NHL Rumor Mill – January 13, 2024
Can the Blue Jackets find a trade partner for Elvis Merzlikins? Did the Flyers try to acquire Bowen Byran from the Avalanche? What’s the latest on the Bruins and Canucks? Find out in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
CAN THE BLUE JACKETS FIND A TRADE FOR MERZLIKINS?
The 29-year-old goaltender yesterday confirmed his agent spoke with Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen about a trade. He’s unhappy over what he considers his demotion since December from being the Jackets’ starting goalie to their third-stringer.
Merzlikins is signed through 2026-27 with an average annual value of $5.4 million and a 10-team no-trade list. Hedger believes the Jackets might have to absorb part of that cap hit as well as package Merzlikins with a prospect or draft pick “in exchange for, essentially, nothing but completing an addition-by-subtraction move.”
Hedger thinks that not playing Merzlikins prevents him from damaging his trade value with a poor performance. However, it also prevents him from improving it.
Trading Merzlikins seems the most likely conclusion. They could attempt to buy out the remainder of his contract this summer but that’s at two-thirds of the remaining value of the contract over twice the remaining term. They could also put him on waivers and if he clears send him to their AHL affiliate, freeing up just $1.15 million of his $5.4 million cap hit.
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline reports Merzlikins hasn’t requested a trade but he and the club have reached a mutual decision to pursue a “new scenario” for him. Kekalainen, meanwhile, declined to comment that he’s seeking a trade for the netminder, adding that Merzlikins must play his way back into the starter’s job or they’ll find someone else.
This decision might’ve made sense at the end of last season when Merzlikins was statistically among the NHL’s worst goaltenders with a 4.23 goals-against average and a .876 save percentage. He’s been much better this season, sitting 14th in save percentage (.907) and 26th in goals-against average (3.25).
Nevertheless, Merlikins’ play this season and his contract will make it difficult to move him even though several NHL clubs could use help between the pipes. Kekalainen said he has not discussed Merzlikins’ “no-go” list with the goalie.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples suggested a deal in which the Oilers send Jack Campbell to the Blue Jackets for Merzlikins. He cited their near-identical AAVs as well as the fact that both goalies could use a change of scenery. From the Oilers’ point of view, he thinks it’s better to roll the dice on Merzlikins.
Staples also observed several clubs possess the cap space to acquire Merzlikins or a pressing need to upgrade in goal. However, they might not want his contract or currently have goaltenders who are better than the Jackets netminder.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Moving any player with a significant cap hit and several years remaining on their contract is difficult to do during the regular season under a salary cap. Doing so in a season like this one with so many teams carrying so little cap space is a daunting challenge.
As Hedger pointed out, the Jackets’ best option could be retaining part of Merzlikins’ cap hit and packaging him with a draft pick or prospect.
A swap of Merzlikins for Campbell could work for the Oilers but I doubt the Blue Jackets would be warm to that idea The Oilers would get the better goalie while the Blue Jackets would be saddled with one whose confidence is so rattled that he hasn’t played his way back into the NHL.
FLYERS ATTEMPTED TO ACQUIRE BYRAM FROM THE AVS
PHILLY HOCKEY NOW: Jonathan Bailey cited Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman saying he believes the Flyers attempted to trade Cutter Gauthier to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Bowen Byram. However, Friedman doesn’t think the Avs were willing to go there, that it had to be more than just Gauthier for Byram.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I suspected the Ducks weren’t the only club the Flyers talked to regarding Gauthier. So what do you think, Avs fans? Did your team make the right decision? How about you, Flyers fans? Would you have preferred this deal instead of the one with the Ducks? Let us know in the comments section below.
LATEST ON THE BRUINS AND CANUCKS
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Nick Goss cited ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reporting that Bruins GM Don Sweeney is in the market for some depth at forward. She’s heard the Bruins are scouting “middle-six forwards, especially someone who could add a scoring punch.”
Goss conceded the Bruins could use more offense this season. However, he noted that many other contending clubs have better trade assets. Their prospect pool has improved but isn’t among the top 15. They also lack a first-round pick in 2024 and they don’t have second-rounders in 2024 or 2025.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That won’t deter Sweeney from shopping around as any GM in his position would. Nevertheless, he could find it more difficult to bolster his roster this year compared to recent years when he has more cap space and depth in tradeable assets.
Rutherford said he and his management team will still keep an eye on their defense but felt they’ve done a good job this season. He thinks adding a top-six forward would give his club a better chance.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks have been the busiest team in this season’s trade market, swinging four deals involving players thus far. Their most significant move was their Nov. 30 acquisition of defenseman Nikita Zadorov from the Calgary Flames. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a move to land a top-six forward before the March 8 trade deadline.