NHL Playoffs: Winners And Losers – So Far – Among NHL Free Agents
What next for the Flames, Capitals and Blue Jackets now that their postseason is over? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski wondered about the future of Johnny Gaudreau following yet another disappointing early playoff exit by the Calgary Flames. The 27-year-old winger’s been the subject of trade speculation throughout this season as he put up his lowest offensive output since his rookie season.
It’s been speculated Gaudreau, a New Jersey native, could be peddled to an East Coast team. There’s also a theory the Flames could trade away “Johnny Hockey” to make room for Arizona Coyotes winger (and Calgary native) Taylor Hall.
With notable coaches such as Bruce Boudreau, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Babcock available, Wyshynski pondered the future of Flames interim bench boss Geoff Ward. He also wondered which of their notable UFAs (goalie Cam Talbot, blueliners T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic) will be back.
CALGARY SUN: Kristen Anderson and Wes Gilbertson wondered if changes could be coming to the Flames’ core forwards like Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett. Gilbertson also mused over whether it’s time for general manager Brad Treliving to test Gaudreau’s trade value or make a change at center by trading Sean Monahan or dropping him to the second line.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think a shakeup is coming and it could be Gaudreau on the move. A year ago, I considered that unthinkable. Not now. He seemed off-kilter until midseason and wasn’t much of a force in this postseason. As Gilbertson pointed out, he didn’t have an even-strength goal during the series with the Stars.
Despite Gaudreau’s struggles this season, he’s the Flames’ best trade chip. They aren’t moving Monahan because first-line centers are difficult to find. Spark plug Matthew Tkachuk isn’t going anywhere. I expect they’ll hang onto Bennett. He’s a versatile checking-line forward who elevates his play in the postseason. Backlund could be shopped but won’t fetch as strong a return as Gaudreau.
Dump Gaudreau to sign Hall? Stranger things have happened but Hall did little to raise his UFA stock this season. Maybe he’d regain his 2018 Hart Trophy form in Calgary but he would be an expensive gamble.
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan examined some possible off-season moves by the Washington Capitals. It appears long-time starting goaltender and pending UFA Braden Holtby has played his final game for the Caps. Their blueline could use some help but they have limited salary-cap space. Kaplan also wondered about the fate of head coach Todd Reirden.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Barry Svrluga wondered if the Capitals’ early playoff departure suggests a team in decline or perhaps the interruption of the season by COVID-19 skewed the results. He points out most of their core players are now in their thirties, took note of Holtby’s expected departure and wondered about Reirden’s fate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Replacing the coach is easier than replacing the roster, and there’s some justification for a change behind the Capitals bench after Reirden got schooled in the Isles series by former Washington coach Barry Trotz. The Caps remain a talented team but most of their stars don’t have many good years left.
Holtby’s departure is a foregone conclusion. His performance declined over the last couple of years. Ilya Samsonov had a promising debut season and will be their starter for the foreseeable future.
Cap Friendly indicates the Capitals have over $71.1 million invested in 16 players. There’s a chance they’ll re-sign Brenden Dillon but he could cost over $4 million annually. RFA Jonas Siegenthaler will get an affordable bridge deal coming off his entry-level deal. That won’t leave much to bolster their blueline depth.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Aaron Portzline reports of rumors Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen could be preparing for some big off-season moves to bolster his forward lines.
Portzline believes their priority should be adding a top-six center. He feels the Jackets’ GM could draw from his blue-line depth for trade bait, suggesting David Savard as a candidate. RFA winger Josh Anderson could be another. With Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins as bonafide starters, the Jackets could get calls from clubs seeking help in goal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kekalainen showed a willingness to make significant moves leading up to the 2019 trade deadline. With his club in dire need of scoring punch, I expect he’ll swing a trade or two to address that need. Several clubs with limited salary-cap space could be looking to shed a high-salaried talent for a more affordable option.
