Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 26, 2023
What does the future hold for Capitals coach Peter Laviolette and center Evgeny Kuznetsov? Will the Sabres seek a goaltending upgrade in the offseason? What is the latest on the Blackhawks? Find out in the Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup.
DO LAVIOLETTE AND KUZNETSOV STILL HAVE A FUTURE IN WASHINGTON?
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Tarik El-Bashir was asked if the Washington Capitals would bring back head coach Peter Laviolette next season. Laviolette, 58, is in the final season of a three-year contract.
El-Bashir doesn’t think Capitals management has reached a decision on Laviolette’s future. He wouldn’t be shocked if the club hired a replacement nor would he be surprised if they re-sign Laviolette. He noted that the Capitals play well under Laviolette when healthy but they’ve been a banged-up club this season. He also thinks it’s risky to trust the final three seasons of Alex Ovechkin’s career to a new head coach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In December, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said the club wasn’t going to undergo a rebuild. It’ll be interesting to see what Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has in store for his club this summer.
I suspect MacLellan’s looking at a quick turnaround following this season’s disappointing outcome. That could mean bringing back Laviolette on perhaps a two-year contract.
Another reader asked El-Bashir if the Capitals would revisit trading Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was the subject of rumors a couple of years ago.
El-Bashir said the Capitals’ decision-makers are disappointed in Kuznetsov’s performance this season. They needed him to step up and he didn’t plus he struggled defensively all season.
Kuznetsov has two years remaining on his contract with an average annual value of $7.8 million. El-Bashir wondered if management trusts the 31-year-old center to return to form and play with consistency and urgency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Those issues affecting Kuznetsov’s performance this season would also adversely affect his value in the trade market, especially with that hefty cap hit. He also carries a 10-team no-trade clause.
Trading Kuznetsov isn’t impossible but it would be difficult. The Capitals might have to retain some salary to make him enticing in the trade market, especially if the salary cap only rises by $1 million for next season.
WILL THE SABRES UPGRADE THEIR GOALTENDING?
THE ATHLETIC: Matthew Fairburn listed goaltending as one of the factors that contributed to the Buffalo Sabres’ recent slide in the standings. While the team defense deserves plenty of blame, they also weren’t getting the type of goaltending necessary to stay competitive in some games.
The Sabres knew entering this season that they had to limit the workload of 41-year-old Craig Anderson. As the playoffs came into view, Anderson became their best option to win so they increased his playing time, resulting in his struggling in some recent key games.
Eric Comrie was injured in November and has struggled since his return. Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen has shown a lack of consistency in his first full NHL season. They have promising Devon Levi but they need to start him only when he’s ready to play.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fairburn believes the Sabres need to find a more proven short-term starter until Levi is ready to take over. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to put the full weight of the starter’s job on the youngster’s shoulders next season.
I agree with that assessment. Maybe Levi can rise to the challenge but they must ensure they’ve got a reliable veteran to share the duties and mentor him in the NHL game. As Fairburn noted, starting next season with Comrie and Luukkonen is just asking for a repeat of the same problems.
RECENT BLACKHAWKS SPECULATION
CHICAGO DAILY HERALD: John Dietz wondered where Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock will be playing next season. He’s been their best netminder this season going 9-11-1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with two shutouts.
Dietz considers it a no-brainer for the Blackhawks to make an offer. However, they’ve already got a glut of goalies for the next two seasons with Petr Mrazek, Arvid Soderblom, Jaxson Stauber and Drew Commesso. He also wondered if teams seeking a goalie might be scared off by Stalock’s injury history.
Ian Mitchell’s future with the Blackhawks could also be something worth watching. He’s gifted offensively but struggles in his own zone. However, he’s just 24 with 77 NHL games under his belt. The Hawks must be careful not to give up on him too soon as they did with Gustav Forsling only to watch him flourish elsewhere.