Have The Toronto Maple Leafs Turned The Corner At Last?
The latest on Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos, plus a look at yesterday’s notable free-agent signings in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
UPDATES ON JOHNSON AND STAMKOS
THE SCORE: Tampa Bay Lightning winger Tyler Johnson cleared waivers yesterday. The Lightning had hoped a rival club would claim Johnson and clear his $5 million annual average value from their books.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bolts hope to shed some salary to create cap space to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Trading Johnson is still possible but the Lightning will have to include a sweetener in the deal like a quality draft pick, prospect or young player. He has a full no-trade but has reportedly submitted a list of preferred trade destinations.
TSN: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair an abdominal core muscle. He’s expected to make a full recovery before the start of the 2020-21 season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stamkos will have plenty of time to recover. The NHL and NHLPA have targeted Jan. 1 for the start date of next season. I believe March 1 could be a more realistic start date, depending on the course of the second wave of COVID-19.
NOTABLE UFA SIGNINGS
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Barrie addition is an affordable short-term acquisition to address Oscar Klefbom’s anticipated lengthy absence as he deals with a nagging shoulder injury. Bringing back Smith, however, doesn’t improve their goaltending, which is their biggest weakness. After failing to find an upgrade via free agency, GM Ken Holland seems unwilling to take a chance in the trade market.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks are reportedly close to bringing back winger Patrick Marleau for a third stint.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Marleau’s had a long, productive NHL career, most of it with the Sharks. However, the 41-year-old winger is well past his prime. This could be based more on sentimentality than what he can actually bring to their lineup.
SPORTSNET: The Columbus Blue Jackets signed former Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu to a one-year, $1.5-million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild opted not to re-sign their long-time captain after the 37-year-old Koivu dropped down their depth chart last season. His best days are behind him but he could still have one decent season left as a fourth-line center with the Jackets.
MLIVE.COM: The Detroit Red Wings signed goaltender Thomas Greiss to a two-year deal with an annual average value of $3.6 million and defenseman Troy Stecher to a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.7 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Two decent short-term deals bringing some much-needed goaltending and blueline depth to the rebuilding Wings.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: The Bruins signed winger Craig Smith to a three-year deal with a $3.1 million AAV.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: The Carolina Hurricanes signed winger Jesper Fast to a three-year deal ($2 million AAV).
SPORTSNET: The Buffalo Sabres signed center Cody Eakin to a two-year, $4.5-million contract.
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed defenseman Zach Bogosian to a one-year, $1-million contract.
ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes signed forward Johan Larsson to a two-year, $2.8-million contract.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The Capitals signed defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk to a one-year, $800K contract.
NOTABLE RFA SIGNINGS
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The Sharks re-signed winger Kevin Lebanc to a four-year deal worth an AAV of $4.725 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is Lebanc’s reward for only taking a one-year, $1-million contract last year when the Sharks were facing a salary-cap crunch. His production was down last season but that could be due to the Sharks’ overall poor performance last season. This could be a worthwhile contract for the Sharks if Lebanc regains his 56-point form from 2018-19.
THE DENVER POST: The Colorado Avalanche re-signed wingers Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin to two-year contracts. Burakovsky’s AAV is $4.9 million while Nichushkin’s is $2.5 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise here. Both forwards were key contributors to the Avalanche last season. Burakovsky enjoyed a career-best 20 goal, 45 point performance in 58 games last season while Nichushkin has turned into a versatile checking-line forward.
WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres re-signed defenseman Brandon Montour to a one-year, $3.85-million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Montour was the frequent topic of trade speculation last season. It’ll be interesting to see if he has a future in Buffalo beyond next season.
TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild re-signed winger Jordan Greenway to a two-year, $4.2-million contract.
IN OTHER NEWS…
TSN: The Ottawa Senators acquired forward Austin Watson from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round pick.
NHLPA: 26 NHL players filed yesterday for salary arbitration. The arbitration period begins Oct. 20 and concludes Nov. 8.
Detroit Red Wings
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Less than two months after signing a one-year, $700K contract with the Canadiens following his contract termination with the LA Kings, Kovalchuk is on the move again. Owing to the Capitals’ limited salary-cap space, the Canadiens retained half of the 36-year-old winger’s cap hit.
