NHL Rumor Mill – March 26, 2019

Talk of a “Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen” swap plus the latest on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill. 

NUGENT-HOPKINS FOR RISTOLAINEN TALK 

WGR 550: Joe DiBiase cited the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson said there’s a scenario out there suggesting the Edmonton Oilers ship center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Matheson was replying to a piece by colleague David Staples examining how the Oilers could bring in fast forwards and defensemen.

Should the Edmonton Oilers trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen? (Photo via NHL Images)

Staples noted the price would be high via the trade market, which would involve moving a player like Nugent-Hopkins. Matheson agreed there are lots of teams looking for centers. He adds you don’t trade a center for a winger, you trade him for a top-pairing rearguard. 

DiBiase thinks Matheson’s claiming a Nugent-Hopkins-for-Ristolainen scenario is “out there” probably just refers to social media chatter among fans. He feels Buffalo followers would probably love this move (including himself) but doesn’t think it’s a slam dunk. “You’re acquiring a 50-point forward, in exchange for a 40-point defenseman.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A swap of Nugent-Hopkins for Ristolainen would address the respective needs of both clubs. But is there a willingness by their respective managements to make that move?

As I’ve said before, unless Ristolainen wants out of Buffalo, I don’t think the Sabres should move him. What makes him attractive to the Oilers (young, skilled, top-pairing defenseman on an affordable long-term contract) also makes him invaluable to the Sabres. 

Staples believes getting a young first-pairing defenseman for Nugent-Hopkins would be a sensible move. However, he also said he’s not a fan of making a major trade, especially if it’s moving RNH for a winger. He feels help could be coming on defense from the younger blueliners within their system such as Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear or Joel Persson.

Staples suggests they should put their emphasis on drafting and developing young talent. That will depend, of course, on who the Oilers hire as their next general manager. 

LATEST ON THE KINGS AND KOVALCHUK

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Helene Elliott believes the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to leave Ilya Kovalchuk back in LA during their current three-game road trip to be yet another puzzling move in a season full of them. Kovalchuk recently complained about his reduced role under interim coach Willie Desjardins.

While Desjardins will be gone after this season, Elliott noted Kings general manager Rob Blake is in a weak position to trade Kovalchuk this summer because of the winger’s no-movement clause. “The bigger question: Will free agents want to play for the Kings after seeing them treat Kovalchuk this way and seeing a team that is several seasons from contending?”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, the decision to keep Kovalchuk in LA was the winger’s idea as he wasn’t expected to play during this road. Still, Elliott isn’t wrong about Desjardins’ handling of Kovalchuk’s playing time and the possible effect it could have upon the Kings’ efforts to sign attract free-agent talent this summer.

The Kings are supposedly engaged in an overdue roster rebuild. However, there’s some media speculation suggesting it could be a short-term one, with bringing in some younger, faster, established players via trade or free agency part of the process to speed things along. 

The lure of sunny Southern California has always been enticing to free-agent players but the Kings’ handling of Kovalchuk and their status as a rebuilding club could make them reluctant to come to Los Angeles this year. A bigger stumbling block is the Kings limited salary-cap space for 2019-20. With over $71 million invested in 18 players, they’ll have less than $12 million to work with if the cap ceiling reaches $83 million as projected.

While they have all their core players under contract for next season, there’s some talk of them perhaps shopping goaltender Jonathan Quick ($5.8 million annual salary-cap hit) to free up more cap dollars. That would give them more room to make a big splash in the UFA pool, but it remains to be seen if that’s what Blake intends to do. 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 26, 2019

Game recaps, Lightning win their 59th game, Predators clinch a playoff berth, stars of the week, Capitals visit the White House, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines. 

NHL.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning became the fourth team in NHL history to win 59 games in a season by erasing a 4-2 deficit to beat the Boston Bruins 5-4. Steven Stamkos scored two goals and Anthony Cirelli netted the game-winner with 53 seconds remaining in regulation. Earlier in the day, the Lightning revealed defenseman Dan Girardi (lower-body injury) is sidelined indefinitely

Four goals by John Tavares helped the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Florida Panthers 7-5 (Photo via NHL Images).

