NHL Most Important Players: Tampa Bay Lightning
Patrick Maroon signs with the Lightning, plus updates on Taylor Hall, Bruce Boudreau, and Lars Eller in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TAMPA BAY TIMES/STLTODAY.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning signed former St. Louis Blues winger Patrick Maroon to a one-year, $900K contract. Maroon, 31, joined the Blues last summer on a one-year contract, helping his hometown club win its first Stanley Cup.
“He brings size and physicality to our group as well as significant playoff experience,” Lightning vice president and general manager Julien BriseBois said. “We expect Pat to be a great addition to the roster.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was speculation earlier this summer suggesting it could cost over $2 million annually on a two-year deal to sign Maroon. The Lightning got him for considerably less. With no state tax in Florida, that $900K will go further for Maroon than it would’ve in St. Louis.
Maroon also joins a Cup contender in the Lightning. Despite their early playoff exit following a dominant performance last season, the Bolts lead the pack for this season’s Cup favorites. Maroon’s size and experience could help them win the big mug next spring.
THE SCORE: New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall expects to be fully recovered from last February’s arthroscopic knee surgery when training camp opens next month.
“I haven’t had any issues with the knee so far since I’ve been skating, and it’s been a really good process, so hopefully that can continue into (training) camp,” said Hall. He only skated in 33 games last season after winning the Hart Trophy in 2017-18.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A healthy Hall will be crucial to the Devils’ playoff hopes this season. If he returns to form and new additions P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and Jack Hughes also play well, the Devils could be a serious playoff contender.
NHL.COM: Don’t expect Bill Guerin, the Minnesota Wild’s new general manager, to make a coaching change before the upcoming season. Guerin said he has “full confidence” in current Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“I talked to (coach) Bruce (Boudreau) for a while (Thursday) morning, and he’s got training camp under control, so next week we’re just going to dive in and just go over and see what everybody’s got,” said Guerin. He claimed he and Boudreau had a “great conversation”, assuring the Wild bench boss that he was behind him 100 percent.
NBC SPORTS: Despite aggravating a lower-body injury at this spring’s World Championships, Washington Capitals center Lars Eller claims he’s good to go for training camp next month. “I’m over that,” Eller told NBC Sports Washington. “Taken good care of that and it’s not an issue right now.”
Constructing the best lineup with the remaining UFAs plus the latest Rasmus Ristolainen and Derek Stepan speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton recently listed the top remaining unrestricted free agents and attempted to compile the best “All-UFA” lineup. Joe Thornton, the best available center, is expected to return for another season with the San Jose Sharks. Clinton also considered Brian Boyle and Derick Brassard as a toss-up for second-best. Soon after this article appeared, Brassard signed with the New York Islanders.
Left-wing options are a toss-up between Patrick Marleau and Thomas Vanek. Justin Williams, the top right wing, is expected to return to the Carolina Hurricanes. Clinton considered it odd that right wing Patrick Maroon remains unsigned. He speculates Maroon is working toward returning to the St. Louis Blues or waiting to see where the best fit could be elsewhere.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner remains the top blueliner. His future somehow seems tied to the Leafs efforts to re-sign winger Mitch Marner. Clinton considers Ben Hutton the second-best rearguard. As for goaltenders, he wonders if we’ve seen the last of Scott Darling. Chad Johnson would be the next best option.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thornton’s returning to the Sharks. If Williams doesn’t retire, the Hurricanes are believed the only club he’ll skate with.
Gardiner’s situation got a little more intriguing this week when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said the Arizona Coyotes are thought to be interested in the former Leaf. He also wondered if the Buffalo Sabres would come calling if they trade Rasmus Ristolainen. And speaking of Ristolainen…
UPDATE ON RISTOLAINEN
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Mike Harrington recently reported there’s doesn’t appear to be a large trade market for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. General manager Jason Botterill and head coach Ralph Kruger aren’t completely against the idea of the 24-year-old blueliner returning to the lineup this season.
Harrington feels the Winnipeg Jets need help on their blueline and could be a good destination for Ristolainen. However, the Jets can’t do anything until they get restricted free agents Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor under contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres loading up on the right side of their blueline this summer seemingly sets the stage for trading Ristolainen. The Jets could certainly use someone like him but the Sabres could seek a top-six forward (preferably a right winger) in return.
