NHL Rumor Mill – April 24, 2019
Latest on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators in the aftermath of their first-round eliminations in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS?
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski wonders if the Toronto Maple Leafs can trust center Nazem Kadri after his second opening-round suspension in as many years. They must also improve their defense corps, especially with Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey slated to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. While they have some promising blueliners within their system, the Leafs could look to the trade market, as they did when they acquired Jake Muzzin in January.
The cost of re-signing restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner will also affect the Leafs’ efforts to bolster their blueline. Head coach Mike Babcock could also face questions after failing to guide the Leafs past the opening round for the third straight year.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons also believes the Leafs face questions over the future of Nazem Kadri, the cost of re-signing Marner, and figuring out what to do with Gardiner and Hainsey. He also suggests they find a way to shed veteran winger Patrick Marleau’s contract and what they’ll do with restricted free agents Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
Terry Koshan noted Kadri has a cap-friendly $4.5-million annual average value with three years remaining on his contract. He also wonders if they can trust the center to do a better job containing his emotions in the heat of playoff competition.
Michael Traikos believes Gardiner once again hurt his team with yet another poor Game 7 performance against the Bruins. He cited the blueliner’s turnover behind the Leafs net that turned into Marcus Johansson’s game-winning goal. He doesn’t believe the Leafs will re-sign Gardiner and will allow him to depart via free agency.
THE ATHLETIC: James Mirtle believes big changes are coming to the Leafs this summer. While the Leafs like Gardiner and he enjoys full support from his teammates, he’ll likely price himself out of the Leafs cap range. He also feels Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas will have to find potential replacements for Gardiner and Hainsey via the trade market. Babcock will likely face increased scrutiny by Leafs followers but Mirtle doesn’t see him being replaced.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expect the Leafs to dominate this summer’s rumor mill after failing to advance beyond the opening round for the third straight year. I’ll be shocked if Babcock is fired but he’ll feel the heat over some of his puzzling coaching decisions this season, especially in the series against the Bruins.
Turning to the Leafs roster, Cap Friendly indicates they have over $75.7 million tied up in 19 players. Marner, Kapanen, and Johnsson are their notable RFAs while Gardiner, Hainsey and winger Tyler Ennis their noteworthy UFAs. They’ll get $5.3 million in salary-cap relief by placing all-but-retired winger Nathan Horton on long-term injury reserve to start the season. Assuming an $83-million salary cap for 2019-20, Dubas will have around $13 million to work with. Most of that, perhaps at least $10 million, will be taken up by Marner’s contract, leaving little room to address the other roster needs.
A cost-cutting move or two is coming this summer. Wyshynski suggested the William Nylander trade rumors could crank up again. He’s carrying an annual cap hit of just under $7 million annually. If Dubas stands by his promise not to trade Nylander, he’ll have to look elsewhere for cuts.
Kadri could become a trade candidate. Despite his loose cannon act in the two series against the Bruins and his 10-team no-trade list, he’ll still be enticing for teams seeking a gritty second- or third-line center. Marleau is on a 35-plus contract, meaning a buyout won’t provide the Leafs any cap relief. He’ll also have to agree to waive his no-movement clause. Even if he did, his age (39), cap hit and declining production could make him a tough sell.
Even if Dubas moves Kadri and finds a taker for Marleau, he could still end up being forced to move an RFA like Kapanen or Johnsson, depending upon what they’re seeking on their next contracts.
CHANGES COMING FOR THE PREDATORS?
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters wondered if the Nashville Predators will stay the course or shake things up following a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars. They feel the Preds must bolster their forward depth, though their limited salary-cap space means they’ll have to get creative to address the issue.
THE TENNESSEAN: Paul Skrbina suggests changes could be in the offing for the Predators this summer. He wondered if center Kyle Turris and defenseman P.K. Subban will be back, if any coaches will be fired, and if they’ll pursue any big free agents.
THE ATHLETIC: John Glennon expects Predators head coach Peter Laviolette will be back next season, though another disappointing season could cost him his job.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin feels the Predators aren’t a very good team, pointing out their league-worst power-play and popgun offense this season. He believes they need a legitimate first-line center, perhaps someone like Columbus’ Matt Duchene if he becomes available via free agency this summer. Signing Duchene, however, would mean clearing some cap space, prompting Larkin to suggest moving Subban, who’s the oldest of the Predators’ top-four defensemen (29) and carries the biggest cap hit ($9 million AAV for three more seasons).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given Poile’s reputation as a wheeler-dealer, I don’t expect him to stand pat this summer. A trade or two could be in the offing in June or early July.
The Predators have over $77 million invested in 23 players. I don’t expect pending UFAs like Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle will be back.
Turris had a disappointing, injury-hampered season, with 23 points in 55 games and 2 points in six playoff contests. He lacks no-trade protection but is in the first season of a six-year, $36-million contract. Unless Poile is willing to absorb a healthy portion of that $6-million annual cap hit or includes a promising youngster or high draft pick in the deal, he might not find many takers for Turris.
Subban, on the other hand, remains an NHL superstar. Despite his hefty cap hit, there will be considerable interest in his services if Poile decides to trade him. His lack of a no-trade clause provides the Predators with plenty of potential trade destinations, though some GMs might be leery of Subban’s outsized personality and his offensive flair.