NHL Rumor Mill – May 16, 2022
The offseason questions facing the Penguins and Stars plus the latest on the Leafs in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE PENGUINS AND STARS?
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski reports the Pittsburgh Penguins face some big decisions regarding Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Bryan Rust. They are slated to become unrestricted free agents in July and there’s little chance all three will return. Wyshynski predicts only Letang will be back.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Matt Vensel wonders if the Penguins will let Malkin and/or Letang to depart via free agency and what effect that might have on captain Sidney Crosby. He also mused over whether they’ll invest a long-term commitment in the 30-year-old Rust, who missed two chunks of this season to injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap space will determine which UFAs return next season. Cap Friendly indicates they have $54.1 million invested in 15 players for 2022-23. Re-signing Malkin and Letang will eat up a big chunk of their available cap dollars. Rust is due for a significant raise over his current $3.5 million.
Of those three, Letang could be the most vital given his value as a puck-moving defenseman. Malkin’s injury history and at times erratic performance in recent years could make him a risky investment unless he’s willing to accept a substantial pay cut.
It might be possible to sign Letang and Rust. However, that will still eat up a lot of cap space, especially if Letang insists on at least maintaining his current $7.25 million annual average value.
The Penguins could bring back DeSmith if they don’t see any suitable backup options in the free-agent market. I expect they’ll re-sign Heinen but Kapanen seems a likely trade candidate given his struggles during his tenure in Pittsburgh.
ESPN.COM: Kristen Shilton believes the Dallas Stars’ offseason priority is signing restricted free agent forward Jason Robertson, who’s coming off his entry-level contract. Having tallied 79 points this season, the 22-year-old sophomore is a star in the making. Goaltender Jake Oettinger is also completing his ELC and looks to be their starter going forward. They’ll have to determine who becomes his backup if Braden Holtby departs via free agency.
Shilton also wonders whether pending UFA John Klingberg stays or goes. General manager Jim Nill didn’t move him at the trade deadline given his value on their blueline and now the two sides must see if they can reach an agreement on a new contract. Nill must also address his roster’s scoring depth issues.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nill could attempt to lock up Robertson and Oettinger on long-term deals with affordable annual average salaries. Their agents, however, could seek bigger bucks on shorter terms to bring their clients up to their UFA eligibility.
It seemed Klingberg and the Stars were about to part ways in January after he publicly expressed his unhappiness over the pace of his contract negotiations. However, both sides seem to have resolved that rift at least for the remainder of the season.
There was speculation earlier this season that the 29-year-old Klingberg sought a long-term deal worth between $7.75 million and $8.5 million annually. That, however, could prove too expensive for Nill’s liking but we’ll see how things go between now and the start of the free-agent market on July 13.
LATEST ON THE LEAFS
TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan doesn’t believe the Maple Leafs should make major changes in the front office, behind the bench or on the roster despite another first-round playoff exit. He points to their 115-point regular season, as well as pushing the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the limit in that opening-round series as justification for giving them another chance.
General manager Kyle Dubas will have around $8 million in salary-cap space to work with unless he moves some players. Koshan suggested Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl as trade candidates. Dubas must also find a way to shed backup goalie Petr Mrazek’s $3.8 million cap hit.
Re-signing pending UFA goaltender Jack Campbell is the priority, followed by defenseman Mark Giordano if he’s affordable. There doesn’t seem much chance of bringing back Ilya Mikheyev. If Jason Spezza’s playing career is over, Koshan recommends hiring him for an off-ice role.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Mike Stephens also believes Holl could be shopped this summer. It remains to be seen if they can afford to sign Giordano and pending UFA forward Colin Blackwell. It remains to be seen if the aging Spezza fits into their on-ice plans. Stephens suggests there’s a real possibility Mrazek returns with the Leafs this fall while Campbell ends up signing elsewhere.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs could surprise us by making major changes this summer. Like most observers, however, I don’t see that happening following the season they had.
Re-signing Campbell is their priority because they’ll have a difficult time finding a suitable replacement via this summer’s trade or free agent markets. Doing so, however, will eat up a big chunk of that $8 million in cap space, leaving little for the rest of the roster.
Moving out Mrazek, Kerfoot, Muzzin and Holl would clear over $14.9 million from the Leafs’ books. However, that’s easier said than done. Kerfoot ($3.5 million) would be the easiest to move as his cap hit and two-way skills would be enticing in the trade market. Holl ($2 million) might draw some interest from teams seeking affordable blueline depth.
Mrazek’s injury history and inconsistency are a tough sell. Muzzin’s age (33), injury history, cap hit ($5.625 million) and no-trade clause are significant sticking points.