As per Cap Friendly, the Jackets have over $76 million invested in 23 players, with center Pierre-Luc Dubois due for a raise coming off his entry-level contract. He lacks arbitration rights so Kekalainen could ink him to an affordable short-term bridge deal with the promise of a more lucrative contract afterward.
If Kekalainen seeks impact forwards, he’ll have to move salaried players too. He could get $5.85-million in cap flexibility if sidelined forward Brandon Dubinsky starts the season on long-term injury reserve.
It’s been over a week since the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the postseason but speculation persists over their offseason plans. Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor roundup.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox reports Frederik Andersen could face an uncertain future with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer and his stats in elimination games aren’t that good.
Nevertheless, Fox doesn’t think there’s a suitable replacement for Andersen in this year’s free-agent market. Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford are past their prime. If the Vancouver Canucks re-sign Jacob Markstrom, Vegas’ Robin Lehner would be the best available free-agent goalie and expensive to sign. Fox doesn’t think Calgary’s Cam Talbot, the NY Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, or Dallas’ Anton Khudobin would be suitable replacements.
Fox notes the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins appear open for goalie trades, but he’s not sure what they have to offer would be an improvement over Andersen.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $76 million invested in 17 players, the Leafs lack sufficient cap space to chase expensive UFA talent without shedding some salary first. I agree with Fox’s assessment of this year’s crop of free-agent goalies.
What might be available in the trade market isn’t that tantalizing. The Wild could shop an aging Devan Dubnyk or career backup Alex Stalock. The Rangers could peddle Henrik Lundqvist (provided he waives his no-movement clause) but he’s also past his best-before date. Alexandar Georgiev is another Rangers’ option but he hasn’t established himself as an NHL starter. Recent speculation tied Penguins starter Matt Murray to the Leafs, but he’s struggled with injuries and consistency since backstopping the Pens to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
I anticipate the Leafs will stick with Andersen for next season and see how things unfold. It’ll give them time to assess next season’s trade market and see if there are better options among next year’s free agents.
TORONTO STAR: In a recent mailbag segment, Kevin McGran was asked about the possibility of the Leafs trading winger William Nylander. McGran feels Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas doesn’t want to go that route, but the coming salary-cap crunch could leave him little choice. He considers Nylander their most tradeable commodity.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll take some nifty salary-cap gymnastics for Dubas and his capologist to address his club’s need to bolster the defense without parting with a significant asset. Nylander could be the best option to land that elusive top-pairing, right-side rearguard.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons reports the Penguins are looking to shore up their roster and have asked questions about Leafs winger Kaspari Kapanen.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: To which the answer should be, we’re not moving him unless you offer up a good, young, right-side defenseman or skilled two-way center.
Simmons also proposed how the Leafs could sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo if the St. Louis Blues captain tests the free-agent market.
“I take Cody Ceci’s $4.5 million — he’s a free agent — and add it with Tyson Barrie’s $2.5 million. Both should be leaving. Now you take $3 million from either Alex Kerfoot, Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson and you’ve got $10 million to play with in a soft free-agent class, considering the economics of all of professional sport.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As per Cap Friendly, the Leafs have $76.9 million invested in 17 players next season, leaving roughly $4.5 million in cap space. That’s with Ceci and Barrie off the books. Dumping Kerfoot, Kapanen, or Johnsson would give the Leafs around $7.5 million to spend in the free-agent market.
Assuming Pietrangelo is willing to accept a modest pay bump from his current $6.5 million annual average value to come to Toronto (and honestly, why would he?), the Leafs would have no money left to re-sign other players (like Travis Dermott, Ilya Mikheyev, and perhaps Kyle Clifford) and fill out the rest of the roster.
A look at the five UFAs with the most to prove in the NHL’s return to play and an update on Loui Eriksson in the Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup.
THE SCORE: Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall and Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby top Matt Teague’s recent list of five unrestricted free agents with the most to prove during the upcoming NHL playoff tournament.
