NHL Rumor Mill – January 12, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – January 12, 2021

Some noteworthy pending unrestricted free agents to watch this season in today’s NHL rumor mill.

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun recently looked at several high-profile pending UFAs to watch during this upcoming season.

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (NHL Images).

LeBrun reported Alex Ovechkin didn’t seem too concerned about his contract situation with the Washington Capitals when training camp opened last week. The long-time Capitals superstar noted there’s plenty of time to get a deal done.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ovechkin sounds like he wants to stay with the Capitals and they want to keep their franchise player. The question, of course, is how much and for how long.

LeBrun noted contract talks between the two sides were shelved during the summer. His colleague Frank Seravalli last week indicated Ovechkin’s pre-pandemic asking price was $12.5 million annually.

Taylor Hall surprised the NHL world last fall by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Playing alongside Sabres superstar Jack Eichel this season could boost his value as he seeks a long-term deal this summer. LeBrun thinks Hall could stick with the Sabres if he and Eichel develop solid chemistry and the club improves.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly shows the Sabres with $45.6 million invested in 10 players for 2021-22. They’ll have plenty of room to keep Hall in the fold. However, that depends on how much he’ll seek on his next contract and how well the Sabres perform this season.

LeBrun wondered what the future holds for Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins. While the goaltender’s agent said his client is happy living and playing in Boston, offseason rumors had Bruins general manager Don Sweeney taking calls about Rask.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sweeney may have been listening to calls on Rask but that doesn’t mean he was keen to move him. The Bruins don’t have anyone in their system to replace Rask after this season.

They could seek a replacement via free agency but the options could be limited to Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, Nashville’s aging Pekka Rinne, San Jose’s Devan Dubnyk, Arizona’s injury-prone Antti Raanta and Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer. Unless the Bruins find a better choice via the trade market, they could have little choice but to sign Rask, especially if he plays well this season.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Dougie Hamilton’s representatives have had preliminary contract discussions. LeBrun speculates the Hamilton camp could seek something comparable to Vegas’ Alex Pietrangelo’s $8.8 million annual average value. The Hurricanes could counter with some similar to St. Louis’ Torey Krug’s $6.5 million AAV.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hamilton was considered a contender for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman until suffering a season-ending leg injury last January. If an agreement isn’t reached between the two sides soon, a healthy, Norris-worthy performance by Hamilton this season could push his asking price into Pietrangelo’s range or higher.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 6, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – January 6, 2021

The NHL announces sponsors for its realigned divisions, plus updates on David Pastrnak, Dougie Hamilton, Alexander Kerfoot and more in today’s morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: The league has partnered with four sponsors for its realigned divisions for the upcoming 2020-21 season. They will be known as the Scotia NHL North Division, Honda NHL West Division, Discover NHL Central Division, and the MassMutual NHL East Division.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Or, as I and most hockey fans will refer to them, the North, West, Central and East Divisions.

This news will surely raise hackles among hockey purists already upset over ad logos appearing this season on the players’ helmets. But, as The Athletic’s Scott Burnside indicates, this move is necessary to offset some of the lost revenue this season from the absence of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This could be simply a one-time thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the practice of division sponsors continues when things (hopefully) return to normal next season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy yesterday said David Pastrnak was making progress in his recovery from offseason hip surgery. The original prognosis for the winger was mid-February but Cassidy suggested it could be a little earlier than that.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A late January or early February return for Pastrnak seems possible. The sooner the high-scoring winger returns to the Bruins first line, the better their chances of maintaining their status as a Stanley Cup contender this season.

NHL.COM: Dougie Hamilton wants to remain with the Carolina Hurricanes and hopes the two sides can work out a new contract. The 27-year-old defenseman is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Hamilton said he’ll leave the negotiations to his agent and focus on the upcoming season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell has indicated a willingness to sign Hamilton to a contract extension. The blueliner’s asking price and the Hurricanes’ inclination to meet it will determine if he has a future in Carolina.

Hamilton was considered a serious contender for the Norris Trophy last season until sidelined by a broken leg last January. Another Norris-worth performance could price him out of the Hurricanes’ comfort zone.