A four-goal performance by John Tavares powered the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 7-5 victory over the Florida Panthers. With 45 goals, Tavares sits second among the league leaders. Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman each had three points for the Leafs while Jonathan Huberdeau and Jayce Hawryluk each scored twice for the Panthers. The Leafs (96 points) are five behind the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division. 

Zach Sanford had a goal and an assist as the St. Louis Blues downed the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1, preventing the latter from clinching a postseason spot. With 90 points, the Blues sit two points behind the Nashville Predators for second in the Central Division. 

The Nashville Predators secured a playoff spot by blanking the Minnesota Wild 1-0. Juuse Saros made 29 saves for the shutout and Ryan Johansen tallied the only goal. With 92 points, the Predators sit two behind the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets. The Wild (79 points) remain two back of the Colorado Avalanche for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Speaking of the Jets, they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Dallas Stars. Tyler Seguin and Radek Faksa each scored twice for the Stars (84 points), who opened a three-point lead over the Avalanche for the first Western wild-card berth. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points) moved to within a point of first place in the Metropolitan Division by defeating the New York Rangers 5-2. Teddy Blueger tallied twice as the Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit. Phil Kessel also collected two assists. Earlier in the day, the Rangers announced winger Jesper Fast (shoulder injury) will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. 

Jack Campbell had a 42-save shutout as the Los Angeles Kings upset the Calgary Flames 3-0. The Kings played without winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who remained back in Los Angeles to work with the club’s development and skills staff. GM Rob Blake said the decision was not based on Kovalchuk’s comments last week complaining about his declining ice time under coach Willie Desjardins.

Earlier in the day, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty created a pre-game stir by saying he has no respect for Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk, who clashed with Doughty in previous contests. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kovalchuk was going to be a healthy scratch during the Kings’ three-game road trip so apparently it was a mutual decision (based on his suggestion) to remain in Los Angeles. I’ll have more on Kovalchuk and the Kings later this morning in the Rumors section. 

The San Jose Sharks suffered their sixth straight defeat by falling 3-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. The loss leaves the Sharks six points behind the Flames for first place in the Pacific Division and the overall Western Conference standings.

New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider kicked out 45 shots backstopping his club to a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Pavel Zacha had a goal and an assist. The Sabres have dropped 12 consecutive road games. 

Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, and Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending March 25, 2019.

The White House and President Trump yesterday welcomed the Washington Capitals to commemorate their 2018 Stanley Cup championship. Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny attended the event on crutches and is considered sidelined long-term with an injured left leg. 

NEWSDAY: New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz became the fourth coach in league history to reach 1,600 regular-season games during his club’s 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. 










NHL Rumor Mill – March 25, 2019

Check out the latest on the Buffalo Sabres plus speculation over Taylor Hall’s next contract in today’s NHL rumor mill. 

WHAT NEXT FOR THE SABRES?

ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters looked ahead to the Buffalo Sabres offseason now that they’re officially eliminated from playoff contention. Re-signing forwards Jeff Skinner and Evan Rodrigues to new contracts without overpaying and figuring out what to do with defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella are among the main issues to be addressed. After striking out with the Scandella acquisition in 2017 and the Ryan O’Reilly deal last year, they believe general manager Jason Botterill must make a winning move this summer. 

Re-signing Jeff Skinner will be the Buffalo Sabres’ off-season priority (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’d argue acquiring Skinner for peanuts from the Carolina Hurricanes was a winning move for Botterill. Re-signing him will be expensive but I don’t think the Sabres have much choice. He’s got terrific chemistry with Jack Eichel and letting him walk after just one season sends a bad message to the team and the fans that ownership doesn’t want to invest in building a winner. 

There’s no denying the Scandella acquisition failed to bolster the blueline while the players received in the O’Reilly deal (Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson) contributed little to the Sabres this season. If Thompson doesn’t improve or those two draft picks also received in the deal (one of them a first-round selection in this year’s draft), that trade will be a bust for the Sabres.

