NHL Rumor Mill – May 23, 2019

NHL Rumor Mill – May 23, 2019

Updates on the Sharks and Capitals plus another list of potential buyout candidates in today’s NHL rumor mill. 

LATEST SHARKS SPECULATION

THE SCORE: Josh Wegman speculates the San Jose Sharks roster could undergo “a dramatic transformation” this summer. He suggests re-signing restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc could cost a combined $10 million. That will put a significant dent into their salary-cap space. 

Does Joe Pavelski still have a future with the San Jose Sharks? (Photo via NHL Images)

Wegman doesn’t think defenseman Erik Karlsson’s recent injury history will prevent him from getting top dollar on the open market in July. He doubts the Sharks can afford to re-sign both Karlsson and captain Joe Pavelski. It’s also unlikely they can afford to re-sign pending UFA forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi.  Nevertheless, they could keep their championship window open if Pavelski and Joe Thornton don’t return and they find a way to retain Karlsson.

NBC SPORTS: Joey Alfieri also looked at what’s next for pending UFAs Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton. While the 34-year-old Pavelski is a durable all-around player, Alfieri wonders if they can afford to bring him back at any cost. Still, he expects the Sharks will find a way to keep their captain. As for Thornton, he could be an effective third-line center if he’s up to it. 

Karlsson’s recent injury woes make re-signing him to a lengthy, expensive contract a huge risk. It’s uncertain if he wants to return with the Sharks or not. Alfieri believes there’s no certainty Karlsson will accept a discount to stay in San Jose. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The status of Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton will dominate the Sharks’ rumor mill leading up to the start of free agency on July 1. Cap Friendly indicates the Sharks have over $58.2 million invested in 15 players. If the cap reaches $83 million as projected, they’ll have around $24 million in cap space.

Assuming it takes $10 million to re-sign Meier and Labanc (and I agree with Wegman that it could cost that much), they’ll have only $14 million left. That won’t leave much for Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton. Of those three, I expect Pavelski will be re-signed. Thornton, too, if he decides he’s got one more season left in the tank.

Of course, general manager Doug Wilson could pull a swerve, cut ties with Pavelski and Thornton, and re-sign Karlsson. But as Wegman and Alfieri noted, the 28-year-old defenseman’s health is now a concern. If Karlsson is intent on a lucrative long-term deal, we’ve probably seen the last of him in a Sharks sweater. 

RECENT CAPITALS TRADE CHATTER

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: In two recent mailbag segments, J.J. Regan addressed questions from Capitals fans regarding the club’s possible offseason moves.  He believes that’ll depend upon the cost of re-signing RFA winger Jakub Vrana.

Regan doesn’t expect GM Brian MacLellan will make an extreme move like trading goalie Braden Holtby to free up salary-cap space. Holtby is slated to become a UFA next summer. He sees defenseman Matt Niskanen as a possible cost-cutting trade candidate. That move could come leading up to next month’s NHL Draft weekend. It could free up space to pursue forward depth in July via free agency. 

Regan doesn’t see the Capitals pursuing big-ticket UFAs like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson. Winger Carl Hagelin is most likely to depart via free agency this summer. Regan wonders if Brett Connolly will consider re-signing him for less than market value. He also suggested the Capitals could decide not to qualify RFA winger Andre Burakovsky’s rights and convince him to accept a lesser deal. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $72.9 million tied up in 16 players, the Capitals will have around $10 million in cap space. Niskanen, 32, is earning $5.75-million per season and carries a 10-team no-trade list. However, he’s also a skilled defenseman with a right-handed shot with just two seasons remaining on his contract. Those factors could make Niskanen enticing for clubs seeking experienced blueline depth. 

With Niskanen’s salary off their books, the Capitals could have room to re-sign Vrana to perhaps an affordable bridge deal. That could leave enough to retain Connolly and Burakovsky if they’re willing to accept less money to stay put. 

MORE POTENTIAL BUYOUT CANDIDATES

SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently listed 10 potential buyout candidates, examining the pros and cons for each. Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry, Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic and Vancouver Canucks winger Loui Eriksson were the notable names on his list. Carolina’s Scott Darling, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader, Edmonton’s Andrej Sekera, Los Angeles’ Dion Phaneuf, Montreal’s Karl Alzner, and the Rangers’ Brendan Smith also made Fox’s list. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox details the cost for each club of these buyouts and whether they’re worthwhile to do. Darling, Phaneuf, and Callahan seem the most likely to be bought out. The Lightning could prefer trading Callahan. If they can’t find any takers they’ll probably go the buyout route to free up cap space to re-sign Brayden Point.

Perry may look like a buyout candidate but I wonder if Ducks GM Bob Murray is willing to go that route. The former Hart Trophy winner’s production has declined in recent years but, as Fox points out, injuries took a toll on his performance. Murray could give him one more season before deciding if a buyout is justified. 

I have my doubts the Oilers will buy out Sekera. Injuries sidelined him for long periods over the past two seasons. Still, new GM Ken Holland might prefer keeping him around to buy time for some of their younger blueliners to crack the lineup. 

The contracts of Lucic and Eriksson are structured in such a way that buyouts won’t result in much savings in the short term. I don’t rule out a buyout for either guy but their respective clubs could instead try to trade them. 

The length of a buyout is another sticking point. Lucic and Abdelkader have four years remaining on their respective deals, Eriksson and Alzner each have three. At twice the remaining tenure, their buyouts would be on the books for six or eight years.