasons.