Florida Panthers Could Face Big Changes Following This NHL Season
Are the Panthers thinking of pursuing Pierre-Luc Dubois? Should the Sabres target Marc-Andre Fleury? Who could be the odd-man-out on the Avalanche blueline? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD THE PANTHERS PURSUE DUBOIS?
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy reports there’s a theory that the reason Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito efforts to get Keith Yandle to waive his no-movement clause was to set up for a deal to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois.
As the former assistant GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Zito helped draft Dubois third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. Murphy also cites an NHL scout suggesting that’s also the reason behind the recent Aleksander Barkov rumors.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Zito was trying to move Yandle I don’t believe the Jackets would’ve been interested even if the Panthers absorbed part of his $6.35 million annual average value. The Jackets’ defense corps is pretty much set, which is why they could send Markus Nutivaara to the Panthers in the offseason in a cost-cutting move. Yandle would have to be moved in a separate deal to another club to free up the cap space for Dubois’ $5 million AAV.
I don’t doubt Zito would love to acquire Dubois but I don’t see him moving Barkov to do so. If anything, I think he would envision Barkov remaining as the Panthers’ first-line center with Dubois centering the second line.
SHOULD THE SABRES TARGET FLEURY?
Murphy also cites an NHL scout suggesting the Buffalo Sabres should target Marc-Andre Fleury. “What the BLEEP are the Sabres waiting for? Get Fleury!”, the scout said. Murphy believes the Vegas Golden Knights are ready to move the 36-year-old goaltender. The Sabres could use an upgrade between the pipes but an NHL management source isn’t sure Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has looked into it.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are seven million reasons why the Sabres haven’t acquired Fleury. That’s his annual average value for this season and next. He also has a modified no-trade clause and could be unwilling to accept a trade to Buffalo. Cap Friendly, meanwhile, shows the Sabres only have a projected $1.2 million in cap room right now. Fleury is an expense they can’t afford.
COULD THE AVALANCHE MOVE A DEFENSEMAN?
THE DENVER POST: Mike Chambers and Mark Kiszla discussed what the Colorado Avalanche could do to address their blue-line logjam. The Avs already possess considerable depth in talented young defensemen in Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Ryan Graves, Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram, plus they have veterans Erik Johnson and Ian Cole.
Chambers suspects Cole could sit if the young blueliners continue to impress. Kiszla wonders if GM Joe Sakic could use one of those rearguards as trade bait. Johnson’s contract ($6 million AAV, no-movement and modified no-trade clause) would be difficult to move. Chambers suggests Girard would be the most tradeable. Losing his $5 million AAV over the next seven seasons would free up cap room to add a forward or a goaltender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Avalanche GM Joe Sakic might at some point consider using one of his defensemen as trade bait to address a roster issue before the Apr. 12 trade deadline. Johnson’s contract all but ensures he won’t be going anywhere. Cale Makar is untouchable and I don’t think Sakic will move Byram or Timmins. Toews is also likely to stay put after signing a four-year deal following his acquisition from the New York Islanders last fall.
Girard, Cole and Graves could become trade candidates. However, there’s no certainty Sakic will shop any of the defensemen this season. We’ll just have to see how things unfold.
Johnson’s no-movement clause means they can’t put him on their taxi squad this season without his permission. I can see them shuttling Byram and Timmins in and out of the taxi squad in the short term. Cole is a UFA this summer but the Avs could prefer hanging onto him for this season.
Could the Canadiens acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois? Could the Panthers move Aleksander Barkov? Would they shop Keith Yandle to the Bruins? What’s the latest on the Oilers’ goaltending? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD THE CANADIENS ACQUIRE DUBOIS?
SPORTSNET: Eric Engels believes the Montreal Canadiens’ rumored pursuit of Columbus Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois could be a complex and risky endeavor.
He believes Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen would want Nick Suzuki and something else in return. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin could counter with Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the centerpiece of a package with a top prospect also included.
In order to take on Dubois’ $5 million annual average value, the Canadiens would have to send a roster player earning more than $3 million (such as Paul Byron) to the Jackets.
