Would a coaching change or trade help the Leafs? What’s the latest on the Sharks following last week’s report claiming management is willing to entertain offers for most of their players? Find out in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe (NHL.com).
Head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to be running out of options to motivate his players. Fox blamed general manager Kyle Dubas for not providing Keefe with a better supporting cast for his core talent. He believes the Leafs as currently constructed should reach the playoffs but won’t scare anybody when they get there.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some, including Leafs like Mitch Marner, pointed out they got off to a worse start last season and ended up with a franchise-record 115 points. That’s as may be but, as The Athletic’s James Mirtle pointed out, there are more Leafs performing poorly compared to the same time last season.
If the Leafs don’t turn it around in November there could be some changes coming. The most immediate could be replacing Keefe as head coach since they lack the cap space and available assets to make a significant trade that will reverse their fortunes. I agree with Fox that Dubas failed to provide the necessary assets to maintain a balanced roster. However, at this point, it seems like they might benefit from someone else behind the bench.
I’m not sure if adding gritty, hard role players is the answer. The Leafs still failed to win a playoff round with Kadri, Hyman, Brown, Lyubushkin and Marchment, though the latter barely saw enough playing time to make a difference during his short tenure in Toronto. Finding reliable goaltending and defensive depth might be better options.
LATEST ON THE SHARKS
THE ATHLETIC: Corey Masisak recently reported the San Jose Sharks players are shrugging off a report on Thursday by TSN’s Pierre LeBrun claiming GM Mike Grier is willing to entertain offers for almost everyone on the roster except perhaps for Tomas Hertl.
Masisak pointed out LeBrun didn’t say Grier intends to trade certain players. He also cited Sharks coach David Quinn saying every general manager around the league is probably talking to each other to gauge where they are at this point in the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Masisak doubts the trade speculation will go away despite the struggling Sharks’ recent wins. He also pointed out he’s got three veterans in Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic carrying hefty contracts with no-movement clauses.
It may be a little early for Grier to start shopping players. He could be willing to listen to offers but it doesn’t mean he’s about to tear it all down and start a complete rebuild.
Nevertheless, Grier will likely become a seller if the Sharks are well out of playoff contention when the calendar flips to 2023. He will likely start shopping pending UFAs like James Reimer and Nick Bonino and perhaps test the trade market on pending RFA winger Timo Meier.
All three of Wednesday’s games end in 4-3 scores plus the latest on Gabriel Landeskog, Aaron Ekblad, Jake Muzzin and more in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
NHL.COM: An overtime goal by Neal Pionk lifted the Winnipeg Jets over the Colorado Avalanche 4-3. Pionk finished the night with two goals while Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves for the win. Mikko Rantanen scored twice for the Avalanche while Valeri Nichushkin had a two-point game.
Colorado Avalanche winger Gabriel Landeskog (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Both clubs were without a key player in this contest. The Avalanche announced before this game that Gabriel Landeskog underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will be sidelined for 12 weeks. The Avs captain had surgery last March on his knee and returned for the playoffs but it continued to bother him throughout the offseason and sidelined him through training camp and the start of this season.
Meanwhile, Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers was sidelined by an undisclosed injury and remains questionable for Thursday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The club also announced that head coach Rick Bowness will return on Saturday from his bout with COVID-19.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Justin Faulk scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to defeat the Seattle Kraken 4-3. Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko collected three assists while goalie Jordan Binnington got the win with a 32-save performance. Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstand each had two assists for the Kraken, who are 1-2-2 in their first five games.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blues winger Pavel Buchnevich missed this game with a lower-body injury.
The Florida Panthers got two goals from Carter Verhaeghe as they held off the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 to hand the latter their first loss of the season. Aleksander Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett each collected two assists while Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk were among the Flyers’ goal scorers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers played this game without top defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was placed on long-term injury reserve with a lower-body injury. There is no timetable for his return, which is bad news for the Panthers’ already thin blueline depth. Speaking of the Flyers, they claimed center Lukas Sedlak off waivers from the Colorado Avalanche.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs placed defenseman Jake Muzzin (neck) on injured reserve. Meanwhile, head coach Sheldon Keefe walked back his critical comments aimed at his elite players following their 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs lost two games of their first four games to teams they should easily defeat (Arizona, Montreal) and barely won the other two games. That has a number of their followers already on edge. Keefe’s clarification drew criticism from social media with some suggesting that it’s indicative of the Leafs’ fragility this early in the season.
DETROIT HOCKEY NOW: Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana has entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program and will be out of the lineup for an indefinite period.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Here’s hoping Vrana gets the help he needs to resume his playing career and get his life back on track away from the arena.
NHL.COM: Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Goaltender Jake Allen has returned to the Canadiens lineup. He missed Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins as his wife was giving birth to the couple’s third daughter.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Congratulations to the Allen family on their new arrival.
