NHL Rumor Mill – August 24, 2019
Constructing the best lineup with the remaining UFAs plus the latest Rasmus Ristolainen and Derek Stepan speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton recently listed the top remaining unrestricted free agents and attempted to compile the best “All-UFA” lineup. Joe Thornton, the best available center, is expected to return for another season with the San Jose Sharks. Clinton also considered Brian Boyle and Derick Brassard as a toss-up for second-best. Soon after this article appeared, Brassard signed with the New York Islanders.
Left-wing options are a toss-up between Patrick Marleau and Thomas Vanek. Justin Williams, the top right wing, is expected to return to the Carolina Hurricanes. Clinton considered it odd that right wing Patrick Maroon remains unsigned. He speculates Maroon is working toward returning to the St. Louis Blues or waiting to see where the best fit could be elsewhere.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner remains the top blueliner. His future somehow seems tied to the Leafs efforts to re-sign winger Mitch Marner. Clinton considers Ben Hutton the second-best rearguard. As for goaltenders, he wonders if we’ve seen the last of Scott Darling. Chad Johnson would be the next best option.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thornton’s returning to the Sharks. If Williams doesn’t retire, the Hurricanes are believed the only club he’ll skate with.
Gardiner’s situation got a little more intriguing this week when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said the Arizona Coyotes are thought to be interested in the former Leaf. He also wondered if the Buffalo Sabres would come calling if they trade Rasmus Ristolainen. And speaking of Ristolainen…
UPDATE ON RISTOLAINEN
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Mike Harrington recently reported there’s doesn’t appear to be a large trade market for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. General manager Jason Botterill and head coach Ralph Kruger aren’t completely against the idea of the 24-year-old blueliner returning to the lineup this season.
Harrington feels the Winnipeg Jets need help on their blueline and could be a good destination for Ristolainen. However, the Jets can’t do anything until they get restricted free agents Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor under contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres loading up on the right side of their blueline this summer seemingly sets the stage for trading Ristolainen. The Jets could certainly use someone like him but the Sabres could seek a top-six forward (preferably a right winger) in return.
The notion of swapping Ristolainen for Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers has been bandied out. However, Ehlers skates on the left side and has earned a reputation as a playoff underachiever.
LATEST ON STEPAN
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Craig Morgan was asked if he sees the Arizona Coyotes signing center Derek Stepan after this season. Stepan is signed through 2020-21 and Morgan doesn’t expect the Coyotes will do anything about his contract after this season.
What happens to Stepan long-term depends upon the development of players like Barrett Hayton, Nick Schmaltz, and Christian Dvorak and whether he can regain his previous 50-plus point form. Morgan doubts the Coyotes shop the veteran center if they’re in the playoff chase this season. If not, they could consider it, but must also keep in mind the contracts of centers Brad Richardson and Carl Soderberg expire next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Alate-season leg injury could account for the decline in Stepan’s production in 2018-19. He was still the Coyotes best all-around forward.
Maybe the toll of his two-way style is starting to catch up with him but his numbers could rebound if he’s got some decent wingers. Another missed postseason, however, could force Coyotes management to consider moving Stepan while his value remains high and he still has some time left on his contract.