NHL Rumor Mill – January 27, 2018
Latest on the top-12 unrestricted free agents plus updates on the Rangers and more in your NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox took an early look at 2018’s top-12 NHL unrestricted free agents and the rumors surrounding them. Atop the list, of course, is New York Islanders center John Tavares, who said back on Jan. 15 he’d like to stay on Long Island. While the Isles are likely to offer Tavares an eight-year deal worth over $10 million annually, Fox believes Tavares needs to believe the Islanders can win a Stanley Cup.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I still expect the Isles to re-sign Tavares. Don’t see him hitting the trade block on Feb. 26.
Fox wonders if Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson can pass up the opportunity to become the top blueliner in the 2018 UFA market. For now, Carlson claims he hasn’t given much thought toward his contract status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think the Capitals very much want to re-sign Carlson and he probably wants to stay put. Cap space, however, will be an issue. Washington has over $58 million of cap space tied up in just 13 players for 2018-19. It could cost them $7 million annually to re-sign Carlson. They also have to re-sign or replace pending UFAs such as Lars Eller and Jay Beagle, as well as restricted free agents Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly and Philipp Grubauer.
Contract extension talks are quiet for Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk. Fox wonders if the Leafs will peddle him at the trade deadline or retain him for the playoffs and attempt to sort out the contract situation after that. He notes they offered JvR in a package at last year’s draft to the Islanders in a failed attempt to land defenseman Travis Hamonic.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs could surprise us by swapping van Riemsdyk for a skilled top-four defenseman at the trade deadline, but I think they’ll hang onto him for the playoffs. He’s rumored seeking a six-year deal worth $6 million annually, but the Leafs could be reluctant to invest that much for that long in JvR when youngsters Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner will soon be in line for big raises.
Tavares’ linemate Josh Bailey prefers to finish his career as an Islander.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It could prove expensive for the Isles to re-sign Bailey. Given his stats over the past two seasons, he could seek to double his current $3.3 million annual cap hit. If Tavares departs, however, they’ll have a lot more cap space to invest in Bailey.
Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund is the type of two-way player rival clubs covet, but Fox believes he’ll re-sign with the Flames.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis reports Backlund was hoping to put off contract talks until after the season, but of late discussions between his agent and Flames management are heating up. While there was speculation Backlund could seek a six-year deal worth $6 million annually, Francis claims a source close to the situation said the center’s asking price is closer to $5 million over five-six years, which is more in line with what the Flames prefer.
Fox doesn’t see the St. Louis Blues parting ways with center Paul Stastny at the trade deadline. He also thinks there’s a chance Stastny could re-up with the Blues if the two sides can work out a deal. There’s no way he’ll get $7 million per season on his next contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stastny stays put for the remainder of the season. He’ll have to accept a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Blues.
It’s believed the Buffalo Sabres seek as many as four assets for left wing Evander Kane in the trade market. The Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins are among the clubs who’ve reportedly expressed interest.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Buffalo News’ John Vogl recently reported the Vancouver Canucks could be a destination for Kane as they’re searching for talent as the Sedin era winds down. If the twins don’t re-sign with the Canucks this summer, they’ll have sufficient room to sign Kane this summer. While Kane’s a Vancouver native and might welcome an opportunity to play in his hometown, there’s no guarantee the Canucks will pursue him, especially if the Sedins return and Tomas Vanek opts to stick around.
Fox cited colleague Nick Kypreos recently suggesting Vegas Golden Knights winger James Neal could seek between $6.5-$7 million per season on a long-term deal. Vegas could be hesitant to invest lengthy deals in players who are 30 or older. Fox wonders if they’ll shop Neal at the trade deadline or retain him for a Cinderella playoff run, even at the risk of losing him for nothing to free agency. Teams have also called the Golden Knights about forward David Perron. So far, Perron’s kept quiet about his plans for free agency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported Neal is enjoying his time with the Golden Knights and is currently focusing on this season. His agent declined to publicly discuss his client’s contract status. Neal is in line for a big payday and the Golden Knights have the cap space to re-sign him. Given Neal’s age (31),I think term will be the sticking point here. However, I don’t expect they’ll shop Neal or Perron at the trade deadline.
Contract extension talks have already begun between the Boston Bruins and defenseman Zdeno Chara.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chara will be staying in Boston. Expect him to get a one-year, bonus-laden contract.
The New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs are among teams that could seek a defenseman. Detroit Red Wings blueliner Mike Green could be an option for one of them.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: MLive.com’s Ansar Khan speculates the Wings could get either two second-round picks or a second and a third for Green.
The New York Rangers and winger Michael Grabner aren’t looking at the trade deadline as a contract extension deadline. His agent believes there’s plenty of time for the two sides to discuss a new deal between the end of the playoffs and July 1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: According to the New York Post and New York Daily News, Rangers management could be ready to blow up their current roster at the trade deadline and pursue younger talent. Grabner and fellow UFA Rick Nash could be on the move by deadline day, as well as players with term remaining on their contracts such as Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello.
The Post’s Larry Brooks thinks Nash, who submitted his trade list last summer, could fetch “a legit youngster plus a first rounder.” from contenders such as Dallas, San Jose, St. Louis and possibly Tampa Bay. Grabner could bring back “a first-rounder or a young roster player.” He also wonders what McDonagh’s worth would be to “asset-rich contenders” such as Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay.
Rangers fans should keep their expectations realistic for Nash and Grabner. While there should be interest in both players by the deadline, the notion of either guy fetching a young roster player or a first-round pick could be wishful thinking.
The Leafs could use a blueliner like McDonagh but I think they’d prefer an asset who’s got more than a year on his contract. Recent reports indicate the Bruins have no interest in parting with any of their young assets. The Rangers and Lightning have a trade history but there’s no certainty they’ll chase McDonagh or Nash at the deadline.