NHL Rumor Mill – December 22, 2021
The latest on the Penguins and Stars plus an update on Jakub Chychrun in today’s NHL rumor mill.
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski observes the solid performance of Evan Rodrigues this season could force Penguins coach Mike Sullivan to rethink his lineup when everyone is fully healthy. The versatile 28-year-old forward has 10 goals and 23 points in 30 games as he’s thriving with the extra ice time while filling in for sidelined teammates.
Kingerski wondered if Rodrigue’s play could make Jason Zucker expendable. The 29-year-old left winger has 11 points in 30 games. He also noted contract talks between the Penguins and pending free agent Bryan Rust have been shelved for the time being.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zucker’s been a disappointment for the Penguins since his acquisition from the Minnesota Wild midway through the 2019-20 campaign. A leg injury hampered his performance last season but even when healthy he’s had difficulty finding the back of the net.
Moving Zucker, however, won’t be easy. He’s signed through 2022-23 with a $5.5 million annual cap hit and a 10-team no-trade clause plus he’s earning $6.25 million in actual salary this season. His declining production won’t help his trade value.
As for Rust, I don’t see the Penguins shopping him while they’re in the playoff hunt. They’ll keep him as an “own rental” and risk his departure via free agency next summer. Rodrigues is also a UFA but he’d be a more affordable re-signing for the Penguins and could become Rust’s permanent replacement after this season.
SPORTSNET: In his latest “32 Thoughts”, Elliotte Friedman observed Tyler Seguin’s relief when he scored in the Dallas Stars 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday. “The stress is on in Dallas,” said Friedman. “Change is coming if the Stars don’t surge over the second half of the season.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: What form could those changes take? The obvious would be shopping pending unrestricted free agents such as John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski and Braden Holtby at the trade deadline.
Maybe restricted free agent winger Denis Gurianov also hits the trade block. Perhaps they try to shed the hefty contracts of Seguin and Jamie Benn in the offseason. Maybe they give head coach Rick Bowness his walking papers.
One thing I don’t see them doing is parting with younger talent such as Miro Heiskanen, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Jake Oettinger. Those four will likely form the nucleus of a new core in Dallas.
Friedman also said he thought Edmonton would make perfect sense as a destination for Jakob Chychrun. However, sources said it’s very unlikely the 23-year-old Arizona Coyotes defenseman will be heading to the Oilers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Friedman said the same thing earlier this week on his “32 Thoughts” podcast. He didn’t elaborate as to why but I suspect the Oilers’ limited cap space and the talk of the Coyotes setting a “massive” asking price for Chychrun are the reasons.