Top 10 NHL Sophomores To Watch in 2021 Season
A look at TSN’s updated trade-bait board in today’s NHL rumor.
TSN: Frank Seravalli updated and expanded his trade-bait board. Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and Vegas Golden Knights’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury now sit in the top five.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli’s colleague Darren Dreger reports Ekman-Larsson is willing to waive his no-movement clause for the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks and Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong is talking with both clubs hoping to work out a deal. Dreger believes the Coyotes will either have to retain some of Ekman-Larsson’s $8.25-million annual average value or they’ll have to take back some contracts in return.
The Coyotes lack a first-round pick for this year and next year, but the Bruins and Canucks don’t have first-round picks in this year’s draft. The Province’s Patrick Johnston suggested Canucks GM Jim Benning offer up Loui Eriksson, who has two years left on his contract at $6 million AAV, as part of the return. Eriksson’s only being paid $5 million in actual salary over those two years. However, the Coyotes could be on his 15-team no-trade list.
Acquiring Ekman-Larsson would allow the Bruins to replace Torey Krug, who’s expected to depart via free agency next Friday. If the Coyotes aren’t willing to pick up part of his cap hit, the Bruins will have to give up something worthwhile while freeing up some additional cap space to absorb Ekman-Larsson’s contract.
Turning to Murray, Seravalli noted the Edmonton Oilers were linked to him. With free agency looming, he said many observers are wondering if they might set their sights on Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom.
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson, Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, the Ottawa Senators’ second-round picks, Canucks winger Jake Virtanen and Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask round out the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli said there were rumors the Oilers had an interest in DeBrusk but their cap constraints likely make him too expensive. He’s a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract. Maybe he becomes part of the Bruins’ package offer for Ekman-Larsson?
As for Rask, Seravalli cites multiple sources claiming Bruins GM Don Sweeney has been gauging the goalie’s value in the trade market. He’s got a year left on his contract ($7 million AAV) with a 15-team trade list. If he trades Rask, however, he’ll have to find a suitable replacement via trade or free agency. While both markets are flooded with goaltenders, that doesn’t mean Sweeney is guaranteed to land an upgrade over Rask.
Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn and Wild forward Ryan Donato come in at 11 to 15.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning must shed salary to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Gourde and Johnson have full no-trade clauses while Killorn has a 16-team no-trade list.
New York Rangers center Ryan Strome, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson, and Blue Jackets goalies Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo fill spots 16 to 20.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s speculation the Blues could attempt to trade Pietrangelo’s rights if the two sides fail to hammer out a new contract before the UFA market opens next Friday. The Jackets could be open to moving one of their goalies, either to free up cap room or perhaps in a package deal for a scoring forward.
Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper, Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad fill spots 21 to 24.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Kuemper trade chatter has cooled in recent days as the Coyotes shift their focus on trade Ekman-Larsson. It’s now believed they prefer to retain him. Hanifin recently surfaced in the rumor mill when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned his name came up during the Flames discussions with the New Jersey Devils last fall about Taylor Hall. Hanifin might not be available if the Flames let TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic depart next week as free agents.
Nashville Predators forwards Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Nick Bonino, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei, Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere complete spots 25 to 30.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli said the lack of quality centers in this year’s free-agent market has the Predators believed to be seeking opportunities to move one of theirs. I’m guessing GM David Poile would like to bring in a scoring winger in return or to free up the cap room to pursue one via free agency. Poile would love to move Kyle Turris but the four years remaining on his contract at $6 million per season makes that almost impossible.
I’m not convinced the Hurricanes are keen to move Skjei after acquiring him at the February trade deadline. Domi and Gostisbehere have been fixtures in the rumor mill for some time. Speaking of the Canadiens, Pierre LeBrun said they’re willing to move their first-round pick (16th overall) in this year’s draft for the right return. He indicated they’re in the market for a top-six forward.
New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri, Canadiens center Phillip Danault, New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk, Canucks center Brandon Sutter and Blues winger Jaden Schwartz are in spots 31 to 35.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’re reaching the spot in the list where there are players who could be traded, but various factors likely work against it. For example, I don’t believe the Canadiens intend to trade Danault. While centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi could become the Habs top-two centers next season, they’ll need Danault’s skill and experience in case one or both of those youngsters struggle or become sidelined. Maybe that move takes place at next season’s trade deadline. Not now.
Blues center Tyler Bozak, the Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault, Alec Martinez and Paul Stastny, and Coyotes winger Phil Kessel fill spots 36 to 40.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Marchessault, Martinez or Stastny could become a cap casualty if the Golden Knights need to shed salary to re-sign Lehner or pursue a big-ticket free agent like Pietrangelo. That’s assuming they can’t find any takers for Fleury.
Edmonton’s Kris Russell, Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck, Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour, the Rangers’ Tony DeAngelo, Edmonton Evan Bouchard, Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, San Jose’s Martin Jones, Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky round out the bottom ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli wonders if Bobrovsky’s contract is the NHL’s most unmovable. Bill Zito, the Panthers new GM, should become the front-runner for GM of the Year if he can trade that contract.
