An early look at this season’s pending unrestricted free agents, Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello is working the phones and the Canucks are shopping Olli Juolevi. Check it out in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun recently looked at which of this season’s high-profile unrestricted free agents could sign contract extensions within the next month or two. He wouldn’t be surprised Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg is signed by midseason though there’s work to be done. The Boston Bruins signing Patrice Bergeron is a no-brainer if the 36-year-old center wants to return for another season.
Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron (NHL Images).
There haven’t been any real contract discussions between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Evgeni Malkin as he focuses on recovering from offseason knee surgery. LeBrun expects those talks could begin later in the season. He also believes the Penguins want to avoid lengthy deals they could regret for Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. The latter could be willing to see how the season plays out.
LeBrun believes the San Jose Sharks haven’t given up hope of signing Tomas Hertl but thinks the 27-year-old center is unlikely to do so. He could become a big name potentially available at the March 21 trade deadline.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had preliminary talks with Morgan Rielly and lines of communication remain open. This could be decided in June depending on the Leafs freeing up sufficient cap space to sign him or Rielly going to market because they can’t afford him. LeBrun expects he’ll be in the $8 million per season club.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with LeBrun’s take on all but Klingberg. He’s in the final season of a seven-year deal worth an annual average value of $4.25 million and could seek something comparable to Dougie Hamilton’s $9 million AAV with the New Jersey Devils.
As The Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks observed, the Stars already have $8.45 million annually invested in Miro Heiskanen, $5.8 million annually in Esa Lindell and $3.65 million in Ryan Suter. Assuming Klingberg accepts something in the $8 million range, the Stars will have one of the NHL’s most expensive bluelines.
Unless the Stars shed salary or decide not to re-sign other pending UFAs like Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov, they could be unwilling to ink Klingberg to an expensive long-term extension.
THE ATHLETIC’s Arthur Staple reportsNew York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said general manager Lou Lamoriello isn’t quite finished assembling the roster. He may be looking to trade some of their extra players. NEWSDAY’s Andrew Gross reports Trotz said the Isles GM is still working the phones.
The Sabres strip Jack Eichel of his captaincy, plus several stars are already sidelined or returning from injuries as training camps open. Check out the details in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
WGR 550: Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams confirmed yesterday the club had stripped Jack Eichel of the captaincy. The 24-year-old center also failed his team physical and will be placed on injured reserve.
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (NHL Images).
Eichel and Sabres’ management remain in a standoff over which medical procedure he should receive to repair a herniated disc in his neck. He favors disc replacement surgery while the team doctors prefer fusion surgery. Adams also indicated the team is still open to trading Eichel at the right price.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I doubt any NHL fan or pundit is surprised by this news. It’s just another chapter in an impasse with no end in sight. There could be teams willing to let Eichel undergo disc replacement but they’re unwilling to pay the Sabres’ high asking price to acquire him.
Don’t expect to see Eichel on the ice this season unless one side blinks. I also don’t anticipate seeing him traded this season unless the Sabres drop their price. Even then, Eichel’s $10 million annual average value over the next five seasons is difficult for most teams to absorb even when he’s healthy.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is expected to miss at least the first two months of this season recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee. The Penguins also have one unidentified player not yet fully vaccinated though he’s expected to be within the next few weeks.
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said he’s been dealing with a nagging injury since prior to the 2020 NHL playoffs but downplayed the severity. He and GM Stan Bowman didn’t elaborate but said it was a common ailment among hockey players.
Meanwhile, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was back with his teammates in his first formal practice since missing all of last season with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. He’s hoping to be ready to play when the season opens next month.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and winger Mike Hoffman are likely to miss training camp and the start of the season. Price is recovering from offseason knee surgery while Hoffman has been sidetracked by a lower-body injury.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom is listed as week-to-week due to ongoing rehabilitation on his hip. Meanwhile, teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov said he’s feeling good mentally and physically and ready to put a difficult 2020-21 season behind him.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck confirmed he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Aug. 20. He was unvaccinated at the time and took about 10 days to recover. He’s since been vaccinated but felt rushed into doing so in order to be ready for training camp so soon after recovering from the coronavirus.
