Check out the latest Sabres speculation and updates on Torey Krug in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR THE SABRES
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox has some questions for the Buffalo Sabres in the wake of their mass firings among their management, scouting, and minor-league coaching departments last week.
Noting former Sabres general manager Jason Botterill considered Rasmus Ristolainen a core player, he wonders if Kevyn Adams (Botterill’s replacement) feels the same.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ristolainen recently suggested he could be among the first players moved if then-GM Botterill opted to shake up the roster. However, he also indicated he enjoyed playing for head coach Ralph Krueger, whose opinion could determine whether Ristolainen has a future in Buffalo.
He’s also curious how Adams will handle the different negotiations for restricted free agents Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson, and how much patience there is for Casey Mittelstadt or Dylan Cozens to develop into a second-line NHL center.
Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel (Photo via NHL Images).
Reinhart and Olofsson both have arbitration rights. The former, however, has several NHL seasons under his belt while the latter completed his rookie campaign. Reinhart could get a lucrative long-term deal while Olofsson could get a one- or two-year “show me” bridge contract.
Lastly, Fox wonders where captain Jack Eichel‘s “fed-up rating” will be a year from now.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Another lost season will certainly generate speculation over Eichel’s future in Buffalo. And speaking of the Sabres franchise player…
THE ATHLETIC: Eric Stephens and Lisa Dillman acknowledged there’s no indication Eichel wants out of Buffalo. If he ever does, however, they examined what it would cost the Anaheim Ducks to pursue him.
Finding a way to absorb Eichel’s $10 million annual average value would be difficult. It could also cost the Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm, a top prospect like Trevor Zengras, and the Ducks 2021 first-round pick as part of a potential five-piece package.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If COVID-19 ends up scuttling the league’s return-to-play plan, we could see a lot of Eichel trade scenarios floated by bored pundits over a long off-season. If the day should come within the next couple of years when Eichel decides he wants a trade, I think we can all agree the asking price will be massive.
UPDATE ON KRUG
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty reports there’s some real uncertainty over whether Torey Krug will remain with the Bruins following this season. The 29-year-old defenseman is an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. Uncertainty over the salary cap for next season and the need to re-sign other Bruins such as Zdeno Chara and Jake DeBrusk could complicate efforts to keep him in Boston. Haggerty believes Krug could command around $8 million annually on the open market.
DJ Bean acknowledged Krug would have to take a discount to stay in Boston. Nevertheless, he explored ways the Bruins could free up further cap room to re-sign Krug, suggesting trading defenseman John Moore ($1.8 million) or forward Nick Ritchie ($1.5 million).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bruins, like most NHL clubs right now, won’t re-sign key players until they know what next season’s salary cap will be. There’s talk it will remain at $81.5 million, but that’s not a certainty.
Krug could command big bucks on the open market, but a flat cap could mean fewer teams bidding for his services in the off-season. That could work in the Bruins’ favor.
What next for the Sabres after their management purge? What are the Capitals’ off-season trade targets? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
BIG DECISIONS FACE THE SABRES’ NEW GM
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin wonders if the Buffalo Sabres replacing Jason Botterill as general manager with Kevyn Adams will be enough to fix the struggling club.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (Photo via NHL Images).
He feels Adams will have “lots of runway” to re-sign key restricted free agents Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, and Linus Ullmark. He’ll also have plenty of time to fill out the roster for next season. The Sabres currently have 10 players (four forwards, five defensemen, and a goalie) under contract for 2020-21.
Adams could dramatically reshape the Sabres for next season. Larkin, however, wonders how much agency he’ll have to do so.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien also weighed in on the key decisions facing Adams. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen could be their most notable trade candidate. He’s frequently come up in trade rumors for some time, leading O’Brien to wonder if Botterill sought too much for the blueliner or was his market value really that cold. He suggests the Sabres might be better off cutting their losses with Ristolainen even at a discount rate.
O’Brien also wondered if Adams will stick with the goalie tandem of Ullmark and Carter Hutton or plunge into a pretty promising UFA market. He could then attempt to trade Hutton or send him to the minors.