TWINCITIES.COM: Jordan Greenway makes his season debut with the Minnesota Wild. The 25-year-old winger underwent off-season shoulder surgery. He also underwent procedures to have a cyst removed from his ankle and to have his wisdom teeth removed.
SPORTSNET’s Elliotte Friedman reported New York Rangers forward Dryden Hunt and Vancouver Canucks winger Phillip Di Giuseppe were placed on waivers yesterday.
THE ATHLETIC: Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser signed a PTO contract with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
CALGARY SUN: The city of Calgary and the Flames organization have restarted formal talks on the construction of a new arena. Negotiations fell apart last year over cost overages weeks before construction was to start on a $650 million project.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wake me when you’ve got a deal. And yes, I believe they will hammer out a deal.
Should the struggling Maple Leafs fire their coach or trade a big-name player? Are the Golden Knights pursuing a trade for Sabres center Jack Eichel? Should the Avalanche also try to acquire him? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli appeared on Sportnet 590’s FAN Morning Show to discuss the Toronto Maple Leafs’ options as they endure a slow start to this season. He believes they face three options. They could replace head coach Sheldon Keefe, trade a big-name player like Mitch Marner or “triple down” and stick with the roster they’ve built.
Seravalli doesn’t see them firing Keefe as he just got a contract extension. Marner could have value in the trade market despite his offensive struggles stretching back to the 2021 playoffs. However, Seravalli doesn’t believe they’re at that point. He sees them sticking with their roster and waiting for them to overcome their slow start.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Keefe hasn’t been helped by the steady depletion of roster depth over the last two offseasons. The loss of gritty heart-and-soul forward Zach Hyman to free agency this summer was a significant blow. They remain top-heavy at forward, lacking skilled depth throughout their checking lines and defense corps.
Marner’s hefty contract ensures he’s not going anywhere during this season, especially with only a handful of teams carrying $10 million or more in cap space. His $10.9 million deal is difficult for another club to absorb during the season. The earliest Marner could hit the trade block is in the offseason, assuming the Leafs face-plant in the first round again or fail to reach the postseason. That’s usually when stars with big contracts get dealt.
For now, of course, it’s still too early to talk about a big roster shakeup by the Leafs. As Seravalli indicated, they’ll stick with their current roster in anticipation of them turning things around soon.
DAILY FACEOFF: Seravalli also reports there’s been “increased chatter” between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Buffalo Sabres about Jack Eichel in recent days. Eichel and the Sabres remain at a standoff over which medical procedure he’ll receive for a herniated disc in his neck. There’s speculation he could file a grievance through the NHLPA if there’s no resolution to the impasse soon.
The Golden Knights’ interest could depend on the status of winger Mark Stone. He carries a $9.5 million salary cap hit but is currently sidelined with what Servalli called a back injury. It’s uncertain how long he’ll be out but the Golden Knights could be holding their cards close to the vest in hope of making an Eichel deal work. He also mentioned the possibility of a third-party broker getting involved to make this work from a financial standpoint.
THE DENVER POST: Mark Kiszla believes the struggling Colorado Avalanche should beat the Golden Knights to the punch and acquire Eichel. He acknowledged the difficulty from a salary-cap viewpoint as well as the risk posed by the uncertainty over Eichel’s medical condition. Nevertheless, he felt that might be better than Eichel scoring a clutch goal for the Golden Knights against the Avalanche in the playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights have long been linked to Eichel and he would address their glaring need for an elite first-line center. They’re sitting over the $81.5 million salary cap but are getting nearly $12 million in cap relief with Max Pacioretty (lower-body fracture) and Alex Tuch (shoulder surgery) on long-term injury reserve. They could get $9.5 million more if Stone ends up there too.
Acquiring Eichel now and letting him undergo disc replacement surgery could mean waiting weeks or months before he’s ready to play again. Pacioretty and Tuch, meanwhile, will return to the lineup later this season, meaning the Golden Knights must be cap complaint when Eichel makes his return.
The Golden Knights would also have to give up three roster players as part of the deal. Reilly Smith, Peyton Krebs and Nicolas Hague were part of the Sabres’ reported asking price back in July. If the Sabres won’t lower that price it would further deplete their roster, knocking them out of playoff contention by the time Eichel is ready to play.
A third-party broker might mean the Golden Knights won’t have to give up as much to get Eichel, but that third team would still want a significant return to absorb a healthy chunk of the center’s $10 million annual cap hit. It would still leave Vegas’ lineup depleted and struggling.
The same goes for the Avalanche. They were rumored to have looked into the cost of acquiring Eichel but they don’t seem to be seriously pursuing it.
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.
Could Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas or Sheldon Keefe lose their jobs following another early playoff exit by the Leafs? Could the Florida Panthers try to acquire Penguins center Evgeni Malkin? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON THE LEAFS
TORONTO SUN/THE ATHLETIC: Lance Hornby and Jonas Siegel wondered if heads will roll in the Maple Leafs’ front office or among the coaching staff following the club’s early playoff exit.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas (NHL.com).