“I’m not anti-vax by any means,” he said. “But I’d like to have that decision for myself. It felt very forced on me.” He added the post-vaccination symptoms made him feel as though he had COVID again.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hellebuyck’s situation was unique and probably should’ve allowed him more leeway to become vaccinated so soon after recovering from COVID-19. NHL protocols would allow him to join his teammates under certain restrictions until he received his shots.
The league isn’t forcing its players to be inoculated. However, they face travel restrictions, additional testing, forfeiture of portions of their salaries if they miss playing time and social interaction limitations as a result.
Some might feel the NHL’s protocols are too restrictive. However, the league and the NHLPA don’t want a repeat of 2020-21 when multiple game postponements due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among several teams wreaked havoc on an already compressed schedule.
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Center Tyler Seguin, winger Alexander Radulov and goaltender Ben Bishop were on the ice for the Stars’ opening day of training camp. Seguin missed all but three games last season to hip and knee surgeries. Radulov was sidelined most of last season by a core muscle injury requiring offseason surgery. Bishop, meanwhile, is hopeful of playing after missing all of last season to knee surgery.
CALGARY SUN: Flames center Sean Monahan revealed a hip injury bothered him for most of last season. He underwent offseason surgery and was on the ice for the club’s opening day of training camp.
THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche forward Stefan Matteau and defenseman Roland McKeown had both tested positive for COVID-19 but are nearing the end of their recovery. Meanwhile, head coach Jared Bednar said defenseman Cale Makar underwent an upper-body procedure recently but isn’t expected to miss any practice or preseason time.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins center Charlie Coyle began training camp yesterday wearing a non-contact red jersey. He’s coming off a pair of knee surgeries but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
THE SEATTLE TIMES: Kraken center Yanni Gourde took part in drills yesterday wearing a non-contact jersey. GM Ron Francis indicates Gourde could return to action sooner than expected from offseason shoulder surgery. He was originally expected to be sidelined until December.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace revealed he was recently hospitalized fighting for his life with a severe case of COVID-19. He spent a week in intensive care before being released. He and his wife must now wait eight weeks before getting vaccinated as per CDC guidelines, something they had put off based on advice from doctors related to medical conditions.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Legace and his wife for a speedy and complete recovery.
THE PROVINCE: An internal document shared with NHL teams earlier this week reveals the league believes 30 of its 32 teams could start the season with full capacity at their arenas. The exceptions are the Vancouver Canucks (50 percent) and the Montreal Canadiens (33 percent). The memo also revealed the various anticipated vaccine guidelines for all the franchises.
SPORTSNET: Ken Wiebe also weighed in on the Jets’ potential offseason plans. He doubts head coach Paul Maurice or general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will be shown the door, but believes the roster requires an upgrade.
Like Wyshynski, Wiebe believes they must enhance the defense corps. He also cited promising youngsters Heinola and Samberg could be ready for full-time duty. Despite the emergence of Stanley this season, the Jets could go shopping for an experienced blueliner via the trade market or free agency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Once their strength, the defense corps has become a weakness for the Jets. It’s been an ongoing issue for the last two years and cannot go unaddressed for a third season.
Heinola and Samberg should help, as could Stanley if he’s not snapped up by the Kraken. Nevertheless, they also need an experienced top-four defenseman, preferably one who skates on the right side.
Teams are reportedly calling the Buffalo Sabres about captain Jack Eichel (NHL Images).
TEAMS CALLING SABRES ABOUT EICHEL
TSN: Darren Dreger reports teams are contacting the Buffalo Sabres expressing interest in several of their players, including team captain Jack Eichel. Dreger believes those conversations will increase ahead of the NHL draft weekend on July 23-24.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Eichel raised eyebrows last month suggesting a “disconnect” between himself and management over treatment for a herniated disc in his neck. That generated considerable speculation over whether he’ll be traded this summer.