Hall’s struggled with injuries and played with two inconsistent teams since his 93-point Hart Trophy performance in 2017-18. He turns 29 in November and the playoff tournament could represent his best chance to secure a big payday. His performance will go a long way to raise his value under a flat salary cap for next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hall’s value on the open market was tagged at over $9 million annually before COVID-19 interrupted the NHL schedule. A weak effort in a quick exit from the playoff tournament will send his value tumbling.
Holtby put up mediocre regular-season stats since 2017-18 but solid performances in the last two postseasons. Turning 31 in September, he has little room for error to prove he’s still a reliable NHL starter. If he’s outplayed by teammate Ilya Samsonov in the playoff tournament, it will hurt his chances for a big raise over his current $6.1 million annual average value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holtby has acknowledged this is probably his final season with the Capitals. He will garner interest on the open market but could find landing a lucrative new deal hard to come by if he has a shaky postseason.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Granlund struggled for a while following his trade last season to the Predators, but his performance improved when John Hynes took over as head coach midway through 2019-20. If that trend continues, Granlund could prove himself worthy of at least a short-term deal at the same AAV ($5.75 million) with the Preds or another club.
After several productive years with the Colorado Avalanche, Barrie had a difficult 2019-20 campaign with the Leafs and isn’t expected to be re-signed. A solid effort in the upcoming playoffs could get him a one-year deal with another club for an AAV similar to his current $5.5 million.
Lehner was looking for a big payday last year after winning the Masterton Trophy and finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Instead, he had to settle for a one-year, $5-million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played well for the struggling Hawks, who shipped him to Vegas at the trade deadline. His performance with the Golden Knights sparked speculation they could attempt to re-sign him. If he outplays Marc-Andre Fleury in the tournament, maybe the Golden Knights try shopping Fleury to free up cap space for Lehner.
@DhaliwalSports on hypothetical Loui Eriksson trade: the kids teams want as a sweetener are Rafferty and Gaudette, those were the guys teams were asking about at the trade deadline. Kole Lind turned some heads this year, he’s a guy that would be asked about in a trade.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) July 16, 2020
How much would it cost to acquire Sabres captain Jack Eichel? How will a flat salary cap affect the Capitals? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON THE SABRES
WGR550: Joe DiBiase weighs in on the cost for interested clubs to acquire Jack Eichel. He was inspired by the recent musings from some fans and pundits over what it would take to acquire the Buffalo Sabres captain.
DiBiase dismisses the recent talk of Eichel supposedly being frustrated with the Sabres as speculation. He believes there’s “no way in hell” the 23-year-old superstar is getting traded now. Nevertheless, he decides to show why it will be difficult for rival clubs to pry away Eichel from the Sabres.
DiBiase believes the asking price to be a young No. 1 center and something of significance. He quickly dismissed 19 of the 31 NHL clubs as lacking the necessary components to make that trade.
For the rest, here is what DiBiases believes are fair asking prices:
Calgary Flames: Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and a first-round pick.
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Jost.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.
Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin and Miro Heiskanen.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid.
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov, Spencer Knight, and a first-round pick.
New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and two first-round picks.
New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko, and two first-round picks.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews, Rasmus Sandin.
Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Far-fetched? Outrageous? Completely unlikely to happen? You bet, but those returns make more sense than most of the Eichel trade scenarios floating around in cyberspace. Google “Eichel Trade Rumor” to see what I mean. Some folks seem to think they can get the Sabres’ captain for a package of draft picks, prospects, and cast-offs.
Eichel is a great player on a bad team. He’d be even greater on a good one. And no, your favorite club won’t be able to take advantage of the Sabres’ dysfunctional front office to steal away their captain. Unless Eichel forces the issue, and there’s no indication he’s going to anytime soon, they have no intention of trading their franchise player.
CAPITALS FACE A CAP CRUNCH
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: JJ Regan examines what a flat cap of $81.5 million means for the Washington Capitals over the next two seasons. They have 11 forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie under contract for 2020-21, with a little less than $10.4 million in cap space remaining.
