Check out the latest on the Penguins, Wild, and Predators in this Sunday’s NHL rumor roundup.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Matt Vensel examined several pressing questions facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the wake of their elimination from the playoff qualifying round.
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (NHL Images).
He wondered if Matt Murray will return, believing it’ll come down to how much the restricted free agent will seek on his new contract. Backup Tristan Jarry is also an RFA and showed potential as a starting goalie this season.
Murray was also on Vensel’s list of Penguins who might not return next season. Unrestricted free agents such as Patrick Marleau and Justin Schultz probably skate away, while Conor Sheary will have to accept a bargain-basement deal to stay.
Vensel suggests Nick Bjugstad and Jack Johnson as cost-cutting trade options, though moving the latter could prove difficult. He also proposed shopping Kris Letang after the emergence of John Marino.
The Pens must find two new defensemen to plug into their top-six, with promising Pierre-Olivier Joseph as an option. They also need to sort out their third-line center position and their bottom-six forwards.
It’s unlikely they’ll consider trading Evgeni Malkin unless he asked to be traded. So far, he’s given no indication he wants to move on.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Penguins have over $68.2 million invested in 15 players for 2020-21. Unless Murray’s taking a hometown discount for a year or two with the promise of bigger bucks down the road, or the Penguins shed salary to make room for his new contract, I don’t see how they can afford to keep him and Jarry.
Unless Malkin wants out, he’ll be back with the Penguins next year. So will Johnson, who’s earning an annual average value of $3.25 million through 2022-23 and isn’t capable of being a decent third-pairing defenseman anymore. They’ll have to package him with a sweetener to make him palatable, but his age (33) and the remaining years on that contract are serious sticking points.
Bjugstad has a year remaining at $4.1 million. If he hasn’t recovered from spinal surgery they could place him on long-term injury reserve to start next season. They can’t buy him out as long as he’s still recovering from surgery.
As I noted yesterday, trading Letang won’t be easy. He has an 18-team list of preferred trade destinations, but the oft-injured rearguard is 33 and carries a $7.25 million AAV through 2021-22.
THE TENNESSEAN: Paul Skrbina wondered what the Nashville Predators will look like next season following their qualifying-round elimination.
He suggested buying out Kyle Turris’ contract, though that would cost $2 million annually against their salary cap through 2027-28. They could also let Craig Smith and/or Mikael Granlund depart via free agency and replace them with prospects such as Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Joe Rexrode advocates buying out Turris and bidding farewell to Granlund. However, the hard part is figuring out if a major trade is necessary to push the Preds back into relevance.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Predators GM David Poile intends to make a big move, the question becomes which player hits the trade block? Not Filip Forsberg or defensemen Ryan Ellis and team captain Roman Josi. Rexrode doubts Poile will shop Matt Duchene only a year after signing him to a long-term contract. Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson comprise the Predators’ best line alongside Forsberg, but there’s been some grumbling over Johansen’s reliability as a first-line center.
Poile has a history of making big moves that no one saw coming. If he considers going that route again, my guess is Johansen becomes the trade candidate, provide a taker can be found for his $8 million AAV through 2024-25.
STARTRIBUNE.COM: Sara McLellan suggests Kirill Kaprizov could address some of the Minnesota Wild’s scoring woes. He’ll make his NHL debut next season, but other reinforcements might be necessary.
It remains to be seen what happens to captain (and pending UFA) Mikko Koivu. McLellan feels the Wild need better depth on defense and wonders about the status of their goaltending after Alex Stalock replaced Devan Dubnyk as their starter. Both are under contract for next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild have over $65 million tied up in 17 players. With Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin coming off entry-level contracts, GM Bill Guerin could ink them to affordable bridge deals to ensure sufficient space for other moves.
Unless Koivu’s willing to accept a one-year, bonus-laden deal with a low base salary, the 37-year-old probably played his final game for the Wild, or as an NHL player. They’ll probably stick with the Dubnyk-Stalock tandem and see how things shake out next season. Stalock’s signed through 2021-22 while Dubnyk is a UFA next year.