NHL Rumor Mill – April 18, 2019
More fallout from the Penguins’ first-round elimination and the latest Nazem Kadri speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
PENGUINS POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES
THE ATHLETIC: Rob Rossi wonders if Phil Kessel’s played his final game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He cites multiple sources claiming the Penguins explored trading the right winger last summer, indicating Kessel was “agreeable” to playing for the Arizona Coyotes. He has a good relationship with Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who was an assistant coach with the Penguins during their championships in 2016 and 2017.
Rossi also cited a Penguins source claiming Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the club’s only untouchables and it’s very unlikely they’ll part ways with winger Jake Guentzel and goaltender Matt Murray.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Joe Starkey believes significant changes could be coming for the Penguins this summer. He believes they must find a way to move plodding defenseman Jack Johnson, who’s got four years remaining on his contract. Starkey also suggests they consider moving veterans like Kessel, defenseman Kris Letang and forward Patric Hornqvist. He points out the Penguins won a Cup without Letang when he was sidelined for the entire 2017 playoffs.
Jason Mackey considers Kessel, defenseman Olli Maatta, center Matt Cullen, and left wing Garrett Wilson as the most likely to be on the move this summer. Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad, and Erik Gudbranson fall into the “potentially on the move” category. Letang’s playoff performance raises questions but his injury history makes a trade difficult. He doubts the Penguins can find a taker for Johnson.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Kevin Gorman considers Letang part of the Penguins untouchables with Crosby and Malkin and doesn’t believe the veteran blueliner should be made the scapegoat for the club’s early playoff exit. He suggests Justin Schultz could be a prime trade candidate because he has only a year remaining on his contract, though he acknowledged Maatta, Johnson or Gudbranson could be shopped in a cost-cutting deal.
While Kessel’s production makes him a valuable trade commodity, Gorman also believes his offense helps the Penguins. He doesn’t think Kessel should be dealt just for the sake of doing so.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $79 million invested in 18 players for 2019-20, the Penguins have little choice but to shed salary this summer if they intend on getting younger and faster for next season. If Kessel is willing to accept a trade to the Coyotes, who have depth in promising and affordable young talent, they should seriously consider it. They’ll miss his offense in the short term but it’ll be worth it if he fetches a return that helps the Penguins now and in the future.
Letang’s injury history, age (31) and his annual average value ($7.25 million through 2021-22) could be a tough sell. Those factors also apply to Hornqvist, who’s carrying a $5.3 million annual cap hit through 2022-23. Johnson carries an affordable cap hit ($3.25 million) but I doubt the Penguins can find any takers for him at this stage in his career.
If it appears Schultz could be too expensive to re-sign, perhaps he’ll be shopped this summer. He has a 10-team no-trade list. Maatta appears a more likely trade candidate as it seems head coach Mike Sullivan lacks confidence in him.
Cullen is 42 and will likely retire. Having acquired Bjugstad in February, I don’t think GM Jim Rutherford intends to move him. Gudbranson’s physical play could ensure he gets another season in Pittsburgh.
LATEST KADRI SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun recently reported questions about Nazem Kadri’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs were being asked before his series-long suspension for cross-checking Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk. With the Leafs facing a salary-cap crunch this summer and with Mitch Marner to receive a significant raise, LeBrun said the possibility of moving Kadri as a cost-cutting measure was a possibility before his recent act of recklessness.
Kadri’s second playoff suspension in as many years could force Leafs management to ask themselves if they can trust having him in the lineup beyond this season. He has three years remaining on his contract with an affordable $4.5-million cap hit and a 10-team no-trade list.
LeBrun believes there would be a market for a two-way center like Kadri with a cap-friendly contract. While his suspension history might scare off some GMs, others could consider the edge he brings to his game to be a valuable component.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: If the Leafs can win their current series with the Bruins without Kadri in the lineup, Matt Larkin suggests they consider trading him this summer for a defenseman. He notes the Leafs still need a “right-shot, two-way, top-four presence”, suggesting they’d have to send salary out to bring in a “Brett Pesce-type” blueliner.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have over $75 million invested in 19 players for 2019-20. Forwards Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson are restricted free agents while defensemen Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are unrestricted free agents.
Assuming the salary cap reaches $83 million as projected and all-but-retired winger Nathan Horton ($5.3 million) is placed on long-term injury reserve at the start of next season, the Leafs will only have around $13 million to re-sign those forwards and re-sign or replace those blueliners. The cost of re-signing Marner alone could exceed $10 million.
The Leafs have no choice but to shed salary. Kadri’s latest antics could grease the skids for his departure this summer, especially if the Leafs play well without him.