Trading Ristolainen should fetch a solid return but I still believe it would be a mistake to move him unless he wants out. He’s only 24, signed through 2021-22 and carries a reasonable $5.4-million annual average value. Scandella’s decline hurts his trade value but he’s got just one year left on his contract with an affordable cap hit ($4 million) and might interest a club looking for short-term blueline depth for next season.

CRUCIAL OFFSEASON FOR THE DEVILS AND TAYLOR HALL.

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently wrote about the New Jersey Devils facing a crucial offseason with their efforts to re-sign left wing Taylor Hall.  Winner of the 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy, Hall has become the face of the Devils’ franchise. However, he’s a year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

If Hall’s not re-signed this summer, the Devils will spend next season trying to convince him to re-sign or moving him before next year’s trade deadline. Devil GM Ray Shero intends to meet with Hall and his agent in the offseason in hopes of working out a long-term extension. Masisak believes the Devils are willing to re-sign him to a lucrative new deal and doesn’t feel money will be a sticking point. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Cap Friendly, the Devils have just over $30 million invested in nine players for 2020-21. Their notable free agents this summer include Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher. Assuming they make a major acquisition or two this summer via trade or free agency, they should have plenty of room to re-sign Hall to a big raise. There certainly seems a willingness by the Devils to do this.

What it’ll come down to is whether Hall believes his long-term future is with the Devils. He could take a “wait-and-see” approach toward next season, which will certainly make Devils fans nervous and raise the possibility of his departure via free agency next July.

If the Devils struggle through next season you can bet Hall will dominate the rumor mill leading up to next year’s trade deadline. That speculation could start in the days leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft if there’s any hint that he won’t re-sign this summer. 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 25, 2019

Check out last night’s game recaps in the NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky picked up his seventh shutout of the season by blanking the Vancouver Canucks 5-0. Josh Anderson collected three points for the Jackets (86 points), who snapped a three-game losing skid to move within two points of the Montreal Canadiens (88 points) for the second Eastern Conference wild-card position. 

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky picked up his seventh shutout of the season in a 5-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks (Photo via NHL Images).

An overtime goal by Andrei Svechnikov gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens. With 91 points, the Hurricanes sit in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of Montreal. 

The Washington Capitals (96 points) maintained their one-point lead over the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division by downing the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1. Braden Holtby turned in a 35-save performance for the win. The loss leaves the Flyers (80 points) eight points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Speaking of the Islanders, Robin Lehner made 31 saves on route to a 2-0 shutout of the Arizona Coyotes. Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson were the goal scorers. The Coyotes (79 points) sit two points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final wild-card berth in the Western Conference. 

The Chicago Blackhawks kept their playoff hopes alive by edging the Colorado Avalanche 2-1. Duncan Keith potted the winning goal in overtime for the Blackhawks (76 points), who sit five back of the Avalanche in the chase for the final Western Conference wild-card spot. 










Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – March 24, 2019

Check out the latest on the Rangers, Leafs, and Oilers in today’s Sunday NHL rumor roundup.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE RANGERS?

ESPN.COM: With the New York Rangers officially eliminated from playoff contention, Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters looked at the club’s potential offseason plans. While they have plenty of salary-cap space to pursue a big-name unrestricted free agent like Columbus’ Artemi Panarin, Kaplan and Peters believe they must be disciplined in their spending. Going the quick-fix route could cause more harm than good. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Rangers have over $61.9 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20, with Pavel Buchnevich, Neal Pionk, Brendan Lemieux, and Anthony Deangelo as their notable free agents. All will be affordable re-signings, leaving enough room to pursue a quality player via free agency. However, that player must be a good fit within their rebuilding roster. The last thing they need is an aging star coming there solely for the money and the experience of living in New York.

They’ve been linked to Panarin, Erik Karlsson, Jeff Skinner, and Matt Duchene. It’s believed Panarin could be their primary focus, but he could cost over $10 million annually. While he puts up good numbers, I don’t think he’s got the leadership qualities the rebuilding Rangers need. Karlsson might be a better fit in that regard, but his recent injury history could be cause for concern plus he might not be keen to join a team in transition. 

