NHL Rumor Mill – March 5, 2018
Latest on the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks in your NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO STAR: In a recent mailbag segment, Kevin McGran said he expects this season will be the last for forwards (and pending free agents) James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak with the Maple Leafs. He pointed out the Leafs’ salary structure will soon be very different with Auston Matthews at the top and everyone else fitting under his salary. Regarding van Riemsdyk, he noted his scoring is elite but “The rest of his game is not.”
McGran suggested Ilya Kovalchuk as a possible, more affordable replacement this summer for JvR, He also noted San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton is a UFA and highly regarded by Leafs head coach Mike Babcock.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While the Leafs risk losing van Riemsdyk and Bozak for nothing this summer to free agency, the feeling is they’re being considered as “own rentals” for the upcoming playoffs. Any chance of re-signing JvR was blown out of the water by last summer’s signing of Patrick Marleau. If this is Lou Lamoriello’s final season as general manager as recent speculation suggests, the Leafs might not play contract hardball with Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, meaning all three will be in line for substantial raises. That will affect any potential additions this summer via free agency.
Thornton might be available but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility he signs a one-year, bonus-laden deal with the Sharks. Kovalchuk’s preference is supposedly New York-area clubs (except for New Jersey, as that ship has probably sailed) but perhaps he’ll consider Toronto as a destination. However, it remains to be seen if the Leafs would be interested in him. We’ll have to wait until this summer to find out.
THE ATHLETIC: Scott Powers recently observed the Chicago Blackhawks could have the salary-cap space to make a splash via trade or free agency this summer. He noted speculation they could attempt to ship out some salary, as center Artem Anisimov’s no-movement clause shifts this summer to a modified no-trade.
They could once again put Marian Hossa’s $5.275-million on long-term injured reserve again this year. Powers suggested they perhaps attempt to package his rights with a draft pick or prospect to a rebuilding club with the cap space to carry that deal. As Hossa’s unlikely to play again, he probably won’t mind waiving his no-movement clause.
Noting the Hawks biggest need is defense, he speculated they could pursue a top blueliner but such a move could cost them some young assets. They must also be mindful of contracts down the road for youngsters such as Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Powers suggested the Blackhawks, with the right moves this summer, “may be able to restore their seat near the head of the NHL table.” Such moves, however, could prove to be short-term fixes that ultimately hurts them over the long haul.
Management must proceed carefully here. A wiser course of action could be trying to shed more salary and invest in younger players. Granted, moving some of those high-salaried players won’t be easy. But wherever there’s a chance to do so, they must seriously consider it.