NHL Free Agents Still Playing The Waiting Game
A look at the latest speculation involving some of the remaining notable restricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox recently examined the status of several notable remaining restricted free agents following the Tampa Bay Lightning signing Mikhail Sergachev and the Boston Bruins signing Jake DeBrusk last week.
Mathew Barzal remains atop the list. Fox reminds us New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello promised to match any offer sheet for the 23-year-old center.
Lamoriello has limited cap space but will garner some extra wiggle room with defenseman Johnny Boychuk headed for LTIR following a career-ending eye injury. It’s believed the Isles GM prefers locking up Barzal for around $7.5 million annually. Barzal reportedly is considering a team-friendly deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Like most general managers with key RFAs still to sign, Lamoriello could be waiting for official confirmation of a start date for this season before getting Barzal under contract. It’s not unusual for negotiations with a top RFA to stretch out until the start of training camp and sometimes into the opening days of camp.
Following the Sergachev signing, Anthony Cirelli’s agent said there was nothing new to report on contract talks with the Lightning. The cap-strapped club must shed salary to re-sign Cirelli and fellow RFA Erik Cernak and become cap compliant whenever the season begins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning are trying to move winger Tyler Johnson and his $5.5 million annual average value. There’s also speculation winger Alex Killorn ($4.45 million) could be a cost-cutting trade candidate.
Contract talks between Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Columbus Blue Jackets have stalled but GM Jarmo Kekalainen isn’t concerned. He pointed out Zach Werenski’s contract was signed right before training camp last year.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $9 million in cap space (stick tap to Cap Friendly), the Jackets have plenty of room to accommodate a new deal for Dubois. That’s without placing injured winger Gustav Nyquist ($5.5 million) on LTIR.
Fox speculates New Jersey Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood may wish to use Columbus’ Elvis Merzlikins’ two-year, $8 million bridge contract as a starting point.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Devils have plenty of cap space to re-sign Blackwood and fellow RFA Jesper Bratt. They’ll get it sorted by training camp.
St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said he and the Vince Dunn camp intend to wait until close to training camp to sign an extension. Placing sidelined forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen on LTIR will free up cap room to sign the 23-year-old defenseman.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: After watching Alex Pietrangelo depart via free agency last month, some Blues fans are concerned over why it’s taking so long to get Dunn signed. Now we know why. They’ll get a deal done.
The Winnipeg Jets have reportedly shopped forward Jack Roslovic during this off-season in search of a top-four, left-side defenseman.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some might scoff at the notion of Roslovic fetching that type of return. However, the Jets could target a club in need of shedding cap space. The Jets are above the cap by $697K but are expected to place sidelined center Bryan Little ($5.29 million) on LTIR, giving them sufficient space to swap Roslovic for a decent rearguard.
The latest on Anthony Cirelli, Ilya Samsonov and Alexis Lafreniere plus updates on return-to-play and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports it doesn’t appear a new contract is imminent for Anthony Cirelli. The 23-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning center is a restricted free agent. Earlier this week, the Lightning re-signed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev but Cirelli’s agent said there’s nothing new to report on a new deal for his client.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Lightning are above the $81.5 million salary cap by $1.904 million following the Sergachev signing. The Bolts are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the offseason but perhaps general manager Julien BriseBois intends to shed salary before signing Cirelli and fellow RFA Erik Cernak.
Given the uncertainty over the start of the 2020-21 NHL season, BriseBois has plenty of time to get Cirelli and Cernak under contract and shed some salary to become cap compliant when the season finally begins.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals professional development coach Olaf Kolzig isn’t worried about Ilya Samsonov replacing the departed Braden Holtby as the club’s starting goaltender. “I think Sammy has the ability to be like (Andrei) Vasilevskiy,” said Kolzig, referring to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s starter. Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 and backstopped the Bolts to the 2020 Stanley Cup.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As a former Vezina Trophy winner, Kolzig would know if Samsonov has the potential to play as well as Vasilevskiy. The young netminder showed considerable promise as a rookie last season, often outplaying Holtby before an injury kept him out of the 2020 playoffs. He’ll be under considerable pressure this season but that should be alleviated by offseason signing Henrik Lundqvist.
THE SCORE: Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior VP of national teams, suggested it’s not out of the question for Alexis Lafreniere to join Canada’s World Junior Championship roster.
Lafreniere was selected first overall by the New York Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft. The 19-year-old winger is currently in New York and would face quarantine restrictions to return to Canada but Salmond said there’s an ongoing discussion about the winger’s status.
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch cites a league executive having “no doubt we’re going to have a season” but he’s uncertain when that will happen. Garrioch believes an agreement to start the season on Jan. 1 will have to be made by no later than Tuesday (Dec. 1).
With negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players Association stalled, a mid-January or early February start appears more likely. The betting in league circles is Feb. 1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Garrioch also said the word is the players told NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr not to pick up the phone or budge on their position not to agree to the league’s requests for increases to the escrow and salary deferral rates.
Given the importance of ensuring the league doesn’t slip off the sports radar with other leagues ongoing or planning their new seasons, the feeling is the league and the PA will eventually work out a return-to-play plan.
It could be both sides are regrouping and working on workable proposals. We’ll find out soon enough.
SI.COM/THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell recently wondered if the NHL could legally attempt to leverage the threat of suspending or ceasing the 2020-21 season if their requests aren’t met by the players because of the effects of COVID-19 upon hockey-related revenue.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: So far there’s no indication the NHL is going down that road. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll use that hardball gambit.