Kovalchuk was considered washed-up following his unsuccessful tenure with the Kings but resurrected his career in Montreal. After netting nine points in 17 games in Los Angeles, he tallied 13 points in 22 games with the Habs.
His production had tailed off recently, but perhaps joining a deeper club like the Capitals will bring it back to life. The move also provides Kovalchuk with an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.
This move gives the Canadiens two picks in the third round of this year’s draft. They have 11 picks through the first five rounds.
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed free-agent Zach Bogosian to a one-year, $1.3-million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bogosian became a free agent when the Buffalo Sabres yesterday terminated his contract. The 29-year-old defenseman struggled through injuries during his tenure with the Sabres. Earlier this season, he requested a trade and was a frequent healthy scratch.
The reason the Lightning made this move is likely tied to blueliner Erik Cernak suffering an injury in last night’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Bogosian could be an affordable fill-in for Cernak if he’s out for a long period.
Twas the evening before the NHL trade deadline…Check out the latest on the Hurricanes, Rangers, Red Wings, and Oilers in the rumor mill.
HURRICANES PURSUING A DEFENSEMAN
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports the Carolina Hurricanes were shopping around for a defenseman to replace the sidelined Dougie Hamilton. With Brett Pesce getting injured against Toronto last night and potentially out long-term, their priority is adding to their blueline. They’ve been linked to New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen and Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, among others. The Canes have an additional first-round pick in this year’s draft, though team owner Tom Dundon isn’t keen on shopping futures for rental players. Given their needs, it’s difficult to imagine them hanging onto both first-rounders.
Seravalli adds the Hurricanes are also willing to shop pending UFA forward Erik Haula. Pierre LeBrun reports they’re hoping UFA defenseman Zach Bogosian chooses to sign with them. Darren Dreger yesterday reported Pittsburgh and Arizona were also among those interested in Bogosian. Toronto, Calgary, San Jose, and Boston are also among the tire-kickers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perhaps the Hurricanes will part with one of their first-round picks if they can get a defenseman with term remaining on his contract. Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba frequently surfaced in trade chatter earlier this month, though that speculation cooled as the Wild try to remain in the playoff chase. Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere was another topic of trade rumors, but he’s not worth a first-rounder. Montreal’s Jeff Petry has also been linked to the Canes, but it’s believed the Canadiens set a high asking price. Could a first-round pick tempt them?
The Hurricanes were also in the market for some goaltending depth before Saturday’s game. While James Reimer could be sidelined for a lengthy period, there’s no word as to how long Petr Mrazek could be out. GM Don Waddell is prepared to call up AHL goaltenders Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg for the time being.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canes were linked to Chicago’s Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford. Given the latter’s full no-movement clause, Lehner seems the most likely trade candidate. Whether he heads to Carolina before tomorrow’s deadline or somewhere else remains to be seen.
UPDATE ON KREIDER
TSN: Darren Dreger tweets hope is fading for a new contract between the New York Rangers and winger Chris Kreider. If there isn’t a shift in negotiations soon, he’ll remain the top player on TSN’s trade bait board for tomorrow’s deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kreider’s been linked to the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues. The most likely contenders could be the Avs and Stars.
The Bruins’ acquisition of Ondrej Kase on Friday probably takes them out of the bidding. I’ll be very surprised if the Rangers ship Kreider to the Isles, while I’m not sure the Penguins have the assets to swing it. The Blues, meanwhile, could wait for winger Vladimir Tarasenko’s return from shoulder surgery in March.
WINGS SEEKING DRAFT PICKS
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman remains in the market for draft picks as the trade deadline approaches. He hoped to move pending UFAs such as Mike Green, Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericsson, but their struggles in this disastrous season hurt their trade value. Their best trade chip could be Andreas Athanasiou, but the decline in his performance this season means the Wings will be selling low.
Oilers among the teams still interested in Ennis … https://t.co/uFyvlORdMW
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 22, 2020
Alexander Ovechkin tallies his 700th career goal, the Toronto Maple Leafs lose to a Zamboni driver, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin became the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 career goals in a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. A power-play goal by Devils defenseman Damon Severson snapped a 2-2 tie late in the third period. With the loss, the Capitals (80 points) remain tied for first place with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Metropolitan Division, with the Penguins holding a game in hand.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A well-deserved milestone for The Great Eight. The next one is overtaking Mike Gartner (708) for seventh on the all-time list. The Capitals, however, have won just three of their last 10 games. With Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals now over, perhaps it will bring about a shift in their focus.
