NHL Rumor Mill – March 27, 2023
Speculation over Evgeny Kuznetsov’s and Anthony Mantha’s future with the Capitals, the latest on the Sharks’ Erik Karlsson plus possible off-season free-agent targets for the Canucks in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
UPDATE ON KUZNETSOV’S FUTURE IN WASHINGTON
THE ATHLETIC: Tarik El-Bashir cited a report out of Russia on Saturday claiming Evgeny Kuznetsov has requested a trade from the Washington Capitals. He cautions that such reports tend to be inconsistent when it comes to accuracy. Nevertheless, he expects Kuznetsov will be asked about it following practice on Monday.
El-Bashir noted Kuznetsov’s name surfaced in the trade rumor mill in 2021. Nothing came of it and he enjoyed a bounce-back 78-point performance in 2021-22. This season, however, the 30-year-old center is struggling again with 53 points in 73 games and a team-worst plus-minus of minus-19.
If the Capitals are open to trading Kuznetsov in the offseason they’ll have a difficult time moving him. His struggles this season combined with his $7.8 million annual average value through 2024-25 and 10-team no-trade list will affect his future.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: El-Bashir also wrote about Kuznetsov’s uncertain future with the Capitals last week. If he has asked for a trade I don’t like their chances of moving him unless they’re willing to retain some salary, bundle him with a draft pick or a prospect, or take back a toxic contract in return.
MANTHA ALSO FACES UNCERTAINTY WITH THE CAPITALS
El-Bashir also noted Anthony Mantha’s on-ice difficulties this season has made his future with the club feel tenuous. The 28-year-old winger has 11 goals in 64 games, including just two thus far in 2023. He’s also been a healthy scratch several times this season.
Mantha’s future with the Capitals could depend on whether they bring back Peter Laviolette as head coach. Perhaps he’ll improve under a new bench boss.
El-Bashir doesn’t see the Capitals buying out Mantha this summer. He has a year remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $5.7 million. Buying him out would count as $1.3 million against the cap for 2023-24 and $2.1 million for 2024-25.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mantha would also be difficult to move in a trade. He lacks no-trade protection and his cap hit is much lower than Kuznetsov’s but his performance this season won’t help his value in the trade market. They might have to keep him and hope for a bounce-back effort next season.
LATEST ON ERIK KARLSSON
THE ATHLETIC: Corey Masisak was asked in a recent mailbag segment if there was a scenario where Erik Karlsson remains with the San Jose Sharks beyond this offseason. He believes the issue that made the 32-year-old defenseman difficult to move this season (his expensive contract) will continue to hamper any effort by management to trade him this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Masisak acknowledged that teams will have more salary-cap flexibility in the offseason. Nevertheless, he’s correct that Karlsson’s contract will remain very difficult to move.
Karlsson’s $11.5 million annual cap hit through 2026-27 is too rich for most teams unless the Sharks retain a healthy chunk or they accept one or two salaried players in return. His no-movement clause also limits where they can peddle him.
WHO COULD THE CANUCKS TARGET IN THIS SUMMER’S FREE-AGENT MARKET?
Dhaliwal said the Canucks have made it clear they’ll be looking for a third-line center when the unrestricted free-agent market opens on July 1. He believes Ivan Barbashev of the Vegas Golden Knights is worth keeping an eye on.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks could use Barbashev and Gavirkov. Whether they can land either guy remains to be seen. They will draw plenty of interest in this summer’s free agent market. Dhaliwal also acknowledged that the Canucks would have to shed some salary to make room for those players.