NHL Rumor Mill – December 3, 2020
A look at the factors currently affecting the trade and free-agent markets in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Thomas Drance observes it’s been nearly eight weeks since an NHL trade was made and a month since the last unrestricted free agent signings (Dominik Kahun with the Edmonton Oilers). However, there’s still discussion and negotiation going on among general managers and player agents.
Drance cites an NHL player agent saying those markets have slowed of late because of ongoing uncertainty over when the 2020-21 season will begin. “We want to see what develops out of this,” said the agent. “At this point, it doesn’t make sense to do something until we know what things look like.”
The agent, who represents one of the top UFAs, said teams remain interested in his client but some of them are waiting. Clarity on provisional rules, such as recalling players from the minors, could also affect UFA signings. There’s talk of allowing teams to use a so-called “taxi squad” of players this season who can be re-assigned and disappear from a team’s cap payroll, perhaps without having to pass through waivers.
Drance believes a second wave of trade and free-agent signings will begin once the league and NHLPA agree to a start date for the season. He notes there are five UFAs who produced at least 30 points last season (such as Mike Hoffman) as well as some decent depth forwards like Ilya Kovalchuk, Corey Perry and Andreas Athanasiou. Defense options include Zdeno Chara and Travis Hamonic.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree with Drance on the factors currently affecting the trade and free-agent markets and when we can expect business to resume. There’s still enough decent UFA talent available, which also includes Mikael Granlund, Anthony Duclair, Sami Vatanen and Erik Haula, to draw interest among general managers. Most of those UFAs, however, could be forced to accept inexpensive one-year deals given the few teams with cap space to invest in the free-agent market.
Meanwhile, Drance’s colleague Rob Rossi reports Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is bracing for the possibility of limited trade activity during the 2020-21 season. He hopes to tweak his roster before the puck drops on the new season.
Rutherford, one of the league’s notable in-season wheeler-dealers, doesn’t know how the trade market could be affected by a shortened season or if there could be restrictions that limit player movement. He feels it might be best to get as many players in place before the season begins because it might not be as easy once the schedule is underway.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rutherford said he doesn’t have any inside information for his opinion of what the coming season’s trade market could look like. He’s taking the same “wait-and-see” approach as the rest of his colleagues.
Drance noted trades will have to be made by some cap-strapped clubs before the season begins. We’ll likely see a flurry of deals before and during the training camp period as teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning attempt to shed salary to re-sign key players and/or to become cap compliant when the season opens.
There’s also usually plenty of activity leading up to the annual trade deadline. This season, however, could be different depending on what provisional rules are implemented and how much cap flexibility teams have as the deadline nears.
The rumors among pundits and fans over possible trades and free-agent signings will continue as they always do. However, we could see fewer significant moves this season compared to other years.