NHL Rumor Mill – July 29, 2017
Another look at Sportnet’s list of the top-10 remaining UFAs in your NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: With defenseman Andrei Markov heading to Russia, Luke Fox recently updated his list of the top-10 remaining unrestricted free agents. Left wing Thomas Vanek tops the list. He’s been in touch with the Detroit Red Wings but they must re-sign restricted free agent winger Andreas Athanasiou first and have limited salary-cap space.
Forwards Jaromir Jagr and Mike Fisher are second and third on the list. The 45-year-old Jagr recently skated with his hometown club of Kladno and still believes he can play in the NHL this season. As for Fisher, the Predators hope to learn more about his future plans next week. The 37-year-old could return with the Preds for one more season or opt for retirement.
Puck-moving defenseman Cody Franson was linked to the Chicago Blackhawks as a possible tryout candidate in September. The New Jersey Devils need blueline depth but reportedly aren’t interested in the 29-year-old Franson.
Earlier in July, there was reportedly mutual interest between winger Drew Stafford and the Minnesota Wild but they must first re-sign RFAs Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Marcus Foligno. The Boston Bruins also had some interest earlier in the month.
Aging forwards Brian Gionta, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan haven’t ruled out playing next season. Iginla and Doan, as well as Fisher, recently received invitations to join Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team if they don’t land NHL contracts for 2017-18. Doan’s agent said he’s spoken with four or five NHL teams but declined to name them.
Former LA Kings forward Andrei Loktionov is returning to the club on a professional tryout offer. Center Matt Cullen is pondering his future. The 40-year-old could retire but it’s also possible he could return to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Minnesota Wild also expressed some interest in signing him. So far, he’s yet to reach a decision.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Not much change in the status of these players since the last time Fox updated this list. Many of these players could be waiting until September to secure NHL contracts, especially older guys such as Jagr, Iginla, Doan and Gionta. As for Fisher, he’ll likely retire if he doesn’t sign with the Preds. Given his personal ties to Nashville, I don’t see him signing elsewhere.
The Wings will be under the cap by around $900K once they place Johan Franzen on injured reserve. If defenseman Ryan Sproul (knee) joins him, that’s an additional $600K. However, that won’t be enough to re-sign Athanasiou, let alone to bring back Vanek.
Some observers are surprised Franson hasn’t signed yet. Perhaps he’s hoping to land with the Blackhawks via tryout. If Cullen decides to return to the Penguins they’ll still need to pursue a decent third-line center. Given Cullen’s age, I don’t see him filling that role.
The Wild could sign Cullen or Stafford, but that’ll depend upon how much cap space they’ve got left once Niederreiter, Granlund and Foligno are under contract. They’ve got over $15 million in cap space, but new deals for those three will eat up most of it.
Colorado Avalanche prospect defenseman Will Butcher could soon be added to Fox’s UFA list. The 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner intends to test the market on Aug. 15. The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports a source said the Detroit Red Wings will pursue Butcher. Custance also lists the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks as potential suitors. Others could include the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.