NHL Rumor Mill – February 8, 2018
Latest on the Rangers, Leafs, Blue Jackets, Islanders, Bruins, Flames, Wild and more in your NHL rumor mill.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM FRIEDMAN’S LATEST “31 THOUGHTS”
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman once again brought up the possibility of New York Rangers winger Rick Nash widening his list of preferred trade destinations if a team not on his list makes a competitive offer to the Blueshirts. He also wouldn’t be surprised if Nash and fellow UFA Michael Grabner returned to the Rangers this summer. He also sees the Boston Bruins being in on Grabner and perhaps defenseman Nick Holden for depth.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As long as the asking price for Grabner isn’t a high pick or top prospect (see below), the Bruins could consider adding Grabner.
Friedman also repeated that trade speculation regarding Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly was shot down. Depending on what the Minnesota Wild do, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Pittsburgh Penguins try to bring back center Matt Cullen.
“Trade that might make sense only to me: something around Justin Faulk from Carolina to Detroit for Andreas Athanasiou.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Not sure if the Wings would do that deal. Despite Athanasiou’s ill-advised contract holdout last summer, the Wings apparently still see him as a key piece of their rebuilding plan. Faulk’s performance, meanwhile, has noticeably declined this season.
Friedman’s also keeping an eye on Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Columbus’ Boone Jenner and Arizona’s Tobias Rieder. The three forwards are struggling this season. Jenner and Rieder are also restricted free agents this summer with arbitration rights.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (see below) also noted Jenner’s decline this season and guesses the Jackets might be willing to part with him to land a forward such as Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. I don’t think the Blackhawks are keen to move Saad, as he’s still a young player (25) with size and two-way skills. Rieder, on the other hand, could be on his way out if he and the Coyotes can’t work out a suitable contract to avoid arbitration.
Friedman believes the Colorado Avalanche will retain defenseman Tyson Barrie unless someone “stuns them” with an offer of a forward. The Avs have some promising blueliners in their system but none are ready yet for full-time NHL duty.
It’s unlikely the Vancouver Canucks will get some clarity about the Sedins’ future by the trade deadline. The twins are due to become unrestricted free agents in July. They’re also attempting to re-sign defenseman Erik Gudbranson but it’ll be interesting to see if the two sides are on the same page. “Among those whose value they are testing: Ben Hutton and Anders Nilsson.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs are at the maximum 50 contracts. Forward Josh Leivo has requested a trade as he’s not seeing enough playing time in Toronto. Forward Nikita Soshnikov could also get moved as he’s no longer waiver exempt. The Leafs apparently seek “a higher-than-expected price for both players.” Friedman also thinks they could absorb part of winger Matt Martin’s salary to move him, saying they’ve checked with the New York Islanders.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Islanders (see below) aren’t keen to part with high draft picks for rental players. Martin is signed through 2019-20 with a $2.5 million cap hit but Snow isn’t going to overpay to bring him back. If the Leafs want a third or a fourth rounder for Martin, maybe Snow considers it.
Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. If he decides to return to the NHL, it’s believed he’s eyeing New York.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: But will New York be eyeing him? That’s something we’ll have to wait until the summer to find out.
LATEST ON THE WILD AND BLUE JACKETS
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Aaron Portzline addressed some trade questions and speculation from Blue Jackets fans. He can see the Jackets having interest in Ottawa Senators speedy winger Mike Hoffman. Noting the decline in Boone Jenner’s play, he guesses the Jackets might be willing to part with him to land a forward such as Hoffman.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Jenner is a big, versatile forward but his production has eroded since his career-best 30-goal, 49-point effort in 2015-16. At 24, he still has upside and could improve if given more playing time as a top-six winger. Maybe the Sens could be enticed by his size, youth and all-around skills. Hoffman, however, has a 10-team no-trade list and the Jackets could be on it.
Portzline also said the Jackets have dismissed a rumor claiming Brandon Dubinsky had requested a trade. He also doesn’t know if Columbus is on Rick Nash’s list of trade destinations but he’d be shocked if it wasn’t, pointing out the winger loves the city and still lives there. However, he isn’t sure if Nash is a fit with the Jackets, who need someone to “elevate the pace of play and crank up the passion.”
THE ATHLETIC: Michael Russo reports Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher once again face big decisions with the trade deadline approaching. The Wild are jockeying for a playoff berth in the tough Central Division. Fletcher is averse to moving his 2018 first-round pick and lacks a second and a fourth in this year’s draft. Russo doesn’t see the Wild parting with Joel Eriksson Ek, Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway or Kirill Kaprizov.
Russo noted there’s been trade chatter regarding forwards Charlie Coyle and Matt Cullen and defenseman Mike Reilly, plus the Wild have three third-round picks and some promising prospects. If the Wild can’t find a suitable short-term replacement from within for sidelined defenseman Jonas Brodin, perhaps Fletcher could be more in the market for a blueliner than a scoring winger.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fletcher could also be wary of making another big deadline splash after giving up a 2017 first-round pick, a second rounder this year and a conditional pick next year to Arizona last season for playoff dud Martin Hanzal. I expect he’ll wait and see how his club performs over the next couple of weeks before deciding if he needs to make a move.
FLAMES, ISLANDERS AND BRUINS RELUCTANT TO MOVE DRAFT PICKS
SPORTSNET: Calgary Flames president Brian Burke suggested his club’s need for a scoring winger could be addressed internally with the return of Kris Versteeg from hip surgery. He said his club won’t be parting with high draft picks for a rental player, noting they don’t have many picks in this year’s draft to spare. “We’re not going into  picks … unless it’s an extraordinary circumstance.”
NEWSDAY: Steven Marcus reports New York Islanders GM Garth Snow reiterated he’s not moving center John Tavares at the trade deadline. The club’s intention remains re-signing their captain before his eligibility this summer for unrestricted free agent status. He also said he’s unlikely to add players at the deadline if the cost is high draft picks. Snow acknowledged he’s carrying two first- and two second-round picks in the 2018 draft but is reluctant to part with them for rental players.
FANRAG SPORTS NETWORK: Chris Nichols cites TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s appearance on NBCSN discussing possible moves by the surging Boston Bruins at the trade deadline. He believes the Bruins management and coaching staff would, in a perfect world, prefer adding a top-six or top-nine scoring winger, but he’s not sure they’re willing to part with draft picks and/or prospects for rental players if the asking prices remain high by the deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: None of this means the Flames, Islanders and Bruins won’t make any moves at the deadline, but it’s clear they’re unwilling to pay the big asking prices for this year’s top playoff rental players. If those prices come down, perhaps they’ll become more interested in acquiring such players.