Kessel missed all of the preseason but was “largely unnoticeable” during the Coyotes’ season-opening loss to Columbus. Head coach Andre Tourigny noted the 34-year-old winger was behind his teammates in that game because of his absence from the preseason with an injured foot. “Phil’s track record speaks for itself,” he said, indicating his staff intends to give him some slack as he adjusts to their new system.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Once Kessel gets his game up to speed he should have good value in the trade market closer to the March 21 trade deadline. Most teams currently can’t afford to take on the $6.8 million of his $8 million salary-cap hit that the Coyotes carry unless they’re willing to retain a healthy chunk of it to facilitate a trade.
The 24-year-old center can’t seem to crack the lineup with Jonathan Toews and Tyler Johnson in the way. Head coach Jeremy Colliton lacks faith in his defensive game to put him in a bottom-six role.
Blackhawks management is listening to trade offers for Strome, which they’ve been doing since last season’s trade deadline. Lazerus, however, believes they should retain him as insurance in case something happens with Toews or Dach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A lot could also depend on the Blackhawks’ performance through the early going. They could hang onto Strome if they continue playing as poorly as they did through their first three games, inserting him into the lineup to shake things up. If they turn things around while he remains a healthy scratch, that could make it easier for management to ship him out.
NEW YORK POST: Mollie Walker reports Rangers winger Vitali Kravtsov has returned to Russia after refusing to report to their AHL affiliate in Hartford last week. It appears the Rangers are seeking a trade for the 21-year-old forward, who was also unhappy over where he’s been playing in the lineup during his brief tenure with the Blueshirts. Head coach Gerard Gallant said general manager Chris Drury is in regular contact with Kravtsov’s agent.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Had Kravtsov accepted the assignment to Hartford he’d be back in the Rangers’ lineup now because of the recent injury to second-line right wing Kaapo Kakko. Speculation suggests the Rangers could seek a second-round pick for him in the trade market.
Some more Jack Eichel speculation plus the latest on the Rangers in today’s NHL rumor mill
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun recently reported Jack Eichel remains adamant about undergoing artificial disc replacement. While the procedure has never been done on an NHL player, some teams are warming to the idea if they can acquire him from the Buffalo Sabres.
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (NHL Images).
Those interested clubs, however, are insisting on having a conditional aspect tied to any trade based on Eichel’s recovery and health. He’d be sidelined for four months with no guarantee he’ll be fully fixed up. The Sabres will thus have to alter their trade demands. General manager Kevyn Adams acknowledged an Eichel deal would have to come with conditions likely tied to games played, etc.
LeBrun believes the Minnesota Wild are out of the Eichel market because it would take moving a lot of cap space to absorb the center’s $10 million annual average value. He doesn’t see the Philadelphia Flyers getting involved based on their offseason moves. The Los Angeles Kings also don’t seem to be that involved.
The Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks did their due diligence and LeBrun believes they’re still in it to some degree. The Ducks make the most sense as they’re rebuilding with youth but he wondered how much it would cost them to acquire Eichel. He also believes there are other suitors yet to be identified.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: LeBrun also didn’t see the New York Rangers pursuing Eichel. He made that assessment before the Blueshirts re-signed Mika Zibanejad, a move that should take them out of the market for the Sabres center.
It appears the teams with the best chance of acquiring Eichel are those with plenty of salary cap space, as well as promising trade bait such as extra draft picks and/or prospects and young NHL players.
The Ducks would fall into that category and would make the most sense. However, the asking price could be Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale and I don’t see them parting with either guy.
The Ottawa Senators would be a prime candidate but who knows if cantankerous Senators owner Eugene Melnyk would sign off on this. The Columbus Blue Jackets have lacked a true first-line center for years and also possess the assets to swing a deal. The same goes for the Arizona Coyotes but they might not be keen to take on that big salary.
I’m skeptical that the Flames can land Eichel. Cap Friendly shows them with just $300K in projected cap space entering this season so they’ll have to dump a lot of salary to take on his contract. Some will suggest offering Johnny Gaudreau given his UFA status next summer or Sean Monahan with a year left on his contract. However, their respective no-trade clauses could prevent a trade with the Sabres. Let’s not forget the Sabres would want assurances of signing either guy which they likely won’t get.