The report also indicated there’s been speculation about the futures of Sabres center Sam Reinhart and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Reinhart, a restricted free agent, was noncommittal about his future in Buffalo during his end-of-season press conference. Ristolainen, meanwhile, said he’d be fine with a trade or remaining a Sabre. Blueliner Colin Miller could also draw interest in the trade market.
Buffalo fans would probably love to see their club shed the expensive contracts of Jeff Skinner ($9 million annual average value through 2026-27) and Kyle Okposo ($6 million AAV through 2022-23), but I doubt they’ll be moved in an offseason with a flattened salary cap.
LATEST ON THE PENGUINS
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski reports a well-placed source within the Penguins organization said the club intends to protect goaltender Tristan Jarry and center Evgeni Malkin in next month’s expansion draft. Malkin has a no-movement clause but he’d only waive it to go to Florida, where he and his family reside.
Kingerski also indicated the Penguins seek a veteran goaltender with playoff experience and could have an eye on Toronto’s Frederik Andersen.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins don’t seem to want to give up on Jarry. He could benefit from an experienced mentor to help him split the duties for the next year or two. Andersen’s critics will snort with laughter over the thought of him backing up Jarry but he does have a solid resume over most of his tenure in Toronto. He could also benefit from a lighter workload compared to what he endured with the Maple Leafs.
No surprise Malkin has no interest in waiving his NMC to go to Seattle. He’s made no secret of his desire to finish his career with the Penguins. While he might welcome a trade to the Florida Panthers, they have no reason to acquire him when they’re planning to pay captain Aleksander Barkov a lot of money to stay put.
The Canadiens widen their series lead over the Jets, the Golden Knights rally to get back into their series with the Avalanche, plus the latest on Mark Scheifele, Evgeni Malkin, Max Domi and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Carey Price turned in a 30-save shutout and Tyler Toffoli netted the only goal as the Montreal Canadiens blanked the Winnipeg Jets 1-0. The Canadiens hold a 2-0 lead in the series, which shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Sunday. The Jets were without Mark Scheifele (four-game suspension), Paul Stastny (undisclosed injury) and Dylan DeMelo (lower body).
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens were the better team in this game. They did an effective job shutting down the Jets’ offense. The Habs have now won five straight games stretching back to their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Vegas Golden Knights got third-period goals from Jonathan Marchessault and Max Pacioretty 45 seconds apart to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubauer kicked out 40 shots in a losing cause. The Avs hold a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 slated for Sunday in Denver.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights have outshot the Avalanche 84-45 over the last two games. Many of the Avs’ best players weren’t at their best in this contest. Grubauer’s been brilliant but he’s going to need more help from his teammates or this series will be tied on Sunday evening.
WINNIPEG SUN: Jets center Mark Scheifele said he was shocked by what he considered an excessive four-game suspension for his hit on Canadiens center Jake Evans in Game 1 on Wednesday. However, he won’t appeal the suspension. He also expressed his unhappiness over the hate his family received on social media following the incident. Evans, meanwhile, is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s one thing to criticize Scheifele for his hit on Evans. He brought that upon himself and must face the consequences for his actions. It’s another to drag his family into this. There’s no justification for that at all.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin underwent surgery on his right knee. He’s expected to be available for the start of Penguins training camp in mid-September.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Malkin suffered the initial injury in early March, missing 23 regular-season games. He reinjured his knee during the club’s final game of the regular season, missing two of their six playoff games against the New York Islanders.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets center Max Domi will be sidelined five-to-six months following surgery to repair a labral tear in his right shoulder.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That could explain the decline in Domi’s performance this season. He had just 24 points in 54 games this season with the Jackets.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury but hasn’t been ruled out for Game 4 against the New York Islanders tonight.
