NHL Rumor Mill – February 8, 2020
Are the Avalanche pursuing Jets winger Kyle Connor? Could the Leafs use a loophole to free up salary-cap space for the trade deadline? What’s the latest on Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Ilya Kovalchuk? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
ARE THE AVALANCHE INTERESTED IN KYLE CONNOR?
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Mike McIntyre cites a “well-connected source” claiming teams are calling the Jets about winger Kyle Connor. The Jets need a top-tier defenseman, and McIntyre notes it takes talent to land talent. He said Colorado Avalanche prospect defenseman Bo Byram is the main name linked to Connor, along with a couple other small pieces. The Avs already have a potential franchise blueliner in Cale Makar, and their window of opportunity to win the Cup is wide open.
McIntyre doubts the Jets will move Connor, who leads them with 25 goals on the season. he also doesn’t think they’re actively shopping the 23-year-old winger. Still, he suggests trading “a highly coveted asset for a major piece to help in the present might make some sense.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I supposed the Avalanche could have interest in Connor. Heck, who wouldn’t? However, they’ve already got a top-line left winger in Gabriel Landeskog, while Valeri Nichushkin is showing promise in the second-line role. They’ve also been linked to guys like Chris Kreider and Tyler Toffoli, who would be more affordable acquisitions than Connor. Most of the trade chatter regarding the Avs of late concerns their goaltending.
Byram is a promising young defenseman who could one day blossom into a top-pairing player, but he’s yet to play a single NHL game. He’s not the top-two rearguard the Jets desperately need right away. Unless the Avs are offering up Makar (and they aren’t), or Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has decided to start rebuilding rather than push for a playoff spot, I don’t see Connor heading to Colorado – or anywhere else – anytime soon.
COULD A LOOPHOLE PROVIDE CAP RELIEF FOR THE LEAFS?
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports on the possibility of the Toronto Maple Leafs using the “Patrick Kane loophole” to free up around $9 million in salary-cap space at the trade deadline. He took note of recent comments by Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas suggesting any trade-deadline activity on his part could depend upon how long defenseman Morgan Rielly remains sidelined with a broken foot.
If Rielly, Cody Ceci, and Ilya Mikheyev remain on long-term injured reserve for the rest of the regular season. the Leafs can use the savings to acquire players at the trade deadline. The trio could return for the playoffs without the Leafs shedding salary because there’s no salary cap in the postseason.
It would be similar to what the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2015 with winger Patrick Kane. With Kane placed on LTIR from mid-February to the end of the regular-season schedule, they used the cap savings to Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette, who helped the Hawks win the Stanley Cup later that spring.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s nothing in the CBA that prevents teams from employing this tactic. If a player has suffered an injury serious enough to sideline them until the playoffs, a team is allowed to place him on LTIR and use the cap savings to their advantage before the trade deadline.
The Leafs aren’t the only club that can go this route. The St. Louis Blues, for example, currently have winger Vladimir Taranseko (shoulder surgery) on LTIR. He’s not expected to return until the playoffs, ensuring they’ll have over $5 million in deadline cap space to bolster their roster if they choose.
LATEST ON THORTON AND MARLEAU
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: Brian Witt recently cited NBC Sports hockey analyst Keith Jones weighing in on possible moves by the San Jose Sharks. He believes there’s a likelihood Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau get traded soon, suggesting Tampa Bay as a good destination for Thornton. He also felt Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon will be on the move before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, with the Leafs and Florida Panthers as potential suitors.
THE ATHLETIC: Kevin Kurz recently suggested the Lightning, Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins as potential landing spots for Thornton. He felt the Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Vancouver Canucks, and Washington Capitals could use Marleau’s services.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thornton’s no-movement clause makes him the most difficult to move, though he’d probably draw more interest. I think GM Doug Wilson will leave it up to Thornton and Marleau to decide if they’re willing to move to a contender for the remainder of the season.
UPDATES ON THE CANADIENS
SPORTSNET: Eric Engels reports the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers have varying degrees of interest in Montreal Canadiens winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Engels also speculates the Florida Panthers could come calling if they swap winger Mike Hoffman for a defenseman. He believes the Canadiens won’t accept less than a second-round pick or a conditional third that could turn into a second-rounder.
Engels also weighs in on recent trade speculation regarding Max Domi, who’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. The two sides haven’t talked contract in a while, but that doesn’t mean discussions won’t resume soon. Domi’s versatility and willingness to stay in Montreal could give him leverage.
Rumors linked the Flames, Oilers, and Pittsburgh Penguins to Canadiens winger Tomas Tatar. While Engels believes the Penguins have the assets and the biggest incentive to land the 28-year-old Tatar, it’ll take a lot to pry him away from the Canadiens.
The Carolina Hurricanes have scouted the Habs. They need blueline depth and could have Brett Kulak or Marco Scandella in their sights.
Engels also thinks the New York Islanders could have interest in Canadiens fourth-line center Nate Thompson, while Winnipeg could be a destination for Dale Weise.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Much will depend upon where the Canadiens are in the standings as the Feb. 24 trade deadline approaches. If they haven’t gained ground, Kovalchuk, Thompson, Weise, Scandella, and Kulak could hit the trade block.
Despite some uncertainty over Domi’s contract situation, I don’t see him going anywhere at the deadline. The same goes for Tatar, who’s thriving in Montreal and loves playing there. He’s signed through next season, so there’s no urgency to peddle him now.
LATEST ON THE ISLANDERS AND LIGHTNING
THE ATHLETIC: Arthur Staple recently speculated the New York Islanders could use their trade deadline salary-cap space (over $16 million) to take on a bad contract from a rival club to pick up an extra asset before deadline day. The Leafs, Golden Knights, Coyotes, and Blues could be cap-strapped clubs looking to shed salary to make other moves.
THE ATHLETIC: Joe Smith wonders if recent injuries to defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta push the Tampa Bay Lightning into the trade market. That could depend upon how long those two are sidelined. They could attempt to resolve the issue internally.