CBS SPORTS: Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot was banged up in training camp yesterday and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Winger Alex Tuch took a maintenance day yesterday as a precautionary measure after experiencing soreness following the first day of on-ice drills on Monday.

NEW YORK POST: The New York Islanders have reportedly signed free-agent winger Matt Martin to a four-year contract worth an annual average value of $1.5 million. He’ll be 36 when this contract expires.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This deal ensures Martin could retire as an Islander, though he could be selected by Seattle in this summer’s expansion draft if left unprotected. The checking-line winger is considered one of the Isles’ glue guys, the type of hard-working player who brings the team together.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Stars defenseman Joel Hanley missed practice yesterday. He’s been declared “unfit to practice” and listed as day-to-day.

THE SCORE: Former Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill was hired by the Seattle Kraken as an assistant general manager to GM Ron Francis. Former Chicago Blackhawks executive Norm McIver was hired as the Kraken’s director of player personnel.

NHLPA: Colin Wilson officially announced his retirement yesterday following 11 NHL seasons with the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. He scored 113 goals and 286 points in 632 regular-season games.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Wilson and his family in their future endeavors.

Congratulations to Team USA for their 2-0 victory over Team Canada to win the gold medal at the 2021 World Junior Championships. It’s the fourth straight time in as many meetings that Team USA has defeated Canada in the gold-medal game.

Florida Panthers’ goalie prospect Spencer Knight made 34 saves for the shutout. Anaheim Ducks prospect center Trevor Zegras had a goal and an assist while Los Angeles Kings prospect center Alex Turcotte also tallied for the Americans. Zegras led the tournament with 18 points and was named tournament MVP.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Russia may be Canada’s oldest hockey rival but the United States is the biggest rival and has been for some time.










NHL Rumor Mill – December 28, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – December 28, 2020

A look at some bold predictions for 2021 in the NHL Rumor Mill.

SPORTSNET: Over the weekend, Luke Fox made some bold NHL predictions for 2021. Some of them involved possible trades and free-agent moves.

Will Alex Ovechkin re-sign with the Washington Capitals? (NHL Images)

Fox believes Alex Ovechkin will reach a four-year contract extension with the Washington Capitals, perhaps accepting a slight pay cut to stay with the only NHL team he’s ever played for.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll be shocked if Ovechkin and the Capitals fail to reach an agreement on a new contract before his current deal expires next summer.

Taylor Hall “explodes offensively” skating alongside Jack Eichel this season with the Buffalo Sabres. However, Fox predicts Hall will chase his Stanley Cup dreams elsewhere as the Sabres’ poor goaltending turns them once again into an also-ran.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I can’t say I disagree with that prediction. However, that could change if the Sabres actually reach the playoffs.

Fox expects the Winnipeg Jets will trade Patrik Laine at some point in 2021. He’s a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights and the Jets don’t have enough dollars to keep Laine in the fold.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s been plenty of Laine trade speculation since early September, with his agent at one point suggesting it would be mutually beneficial for both sides if the young sniper was moved. If that comes to pass, the issue for Jets management is finding a suitable return. They could use a proven right-side, top-pairing defenseman.

Fox suggests the Ottawa Senators should expose recently-acquired goalie Matt Murray in next summer’s expansion draft and protect emerging netminder Filip Gustavsson.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My guess is they’ll expose Marcus Hogberg in the draft unless Murray plays poorly this season.

Dougie Hamilton could be leaving the Carolina Hurricanes via trade or in next summer’s UFA market. He’s due for a significant raise but there’s no indication the two sides are close to agreement on an extension.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Much will depend upon Hamilton’s asking price and where the Hurricanes are in the standings by the April 12 trade deadline.

Tyson Barrie could be reinvigorated with the Edmonton Oilers and earn a contract extension.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox points out Adam Larsson comes off the Oilers’ books next summer, freeing up sufficient cap space for Barrie. A solid performance could keep him in Edmonton beyond this season.

Fox also predicts Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault could get squeezed out by young centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, forcing him to seek work elsewhere via free agency.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We can’t rule out that possibility. Suzuki and Kotkaniemi played very well during last summer’s playoffs. If those performances carry over into this season, Danault could see third-line duty with the Habs. He doesn’t see himself in that role and I doubt he’d be willing to accept it on a permanent basis to stay in Montreal.

