NHL Rumor Mill – December 8, 2020
With the NHL and NHLPA aiming at a Jan. 13 start date for this season, here’s a look at some unresolved free-agent business in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Rory Boylen recently examined several unresolved storylines that will rise to the surface once the NHL and NHLPA reach a resolution for the 2020-21 season. Among them was the status of unsigned free agents.
A number of decent players remain available in the unrestricted free-agent market because of the flattened salary cap and a limited number of teams with cap room. They include winger Mike Hoffman, defensemen Travis Hamonic and Sami Vatanen, forwards Mikael Granlund and Anthony Duclair, and blueliner Zdeno Chara.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hoffman is reportedly willing to accept a one-year contract worth between $5.5 million and $6.5 million. He’s been linked to several clubs but the Nashville Predators could be the front-runners for his services. They have the cap space (nearly $13 million, according to Cap Friendly) and a pressing need for experienced second-line scoring depth.
Some have suggested Hamonic might return to the Calgary Flames but the Winnipeg Jets appear to be a better fit for the Manitoba native. They need more blueline depth and would have the cap space once sidelined center Bryan Little and his $5.291 million cap hit are placed on long-term injury.
Granlund and Duclair have been mentioned as options for the Columbus Blue Jackets to provide a boost to a popgun offense further weakened by losing winger Gustav Nyquist to shoulder surgery. Granlund could be a better fit there. Given Duclair’s brief unsuccessful tenure with the Jackets in 2018-19, I don’t see either side being keen for a reunion.
Chara is reportedly waiting to see what the format of this season looks like before making a decision. The long-time Bruins captain could return to Boston for one more season but there’s talk other clubs expressed interest in the 43-year-old defenseman.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are above the $81.5 million salary cap and must shed salary to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. The New York Islanders have only $3.9 million in cap space with first-line center Mathew Barzal to sign. Boylen suggests both clubs could face losing trades in order to free up sufficient cap space.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning definitely faces that situation, with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn considered the likely trade candidates. The Isles, however, will benefit from placing Johnny Boychuk ($6 million AAV) on LTIR because of his career-ending eye injury. They could still make a cost-cutting trade but don’t face the same pressure as the Lightning.
Other notable restricted free agents include Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois, St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and Edmonton Oilers blueliner Ethan Bear.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jackets have over $9.2 million in cap space, more than enough to sign Dubois. The Blues are above the cap by $1.175 million but will get cap relief to sign Dunn by placing Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million) on LTIR. The Devils have $17.1 million in cap room so re-signing Blackwood isn’t an issue. The Oilers are just above the cap but are expected to place Oscar Klefbom and his $4.167 million cap hit on LTIR, giving them the necessary wiggle room for Bear.
Given the high number of NHL teams (16) with less than $2 million in cap space, Boylen anticipates seeing “at least a few one-sided deals” as cap-strapped clubs attempt to shed salary once clarity is reached on the start of the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: 10 of those teams – Arizona, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, St. Louis, Toronto, Washington, Vegas, Anaheim, Winnipeg, and Edmonton – will get cap relief by placing some sidelined players on LTIR. Nevertheless, some of those clubs could attempt to shed a salary or two before the projected puck drop of Jan. 13.