The notion of swapping Ristolainen for Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers has been bandied out. However, Ehlers skates on the left side and has earned a reputation as a playoff underachiever.
LATEST ON STEPAN
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Craig Morgan was asked if he sees the Arizona Coyotes signing center Derek Stepan after this season. Stepan is signed through 2020-21 and Morgan doesn’t expect the Coyotes will do anything about his contract after this season.
What happens to Stepan long-term depends upon the development of players like Barrett Hayton, Nick Schmaltz, and Christian Dvorak and whether he can regain his previous 50-plus point form. Morgan doubts the Coyotes shop the veteran center if they’re in the playoff chase this season. If not, they could consider it, but must also keep in mind the contracts of centers Brad Richardson and Carl Soderberg expire next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Alate-season leg injury could account for the decline in Stepan’s production in 2018-19. He was still the Coyotes best all-around forward.
Maybe the toll of his two-way style is starting to catch up with him but his numbers could rebound if he’s got some decent wingers. Another missed postseason, however, could force Coyotes management to consider moving Stepan while his value remains high and he still has some time left on his contract.
The latest on Taylor Hall and Jake Gardiner in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WILL HALL STAY WITH THE DEVILS?
NBC SPORTS: Scott Billeck wonders if the New Jersey Devils’ busy off-season will entice Taylor Hall to stay beyond this season. The 27-year-old left wing is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Billeck cited a June report by The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta suggesting Hall had no interest in re-signing with the Devils.
Since then, the Devils selected promising center Jack Hughes with the first-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, traded for superstar defenseman P.K. Subban, signed winger Wayne Simmonds, and dealt for promising forward Nikita Gusev. It remains to be seen, however, if those moves convince Hall to stay.
Billeck also suggested general manager Ray Shero might not be done tinkering. The Devils have roughly $8 million in salary-cap space. Billeck mused over the possibility of signing a UFA such as Pat Maroon or Ben Hutton.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: If Hall decides to test the market next summer, Kurt Leavins pondered the possibility of a return to the Edmonton Oilers. He points out the people who traded him to New Jersey are gone now.
Leavins said Hall always like playing in Edmonton and has heard the sting from the trade is largely behind him. There’s also the allure of playing alongside Connor McDavid. However, the Oilers would have to shed a significant salary to make the dollars fit.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hall’s impending UFA status will hang over him and the Devils throughout this season. The longer he goes unsigned, the more speculation will grow over where he could end up by next July. A healthy season could lead to another MVP-worthy performance, making him perhaps the biggest name in next summer’s free-agent market.
Hall and Shero are playing things cool regarding contract talks. Both sides insist there’s plenty of time to reach a decision. Nevertheless, another poor performance by the Devils could push him into the UFA market. Even if they significantly improve, there’s no guarantee he’ll stay put. The opportunity to earn big bucks and perhaps play for a Cup contender could prove tempting.
As for a Hall reunion with the Oilers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Sure, it’s possible, but Cap Friendly indicates the Oilers have over $57 million invested in just 10 players for 2020-21. That won’t be enough to sign Hall to a deal worth over $10 million annually. While Hall may have enjoyed playing in Edmonton, I think he’ll look elsewhere if he tests the market.
UPDATE ON JAKE GARDINER
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons reports former Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner declines to comment about his current status.
“Whatever is happening with the undeclared free agent Jake Gardiner, he’s not saying. He’s not commenting. He won’t even take a question. He did, however, ask how my summer was going when we spoke. So there is that.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gardiner’s ongoing availability in the UFA market sparked speculation he’s got a “handshake agreement” with a club before training camps open in mid-September. Some believe he’s hoping to return to the Leafs once they get Mitch Marner under contract.
That seems like a long shot, though Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has proven capable this summer of freeing up sufficient cap space to address his roster’s needs. Regardless, I expect Gardiner will be under contract with an NHL club before training camp ends.
Rasmus Ristolainen implies a trade request, plus the latest on the Blues and Coyotes in today’s NHL rumor mill.
DOES RISTOLAINEN WANT OUT OF BUFFALO?
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Lance Lysowski cites a recent report from Finland’s MTV Sports indicating Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen implied he’s requested a trade. “I cannot say anything other than the fact that on the 12th of September, I will be at one of the NHL team’s training camps,” he said. The blueliner added he wants to keep his discussions with Sabres management private.