Can the Toronto Maple Leafs find a way to move Patrick Marleau this summer? (Photo via NHL Images)

MARLEAU’S CONTRACT COULD HURT THE LEAFS

TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox believes Patrick Marleau’s contract will be a problem for the Maple Leafs this summer. While the 39-year-old winger is beloved by his teammates and his declining play hasn’t hurt the Leafs’ overall performance this season, his $6.25-million salary-cap hit will make it difficult for management to find enough cap room to re-sign younger, better players.

Marleau’s on a “35-plus” contract, meaning he was over 35-year-old when he signed the deal, thus his cap hit still counts against the Leafs cap payroll if he retires or is bought out. He also holds a full no-movement clause. If he’s unwilling to waive it, the Leafs could be forced to move another player to free up cap space.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have over $74.2 million tied up in 17 players. They’ll get $5.3 million in cap relief by placing all-but-retired Nathan Horton on long-term injury reserve, but that will quickly evaporate when Mitch Marner signs his new contract. Even if it’s under $10 million per season (and I doubt it will be), it’ll push the Leafs’ payroll to around $78 million, with RFAs like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to be re-signed and UFAs like Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey to re-sign or replace. Assuming the cap reaches the projected $83 million, that won’t leave enough for the Leafs to address those needs.

Someone under contract for next season will be moved. That could mean a good player like Nazem Kadri, or GM Kyle Dubas going back on his word and trading Wiliam Nylander or finding a sucker, er, I mean, a taker for Nikita Zaitsev’s contract.

Some have suggested Marleau might accept a trade back to the San Jose Sharks, who have over $57.5 million committed to 14 players. Assuming they don’t re-sign Erik Karlsson, they’ll have plenty of room to re-sign UFAs like Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, as well as perhaps Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi, plus pay the hefty raises for RFAs Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. Beyond that, they probably won’t have enough room for Marleau even if they wanted to bring him back.  And if they do re-sign Karlsson, they certainly won’t have enough room for Marleau. 

CAN THE OILERS SHED SOME BIG CONTRACTS? 

THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Allan Mitchell recently examined some ways the Edmonton Oilers could trim their salary-cap fat and put the savings toward adding speed, skill, and goaltending depth. Noting how noxious a buyout of Milan Lucic’s contract would be, he suggests packaging a prospect plus picking up part of Lucic’s salary in exchange for a depth draft pick.

Mitchell suggests buying out the final two years of Andrej Sekera’s contract, saving $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He also advocates trading defenseman Kris Russell ($4 million annually through 2020-21). 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Of those three, the contracts of Sekera and Russell will be easier to shed than Lucic’s. Even by picking up half of his $6-million annual cap hit, his performance has deteriorated so much that I don’t see any takers for the remaining four years of his deal.

While trading Sekera would be a better option, buying him out makes sense. Trading Russell might require retaining some of his salary, but there could be some interest in him as a third-pairing shot-blocking rearguard. 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 24, 2019

Game recaps, Bruins and Jets clinch playoff berths, Bruins re-sign Zdeno Chara, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The Boston Bruins clinched a postseason spot by thumping the Florida Panthers 7-3. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had a big day, becoming the 22nd defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 career goals and re-signing a one-year contract extension. The new deal is worth $2 million in base salary plus $1.75 million in performance bonuses. Meanwhile, the Bruins got some bad news earlier in the day when it was revealed Sean Kuraly will be sidelined a month with a fracture in his right hand.

Boston Bruins re-sign captain Zdeno Chara to a one-year extension (Photo via NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chara’s new contract is a reasonable one for both sides. The Bruins keep their captain in the fold for another season to maintain stability and leadership on their blueline. Chara gets a fair deal for a player of his declining (but still effective) skills.

The move also provides the Bruins with salary-cap flexibility. With over $68.6 million invested in 19 players, that should provide sufficient room to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen, who are all coming off entry-level contracts. 