Brendan Shanahan’s in his seventh season as team president but the club’s postseason woes continue. General manager Kyle Dubas has been in the role three years and head coach Sheldon Keefe completed his second season.
Hornby and Siegel raised some questions about several of the moves made by the franchise in recent years and the overall performance. However, they don’t expect Shanahan, Dubas or Keefe to lose their jobs. They instead anticipate an assistant coach such as Manny Malhotra, Dave Hakstol or Paul MacLean or goalie coach Steve Briere could become a sacrificial firing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sun’s Steve Simmons also doesn’t expect Shanahan, Dubas or Keefe to be fired. One or two of the assistant coaches could be replaced. The Leafs’ struggling power play could cost Malhotra his job.
Hornby wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs see which goaltenders are available in the summer’s trade and free-agent markets. If nothing’s worthwhile there, he suggests returning with Jack Campbell and either David Rittich or a goalie from within their system. He doesn’t expect Frederik Andersen will be re-signed.
With defenseman Morgan Rielly a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility, Siegel believes the Leafs must decide on his future this year. Trading Rielly would fetch assets and clear cap space but the move would also leave a big hole on their blueline.
As for shopping a core player such as Mitch Marner or William Nylander, Siegel preaches caution here. Making change for change’s sake could set the Leafs back several years, pointing to the Boston Bruins’ trading Tyler Seguin in 2013 and the Edmonton Oilers trading Taylor Hall in 2016.
Both pundits believe the Leafs could lose Dermott or Alex Kerfoot in the expansion draft unless the Leafs cut a side deal with the Seattle Kraken.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have to tread carefully as Siegel suggests. Nevertheless, they must fully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses to determine what moves are necessary and what’s available to address their needs.
They’ve still handcuffed themselves with those big contracts for Marner, Nylander, John Tavares and Auston Matthews. The latter two, of course, aren’t going anywhere. Tavares has a full no-movement clause while Matthews is coming off a Richard Trophy performance despite his lack of production in the series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Marner, Nylander or Rielly are the prime trade candidates if they wish to shake up the core. Each would fetch significant returns in the trade market. By moving one of them, however, they must ensure they’re not creating one problem by trying to fix another.
Losing Rielly could hurt the Leafs the most as it could prove difficult to replace him on the blueline. If they’re going to trade him they better be sure they’ve got a suitable replacement lined up.
Their depth at center suffered against the Canadiens when Tavares and Nick Foligno were injured. They’ll have to address that issue if Foligno isn’t re-signed and they lose Kerfoot to the Kraken. Finding a suitable goaltender to split the duties with Campbell is a must. So is replacing Hyman if he departs via free agency.
The Leafs sacrificed speed for experienced grit this year. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have physical players in their lineup but they can’t be the slowfooted kind.
They could also end up pursuing bargain players via trades or free agency if they don’t make a significant cost-cutting move. Cap Friendly shows them with nearly $69 million tied up in 14 players. They will get some relief depending on which player they lose in the expansion draft, but not enough to make an impact addition.
THE LATEST PANTHERS SPECULATION
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: George Richards shot down a recent report in the New York Post speculating Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville could head to the Seattle Kraken. “No one is taking it too seriously,” said Richards, pointing out Quenneville is among the NHL’s highest-paid coaches and appears very happy in his current job.
Richards wondered what the Panthers will do with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Keith Yandle. They’re the club’s highest-paid players with a combined annual average value of $16 million. However, both were healthy scratches during the Panthers’ final game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first-round series.
Both players have no-movement clauses plus Bobrovsky has a lot of years left on his contract. After seeing GM Bill Zito trade Mike Matheson and his contract last year, Richards doesn’t rule out the possibility of trading Bobrovsky or Yandle.
Zito didn’t sign Bobrovsky and Yandle to those contracts. He inherited them from his predecessor. Moving Matheson was easier because he lacked no-trade protection and had a more affordable $4.875 million cap hit. Trading those other two presents a bigger challenge for Zito.
Yandle could be easier to move than Bobrovsky. The 34-year-old blueliner’s got two years left on his deal with an annual average value of $6.35 million. It will require some creativity, perhaps a third-party broker and it could cost the Panthers a couple of draft picks or prospects to make happen in a package deal. Still, they’d have a better chance at moving Yandle than Bobrovsky’s $10 million AAV for the next five years.
Murphy cited an NHL source with direct knowledge of the situation saying he believes there is and has been mutual interest there. However, they’re stuck with Bobrovsky’s big contract plus they’re planning to sign Barkov to an expensive new contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers’ rumored interest in Malkin first surfaced when Dale Tallon was the general manager. I doubt that’s the case now under Bill Zito. Even if he found a way to shed Bobrovsky’s salary, I don’t think he’ll use the savings to acquire an aging Malkin.