NHL.COM: San Jose Sharks winger Kurtis Gabriel, Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne and New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban are the finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
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.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Matt Vensel also wonders about the futures of Malkin and Letang, as well as that of head coach Mike Sullivan.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (NHL Images).
Based on comments earlier this season by Brian Burke, the Penguins president of hockey operations, Vensel speculates they could try to bolster their goaltending while also adding some size and toughness to the lineup. The shaky performance of Tristan Jarry could send the Penguins into this summer’s trade and free-agent markets in search of help between the pipes.
THE ATHLETIC: Sean Gentille believes Jarry’s goaltending cost the Penguins the series. He wonders if they’ll move around some money to pursue a free agent such as Detroit’s Jonathan Bernier or Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark or look to the trade market for help.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins don’t need to blow up the roster but changes are necessary after three consecutive early postseason exits. Burke and general manager Ron Hextall will likely retool rather than rebuild, bringing in younger players to support their aging stars.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosbyisn’t in favor of breaking up the core. His opinion could carry some weight with Burke and Hextall but the final decisions rest with those two.
Crosby isn’t going anywhere and Malkin won’t be traded unless he requests it. The Penguins could shop Letang but it wouldn’t be surprising if he returns. He also has a modified no-trade clause listing 18 preferred destinations. He also carries a $7.25 million cap hit next season.
Goaltending is their weakness. Jarry was supposed to be an improvement over the departed Matt Murray but he couldn’t handle the pressure as a starter. Finding a suitably experienced starter will be top of the list, followed by adding more size and toughness.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE PANTHERS?
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan speculates the Florida Panthers could lose a good roster player to the Kraken in the expansion draft. It could be a forward such as Patric Hornqvist or Mason Marchment, a blueliner like Gustav Forsling, Radko Gudas or Markus Nuutivaara, or pending UFA goaltender Chris Driedger.
SUN-SENTINEL.COM: Dave Hyde pondered what promising goalie Spencer Knight’s performance in the final two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning means for Sergei Bobrovsky’s future in Florida. He wondered if general manager Bill Zito will try to move Bobrovsky this summer if someone is willing to take on the veteran netminder’s hefty contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers drafting Knight in the 2019 draft and signing Bobrovsky days later was a topic of recent amusement for some folks on social media. They conveniently overlook the fact that it was former Panthers GM Dale Tallon who made those moves. Zito was left with a headache.
Bobrovksky’s inconsistent play since joining the Panthers, his full no-movement clause and $10 million annual cap hit through 2025-26 makes him difficult to move, especially with the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million next season. As per Cap Friendly, a buyout will be an expensive long-term headache.
MORE OILERS SPECULATION
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson doesn’t expect Oilers GM Ken Holland to go on a massive spending spree this summer to bolster his roster. While Holland will have $28 million in cap space, a portion will be spent on trying to re-sign pending UFAs Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie.
Matheson considers Larsson the cheapest and most likely to be re-signed. Nugent-Hopkins will be the most expensive while Barrie could be departing after a year in Edmonton because he’ll want a long-term deal.
Holland said he intends to bring back goaltender Mike Smith for another season. Matheson wonders if Mikko Koskinen will be traded, perhaps packaged with a draft pick or prospect to a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets for one of their young goalies.
Buyouts are also possible. Matheson believes James Neal to be the most likely candidate. Holland didn’t rule out trading a prospect such as Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg or Dylan Holloway for immediate help but he said he’s not doing that for a one-year player.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holland could try to convince Nugent-Hopkins to accept slightly less than his current $6 million annual average value. If RNH signs elsewhere, Holland will use the savings to bring in a replacement via trade or free agency.
I like Matheson’s suggestion of packaging Koskinen to the Blue Jackets for Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo. Koskinen’s 15-team no-trade list, however, could be a sticking point if he doesn’t want to go to Columbus. Even then, the Jackets could get better offers for one of those goalies.