NHL Rumor Mill – March 16, 2019
Check out the latest Islanders and Panthers speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
ISLANDERS EXPECTED TO BE BUSY THIS SUMMER
NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: During a Thursday appearance on Montreal’s TSN 690, insider Pierre LeBrun said he believes New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will be busy this summer. He notes they currently have the fourth-most salary-cap room for 2019-20 and thinks they want to re-sign some of their unrestricted free agents like center Brock Nelson and captain Anders Lee but not everyone. LeBrun feels they’ll have room to pursue a big-ticket player like Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin via free agency. They could also be active in this summer’s trade market or maybe even go the offer-sheet route.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): With the Islanders building a young “core four” of promising defensemen in Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, and Devon Toews, Arthur Staple suggests veteran blueliner Nick Leddy could become expendable. He notes Leddy no longer leads Islanders rearguards in ice time and offense and feels he could become a trade candidate to bring in a forward.
While acknowledging Lamoriello could pursue Panarin or Columbus’ Matt Duchene, the Isles remain a tough sell for free agents, meaning he could be forced to go the trade route. Staple cites a team executive not affiliated with the Islanders or Edmonton Oilers suggesting perhaps a new Oilers GM might be interested in swapping Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Leddy. Staple also wondered if the Minnesota Wild, Toronto Maple Leafs, or Winnipeg Jets would have interest in Leddy.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree the Islanders might not be a destination of choice for many top UFAs, but the presence of Lamoriello in the front office, Barry Trotz behind the bench, and the opportunity to skate alongside young center Mathew Barzal could be enticing selling points.
Of course, the biggest is money, and if Lamoriello is willing to spend to land a free-agent star, someone like Panarin might be tempted. Cap Friendly indicates the Isles have over $47.7 million invested in 16 players. If ownership is willing to spend up to the projected $83 million cap ceiling for 2019-20, Lamoriello will have over $35 million to work with, more than enough to re-sign his key free agents and to pursue additional depth.
I also concur with Staples’ assessment that Leddy is a solid No. 3 defenseman and should attract interest if Lamoriello shops him for a forward. He’s signed through 2021-22 with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million and lacks no-trade protection. However, if the new Edmonton GM swapped Nugent-Hopkins for Leddy, Oilers fans will mutiny.
The Leafs and Jets both face a cap crunch this summer and will want to shed salary. Lamoriello would have to pick up part of Leddy’s salary to make him attractive to those two clubs.
PANTHERS WILL BE SUMMER SHOPPERS FOR UFA TALENT
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): George Richards reports the Florida Panthers could make moves to add to their roster and/or to free up salary-cap space. GM Dale Tallon intends to be aggressive in the free-agent market, generating speculation he’ll pursue Columbus Blue Jackets UFAs Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Despite this season’s setback, the Panthers are stocked with good young talent and are considered a team on the rise. Sunny weather, quality of living, and lack of a state tax could prove attractive to those UFAs, plus the club has a reputation for its first-class treatment of its players.
Richards notes Panthers don’t intend to spend all their available cap space in the free-agent market. They’ll also consider re-signing their own, such as Troy Brouwer and Riley Sheahan. The latter was acquired in a trade last month with Pittsburgh. Earlier this month, Richards reported Tallon was happy with Sheahan, who’s interested in re-signing with the Panthers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For this summer’s UFA talent, the Panthers could be a preferable destination over Long Island for all the reasons Richards cited. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $61 million invested in 14 players for 2019-20. As Richards noted, they’ll have around $22 million in cap space assuming an $83-million ceiling.
Ownership has given Tallon the green light to spend this summer and it’s clear the Panthers GM intends to do so. It wouldn’t surprise me if Panarin and/or Bobrovsky end up with the Panthers.
As for players who could be shopped before July 1, I expect current backup James Riemer could be on the move. He’s signed through 2020-21 with an annual average value of $3.5 million and lacks a no-trade clause. Winger Mike Hoffman also surfaced in the rumor mill leading up to last month’s trade deadline. He’s got a 10-team no-trade list and has one season left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.187 million.
Winger Jonathan Huberdeau was the subject of trade chatter but I don’t see the Panthers parting with one of their top scorers, especially one carrying an affordable $5.9-million AAV through 2022-23. With 74 points in 70 games, the 25-year-old Huberdeau is entering his playing prime.