NHL Rumor Mill – April 24, 2018
Latest on the Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues in your NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE BLUE JACKETS?
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan lists re-signing Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski to contract extensions, restocking the defense and acquiring scoring depth as the offeseason keys for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Panarin, Bobrovsky and Werenski all have a year remaining on their respective contract, with Panarin and Bobrovsky eligible for unrestricted free agency in July 2019.
While the Blue Jackets have a solid top defense pairing in Werenski and Seth Jones, there’s uncertainty elsewhere on the blueline, with Jack Johnson and Ian Cole both due for UFA status this summer and Ryan Murray a restricted free agent. A decision will have to be made about RFA winger Boone Jenner, whose production slipped over the past two seasons. Pending UFA winger likely won’t be back unless it’s a bargain.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Jackets have over $61 million invested in 19 players. That’s more than enough to re-sign or replace this year’s notable free agents such as Vanek, Cole, Johnson, Jenner and Murray. However, GM Jarmo Kekalainen must be careful not to tie up too much cap space beyond next summer. That’s when the big raises expected for Panarin, Bobrovsky and Werenski will kick in.
Vanek was useful down the stretch but he was eventually demoted to the fourth line in the series against the Capitals. I doubt he’ll be back. As Kaplan observed, Kekalainen could be reluctant to invest too much in Johnson. Murphy and Cole could be affordable re-signings. As for Jenner, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Kekalainen quietly gauging his value on the trade market.
UPDATE ON THE SABRES’ GOALTENDING
THE BUFFALO NEWS: John Vogl recently examined the Sabres options if they decide to pass on re-signing RFA goaltender Robin Lehner in favor of promoting Linus Ullmark as their starter. Vogl believes Sabres general manager Jason Botterill “hardly made it sound like a contract was coming” for Lehner.
Options via unrestricted free agency include St. Louis’ Carter Hutton, Boston’s Anton Khudobin, Colorado’s Jonathan Bernier, Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen, Florida’s Harri Sateri, the New York Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak, Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson and Carolina’s Cam Ward, It doesn’t appear as though the Sabres intend on re-signing Chad Johnson.
Vogl wonders if Toronto’s Garrett Sparks might be available via trade. He also notes the Vancouver Canucks crease could get crowded with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilson under contract beyond this season and Thatcher Demko knocking on the door. He considers it highly unlikely the Canucks part with Demko.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. The Sabres could shop him before the June draft. If Ullmark is to be their starter, there are some pretty good veteran backup options to draw upon in this summer’s free agent market. The best of the bunch is Hutton but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blues re-sign him before July 1.
LATEST BLUES SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Jeremy Rutherford dismissed one reader’s suggestion of the St. Louis Blues shipping goatender Jake Allen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brian Elliott. He also considers the notion of acquiring center Ryan Getzlaf from the Anaheim Ducks more of a long shot than signing New York Islanders center John Tavares via free agency. He believes it’s wishful thinking to assume the Ducks will trade Getzlaf.
Rutherford doesn’t see the Blues shipping defenseman Colton Parayko to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, pointing out it would create a big hole on their blueline. Ha addressed the possibility of bringing back center Paul Stastny via free agency, believing the only way this makes sense for the Blues is if they’re adding someone else and if Stastny comes on the cheap.
He also thinks free agent Ilya Kovalchuk could give the Blues what they need: “a guy who can finish.” That could also be a longshot.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blues GM Doug Armstrong already confirmed Allen will return as the starting goaltender next season. I agree with Rutherford’s take on Parayko. I don’t see Stastny returning. Kovalchuk’s priority appears to be the Rangers but if he’s available it’s worth looking into if the contract is right.