The Penguins, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to take a two-point lead over the Capitals by dropping a 5-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel scored twice, despite a midsection ailment preventing him from bending over to take faceoffs. Evgeni Malkin scored both Penguins’ goals. The Sabres (64 points) are eight behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who sit third in the Atlantic Division. Earlier in the day, they officially terminated defenseman Zach Bogosian’s contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eichel has 35 goals on the season. The young Sabres captain is doing everything he can to keep the his club’s playoff hopes alive.
Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes, who pressed into service 42-year-old emergency backup (and Zamboni driver) David Ayres when regular goaltenders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were sidelined. Ayres made eight saves on 10 shots to preserve the win. The Hurricanes (74 points) moved into a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot, holding two games in hand over the Jackets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For Ayres, this was a moment he and his family and friends will never forget. The Hurricanes did a fine job putting him at ease, as well as checking the Leafs to a near-standstill in the third. That was perhaps the most embarrassing regular-season defeat in Leafs history. I’ll leave it to Steve Dangle to summarize this debacle.
The Philadelphia Flyers (77 points) doubled up the Winnipeg Jets 4-2, widening their lead over the New York Islanders for third place in the Metro by three points. Scott Laughton scored two goals and Justin Braun collected three assists. Following the game, the Flyers got a visit from teammate Oskar Lindblom, who’s battling Ewing’s sarcoma. “Really good, really good to see him,” said Laughton. The Jets (69 points) hold a one-point lead over the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames for the final Western Conference wild-card berth.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Lindblom in his ongoing treatments. Here’s hoping he make a full recovery.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price turned in a 30-save shutout to blank the Ottawa Senators 3-0. Max Domi scored twice for the Habs (66 points), putting them six behind the Leafs in the Atlantic. Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot left the game with an injured left leg in the first period, but coach D.J. Smith believes it wasn’t anything serious.
The New York Rangers also kept their playoff hopes alive by edging the San Jose Sharks 3-2. Jesper Fast scored twice and Igor Shesterkin kicked out 44 shots for the Rangers (70 points), who’ve won seven of their last eight contests and sit just four points out of a wild-card berth in the East. Joe Thornton scored both goals for the Sharks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Rangers’ surge of late raises questions over whether GM Jeff Gorton will be a seller at the trade deadline. Until recently, it was assumed he’d start peddling some pending free agents like Fast and Chris Kreider. That might not be a certainty now.
Conor Garland and Clayton Keller each scored twice as the Arizona Coyotes upset the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-3. With 70 points, the Coyotes hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Earlier in the day, they revealed defenseman Jakob Chychrun could miss multiple games with a hip injury. Meanwhile, goaltender Darcy Kuemper was assigned to their AHL affiliate on a conditioning stint.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are winless in eight straight games after dropping a 4-3 shootout decision to the Nashville Predators. Jusse Saros turned aside 40 shots for the Predators while Rocco Grimaldi netted the game-winning goal. The Predators (68 points) sit one back of the Jets for the final Western wild-card berth.
Tyler Toffoli scored his first two goals with the Vancouver Canucks in a 9-3 thrashing of the Boston Bruins. J.T. Miller also collected three assists for the Canucks (72 points), who sit two behind the Pacific Divison-leading Vegas Golden Knights. Bruins winger David Pastrnak scored twice and leads the league with 45 goals. The Bruins remain the overall league leaders with 90 points.
The Golden Knights, meanwhile, picked up their fifth straight win by defeating the Florida Panthers 5-3. Reilly Smith scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves for Vegas. The Panthers (70 points) remain two behind the Leafs. They’ve won just three of their last 11 games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers are blowing a golden opportunity to pass the struggling Leafs and secure a grip on the final playoff spot in the Atlantic. They’re also in danger of being overtaken by the Canadiens and Sabres.
Joonas Donskoi’s shootout goal gave the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. The Avs (79 points) sit one back of the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Western Conference. Earlier in the day, the Kings re-signed Martin Frik to a two-year contract extension.