NHL Rumor Mill – April 23, 2019
Changes could be coming for the Winnipeg Jets this summer plus the latest on Robin Lehner and Mats Zuccarello in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SUMMER OF CHANGE FOR THE JETS?
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Mike McIntyre reports the Jets head into the offseason amidst speculation of a fractured dressing room. He notes coach Paul Maurice claiming there were a few “ruffled feathers” that must be “flattened out” while general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff seemed to hint changes could be coming to the club’s leadership group, which includes captain Blake Wheeler and assistants Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien. He suggests young blueliner Josh Morrissey be named an assistant captain.
McIntyre also noted the Jets’ players-only, closed-door meeting late in the season as an indicator things weren’t well in the dressing room. He doesn’t believe Maurice will be replaced as head coach but the club’s defensive struggles could result in a shakeup of his assistants.
Trade-deadline acquisition Kevin Hayes was a disappointment and McIntyre doesn’t expect the unrestricted free agent to be re-signed. He also speculates pending UFAs Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Brandon Tanev could price themselves out of Winnipeg.
Patrick Laine, Kyle Connor, and Jacob Trouba are their notable restricted free agents. Laine and Connor are expected to receive hefty raises while Trouba’s contentious contract negotiation history casts uncertainty over his long-term future in Winnipeg.
WINNIPEG SUN: Ken Wiebe notes Trouba’s evasiveness to discuss his contract situation will generate speculation he’s played his final game for the Jets. Trouba has arbitration rights and is a year away from UFA status.
“Same answer as always. I’ll figure it out once things get going in the summer, what’s best and move forward from there,” said Trouba. “We’ve got to sit down and kind of have a meeting and figure out what to do moving forward, so I haven’t really thought about it. I tried to put it in the back of my mind as much as I could this year and just forget about it and we’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton observes the Jets could have around $26 million in salary-cap space should the cap reach $83 million for 2019-20. He suggests an “incredibly conservative estimate” would see Laine and Connor take up half of that.
Trouba’s performance this season is in line for a raise to between $6-$7 million per season, which isn’t likely to fit into their cap structure. If they trade Trouba, it could leave sufficient space to re-sign Myers if he’s willing to accept less than $6 million annually. Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov may have played their final games with the Jets.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks recently noted the Jets could be forced to shop Trouba this summer. He expects the 25-year-old defenseman could command $7 million per season and believes the New York Rangers could be among the clubs willing to pay him that much.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wheeler, Schiefele, and Byfuglien aren’t going anywhere but there could be a shakeup among their leadership group to smooth out those ruffled feathers Maurice referred to. Scheifele or Byfuglien could be stripped of their assistant captain duties. Byfuglien, who has the shortest tenure (two years) remaining on his contract, is a likely candidate.
The Jets have over $55.6 million invested in 12 players. I’m assuming the Jets will re-sign Laine and Connor re-signed for a combined $15 million, pushing their cap payroll to over $70 million. If they also re-sign Trouba to $7 million annually, that climbs to over $77 million, leaving considerably less room to fill out the remainder of the lineup. Even if they part ways with Trouba and re-sign Myers for under $6 million per season, they’ll still have to shed some salary.
Trouba’s history of difficult contract discussions with Jets management will ensure his name remains in the rumor mill. He could become an invaluable trade chip that can bring back some affordable young assets.
If they re-sign Trouba, they’ll have to ship out a contract or two to free up sufficient cap space for other signings or additions. Perreault ($4.125 million annually through 2020-21) and Kulikov ($4.33 million for 2019-20) could become trade candidates but they also carry modified no-trade clauses and their respective injury histories could affect their trade value.
Winger Nikolaj Ehlers could be another option. He’s in the first year of a seven-year, $42-million contract ($6 million AAV), lacks no-trade protection for 2019-20, and has received some criticism for his poor playoff numbers. While some clubs could balk at his cap hit, his youth (23), speed and offensive abilities could draw interest in the trade market.
UPDATES ON LEHNER AND ZUCCARELLO
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks notes there’s been little speculation over goaltender Robin Lehner’s future with the New York Islanders compared to fellow Isles UFAs Anders Lee (expected to stay), Jordan Eberle (expected to depart) and Brock Nelson (expected to stay but could have potential open-market prominence thanks to a strong playoff performance). There was early-season speculation linking the Islanders to Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky but Lehner’s Vezina Trophy finalist status squashes that notion. Lehner’s incredible turnaround this season will cause his price to skyrocket over his current one-year, $1.5-million contract.
With around $35 million in projected cap space for 2019-20, the Isles can afford to keep him. Even if Lehner were to test the market, the limited number of suitors (Florida? Ottawa?) could ensure he stays put.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Provided the Lehner camp doesn’t get crazy and try to make their client the NHL’s highest-paid goalie, I believe he and the Islanders will reach an agreement on a multi-year deal. It’ll be interesting to see what their asking price will be. It could reach between $6-$7 million annually. A potential lack of suitable free-agent destinations could also affect what he gets.
Mats Zuccarello’s immediate positive effect upon the Dallas Stars could lead to them re-signing the 31-year-old pending UFA winger. The Stars acquired Zuccarello from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. If they re-sign him, they’ll have to cede their 2020 first-round pick to the Rangers. Brooks thinks Zuccarello could seek a no-movement clause to ensure he’s protected in the 2021 NHL expansion draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zuccarello, who turns 32 in September, could get a three- or four-year deal from the Stars for around the same annual cap hit ($4.5 million) as his current contract.