NEW YORK POST: Mark W. Sanchez reports Rangers general manager Chris Drury is attempting to trade defenseman Libor Hajek. They’re carrying him on the roster for now rather than risk another club plucking him off waivers. The chance of moving him within the next couple of days appears minimal.
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports Senators head coach D.J. Smith is making plans to start the upcoming season without Brady Tkachuk. The 21-year-old left winger’s contract talks with management remain at a stalemate.
Garrioch cites St. Louis broadcaster Andy Strickland reporting Tkachuk wants a three-year contract but the Senators prefer a longer-term. It’s believed they tabled an eight-year deal worth an annual average value of $8 million.
Strickland said Tkachuk loves Ottawa but wants to be cautious and see how the next three seasons unfold. Garrioch said the club has nothing but respect for Tkachuk and doesn’t want these negotiations to get vindicative or personal. However, a bridge deal could adversely affect his chances of being named team captain.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Strickland took to Twitter yesterday reporting a lack of communication from the Senators is a big reason why a deal hasn’t been reached yet, sometimes going several days without reaching out to the winger’s camp. This runs counter to reports out of Ottawa claiming Sens general manager Pierre Dorion is in constant contact with Tkachuk’s representatives. Strickland also points out the Senators have a history of doing this to their best players under owner Eugene Melnyk.
Meanwhile, TSN’s Chris Johnston reports Senators sources said they can reach the salary-cap minimum for this season without Tkachuk under contract. They aren’t feeling pressure to become cap compliant by the league’s 5 pm ET deadline on Monday.
LATEST ON HERTL, KESSEL AND BARKOV
TSN: Pierre LeBrun considers Tomas Hertl an early name to watch for on this season’s trade-bait board. The 27-year-old San Jose Sharks center is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. LeBrun believes the Sharks would’ve loved to extend Hertl’s contract this summer but he wasn’t ready to enter that type of conversation. He could be in play by the trade deadline if the Sharks are out of playoff contention by then and he remains unsigned.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hertl also recently hinted at a willingness to accept a hometown discount but winning also remains a priority. The Sharks’ performance this season could determine his future in San Jose.
Darren Dreger believes the Arizona Coyotes’ Phil Kessel will also be on this season’s trade-bait list. He’s a UFA next summer and doesn’t appear to fit into the rebuilding Coyotes’ plans. The 34-year-old winger wants a fresh start with a competitive team, if not a contending club. He’s got a big cap hit and some no-trade protection. However, the actual salary is only $1 million. He could be a fit elsewhere later in the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kessel earns $6 million in actual salary but $5 million of it was as a signing bonus which the Coyotes already paid. He could draw interest by the trade deadline from playoff contenders looking for scoring depth.
LeBrun believes Aleksander Barkov will be staying with the Florida Panthers for the rest of his career. There’s been a lot of talks between the 26-year-old center and the Panthers about a long-term contract extension. He doubts Barkov will hit next summer’s free-agent market, suggesting a deal could be struck within the next several weeks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers are a rising force in the Eastern Conference. Barkov plays a critical role as their captain, first-line center and top two-way forward. I’ll be very surprised if they don’t get a long-term extension done.
Sweden names its first three players to its 2022 Olympic men’s hockey team, more potential trouble for Evander Kane, plus the latest on Robin Lehner, Tyler Bertuzzi and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog are the first names submitted to be part of Sweden’s men’s ice hockey team at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Participating countries were asked to declare their three players last month.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canada’s three were recently revealed as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, and Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. We’ll likely learn more about the other nations’ early three players in the coming days or weeks.
SI.COM/THE HOCKEY NEWS: A report by A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports claims an investigation is underway of San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane over allegations he violated the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols by using a fake vaccination card. In the United States, those who buy a fake vaccination card face six months in jail and a $750K fine.