Engels suggests it’s possible Bergevin could part with Kotkaniemi. However, he’s not sure the Habs GM would also want to include one of his top prospects in the deal. Bergevin could also be outbid by the Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators or Anaheim Ducks.
The restrictions on travel between Canada and the United States also complicates things. Engels suggests the Canadiens would be without Dubois for 14 days while he completes mandatory self-quarantine before he could join them. They’d also be without the player or players they’d give up in the deal during that period.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Acquiring Dubois would be a tempting option for the Canadiens, but that deal will be expensive. I don’t see Bergevin parting with Suzuki. Kotkaniemi is possible but he’s got plenty of promising upside. Giving up a prospect such as Cole Caufield, Kaiden Guhle or Mattias Norlinder could also be tough to swallow.
Even if Bergevin is willing to part with Kotkaniemi and one of his best prospects, making the dollars fit would be difficult. Byron is a former 20-goal scorer but the 31-year-old last hit that mark in 2017-18 and he’s been waylaid by injuries over the last two seasons. The Jackets could also be reluctant to take on a winger who turns 32 in April with two years remaining on his contract.
Bergevin could try to offer up another roster player but he doesn’t have many to spare that would suit the Jackets. Tomas Tatar is a free agent this summer while depth forwards like Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen each earn less than $3 million annually. The Jackets won’t take Jonathan Drouin’s $5.5 million AAV.
Kekalainen is reportedly being patient with Dubois’ situation. Bergevin might be wise to follow the same tactic and see how this season plays out. Perhaps they could revisit this in the offseason. Then again, there might not be any need for the Canadiens to make this deal if Suzuki and Kotkaniemi blossom into stars this season.
UPDATE ON BARKOV AND YANDLE
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: George Richards reports Panthers GM Bill Zito told captain Aleksander Barkov there’s no truth to trade rumors suggesting he might be available. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported Thursday that Barkov was drawing interest from rival general managers. The report was based on whether the 25-year-old center would re-sign with the Panthers this summer, and if not, would they consider trading him.
“Bill talked to me right away, he told me they aren’t true,” said Barkov. “So it’s all good and I am concentrating on the start of the season. Thank you for mentioning this is my first time being mentioned in trade rumors.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t doubt there were some general managers calling Zito to find out what changes he had in store for the Panthers this season and if Barkov might be part of them. It should be pointed out that Seravalli noted in his report that Zito intends to re-sign his captain.
Maybe that becomes a problem if the Panthers fail to improve this season. For now, I don’t see Barkov going anywhere.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy cites sources claiming if and when Zito asks Keith Yandle to waive his no-movement clause, he will do it for the Bruins. Murphy feels the main question is whether the Bruins would want the 34-year-old defenseman and his $6.35 million AAV through 2022-23.
Murphy cites reports indicating Bruins GM Don Sweeney spoke to Zito about what it would take to acquire Yandle but nothing came of it. He feels the Bruins seem determined to stick with their youth movement on defense and wouldn’t want to risk exposing Brandon Carlo or Matt Grzelcyk to this summer’s expansion draft if they acquired Yandle.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I daresay Yandle’s cap hit was a key reason why those rumored talks didn’t go far. If the Bruins remain interested in bringing Yandle back to his home state it might be best to do so after the expansion draft, and only if the Panthers agree to pick up part of his cap hit.
LATEST ON THE OILERS
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples believes the Oilers’ goaltending situation has gone from bad to worse this week. First, they lost Anton Forsberg to Carolina via waivers on Tuesday. On Friday, Mike Smith was placed on long-term injury reserve, taking him out of the lineup for at least 10 games.
Given the high number of back-to-back games the Oilers face in this shortened season, Staples wonders what GM Ken Holland will do. “Overpay? Patiently wait for some goalie to pop up on the waiver wire?”
