NHL Rumor Mill – April 25, 2019

NHL Rumor Mill – April 25, 2019

Latest on the Toronto Maple Leafs plus a look ahead for the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights in today’s NHL rumor mill. 

MORE LEAFS SPECULATION 

TORONTO STAR: David Feschuk examined potential offseason moves by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. Re-signing Mitch Marner, who’s due for a significant raise following his 94-point season, will be a priority. Defenseman Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are unrestricted free agents and won’t be easy to re-sign, with Gardiner likely to be too expensive.

Will the Montreal Canadiens try to pry Kasperi Kapanen away from the Toronto Maple Leafs? (Photo via NHL Images).

Dubas faces a difficult decision with center Nazem Kadri. His undisciplined play resulted in playoff suspensions in consecutive years but he also carries an affordable $4.5-million cap hit and brings a physical edge to the Leafs lineup.

Feschuk also notes wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are restricted free agents and potential offer-sheet targets. He speculates one of them could be shopped for a defenseman, provided Dubas keeps his word about not trading William Nylander. 

TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan notes the difficulty Dubas faces with his free agents while carrying limited salary-cap space. The Leafs currently have over $75 million committed to next season’s roster, which won’t leave move wiggle room with the cap projected to rise to $83 million. Marner’s next contract alone will push them over the cap. 

Koshan believes Dubas has no choice but to seek out trade partners, pointing out he can’t afford to re-sign Marner, Kapanen, and Johnsson. One of the latter two or perhaps William Nylander could become a trade candidate. Given the Leafs’ cap constraints, the return will likely be draft picks and prospects. 

Dubas must also try to find a way to shed the contract of Patrick Marleau (one year remaining, $6.25 million) or Nikita Zaitsev ($4.5 million annually through 2023-24). Koshan also believes the Leafs GM faces a decision over Kadri’s future in Toronto. 

RDS.CA: On the show On Jase, Alex Tanguay suggested Kapanen could be a good fit with the Montreal Canadiens. “If I’m Marc Bergevin, would not I want to have a Kasperi Kapanen who, for $ 6 million a year, will cost me a draft pick?”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs can exceed the $83-million cap if necessary by placing all-but-retired Nathan Horton ($5.3 million) on long-term injury reserve at the start of next season. Still, Dubas will have to swing a trade or two to give himself sufficient cap space for Marner’s big raise (which I expect will be at least $10 million per season, probably more) and other necessary moves, such as finding replacements for Gardiner and Hainsey on the blueline and re-signing his other RFAs.

Trading Nylander would free up nearly $7 million in annual cap space but Dubas said Nylander wasn’t going anywhere as long as he was the Leafs GM. If he holds to his word, Kapanen or Johnsson could be traded, and probably Kadri too.

I agree with Tanguay that Kapanen would be a good addition to the Canadiens but he appears to be calling for Habs GM Marc Bergevin to sign the Leafs winger to an offer sheet.  Bergevin isn’t a fan of offer sheets so I don’t see that happening. He could try to acquire Kapanen via trade, though Dubas could be reluctant to send the winger to a division rival.

Kadri has a history of undisciplined postseason play. Nevertheless, his contract and physical two-way style will make him an attractive trade targets for clubs in need of depth at center. 

Moving Marleau, who has a full no-movement clause, will be very difficult. He’s pushing 40, his play is in obvious decline, and Dubas will likely have to absorb part of his cap hit or bundle him with a top draft pick or a top prospect to make him palatable to potential suitors. That’s assuming Marleau’s willing to waive his NMC. And don’t forget, he’s on a plus-35 contract, meaning his full cap hit still counts against the Leafs cap if he retires or is bought out. I don’t see much of a market for Zaitsev unless the Leafs eat part of his cap hit or include a sweetener in the deal. 

WHAT NEXT FOR THE CAPITALS AND GOLDEN KNIGHTS?

ESPN.COM: In the wake of the Washington Capitals first-round playoff elimination, Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters believe they must make a decision with winger Andre Burakovsky, who was the subject of frequent trade speculation this season. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and the Capitals could find a suitable return if they attempt to peddle him in June. 

They also suggest retaining pending UFAs Carl Hagelin and Brett Connolly on affordable contracts. The Capitals could part ways with Devante Smith-Pelly. Veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik might consider retirement but they might welcome him back for one more season on an affordable contract to mentor their young blueliners. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $72 million invested in 17 players (stick tap to Cap Friendly) and all their core players under contract, the Capitals aren’t facing any major offseason changes. Young forward Jakub Vrana’s coming off his entry-level deal and will be in line for a raise following his 24-goal, 47-point campaign, but the Caps could go with an affordable short-term deal. Burakovsky is likely to be moved. He’s got arbitration rights this summer and doesn’t seem to have a future with the Capitals.   

Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters believe the recently-eliminated Vegas Golden Knights are in need of a foundational defenseman, noting GM George McPhee’s interest in Erik Karlsson last season. They have a solid defense corps but need a skilled top-pairing blueliner.

They must also re-sign center William Karlsson, whose offensive numbers were down compared to last season but he still has solid two-way abilities. Karlsson also has arbitration rights this summer.  They also feel the Golden Knights need more speed on their bottom-six forward lines. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights are maxed out for next season, with over $82 million invested in 17 players. Placing all-but-retired David Clarkson ($5.25 million) at the start of next season will provide some relief, but certainly not enough to re-sign Karlsson, pursue a foundational defenseman, and re-sign or replace their other free agents.

Somebody’s gotta go and there could be a cost-cutting deal or two this summer. Trade candidates could include Cody Eakin ($3.875 million), Ryan Reaves ($2.775 million) and Nick Holden ($2.2 million).