This news comes following recent reports claiming Kane was being investigated for violating the league’s COVID protocols. The winger was recently cleared of allegations by his estranged wife, Anna, claiming he bet on NHL games. However, they’re also investigating claims of spousal abuse made by Anna.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’m assuming this latest report is tied to the earlier one about the league looking into the possibility Kane violated the COVID protocols. If he did use a fake vaccination card, that could become justification for the Sharks to terminate his contract.
LAS VEGAS SUN: Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner said he’s encouraged about bringing change in hockey following conversations he had with the league and the NHL Players Association. The league reached out to Lehner for an interview after he alleged many teams were giving prescription drugs to players without a doctor’s consent.
“This weekend was a cry for help from this league, the league that I love, that has given me so much,” said Lehner. He added the motivation for his recent comments on social media was to protect younger players. Lehner also said he’s encouraged about future discussions on the subject.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Lehner also received support from former NHL enforcer Tom Sestito, who claimed he was given and used “insane” amounts of the painkiller Toradol and Ambien, which is used to treat insomnia. Sestito said it took a year for him to sleep normally again after he stopped using Ambien. He also credited the Pittsburgh Penguins’ medical staff for helping to wean him off Torodol after he joined the club.
MLIVE.COM: Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi still hasn’t suited up for a preseason game. The club is being cautious in his return to action after he underwent season-ending back surgery in April. It’s uncertain if he’ll see any preseason games before the season opens next week.
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz left last night’s preseason game against the Golden Knights with what appeared to be a lower-body injury. He missed all of last season with an injured hip but head coach Jared Bednar said it’s not related to his previous hip problems.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets defenseman Logan Stanley is listed as day-to-day following a lower-body injury suffered in Sunday’s preseason contest with the Vancouver Canucks.
ESPN.COM: Los Angeles Kings prospect center Quinton Byfield injured his left leg during last name’s exhibition game with the Arizona Coyotes. Linesman Ryan Gibbons was stretchered from the ice following an accidental collision with Coyotes center Liam O’Brien following the national anthem. His condition is unknown.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan suffered a laceration to his forehead after being struck by a puck during last night’s preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. He received several stitches and returned to his duties.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: Blackhawks defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk could be sidelined at least two weeks following an ankle injury suffered during practice yesterday.
TSN: The Coyotes signed Alex Galchenyuk to a one-year, $750K contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is Galchenyuk’s second stint with the Coyotes, having played for them in 2018-19 when he was traded to Arizona by the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi.
NBC SPORTS: Several prospects are earning positive reviews for their preseason performance thus far. Among them are the Washington Capitals’ Hendrix Lapierre, the Carolina Hurricanes’ Seth Jarvis, and the Ottawa Senators’ Shane Pinto.
Canucks closing in on new contracts for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, the Leafs sign Sheldon Keefe to a contract extension, plus the latest on Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Vrana, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Darren Dreger reported yesterday evening the Vancouver Canucks appear to be closing in on new contracts for restricted free agents Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. It’s believed Hughes could receive a six-year contract while Pettersson would get a three-year deal.
Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sportsnet’s Satiar Shah reports Hughes’ could earn an annual average value of $7.75 million. The Athletic’s Rick Dhaliwal hears Pettersson could get a $7.7 million AAV. That would be a combined $15.45 million annually against the Canucks cap.
Cap Friendly indicates the Canuck have $13.7 million in projected cap space but they would be allowed to exceed the $81.5 million cap by $3.5 million by placing sidelined winger Micheal Ferland on long-term injury reserve. They could also get $3 million in cap relief if defenseman Travis Hamonic opts out of playing this season by today’s deadline.
No surprise if Hughes and Pettersson get those annual average values on their new contracts. Hughes is their top defenseman while Pettersson is their first-line center. They’re going to be paid as such. They’re also young players who’ve yet to reach their full potential. If you think their new contracts are expensive, wait until you see how much they get once those contracts expire.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs yesterday confirmed they’ve signed head coach Sheldon Keefe to a two-year contract extension.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leafs management still has confidence in Keefe to guide this club to a Stanley Cup despite not having won a playoff round during his short tenure behind their bench. This extension should quell speculation that Keefe could lose his job if the Leafs fall short again. Of course, that could depend on whether there’s a front-office purge next spring if this club makes another early postseason exit.