The Sabres have lots of salary-cap room next season. Adams could attempt to go big in the UFA market by targeting St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo or Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall. However, O’Brien notes the Sabres have been burned before with expensive UFA signings. He also suggested perhaps targeting a cap-strapped team, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the trade market.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Pegulas apparently slashed their management and scouting staffs in part to cut costs. Perhaps that mindset also extends to next season’s salary-cap payroll.
Cap Friendly indicates they have over $47 million invested in next season’s roster. That will obviously rise as they re-sign RFAs like Reinhart, Olofsson, and Ullmark, and perhaps Brandon Montour or a UFA like Wayne Simmonds. Nevertheless, they must still spend to get over the $60 million cap floor and ice a competitive roster.
Adams could surprise us by chasing one or two big-name UFAs, but I think he’ll make modest dips into that pool. I can see him trying to pry away a decent player or two from clubs looking to shed salary. Perhaps he dangles Ristolainen to a team that’s deep in scoring forwards but in need of blueline depth.
CAPITALS OFF-SEASON NEEDS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Tarik El-Bashir was asked about any possible off-season trade candidates or targets for the Washington Capitals.
El-Bashir said he doesn’t get the sense that Capitals management is eager to move anyone under contract for next season. As for possible options to address next season, he believes they’ll need a veteran top-four defenseman and doesn’t rule out re-signing Brenden Dillon. They’ll also need a third-line left wing to replace Ilya Kovalchuk and a proven goalie to back up Ilya Samsonov.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are several quality backups potentially available in this summer’s free-agent market. The notables include Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss, and Cam Talbot.
Discussions continue over a 24-team tournament format, several cities pushing to become playoff hubs, Canada-USA border closure an issue, and much more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
24-TEAM PLAYOFF FORMAT
TSN: Darren Dreger reports there is concern within the NHL and the NHL Players Association return-to-play committee over the fairness of returning with a 24-team tournament that would determine a 16-team post-season. Under that format, the Montreal Canadiens (a non-playoff team under normal standards) would face a good playoff club like the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Should they be at an equal position starting at the play-in of the 24-team format?”, asked Dreger, adding this must be resolved before the two sides sign off on this scenario.
Pierre LeBrun reported constant dialogue among the return-to-play committee since Saturday. “The hope is for resolution over the next 7-10 days but no guarantee,” said LeBrun.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports multiple sources are claiming the remarkable reputation of Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price among his peers raised concern over the unfairness of facing him in a best-of-three series. He claims there’s growing support for a best-of-five opening-round would temper the impact of a hot goalie in a short series.
Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price (Photo via NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some fans and pundits consider Price past his prime, but the Canadiens goaltender remains highly respected among his peers. He’s probably not the only reason players and general managers aren’t keen for a best-of-three opening-round format, but he’s a good example of the concerns raised about the fairness of the 24-team tournament.
NATIONAL POST: Michael Traikos wonders if a 24-team playoff format could become the norm following this season. Expanding the postseason would generate more money for the owners, especially since revenue could be lower next season because of the pandemic.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expanding the playoff format was being bandied about by several pundits before the pandemic. If the proposed 24-team tournament proves popular with fans this summer, the league could consider implementing that format permanently.
CANADA-USA BORDER CLOSURE AND NHL NEUTRAL-SITE HUB CITIES.
THE SCORE: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly remains optimistic about the league’s plans to resume play despite the recent 30-day extension of the border closure between Canada and the United States to non-essential travel. “I remain hopeful that today’s announcement will not materially impact our return to play planning,” said Daly. Non-essential travel is considered tourism, recreation, and entertainment.
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the league and the PA aren’t concerned about the border closure extension. They don’t anticipate playing games until mid-to-late July at the earliest. The league’s Phase 2 plan involves players participating in small group workouts on a voluntary basis.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Because the NHL is considered a business, I daresay they’ll receive an exemption from the Canadian government.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Alberta premier Jason Kenney believes Edmonton would be the safest place on the continent for the NHL to play. He points to the low number of COVID-19 cases in the city and the province, as well as the highest per-capita testing in North America. Kenney also touted the Oilers’ state-of-the-art arena and the local facilities to accommodate the players. “All of the services are right there to be safely integrated in a protected zone that would keep the players and staff insulated. So I think we have a very strong pitch to make.”