Their unrestricted free agents include goaltender Braden Holtby, defensemen Brenden Dillon and Radko Gudas, while winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Jonas Siegenthaler and Travis Boyd are their restricted free agents.
“Does this ensure the end of Holtby’s time in Washington? Does the team wait on a long-term extension for Ovechkin to get a better idea of where the salary cap may be in a few years? Can the team afford to keep any of its UFAs? Does the team leave (TJ) Oshie exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft?”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holtby was expected to depart via free agency even when the salary cap was projected to rise to between $84-$88 million. Gudas and Kovalchuk aren’t expected back. Re-signing Dillon could eat up between $4-$5 million annually. That won’t leave much to fill out the rest of the roster.
They could wait on an extension for Ovechkin until they see how things look beyond next season. Cap Friendly indicates they’ve got over $57 million invested in 13 players, with Jakub Vrana and Ilya Samsonov also to re-sign. They could be forced to leave Oshie or another comparable salary exposed in next year’s expansion draft to free up sufficient space for Ovechkin, Vrana, and Samsonov.
A look at TSN’s listing of this year’s top unrestricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TSN: St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, and Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug top Frank Seravalli’s listing of this year’s top-50 unrestricted free agents.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise there. Media consensus has those three in exactly those three positions among the top-50.
Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom (fourth) and Vegas’ Robin Lehner (sixth) ranked above Washington’s Braden Holtby (12th) among this year’s top UFA goalies.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holtby has a Vezina Trophy (2016) and a Stanley Cup (2018) on his resume, but his inconsistent play over the past two seasons sent his stock tumbling. A strong performance in the upcoming playoff tournament, however, could send him rising on this list.
Former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien ranked fifth.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If this was two years ago, I’d have no issue with Byfuglien ranking this high. But the 35-year-old blueliner missed all of this season over a dispute with the Jets regarding the severity of an ankle injury, which ultimately required surgery. We don’t know if he’s keen to return to the NHL following the mutual agreement to terminate his contract in April. Until we get an indication from the Byfuglien camp that he wants to resume his playing career, he should be at the bottom of this list.
Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, Vancouver Canucks’ versatile forward Tyler Toffoli, and Toronto Maple Leafs rearguard Tyson Barrie round out the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’d rank Toffoli over Hoffman and Dadonov because of his two-way skills, Stanley Cup experience, plus he’s younger than those two. I’d put Holtby over Barrie, who had a rough season with the Leafs and should be ranked much lower than 10th.
Among the surprises was Florida Panthers oft-injured center Erik Haula ranked 11th, aging Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk at 23rd, and Leafs blueliner Cody Ceci at 24th.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Haula shouldn’t be ranked that high. He hasn’t fully recovered from knee surgery in 2018. Kovalchuk enjoyed a bounce-back performance during a two-month tenure with the Montreal Canadiens, but there’s no certainty the 36-year-old can sustain that effort over a full season. Ceci’s stock was in decline before he was dealt to the Leafs last summer and tumbled further this season.
Defensemen dominate this list. Along with Pietrangelo, Krug, Barrie, and Ceci, the list includes Calgary’s T.J. Brodie (13th) and Travis Hamonic (20th), Carolina’s Sami Vatanen (14th), Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk (15th), Vancouver’s Chris Tanev (17th), Philadelphia’s Justin Braun (19th), and Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz (29th).
Seravalli believes many UFAs could be on edge as this will be a free-agent period like no other thanks to the interruption of the season by COVID-19 and the effect upon league revenue and the salary cap. Players on non-playoff clubs, like Buffalo’s Wayne Simmonds and Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki, could be sidelined for seven months, potentially affecting their future earnings.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This year’s UFA class could have difficulty finding lucrative long-term contracts if the salary cap is frozen at $81.5 million for next season. Thirteen teams have payrolls already exceeding $70 million for next season, with a handful of others sitting with payrolls over $65 million.
Some of those notable free agents could end up accepting short-term deals, perhaps for less than market value, in hope of landing more lucrative offers when (if?) revenue rebounds over the next couple of years.