Staples noted some Oilers’ observers are suggesting a trade for someone like Arizona’s Antti Raanta or Toronto’s Michael Hutchinson. Others suggest signing UFA Jimmy Howard.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Oilers were taking a risk bringing back the 38-year-old Smith for another season. If anything happens to Mikko Koskinen they will be well and truly screwed. There simply aren’t many palatable options available right now. Holland might not have much choice but to be patient and hope a decent netminder becomes available soon.
Teams are making inquiries about the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov while the club tries to figure out what to do with Keith Yandle, plus the latest on Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois in today’s NHL rumor mill.
BARKOV AND YANDLE
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports being told there are “a number of teams” making inquiries about Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov in recent weeks. Panthers general manager Bill Zito said he has no intention of trading the 25-year-old center and hopes to re-sign him. However, rival clubs are skeptical that Barkov will re-sign when his contract expires in 2022.
Barkov’s camp wants to win in Florida and is willing to give Zito the time needed to get the right pieces in order to do that. However, Seravalli believes Barkov’s situation will be worth watching in the coming months.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barkov is perhaps the NHL’s most overlooked star. He’s among the league’s best two-way forwards and one of the most disciplined players, winning the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2018-19.
Nevertheless, most fans and pundits around the league don’t seem to realize just how good he really is. Panthers fans won’t like me saying this, but he’d garner far more recognition and plaudits if he played on a better team in a bigger hockey market.
I don’t doubt Barkov’s sincerity about wanting to win with the Panthers. However, they’ve been a sad-sack organization through most of his tenure. He could consider testing the UFA market if the Panthers are still spinning their wheels by the end of next season.
Speaking of the Panthers, Pierre LeBrun reports Keith Yandle’s agent believes Zito is trying to put pressure on his client to convince him to waive his no-movement clause. Zito, however, said he hasn’t asked the 34-year-old defenseman to waive that clause.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Zito is wasting little time trying to shake things up since taking over as Panthers GM in September. LeBrun’s colleague Travis Yost indicated moving the puck-moving blueliner won’t be easy because of his declining play and $6.3 million annual average value.
Nevertheless, Yost doesn’t dismiss the possibility of Yandle getting traded to a club with blue-line issues provided the Panthers retain some of his annual average value. I don’t dismiss that possibility but Yandle’s age and the remaining term of his contract (through 2022-23) are significant sticking points.
LATEST ON DUBOIS
Former Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos took to Twitter yesterday saying the Montreal Canadiens are Dubois’ destination of choice. He claims the Jackets’ asking price is focused around “Nick Suzuki/plus.” Kypreos also said Habs defenseman Alexander Romanov “has been deemed untouchable.”
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH’s Brian Hedger replied to Kypreos with a tweet saying he’s heard “Kotkaniemi/Mete and something else” was what he heard from asking around.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: George Richards believes the Panthers should be in the mix if the Columbus Blue Jackets intend to trade Pierre-Luc Dubois. He feels Zito is a big fan of Dubois, suggesting he’d make a good fit centering the Panthers’ second line with Barkov on the top line. Richards doubts a package of draft picks and prospects will pry Dubois from the Jackets, adding it will be costly to land him.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Joe Haggerty wonders if the Bruins could get into the bidding for Dubois. Jack Studnicka and Urho Vaakanainen are their best assets but Haggerty feels it will cost much more to get a deal done. He’s not holding his breath expecting to see Dubois in a Bruins jersey. Meanwhile, Haggerty’s colleague Jimmy Murphy reports the Panthers and New Jersey Devils are among those interested in the Jackets’ center.
OTTAWA SUN: Ken Warren believes Dubois would address the Senators’ need for a legitimate first-line center, something they haven’t had since Jason Spezza was traded away in 2014. He thinks it would take a significant offer to acquire Dubois, suggesting anyone other than Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot or Tim Stuetzle should be in play.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella’s recent comments about Dubois wanting out isn’t making GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s job any easier. LeBrun said other clubs are saying Kekalainen wants to be patient with this situation, but it’s apparent there’s plenty of interest in the 22-year-old center.
