NHL Rumor Mill – May 23, 2023
More speculation over Leafs trade and general manager candidates plus the latest on the Blues and Rangers in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
MORE LEAFS TRADE CANDIDATES SPECULATION
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons believes the Maple Leafs must re-sign center Auston Matthews. “You can’t win a Stanley Cup without a front-line centre. And you don’t trade away Matthews – or let him walk in free agency – because you can’t replace a player of that calibre.”
Simmons also noted that Matthews agent and good friend Judd Moldaver is close to former Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas but even closer to Dubas’ agent Chris Armstrong. He wondered how much that relationship might affect Matthew’s future with the Leafs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As Simmons also observed, that’s impossible to know right now without a general manager in place. We’ll find out once the calendar flips to June when the Leafs have a new GM and we learn what their vision is for the club in the future.
I concur with Simmons that the Leafs must re-sign Matthews. He’s their franchise player and they need him if they hope to end their long Stanley Cup drought. The only reasons they should trade him are if he asks to be moved or he’s reluctant to sign a long-term extension.
The next Leafs GM has to decide whether to trade Mitch Marner or Michael Nylander if they won’t stick with the core four. Nylander is the more spectacular player who can change a playoff game. Marner is a better all-around player but has not yet become a postseason game-changer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Most Leafs observers share Simmons’ take that the Leafs must re-sign Matthews. They also acknowledge John Tavares won’t be traded because of his no-movement clause. That leaves Marner or Nylander if management wants to shake up the roster.
It could come down to which player draws the most interest and the best offers in the trade market. Each has their strengths and weaknesses but they can also fetch a solid return that provides immediate help for the Leafs.
Simmons’ colleague Terry Koshan believes Nylander is the trade candidate, claiming he “still requires a kick in the pants every so often”. However, he feels his best days are still to come and would bring in a top defenseman.
Koshan considers Marner as “the heartbeat of this team” and thinks he can still help the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, pointing out that Steve Yzerman and Alex Ovechkin did so later in their careers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nylander’s contract could also make him easier to move. He’s more affordable than Matthews and Marner with a cap hit of over $6.9 million for next season. While the other two have no-movement clauses that kick in on July 1, Nylander has a 10-team no-trade clause that goes into effect on the same day.
COULD THE LEAFS TARGET BLUES GM ARMSTRONG?
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun looked at recent conjecture over possible candidates to fill the Leafs’ vacant post of general manager. He claims there have been rumblings linking them to St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong.
LeBrun believes Armstrong had the experience, championship pedigree, confidence and wherewithal to withstand the pressures of the Toronto market. However, he doesn’t believe that the Blues GM has an “out clause” in his contract that runs through 2025-26.
Nevertheless, LeBrun wondered if Blues owner Tom Stillman would be okay with the Leafs approaching Armstrong if that’s what the latter really wanted. “Maybe, maybe not,” he writes. “Pretty hard to know exactly how Stillman would react.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We can’t rule anything out, but Armstrong is committed to the Blues. He wouldn’t have signed that long-term extension if he wasn’t. Despite the club’s disappointing performance this season, Armstrong has been busy since February laying the groundwork for a quick turnaround on the ice next season.
Speaking of which…
BLUES WILLING TO SHOP FIRST-ROUND PICKS
DAILY FACEOFF: Frank Seravalli reports the St. Louis Blues are willing to move their two late first-round picks to improve in the short term. They acquired those picks from the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s believed Armstrong seeks a player or players in their mid-twenties who are under contract.
BACKUP GOALIE OPTIONS FOR THE RANGERS
NEW YORK POST: Mollie Walker looked at some backup goaltending options that make sense for the Rangers.
One is re-signing Jaroslav Halak provided he’s willing to accept a pay cut from the $1.55 million he earned this season. They also have an in-house option in Louis Domingue, who spent this season with their AHL affiliate in Hartford.