The Winnipeg Jets (94 points) secured a playoff berth by blanking the Nashville Predators 5-0. Kyle Connor netted a hat trick while Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 33 shots for the shutout. The Jets also hold a four-point lead over the Predators for the top spot in the Central Division.

Mark Giordano had a goal and two assists to give the Calgary Flames a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Giordano now has points in seven straight games. The Flames (101 points) have a six-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division and the overall Western Conference standings.

The Colorado Avalanche (80 points) moved ahead of the Arizona Coyotes into the final Western Conference wild-card berth by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2. Colin Wilson had a goal and an assist for the Avs, while the Blackhawks (74 points) slip six points behind Colorado. The Avs played without winger Mikko Rantanen, who sat out the game with an undisclosed injury and will miss today’s contest against the Hawks.

The Arizona Coyotes (79 points) dropped one point out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference by falling 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils in a shootout. Pavel Zacha tallied the winner for the Devils. The Coyotes are winless in their last four contests.

Josh Bailey scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, as the New York Islanders doubled up the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. The Islanders (93 points) move within one of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division while the Flyers (80 points) are seven points out of a playoff berth in the East.

The Carolina Hurricanes (89 points) remain two ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for the first wild-card spot in the East by defeating the Minnesota Wild 5-1. Teuvo Teravainen had a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes, while the Wild (79 points) slip one behind the Avalanche in the Western Conference wild-card chase. Wild winger Zach Parise missed the game with a lower-body injury.

Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, and Tomas Tatar each had three-point performances as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Buffalo Sabres 7-4. With the win, the Canadiens (87 points) hold a three-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern wild-card spot. Gallagher tallied his career-high 33rd goal of the season. The Sabres are now officially eliminated from postseason contention.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn each had a goal and an assist as the St. Louis Blues held off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3. With 88 points, the Blues sit two back of the Predators for second in the Central Division. Lightning center Brayden Point scored his 40th of the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins (93 points) remain tied with the Islanders for second in the Metro Division after nipping the Dallas Stars 3-2. Jared McCann scored twice for the Penguins, including the game-winner in the third period. The Stars (82 points) sit two points above the Avalanche in the first wild-card spot in the West. Stars center Jason Spezza was a healthy scratch for the second time in a week.

The New York Rangers upset the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on an overtime goal by Ryan Strome. Despite the victory, the Rangers are officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Leafs (94 points) have won just four of their last 10 games.

Anthony Mantha scored twice, including the winner in overtime, as the Detroit Red Wings surprised the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2, snapping the latter’s four-game winning streak. Vegas sits five points behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division. Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson missed the game with a lower-body injury.

Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson made 26 saves to pick up his first victory since Dec. 17 by edging the Edmonton Oilers 4-3. Brady Tkachuk tallied two goals, including the winner in overtime. The Oilers (74 points) are six points behind the Avalanche for the final Western playoff spot. A lingering back injury prevented Senators forward Zack Smith from playing in this game.

Speaking of the Oilers and Senators, Ken Hitchcock is receptive to the idea of returning behind the Edmonton bench next season. Meanwhile, the Senators confirm their intention to hire a president of hockey operations to provide assistance to general manager Pierre Dorion, who continues to have the full support of team owner Eugene Melnyk.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Remains to be seen if the eventual new Oilers general manager wants Hitchcock back. He might prefer bringing in his own bench boss. As for a new hockey ops president for the Senators, that move will take some of the burdens off Dorion, allowing him to focus on rebuilding the roster.

The Los Angeles Kings downed the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on a shootout goal by Anze Kopitar.

NBC SPORTS: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been dealing with an upper-body injury that’s been bothering him for a while. His status for today’s game against the Vancouver Canucks remains unclear.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bad enough for the Blue Jackets to be slumping when they’re trying to secure a wild-card spot. Having their starting goalie hampered by an injury makes matters potentially worse. 

DENVER POST: NHL referee and Colorado native Brad Watson has retired after 23 seasons. He worked 214 playoff games and eight Stanley Cup Finals.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Watson in his retirement.