It’s possible that a trade could shake out during this season that Kekalainen finds too good to pass up. I believe that deal must include a scoring forward, preferably a center. However, I still believe a deal of that magnitude takes place in the offseason. Despite the flattened salary cap, there will be clubs with the cap space this summer to take on Dubois’ $5 million AAV for next season and to pay him a big raise beyond that.
Vancouver is out as a possible hub city, the latest CBA news, an update on the 2020 draft lottery, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
LATEST HUB CITY NEWS
VANCOUVER SUN: The city of Vancouver is no longer in the running to become one of the two hub cities for Phase 4 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. Reports indicate the league was looking for some sort of waiver from British Columbia’s positive-test protocols. One example cited was the province of Ontario, where someone who tests positive but is asymptomatic can still return to work. League officials have said one player testing positive shouldn’t be ground to prevent a team from playing on.
TSN: The league is now shifting its focus to hosting bids from Edmonton and Toronto. Alberta’s chief medical officer signed off on a health-and-safety plan for a host city presented by the Oilers Entertainment Group.
Pierre LeBrun reports Los Angeles and Chicago are on standby in case the NHL cannot put a hub city in Canada to go along with Las Vegas. He also said an announcement probably won’t happen until Monday or Tuesday so as not to conflict with tonight’s draft lottery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league seems quite keen for a hub city in Canada. Edmonton looks like the front-runner now. It appears Las Vegas remains a lock as one of the hub cities despite the recent rise of COVID-19 in that city and the state of Nevada.
UPDATE ON POSSIBLE CBA CHANGES
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the full membership of the NHL Players’ Association will vote on a comprehensive return-to-play proposal. It would include a collective bargaining agreement extension plus the health protocols for training camp and the playoff tournament once negotiations between the league and the PA conclude.
Rangers winger Artemi Panarin raised concern about escrow payments. He said the players cannot resume play until there is an agreement in place.
“For nearly two decades, the Players have protected the owners income with escrow, including throughout this pandemic crisis, in which owners equity has continued to grow exponentially,” wrote Panarin. “It is time to fix the escrow.”
Brooks cites sources indicating the proposal generated by the league and the PA would include a cap on escrow on a de-linked flat salary cap expected to be around $83 million for at least the next three seasons as both sides continue to deal with the economic issues caused by the pandemic.
He suggested that the cap number could change over time. The excess could roll over two or three years, but a hard cap on escrow would be gradually implemented throughout the extension. Brooks also said the players would be responsible to make up 14 percent of escrow for this season.
THE SCORE: Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler is also calling for changes to escrow.
“It’s about time … the owners need to understand we’re done paying their debts,” Kesler said. “You run your team into the ground it’s on you …. if there’s a pandemic it’s on the owners … figure it out it’s not a free ride.”
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman cites sources claiming the escrow cap would be at 20 percent for 2020-21. There would also be a one-season-only salary deferral of 10 percent by every player. It would not be a rollback as the players would get that money back in the future, meaning the escrow on that money would be lower.
Friedman also reports the cap could be kept close to $81.5 million for the next three seasons. It could increase by $1 million in 2022-23.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said he wouldn’t feel comfortable having an NHLPA vote right now.
“There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said. “We have obviously a unique situation right now. The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. So moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered before I can vote yea or nea.”
The pandemic struck close to home for Price, as the mother of one of his good friends died earlier this year after contracting COVID-19.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The players will determine the fate of the return-to-play plan. The tournament and a possible extension to the CBA could be derailed if they reject the proposal. I don’t blame them for trying to leverage this to their favor, but it remains to be seen if the majority support that power play.
UPDATE ON 2020 NHL DRAFT LOTTERY
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be held tonight at 8 pm ET at the NHL Network studios in New Jersey. For the first time, there won’t be representatives from the various clubs in the lottery because of COVID-19.
McKenzie took to Twitter indicating the league has a Plan B for what will happen to the draft lottery and order of selection if the return-to-play plan doesn’t go through. He doesn’t know what it could be but cited one NHL GM suggesting the league should resort to the rules of the 2005 draft in which all teams would be eligible for the first-overall pick.