What next for the Flames, Capitals and Blue Jackets now that their postseason is over? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski wondered about the future of Johnny Gaudreau following yet another disappointing early playoff exit by the Calgary Flames. The 27-year-old winger’s been the subject of trade speculation throughout this season as he put up his lowest offensive output since his rookie season.
It’s been speculated Gaudreau, a New Jersey native, could be peddled to an East Coast team. There’s also a theory the Flames could trade away “Johnny Hockey” to make room for Arizona Coyotes winger (and Calgary native) Taylor Hall.
With notable coaches such as Bruce Boudreau, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Babcock available, Wyshynski pondered the future of Flames interim bench boss Geoff Ward. He also wondered which of their notable UFAs (goalie Cam Talbot, blueliners T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic) will be back.
CALGARY SUN: Kristen Anderson and Wes Gilbertson wondered if changes could be coming to the Flames’ core forwards like Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett. Gilbertson also mused over whether it’s time for general manager Brad Treliving to test Gaudreau’s trade value or make a change at center by trading Sean Monahan or dropping him to the second line.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think a shakeup is coming and it could be Gaudreau on the move. A year ago, I considered that unthinkable. Not now. He seemed off-kilter until midseason and wasn’t much of a force in this postseason. As Gilbertson pointed out, he didn’t have an even-strength goal during the series with the Stars.
Despite Gaudreau’s struggles this season, he’s the Flames’ best trade chip. They aren’t moving Monahan because first-line centers are difficult to find. Spark plug Matthew Tkachuk isn’t going anywhere. I expect they’ll hang onto Bennett. He’s a versatile checking-line forward who elevates his play in the postseason. Backlund could be shopped but won’t fetch as strong a return as Gaudreau.
Dump Gaudreau to sign Hall? Stranger things have happened but Hall did little to raise his UFA stock this season. Maybe he’d regain his 2018 Hart Trophy form in Calgary but he would be an expensive gamble.
ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan examined some possible off-season moves by the Washington Capitals. It appears long-time starting goaltender and pending UFA Braden Holtby has played his final game for the Caps. Their blueline could use some help but they have limited salary-cap space. Kaplan also wondered about the fate of head coach Todd Reirden.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Barry Svrluga wondered if the Capitals’ early playoff departure suggests a team in decline or perhaps the interruption of the season by COVID-19 skewed the results. He points out most of their core players are now in their thirties, took note of Holtby’s expected departure and wondered about Reirden’s fate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Replacing the coach is easier than replacing the roster, and there’s some justification for a change behind the Capitals bench after Reirden got schooled in the Isles series by former Washington coach Barry Trotz. The Caps remain a talented team but most of their stars don’t have many good years left.
Holtby’s departure is a foregone conclusion. His performance declined over the last couple of years. Ilya Samsonov had a promising debut season and will be their starter for the foreseeable future.
Cap Friendly indicates the Capitals have over $71.1 million invested in 16 players. There’s a chance they’ll re-sign Brenden Dillon but he could cost over $4 million annually. RFA Jonas Siegenthaler will get an affordable bridge deal coming off his entry-level deal. That won’t leave much to bolster their blueline depth.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Aaron Portzline reports of rumors Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen could be preparing for some big off-season moves to bolster his forward lines.
Portzline believes their priority should be adding a top-six center. He feels the Jackets’ GM could draw from his blue-line depth for trade bait, suggesting David Savard as a candidate. RFA winger Josh Anderson could be another. With Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins as bonafide starters, the Jackets could get calls from clubs seeking help in goal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kekalainen showed a willingness to make significant moves leading up to the 2019 trade deadline. With his club in dire need of scoring punch, I expect he’ll swing a trade or two to address that need. Several clubs with limited salary-cap space could be looking to shed a high-salaried talent for a more affordable option.
As per Cap Friendly, the Jackets have over $76 million invested in 23 players, with center Pierre-Luc Dubois due for a raise coming off his entry-level contract. He lacks arbitration rights so Kekalainen could ink him to an affordable short-term bridge deal with the promise of a more lucrative contract afterward.
If Kekalainen seeks impact forwards, he’ll have to move salaried players too. He could get $5.85-million in cap flexibility if sidelined forward Brandon Dubinsky starts the season on long-term injury reserve.
The Rangers win the 2020 draft lottery, the Panthers formally part company with Dale Tallon, the opening round of the 2020 playoffs begin today and more in the NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The New York Rangers won Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery yesterday, giving them the first-overall pick and the opportunity to select top prospect Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.
2020 NHL DRAFT ORDER
1. New York Rangers
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Minnesota Wild
10. Winnipeg Jets
11. Nashville Predators
12. Florida Panthers
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Hurricanes received the Leafs pick as part of the return in last June’s Patrick Marleau trade.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It was 24 hours of suck for the Maple Leafs. They would’ve kept that pick had they won the lottery.
As a result of the Penguins acquiring Jason Zucker in February from the Wild, Pens general manager Jim Rutherford has seven days to decide if he’ll send this year’s first-rounder to the Wild or defer the pick to 2021.
