NHL Rumor Mill – April 11, 2019
Latest on Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Ristolainen plus updates on the Blackhawks and Panthers in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WILL SKINNER AND RISTOLAINEN STAY WITH THE SABRES?
TSN: Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner said he won’t rush a decision regarding his future with the club. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is coming off a career-high 40-goal performance. Skinner insists he loves living and playing in Buffalo. Contract negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing since January. On Sunday, Sabres GM Jason Botterill said there was a 100 percent chance of the Sabres re-signing the winger.
THE ATHLETIC: Joe Yerdon examined possible Plan B options if Skinner’s depart via free agency. Of the left wingers potential available via the UFA market, Yerdon rules out Columbus’ Artemi Panarin because he wants to play in a big market, suggesting Columbus’ Ryan Dzingel and the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee as the only viable choices. Yerdon also suggested targeting cap-strapped clubs like Toronto or Winnipeg via trade or offer sheet, noting the Leafs’ Andreas Johnsson and the Jets’ Kyle Connor could be intriguing options.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports a number of teams scouting Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen since the trade deadline. Despite a difficult season, Ristolainen is 25 with a right-handed shot and will attract interest if Botterill decides to shop him this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t think the Sabres have any choice but to pony up big bucks for Skinner. Actually, they do have a choice, they can pass on re-signing him and disappoint the fan base and rob captain Jack Eichel of the best winger he’s had in his NHL career.
Dzingel and Johnsson won’t replace Skinner’s 40 goals and I doubt the Isles let another captain walk away via free agency by not re-signing Lee. The Jets will likely make a salary-dumping trade to free up sufficient room for Connor and Patrik Laine.
The Sabres haven’t been in the playoffs since 2011. The never-ending rebuild appears stalled. They got Skinner for peanuts last summer and he exceeded expectations. Yes, I know, his production dropped off over the second half of the season, but the Sabres simply cannot let him walk via free agency this summer. They’ll open the vault and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also attempt to bolster their scoring with a trade before July 1 in part to entice Skinner into staying.
As for Ristolainen, Botterill could be reluctant to move him. Nevertheless, if other clubs have serious interest in the young blueliner the Sabres GM could listen. It could take a significant offer, such as a second-line scoring forward, to convince Botterill to part with him.
WILL BLACKHAWKS ADDRESS DEFENSE THIS SUMMER?
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Jason Lieser believes repairing the defense must be the primary concern for Blackhawks management this summer. Unless general manager Stan Bowman is willing to ride it out with his current blueline and hope for improvement, Lieser feels he’ll aggressively try to fix the problem via trades or free agency.
Long-time Blackhawks blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are in the mid-thirties and carry long-term contracts with no-movement clauses. Lieser noted Erik Gustafsson’s offensive contributions but suggested they already get plenty of production from their forwards.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Jimmy Greenfield reports the Blackhawks must improve their penalty kill and add depth to their bottom-six forwards but there might not be major changes coming to the blueliner. He noted the no-movement clauses of Keith and Seabrook and Gustafsson’s affordable contract and 60-point performance despite his defensive issues. He also considers Connor Murphy as their best all-around defenseman and believes Henri Jokiharju should crack the roster full-time next season, leaving just one spot available on the top-six defense.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Blackhawks have over $60 million invested in 15 players with all their core players under contract, giving them around $23 million to work with if the cap reached $83 million as projected. It’s the first time in years Bowman’s had that much room and he’ll make the most of it via trades or free agency this summer.
I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t bring in an experienced top-four defenseman. Bowman has to be careful not to spend too much of his long-term cap space as he’ll need it to re-sign young stars Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome next summer.
UPDATE ON THE PANTHERS
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the Florida Panthers’ hiring of Joel Quenneville as head coach has stoked speculation they’re going to be major players in this summer’s free-agent market. They’ve been linked to Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given their scoring punch, Panarin could be a luxury the Panthers don’t need. Goaltending is the prime area to be addressed and they could use another skilled defenseman to round out their top four. If Bobrovsky fails to carry the Jackets past the opening round of the playoffs, one has to wonder if that might cool the Panthers’ supposed interest.