“I haven’t been able to help the team win,” he told MTV Sports, according to the translation. “Recent seasons have been tough and I haven’t been able to enjoy hockey.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ristolainen’s been the subject of frequent media trade chatter since April. The Sabres’ recent additions of right-side defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju stoked the speculation.
The Score’s Sean O’Leary reminds us Ristolainen “reportedly drew interest in trade talks after the Winnipeg Jets dealt Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in June.” The blueliner’s recent comments ensure he remains a fixture in the rumor mill leading up to the start of training camp next month.
LATEST BLUES SPECULATION
STLTODAY.COM: In a recent live chat with his readers, Tom Timmermann addressed some questions regarding several Blues players. He believes restricted free agent Ivan Barbashev could be seeking a deal similar to Oskar Sundqvist’s four-year ($2.75-million AAV) contract. He doesn’t expect Joel Edmundson to be traded, citing Jay Bouwmeester’s potential retirement at the end of this season and Carl Gunnarsson’s injury history.
Timmermann feels roster space is as much a factor regarding bringing back Pat Maroon as salary-cap space. He doubts the Blues will consider trading Alex Steen in a cost-cutting move as they still value his contributions. If Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen play well this season, the latter’s trade value could improve.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Don’t expect any big shake-ups by the Blues this season. Coming off a Stanley Cup championship, management will try to keep the roster intact as much as possible. Maroon could be the exception, depending on whether they feel his spot on the roster can be filled by a younger, cheaper player.
FIVE UFAS WHO COULD HELP THE COYOTES
AZCENTRAL.COM: Winger Justin Williams and center Brian Boyle are among five players Richard Morin believes could help the Arizona Coyotes if the price is right. Riley Sheahan, Alex Petrovic, and Magnus Paajarvi round out his list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Williams is expected to return with the Carolina Hurricanes for one more season or retire. Boyle, 34, could bring some invaluable experience and leadership to the young Coyotes. Sheahan, Petrovic, and Paajarvi would be younger (late-twenties) and more affordable options.
Update on the best available unrestricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE SCORE: recently updated their list of the top available NHL unrestricted free agents by position.
Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau, and Pat Maroon top their list of left-wingers. Joe Thornton, Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Riley Sheahan are their notable centers. The noteworthy right-wingers include Justin Williams and Jason Pominville.
Jake Gardiner, Niklas Kronwall, Ben Hutton, and Dion Phaneuf remain among the available defensemen while Cam Ward is the noteworthy goaltender.
NHL.COM: lists Williams, Marleau, and Thornton as the best available forwards, Gardiner, Hutton, Kronwall, and Phaneuf as the top defensemen, and Ward the best available goaltender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nothing’s changed with this listing since late July. Kevin Shattenkirk was briefly on this list following his buyout by the New York Rangers but was quickly signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Gardiner is still the best player on the open market. There’s some speculation suggesting he could return to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some think he’s got a “handshake agreement” with a team that’s waiting to clear sufficient salary-cap to fit him in. Considering how slow things are right now, we probably won’t find out where Gardiner lands until training camps open next month.
The Hurricanes are still awaiting word whether Williams intends to return for another season or retire. He’s not expected to consider playing with another NHL club this season.
It’s assumed Thornton and Marleau will sign with the San Jose Sharks. With over $4.6 million in salary-cap space and all their other roster players under contract, the Sharks can afford to sign the duo to affordable one-year, bonus-laden contracts.
There’s talk the Edmonton Oilers could have interest in Brassard as a checking-line center. It’s rumored his representatives seek $4-million per season. At this stage, he’ll be lucky to get half that salary on a one-year deal.
Maroon recently said he hasn’t ruled out a return with the St. Louis Blues. Earlier this summer, it was reported he sought a two-year deal but the Blues are only interested in offering a one-year contract.
The Detroit Red Wings are reportedly willing to bring back Kronwall for one more season. That’ll depend upon whether the oft-injured blueliner feels he’s healthy enough for one last NHL campaign.
Some of the players on this list could end up accepting professional tryout offers when training camps open. We’ve already seen a trickle of those signings coming in. The most notable include the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Philadelphia Flyers Michal Neuvirth and Matt Read to PTOs.