NBC SPORTS: has a draft lottery primer, including the top prospects, the odds for the NHL teams, and a brief explanation of the potential two phases of the lottery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Detroit Red Wings have the best singular odds (18.5 percent), but the Ottawa Senators have the second-best odds (13.5 percent) and hold the San Jose Sharks pick (11.5 percent). Rimouski Oceanic forward Alexis Lafreniere is considered the top prospect.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: The NHL could play daily triple-headers if play resumes.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: As of Thursday not a single member of the Winnipeg Jets roster has returned to Winnipeg for Phase 2. They could be kept off the ice by Manitoba’s quarantine protocols for 14 days unless they receive an exemption. It would affect their efforts to resume skating in preparation for the start of training camp on July 10.
SUN-SENTINEL.COM: Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov is now a major shareholder of Tappara Tempere, his hometown club in Finland. He also claims he and his Panthers teammates are looking forward to resuming the season
THE SCORE: Seattle’s KeyArena will be renamed Climate Pledge Arena after Amazon bought its naming rights.
Recent speculation on the Canadiens, Penguins, and Panthers in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WILL THE CANADIENS RE-SIGN TATAR?
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Pat Hickey believes re-signing Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault should be an off-season priority for the Canadiens. The linemates are all eligible next summer to become unrestricted free agents. Tatar was quick to credit Gallagher and Danault for the success he’s enjoyed since joining the Canadiens in 2018. He turns 30 in December, which could affect the type of contract offer he gets from the Habs.
TVA SPORTS: If the Canadiens decide to trade Tatar, Jean-Charle Lajoie doubts he’d fetch much of a return. He cites sources claiming the winger didn’t attract much interest before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perhaps the reason Tatar didn’t draw much interest before the deadline was Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s reluctance to trade him? Regardless, if Bergevin were to shop the 29-year-old winger, he’ll probably have to package him with a draft pick to get a quality return.
Bergevin could re-sign Tatar, but I agree it won’t be an expensive long-term deal. I can see him getting a four-year deal with an annual average value of around $5.5 million.
MURRAY OR JARRY FOR THE PENGUINS?
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Matt Vensel recently wondered if the Penguins are due for yet another change of the goaltending guard. Three years after leaving long-time starter Marc-Andre Fleury unprotected in the expansion draft, the Pens could face another crucial goaltending decision.
Starter Matt Murray and backup Tristan Jarry are restricted free agents this off-season with arbitration rights. Murray won two Stanley Cup for the Penguins, but he’s been hampered by injuries and outplayed by Jarry for most of this season. Vensel believes they can afford to keep both in the short term, but he still mused about management perhaps trading one of them.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins have over $68.5 million invested in 15 players. They can re-sign both to one-year contracts and take another season evaluating their performances before making a long-term investment in one of them, but it could cost a combined $9 million to do so, leaving little room to re-sign or replace their other free agents. Unless they shed salary elsewhere, they could be forced to trade Murray or Jarry before next season.
COULD THE PANTHERS MOVE BARKOV?
NEW YORK POST: In a recent mailbag segment, Larry Brooks was asked about the possibility of the Florida Panthers trading Aleksander Barkov and what it might take for the Rangers to acquire him. Brooks points out Barkov is signed through 2022 with a no-move clause that kicks in following this season and a modified no-trade in 2021-22. However, if Barkov were willing to waive it and the Panthers shopped him, Brooks considers Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko, along with players carrying no-trade clauses ( Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider) as untouchables for the Rangers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s media chatter suggesting Panthers ownership could implement cost-cutting measures if the club fails to reach the playoffs this season. That could be as simple as letting Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov depart via free agency following this season, or shopping defenseman Mike Matheson.
I doubt they’ll trade Barkov, but that could depend upon how much of a roster shake-up ownership wants if they don’t qualify for the playoffs. If they take a bolder step by moving Barkov, the asking price will be expensive. Barkov’s among the top two-way centers in the game. The Panthers would want at least a high-quality young NHL player, a first-round pick, and a top prospect in return.