SPORTSNET: Speaking of the Leafs, winger Wayne Simmonds spoke out yesterday against racism in the game after HK Kremenchuk’s Andrei Deniskin received a mild suspension by the Ukrainian Hockey League for the racial taunting of HC Donbass defenseman Jalen Smereck during a recent UHL game. Smereck, an African-American, has taken leave from Donbass, which has called for stiffer punishment for Deniskin.
Simmonds has also encountered racial taunts throughout his playing career. “I’ve faced a lot of these things myself, and I don’t even know if I’d want my kids playing hockey to be quite honest.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hockey, at every level, is supposed to be for everyone. There should be no place for racism in the sport regardless of where it’s played.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana is expected to miss the next four months following shoulder surgery.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a blow to the Wings’ offense. Acquired at last season’s trade deadline, Vrana had an immediate positive effect. He was expected to play a major role for the rebuilding Wings this season as they attempt to take the next step toward playoff contention.
THE ATHLETIC: Zac Rinaldo’s anti-vaccination stance likely means his tenure with the Columbus Blue Jackets is over before it began. Sources say he will not play a game for the Jackets or their AHL affiliate this season. The club placed him on waivers yesterday.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: The Bell Centre in Montreal is expected to return to full capacity when the 2021-22 season opens next month as the Quebec government lifts some of its COVID-19 restrictions.
ESPN.COM: The Arizona Coyotes are the only NHL club to relax its game-day dress code for players this season. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators have plans to allow their players to wear team-issued tracksuits to games this season.
Several clubs have done away with the tie requirement though suits must still be worn. The Seattle Kraken has adopted a business casual policy.
The NHLPA has been pushing behind the scenes for a league-wide change. The PA believes it will help players build their individual brands and grow the game.
STLTODAY.COM: Jim Thomas reports Vladimir Tarasenko said little about his tumultuous offseason in which he requested a trade from the St. Louis Blues during an interview yesterday. Asked if he was disappointed he hadn’t been moved, the 29-year-old right winger said it’s behind him now.
St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko (NHL Images).
“I don’t see any reason to discuss it now,” said Tarasenko. “Camp starts. I don’t want to be a distraction in the room. I’m here to work. I’m healthy, I’m happy to play hockey again.” He also added he and his family love living in St. Louis and are grateful to the fans for their support.
Tarasenko had been taking part in informal skates with his Blues teammates in St. Louis prior to training camp opening this week.
Ben Frederickson believes Tarasenko’s actions will speak louder than his few words. He pointed out sources speaking on the winger’s behalf during the summer critiqued the Blues’ handling of his shoulder injuries, to management’s handling of his trade request, to the club picking Ryan O’Reilly as team captain over him.
Frederickson said team owner Tom Stillman and general manager Doug Armstrong weren’t going to be strong-armed into making a trade. He also indicated Tarasenko’s market wasn’t what the winger thought it was due to his shoulder injuries, declining production and hefty contract.
Nevertheless, Frederickson believes the Blues have a potential problem on their hands bringing back a player who has made it clear he wants to go.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tarasenko’s presence shouldn’t be an issue as long as he’s getting along with his teammates and the coaching staff. If he stays healthy and his production improves it’ll help his trade value. However, it’s unlikely the Blues will move him if they’re in playoff contention this season.
They could wait until next summer to move Tarasenko when he’ll only have one year remaining on his contract. His cap hit ($7.5 million) is expensive enough but he’s also earning $9.5 million in actual salary this season. He’ll earn a more palatable $5.5 million next season. He also has a full no-trade clause which will limit where the Blues can ship him.
TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas shot down trade speculation about Ilya Mikheyev on Wednesday. Asked about Mikheyev’s trade request, Dubas said the 26-year-old winger was going to be on the team “and is going to be a big part of the team.” He referred questions about the trade request to Mikheyev’s agent.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mikheyev seemed to back away from the question about his trade request when asked about it yesterday. His agent, Daniel Milstein, declined to comment. It’s believed that request was based on his limited playing time last season. By the sound of things, he’ll be getting a bigger role with the Leafs.