NHL Rumor Mill – March 26, 2019
Talk of a “Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen” swap plus the latest on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NUGENT-HOPKINS FOR RISTOLAINEN TALK
WGR 550: Joe DiBiase cited the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson said there’s a scenario out there suggesting the Edmonton Oilers ship center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Matheson was replying to a piece by colleague David Staples examining how the Oilers could bring in fast forwards and defensemen.
Staples noted the price would be high via the trade market, which would involve moving a player like Nugent-Hopkins. Matheson agreed there are lots of teams looking for centers. He adds you don’t trade a center for a winger, you trade him for a top-pairing rearguard.
DiBiase thinks Matheson’s claiming a Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen scenario is “out there” probably just refers to social media chatter among fans. He feels Buffalo followers would probably love this move (including himself) but doesn’t think it’s a slam dunk. “You’re acquiring a 50-point forward, in exchange for a 40-point defenseman.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A swap of Nugent-Hopkins for Ristolainen would address the respective needs of both clubs. But is there a willingness by their respective managements to make that move?
As I’ve said before, unless Ristolainen wants out of Buffalo, I don’t think the Sabres should move him. What makes him attractive to the Oilers (young, skilled, top-pairing defenseman on an affordable long-term contract) also makes him invaluable to the Sabres.
Staples believes getting a young first-pairing defenseman for Nugent-Hopkins would be a sensible move. However, he also said he’s not a fan of making a major trade, especially if it’s moving RNH for a winger. He feels help could be coming on defense from the younger blueliners within their system such as Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear or Joel Persson.
Staples suggests they should put their emphasis on drafting and developing young talent. That will depend, of course, on who the Oilers hire as their next general manager.
LATEST ON THE KINGS AND KOVALCHUK
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Helene Elliott believes the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to leave Ilya Kovalchuk back in LA during their current three-game road trip to be yet another puzzling move in a season full of them. Kovalchuk recently complained about his reduced role under interim coach Willie Desjardins.
While Desjardins will be gone after this season, Elliott noted Kings general manager Rob Blake is in a weak position to trade Kovalchuk this summer because of the winger’s no-movement clause. “The bigger question: Will free agents want to play for the Kings after seeing them treat Kovalchuk this way and seeing a team that is several seasons from contending?”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, the decision to keep Kovalchuk in LA was the winger’s idea as he wasn’t expected to play during this road. Still, Elliott isn’t wrong about Desjardins’ handling of Kovalchuk’s playing time and the possible effect it could have upon the Kings’ efforts to sign attract free-agent talent this summer.
The Kings are supposedly engaged in an overdue roster rebuild. However, there’s some media speculation suggesting it could be a short-term one, with bringing in some younger, faster, established players via trade or free agency part of the process to speed things along.
The lure of sunny Southern California has always been enticing to free-agent players but the Kings’ handling of Kovalchuk and their status as a rebuilding club could make them reluctant to come to Los Angeles this year. A bigger stumbling block is the Kings limited salary-cap space for 2019-20. With over $71 million invested in 18 players, they’ll have less than $12 million to work with if the cap ceiling reaches $83 million as projected.
While they have all their core players under contract for next season, there’s some talk of them perhaps shopping goaltender Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million annual salary-cap hit) to free up more cap dollars. That would give them more room to make a big splash in the UFA pool, but it remains to be seen if that’s what Blake intends to do.