NHL Rumor Mill – July 16, 2022
COULD MATTHEWS “PULL A GAUDREAU” AND LEAVE THE LEAFS?
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos recently wondered if Auston Matthews might follow Johnny Gaudreau’s example and sign as a free agent with a club close to his hometown. The 24-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs center was raised in Arizona and makes his off-season home in Scottsdale.
Matthews is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. If the Arizona Coyotes can’t afford him if he tests the market, nearby teams like the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights could pursue him.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s a good chance Matthews will stick with the deep-pocketed Leafs, especially if they can finally get over the playoff hump over the next couple of seasons. However, Gaudreau’s situation serves as a reminder that even superstars on good teams can take the opportunity presented by free agency to move closer to their offseason homes. That was a key factor in John Tavares’ decision four years ago to leave the New York Islanders for the Maple Leafs.
Could Matthews bolt for one of those clubs mentioned by Traikos in two years’ time? Yes, he could. Will he? That’s something only Matthews knows and he’s not telling. However, if he doesn’t sign a contract extension with the Leafs next summer, questions about his future in Toronto will dominate the rumor mill throughout 2023-24.
WHERE WILL KADRI GO?
THE ATHLETIC: The Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames are among Peter Baugh’s suggested destinations for Nazem Kadri. The 31-year-old center is currently the biggest name available in this summer’s free-agent market as speculation abounds over where he’ll eventually sign.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Avalanche has just $3.9 million in cap space for this season. They’ll have to shed salary if they hope to bring Kadri back.
The Islanders have the cap space but they need a scoring winger, not a center. They could shift Mathew Barzal or Brock Nelson to the wing but I think their preference is for a natural winger. They must also ensure they have sufficient cap room to re-sign restricted free agents Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov.
Kadri rejected a trade to the Flames three years ago. Perhaps he’d be willing to join them if they pony up a big offer. They’ve got over $18 million in cap space and while a big chunk of that will go to Matthew Tkachuk, they should have enough for Kadri. However, that could complicate efforts to re-sign RFAs Andrew Mangiapane and defenseman Oliver Kylington.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Unless the Predators can trade a high-priced center such as Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene, or they shift the latter to the wing, Kadri isn’t a fit in Nashville. Besides, they already have three high-salaried forwards in Johansen, Duchene and Filip Forsberg. I doubt GM David Poile wants to add a fourth.
The Kraken have room on the roster and in their cap payroll. However, Kadri might prefer joining a playoff contender instead of an NHL club in just its second season of existence.
LATEST ON THE ISLANDERS
NEW YORK POST: Ethan Sears wondered what the New York Islanders will do after losing out in the Johnny Gaudreau free-agent sweepstakes. He noted that Nazem Kadri was still available but believes he’ll be out of their price range.
General manager Lou Lamoriello could go the trade route to address his club’s need for a scoring forward. St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko could be available but he’s a UFA next summer and has full no-trade protection this season.
Lamoriello could inquire about Patrik Laine if the Columbus Blue Jackets have difficulty re-signing the RFA winger after adding Gaudreau. He could also revisit his interest in Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lamoriello is getting slammed by Islanders fans and the local media for missing out on Gaudreau as they question whether he’ll be able to address his roster’s biggest need this summer. The Isles GM never tips his hand and never speaks to the media about his intentions, which is stoking the impression that he’s doing very little.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamoriello is quietly going about his business searching for a scorer. Nevertheless, he could find it increasingly challenging this summer to bolster his offense. Suitable options via free agency are few and far between and the trade market could be cooling off after a couple of weeks of heated activity.