SUN-SENTINEL.COM: The Florida Panthers have parted ways with general manager Dale Tallon. He’d been with the club for 10 years, most of that period as GM. The club issued a statement indicating the decision was mutual. It’s believed they’ll look outside the organization for a replacement. Assistant GM Eric Joyce takes over on an interim basis.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers made little progress toward their goal of becoming a Stanley Cup contender during Tallon’s tenure. His replacement must build around the club’s core talent (Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad), addressing their weaknesses (such as their poor defensive play), and change the culture of losing that’s dogged this franchise for over two decades.
NHL.COM: The opening round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs begins today with four games. The Columbus Blue Jackets face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning (3 pm ET), the Calgary Flames meet the Dallas Stars (5:30 pm ET), the Carolina Hurricanes square off against the Boston Bruins (8 pm ET), and the Chicago Blackhawks go up against the Vegas Golden Knights (10:30 pm ET).
SPORTSNET: Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is sidelined indefinitely. As per league protocols, no information was revealed regarding his condition.
CBS SPORTS: Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek (undisclosed) will be a game-day decision when his club faces off with the Canadiens in Game 1 of their opening-round series on Wednesday.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues winger Sammy Blais could miss the start of his club’s opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. He suffered an apparent leg injury during Sunday’s round-robin loss to the Dallas Stars.
TSN: The NHL reported no positive COVID-19 tests in its first two weeks in their secure zones in Edmonton and Toronto.
NHL.COM: The Hockey Hall of Fame has postponed its Induction Weekend ceremonies (Nov. 13-16) because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rescheduling plans will be made during the board of directors meeting on Oct. 29.
TSN: Long-time NHL insider Bob McKenzie is scaling back his schedule in what he deemed a “soft retirement”. He’ll still appear in special events like the World Juniors and the NHL Trade Deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: McKenzie is the best-connected man in hockey and the most trusted insider. Best wishes in his future endeavors.
LATEST ON THE POSSIBLE RESUMPTION OF 2019-20 NHL SEASON
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the NHL is looking at a series of phases toward re-starting the 2019-20 season. It’s currently been in Phase 1 (lockdown, quarantine, self-isolation) since mid-March. The league is optimistic about moving into Phase 2, which would see players from around the world returning to their NHL clubs and getting into a two-week quarantine period of small-group training.
Darren Dreger suggests the Phase 2 period would ideally be around May 15. He said the league and the NHL Players’ Association are discussing restart strategies, but some teams aren’t optimistic about whether it’s safe enough to return anytime soon.
Pierre LeBrun reports the league is vetting 12 NHL cities for those four divisional hosts. He cites colleague Frank Seravalli indicating Toronto, Edmonton, Dallas, and Pittsburgh were under consideration. LeBrun also mentioned Minnesota (Minneapolis-St. Paul), and Columbus.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports at least one NHL team told its players to be prepared to report on May 15 to begin informal workouts before a training camp of up to three weeks. Not every NHL club, however, is acting in a similar matter. He added Columbus is the favorite to host Metropolitan Division games.
Brooks also said there has yet to be in-depth conversations between the league and the NHLPA regarding health protocols to protect the players from COVID-19. It’s unknown if players returning from Europe would need to be quarantined for two weeks before rejoining their clubs.
WINNIPEG SUN: Paul Friesen reports Winnipeg has been removed from that list of potential locations, citing various infrastructure issues such as suitable hotel accommodation to house all those players.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A growing sense of cautious optimism has been evident this week among NHL officials over a possible resumption of the season. However, they’ve also repeatedly stressed it would depend upon ensuring the health and safety of its players and those involved in staging those games. They’re hopeful, but they’re also not going to rush things. Like provinces and states that are starting to ease back restrictions, the league will do this step by cautious step.
2020 NHL DRAFT UPDATE
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the NHL head office is keen to stage the 2020 NHL Draft in early June, well before the proposed resumption of the schedule. Pierre LeBrun said there’s been considerable pushback from NHL general managers. They’re concerned about determining the draft order, as well as the ability to make normal trades.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Ottawa Sun that a June draft would likely use a points percentage system to determine the draft selection order. Based on the reports from McKenzie and LeBrun, however, most of the general managers are against the notion of staging the draft before the start of the season. Several teams also made deals during this season involving conditional picks to be determined by playoff performance or a player re-signing with his new club. Sorting that out could create more headaches for the league.
IN OTHER NEWS…
THE SCORE: The Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed Elvis Merzlikins to a two-year, $8-million contract extension. The 26-year-old goaltender was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Merzlikins’ new deal came within a week of the Jackets re-signing Joonas Korpisalo to a two-year, $5.6-million deal. They now have over $75 million invested in 19 players for 2020-21, with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson still to re-sign.
Some are wondering why general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is re-signing players when next season’s salary cap has yet to be determined. Same goes for St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong. It’s been suggested their recent moves indicate the salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for next season.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Alex Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky played to a tie in their NHL 20 matchup, raising over $41K for coronavirus relief.
STAR-TRIBUNE.COM: Former NHL player and 1980 Team USA alum Mark Pavelich is no longer resisting mental health treatment. He’s making progress toward a newly scheduled hearing to determine his fitness to stand trial for assaulting a neighbor last year.