NHL Rumor Mill – June 25, 2018

NHL Rumor Mill – June 25, 2018

Latest on John Tavares, James Neal, Erik Karlsson, Rick Nash and more in your NHL rumor mill.

TAVARES WATCH

TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan reports the Toronto Maple Leafs are believed among the five teams expected to meet today with New York Islanders pending free-agent center John Tavares at his agent’s office in Los Angeles. The Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights could also be involved.

The Leafs, who don’t have much depth at center for 2018-19, wouldn’t mind bringing back Tyler Bozak, who’s also due to become a UFA on July 1. However, Koshan doubts they’d signed him to another contract paying him $4.2 million annually.

NBC BOSTON: The Boston Bruins haven’t ruled out getting into the Tavares sweepstakes. As of yesterday, they hadn’t been told if they’re among the clubs he’s willing to meet with but they very much would like to be.

THE ATHLETIC: Sean Shapiro reports the Stars would have to shed some salary to make room for Tavares if they’re successful in wooing him to Dallas. Trading Jason Spezza or buying out the final year of his contract ($7.5 million cap hit) would be the best option.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: David Schoen reports it was unclear if the Golden Knights were among the clubs Tavares is willing to meet with today in Los Angeles. GM George McPhee declined to comment. Scuttlebutt among league executives during the recent 2018 NHL Draft suggested Tavares could re-sign with the Islanders.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Teams that meet with pending UFAs during the interview period usually prefer to keep it quiet. The reports regarding the Tavares interviews are merely speculating over which clubs could be involved. I don’t doubt most of the teams mentioned are interested in him but there’s no certainty they’ll be able to sway him into leaving the Islanders. 

LATEST ON KARLSSON, NASH, NEAL, PERRON AND KUNITZ

FRS HOCKEY: Chris Nichols cites Elliotte Friedman discussing Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson with Jeff Marek during their latest “31 Thoughts” podcast. He believes the Dallas Stars could be a stealth candidate to acquire the Senators captain.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That would probably be if they lose out in the bidding for John Tavares, as they can’t afford both. Landing Karlsson would cost the Stars more than just money, as they’ll have to make a significant trade offer to the Senators, plus they’ll also likely have to take winger Bobby Ryan and his $7.25-million cap hit off the Sens’ hands. With center Tyler Seguin due to become a UFA next summer, the cost of re-signing him and Karlsson could be too much for the Stars.

TSN: cites a report by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline saying Boston Bruins pending UFA winger Rick Nash is seeking a multiyear deal and has his former club, the Columbus Blue Jackets, at the top of his list. Portzline also said the Blue Jackets are showing more interest in Nash, who could also re-sign with the Bruins or elsewhere if he believes he can win a Stanley Cup.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Reports out of Boston over the weekend had Nash mulling his future to determine if he wanted to continue his NHL career after years of wear and tear. Evidently, he’s still keen to keep playing. The 34-year-old winger won’t get expensive long-term offers but could receive two- or three-year offers worth between $4 – $5 million annually. 

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: David Schoen reports pending UFA forwards James Neal and David Perron were unable to reach terms on new contracts with the Golden Knights. They’ve begun fielding offers from other clubs when the UFA interview period opened Sunday.

Perron seeks a long-term deal after completing a two-year contract. Neal reportedly rejected a five-year, $25-million offer from the Golden Knights at the February trade deadline, apparently seeking a long-term deal worth between $6.5-$7 million annually. 

Vegas Golden Knights winger James Neal is listening to offers from rival clubs (Photo via NHL Images)

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Both players could circle back to the Golden Knights if they don’t find any suitable offers from other clubs. They could also see if the Knights will match offers.

Neal’s agent said if his client hasn’t re-signed by July 1 that “common sense” suggests he’s not coming back. Both players said they loved playing in Vegas and prefer to stay. We’ll find out soon enough where their futures lie.

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Jason Mackey reports a source said the Penguins have interest in bringing back winger Chris Kunitz, though anything they due is contingent on creating extra salary-cap space.

LATEST ON THE RANGERS AND BLACKHAWKS

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the most critical decision facing Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is whether to trade Kevin Hayes or Mika Zibanejad. Hayes, a restricted free agent, seeks a five-year deal worth $5.5 million annually, which is comparable to the five-year, $5.3-million annually deal signed last summer by Zibanejad. Though they play different styles, their offensive production is essentially the same. Brooks said the Rangers intend to clear room to allow Filip Chytil an opportunity to claim a top-six role. 

Brooks also believes the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to clear the $5.3-million annual cap hit of sidelined and all-but-retired winger Nathan Horton if they succeed in wooing John Tavares. He wonders if the Rangers, who have “oodles of cap space”, “might be able to work out a deal for a young asset and/or a second-rounder for Horton.” He also believes the Rangers have interest in bringing back winger Michael Grabner but the chances of Rick Nash coming back are negligible. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Gorton wants to move Zibanejad or Hayes perhaps he should give the Montreal Canadiens a call. They’re in desperate need of depth at center. If the Leafs do land Tavares, moving Horton’s rights could be an option to free up cap space, though they’ll certainly have to include a promising young player or a decent draft pick as part of the deal. 

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Mark Lazerus reports the Blackhawks off-season priorities are landing a top-four defenseman, a backup goaltender, a scoring left wing and a taker for Marian Hossa’s contract. He wonders if GM Stan Bowman will attempt to move Connor Murphy ($3.85 million cap hit) to free up space for a free agent such as Ian Cole or Calvin de Haan, or swing a trade for someone like Carolina’s Justin Faulk.

A source said the Blackhawks were among the clubs reaching out to St. Louis Blue pending UFA goalie Carter Hutton. He also suggests if they can find a way to land a scorer like Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk via free agency or Montreal’s Max Pacioretty or Carolina’s Justin Faulk via trade they should do it. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Getting a top-four blueliner and a reliable backup are the Blackhawks top priorities. Sure, they could always use another scorer but they’ve got sufficient firepower right now to start the season. They can also put Hossa’s contract on long-term injured reserve to start the season if they’re in need of additional cap room.