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson could expand his list of preferred trade destinations.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Boston and Vancouver were the only clubs on Ekman-Larsson’s preferred trade destination list. The Coyotes couldn’t swing a deal before his deadline of Oct.9. The Coyotes captain maintains he loves living and playing in Arizona. We’ll see if management tries again to shop him following this season.










NHL Rumor Mill – November 23, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – November 23, 2020

The latest on the Hurricanes and Leafs plus recent speculation about Zdeno Chara’s future in today’s NHL rumor mill.

NHL.COM: Tom Gulitti wondered if the Carolina Hurricanes will upgrade their goaltending and if they’ll sign defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Netminders Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are unrestricted free agents next summer, as is Hamilton.

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (NHL Images).

Gulitti noted Mrazek’s and Reimer’s contract status, pointing out questions linger over whether the Hurricanes need better goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. General manager Don Waddell said he’s “very comfortable” sticking with his goalie tandem through this season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mrazek and Reimer weren’t bad last season plus their combined $6.25 million cap hit makes them very affordable for the Hurricanes. Nevertheless, neither goalie has really ever stood out as a starter.

The Hurricanes will stick with this duo for the upcoming season but could go shopping for help if one or both struggle before the trade deadline. Waddell could also be in the market for an upgrade next summer if Mrazek and Reimer fail to carry the club deep into the playoffs.

The Hurricanes would like to sign Hamilton before the start of the season to remove any questions about his future with the franchise. However, the flattened salary cap and economic impact of the coronavirus could affect those efforts. Waddell isn’t ruling out a long-term deal but isn’t ruling out a short-term contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates Hamilton’s in the final year of a six-year, $34.5 million contract with an annual average value of $5.75 million. He could be receptive to a short-term deal but salary and no-trade protection could be the main issues. The Hamilton camp could seek a significant raise for their client, perhaps as high as $8 million annually if he has another Norris-worthy performance.

TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons believes the Maple Leafs lack a typical third-line center. While they have Joe Thornton and Alex Kerfoot, “Thornton can’t play 200-foot hockey anymore and can’t be counted on to play in the defensive zone. Kerfoot is a better winger than he is a centre.” Simmons feels the combination of the two will test head coach Sheldon Keefe’s ability to manage in-games throughout the season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It could also force Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to seek help before the trade deadline if it becomes a significant issue.

Simmons also wonders if the fact Zdeno Chara still hasn’t signed with the Boston Bruins is an indication the big defenseman is packing it in.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perhaps, though his agent recently said his client is waiting to see what the format for next season looks like. A shortened schedule with limited travel could be to the 43-year-old Chara’s liking.










NHL Rumor Mill – November 17, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – November 17, 2020

Some recent Leafs speculation and a look at Dougie Hamilton’s contract situation in today’s NHL rumor mill.

SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked what might happen if the Toronto Maple Leafs miss the playoffs or are eliminated in the opening round. He believes team president Brendan Shanahan, general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe should be granted one more shot in 2021-22. However, it could spell the end of the “Core Four” of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox noted Dubas has resisted breaking up that core, pointing out the moves made during this offseason doesn’t project a sense of hot-seat panic. Nevertheless, a shakeup could be in store if the Leafs make another early playoff exit or miss the postseason entirely.

Matthews, Tavares and Marner each earn over $10.8 million annually. Tavares has a full no-movement clause. It could be difficult moving one of them under a flattened cap for 2021-22, Nylander could be the more likely trade chip. His annual average value ($6.96 million) is more affordable and he lacks no-trade protection.

Fox believes the Leafs are done for the offseason. He doesn’t rule out professional tryout offers (PTO), noting Dubas said he’s open to anything. However, the club’s lack of cap space makes it unlikely they’ll sign another UFA or go the PTO route.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs are above the $81.5 million cap by just over $1 million according to Cap Friendly. They have no room for other additions unless Dubas acquires a player on permanent long-term injury reserve for additional salary-cap wiggle room or makes a cost-cutting trade.

NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes Dougie Hamilton’s next contract is among several big decisions facing the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021. GM Don Waddell is interested in negotiating a new deal with him before the start of the season.

O’Brien speculates Hamilton will want security after being traded twice. While the 27-year-old rearguard could find next year’s UFA market challenging, O’Brien notes high-end defensemen like Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug received lucrative deals this year. Even lesser blueliners like Chris Tanev, Dylan DeMelo and Joel Edmundson were among those receiving significant terms.

The Hurricanes must also re-sign rising star Andrei Svechnikov plus goaltenders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek will become UFAs next summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s understandable that Waddell would be interested in signing Hamilton before this season opens. The puck-moving blueliner is in the final season of a six-year deal with an AAV of $5.75 million. Hamilton was in the running for the Norris Trophy last season until sidelined by a broken leg. Another Norris-worthy performance in 2020-21 could push his asking price to between $8 – $9 million annually.

The Hurricanes have over $52 million invested in 12 players for 2020-21. Big raises for Hamilton and Svechnikov could use up a combined $15 million. Given the uncertainty over next season and another flattened salary cap, the Hurricanes might not spend to the ceiling for 2021-22. The longer Hamilton goes unsigned, the more his name will surface in the rumor mill during 2020-21.










NHL Rumor Mill – November 13, 2020

NHL Rumor Mill – November 13, 2020

The latest on Tuukka Rask, Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen in today’s NHL rumor mill.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON: DJ Bean believes the Bruins will ride out the 2020-21 season with goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. With both slated to become unrestricted free agents next summer, the Bruins could make their decision on their goaltending based on the performances of Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar in the minors.

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (NHL Images).

The Bruins could attempt to re-sign Rask or Halak for a year to allow more time for Swayman to break in. However, Bean wonders if Rask would be open to a one-year contract. He has hinted at retirement and at 34 his next deal would be a short one.

NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes the Bruins need Rask if they intend to remain a Cup contender for 2020-21, especially with two-thirds of their first line (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak) expected to miss the start of the season recovering from offseason surgeries. The loss of Torey Krug to free agency and Zdeno Chara’s uncertain future could also leave a dent on the left side of their blueline.

O’Brien pondered the possibility of moving Rask by the trade deadline if the Bruins slide in a big way and opt for a mini-reboot. Perhaps they could retain part of his salary to land some futures.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rask’s future in Boston will depend largely upon his performance. If he keeps them among the NHL’s top clubs next season he could end up returning on a one- or two-year contract, though he might have to accept a pay cut from his current $7 million annual cap hit.

O’Brien’s speculation is also worth keeping in mind if he plays well but the Bruins decline. Cap Friendly indicates Rask lacks no-trade protection this season. They won’t lack for suitors if they decide to move him by the trade deadline.

NHL.COM: Tom Gulitti reports Dougie Hamilton and the Carolina Hurricanes have yet to open contract extension talks. Nevertheless, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said he hopes to sign the 27-year-old defenseman before the start of the season.

Hamilton is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Waddell noted the flattened salary cap for the next two seasons will affect things, though he’s not ruling out a long-term deal. However, he pointed out only a handful of this year’s UFA class received deals longer than three years.

Waddell also hasn’t ruled out bringing back Sami Vatanen. He indicated he spoke with the blueliner last week and feels there’s still a good fit for him with the Hurricanes.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hamilton surfaced in trade speculation earlier in the offseason. There’s a belief the rearguard could price himself out of Carolina if he has another season like 2019-20, where he was considered a Norris Trophy candidate until he was sidelined in January by a broken leg.

Waddell seemed to tip his hand by pointing out the low number of this year’s UFAs getting more than three-year deals. A big raise for Hamilton would also bite deeply into the Hurricanes cap space for 2021-22 when they have over $52 million invested in 12 players. Rising young star Andrei Svechnikov will be due for a big raise coming off his entry-level contract and goalie James Reimer and Petr Mrazek also become unrestricted free agents.

The Hurricanes also have just over $932K in cap space for 2020-21. That doesn’t leave much for Vatanen, though they could get some wiggle room by demoting a lesser-salaried depth player to the minors. Still, Vatanen would be looking at a significant pay cut to return to Carolina.