NHL Rumor Mill – March 4, 2020
The latest on the Blackhawks and Sabres in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON THE BLACKHAWKS
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Ben Pope recently reported the Blackhawks will finish the season with Corey Crawford and Malcolm Subban as their goalie tandem, but the future between the pipes appears murky. General manager Stan Bowman said his club will have a proven NHL goalie signed for next season, but didn’t shed light on who it’ll be.
Pope doesn’t expect Subban fits into the Blackhawks’ future. All eyes will be upon Crawford, who’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and has a concussion history. If Crawford departs, Bowman’s options in the UFA market could include Brady Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, Jaroslav Halak, Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, Mike Smith, and former Blackhawk Robin Lehner.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crawford is 35 now and his best seasons are behind him. Perhaps he’ll agree to a one- or two-year deal for less than his current $6-million annual average value. If he agrees, I can see the Hawks trying to land an affordable backup via trade or free agency.
If they part ways with Crawford, I doubt they can afford Holtby or Markstrom. Halak, Khudobin, and Greiss are experienced backups, but they’ll try to get the best deal possible if they hit the open market. Smith, 37, is in the twilight of his career. Lehner didn’t sound happy over his dealings with Blackhawks management this season and could seek a long-term deal elsewhere.
THE ATHLETIC: Scott Powers speculates it could get expensive for the Blackhawks to re-sign Dominik Kubalik. The 24-year-old winger leads all rookies with 29 goals and is tied with Patrick Kane for the lead among Blackhawks scorers.
Kubalik’s completing a one-year contract worth $925K and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. The Blackhawks’ limited salary cap space will be a factor.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks’ goaltending situation could also affect what they can comfortably afford for Kubalik. Powers said both sides sound like they don’t want to go the arbitration route. Perhaps a one-year deal around $3 million can be worked out, with the promise of a more lucrative contract if Kubalik builds upon his rookie season.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE SABRES’ OFF-SEASON
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ryan Kennedy examined potential off-season moves following another disappointing season for the Buffalo Sabres. Bolstering their offense could be the priority. The Sabres will free up a lot of salary-cap space if they allow Michael Frolik, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson to walk this summer. Wayne Simmonds might be worth retaining for toughness and leadership for the right price. Recent acquisition Dominik Kahun could be an affordable re-signing.
Kennedy feels they need to improve their penalty killing, suggesting Derek Grant and Vladislav Namestnikov as possible UFA targets. He advocates giving the starter’s job to Linus Ullmark but also suggests checking to see if Robin Lehner would be open to returning to Buffalo, or pursuing Jacob Markstrom if he doesn’t re-up with the Vancouver Canucks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres currently have just over $47 million invested in 10 players. Part of their cap space will be taken up re-signing RFAs like Kahun, Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, Brandon Montour, and Lawrence Pilut. Nevertheless, they’ll have enough to address some of their needs via trades or free agency.
I anticipate GM Jason Botterill will be busy in both markets, with bringing in a top-six scorer (preferably a center) his priority. I daresay we’ll also see defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen resurface in the trade rumor mill.