NHL Rumor Mill – March 24, 2020
The NHL schedule remains paused but the off-season trade and free-agent speculation keep churning. Check out the latest on the Leafs and Bruins in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LEAFS LIMITED CAP SPACE COULD HAMPER EFFORTS TO IMPROVE THE BLUELINE
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox listed the biggest off-season questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Improving the blueline remains a pressing need, especially on the right side. Landing a dependable right-shot blueliner via free agency, like Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Tanev, Travis Hamonic, Justin Schultz, or Radkos Gudas, is a long shot. General manager Kyle Dubas could be forced into the trade market for someone like Matt Dumba, Rasmus Ristolainen, Colin Miller and Josh Manson.
The Leafs penalty kill also needs help. Fox believes that rings back to their need for more experienced stay-at-home defenders and a reliable face-off man. Their limited salary-cap space means Kasperi Kapanen and/or Andreas Johnsson and/or Alexander Kerfoot could become trade candidates. The trio lack no-trade protection in their respective contracts.
TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan believes the possibility of the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million next season spells big trouble for the Leafs. They have around $77 million invested in 17 players, with restricted free agents Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott, Frederik Gauthier and Denis Malgin to re-sign. Veteran forwards Jason Spezza and recently-acquired Kyle Clifford are unrestricted free agents.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dubas surprised many observers last summer (including me) with his ability to juggle his limited cap room to re-sign Mitch Marner to a lucrative long-term contract. He was able to do that in part because he could place permanently sidelined forwards Nathan Horton and David Clarkson on long-term injury reserve.
As Fox observed, Dubas won’t have that option this summer. He could gain some flexibility by acquiring another club’s permanent LTIR player. That’s what he did last summer by reacquiring Clarkson’s rights, but there’s no certainty he can pull off a similar deal again.
Kapanen, Johnsson, and Kerfoot often surfaced in this season’s rumor mill leading up to last month’s trade deadline. Dubas resisted moving either guy, but he could end up peddling one of them this off-season for a right-side defenseman. I don’t see either of those guys being sufficient to land Dumba or Manson, and the Sabres could be reluctant to send Ristolainen or Miller to a division rival.
LATEST ON THE BRUINS
NBC SPORTS: Adam Gretz examined the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins. Their biggest challenges this off-season are re-signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Torey Krug and restricted free agent winger Jake DeBrusk. Gretz feels there’s enough salary-cap space to re-sign both, though there could be some pressure to keep Krug around the $6.5 million mark that the other core players receive.
Starting goalie Tuukka Rask recently hinting at retiring next year at the end of his current contract could be worth keeping an eye on. Backup Jaroslav Halak is a UFA this summer and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Krug suggested last fall he’d be willing to consider a hometown discount, but we haven’t heard anything further about that possibility. Perhaps a front-loaded deal in which Krug earns $7.5 million in actual salary at the start of a seven-year deal that gradually declines to $5 million by the final year would be acceptable to him. It would keep his cap hit around that $6.5-million range.