NBC SPORTS: California governor Gavin Newsom said pro sports could return in his state by the first week of June without fans.
STARTRIBUNE.COM: The Minnesota Wild are interested in St. Paul becoming a host city when the league returns to action.
THE TENNESSEAN: The city of Nashville would also like to become a neutral-site host for NHL games this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several factors will go into determining which cities the NHL selects as neutral-site hosts. Ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved will be the priority.
MORE NHL-NHLPA HEADLINES
THE DENVER POST: Tampa Bay Lightning analyst Brian Engblom wonders what will happen if one of the players isn’t comfortable with returning to action and stays home.
“What if it’s a key guy? People are afraid and they have every right to be. If you have one player, and maybe he’s a real key player. What do you do? It’s a free country. That person is allowed to say no. These are unprecedented times. How can you make them do anything? What’s a team going to do? Are they going to fine them? You can’t, in my opinion. This is a person’s choice because of an unreal situation.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s a fair point by Engblom. In all the reports about hammering out a return-to-play format, no one has raised what will happen if a player, especially a superstar, decides he doesn’t want to risk contracting COVID-19 and refuses to report. The players are under contract, but these are extraordinary times. If one star refuses to participate, others could follow his example, creating a potential marketing headache for the league and a contractual standoff between the players and their teams.
TSN: The NHLPA’s 31 player representatives agreed to further defer a decision on their Apr. 15 paychecks until the end of May.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports the league and the PA have discussed the possibility of extending the current collective bargaining agreement beyond 2021-22. The main issue could be a cap on escrow payments. Brooks said the players “are currently responsible for making up the 2019-20 carryover escrow next year. The players would obviously prefer to extend the payment over multiple seasons.” The anticipated escrow cap offer would be higher than 25 percent.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the current relationship between the league and the PA is the best he’s seen in his career. Much of that harmony involves the return-to-play committee, which includes Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, and special assistant Mathieu Schneider, as well as notable players such as Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and Mark Scheifele.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s why we’re hearing so much hopeful speculation suggesting a new era of NHL labor peace could emerge from this current situation. Nevertheless, the escrow cap issue could be the major sticking point. Resolving that will smooth a pathway toward a CBA extension.
THE SCORE: The NHL is unhappy over teams signing players to entry-level contracts with “to be determined” start dates. The league made a rule when this season was paused that such contracts couldn’t have a 2019-20 start date, but some clubs hoped to use “TBD” as a potential loophole. The league isn’t allowing contracts with undetermined start dates to be submitted to Central Registry.
OTTAWA SUN: NHL players in the Ottawa area will be allowed to skate at the privately-owned Minto Arena after receiving approval from the Ontario government. Strict conditions will be in place, such as only five players on the ice at a time and maintaining physical distancing in the building at all times.
IN OTHER NEWS…
NORTHJERSEY.COM: Goaltender Cory Schneider said he hasn’t given any thought to retirement and intends to complete his contract with the Devils. He split his time this season between the Devils and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators winger Mikkel Boedker signed a two-year contract with Lugano of the Swiss league starting next season.
WGR550: The Buffalo Sabres are reportedly close to signing Jesper Olofsson, brother of Sabres winger Victor Olofsson.
NEWSOBSERVER.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes are close to extending their deal with PNC Arena to 2029.
Leon Draisaitl tallies four goals against the Predators, the three stars of the week, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Leon Draisaitl tallied four goals and Connor McDavid had four assists as the Edmonton Oilers thumped the Nashville Predators 8-3. The Oilers broke a 3-3 tie with five unanswered third-period goals. With 78 points, the Oilers moved within two points of the first-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division. The Predators (72 points) cling to the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Draisaitl (107 points) holds a big lead in the NHL scoring race. He also moved into fourth place (43 goals) in the goal-scoring race.
Leon Draisaitl had a five-point game in the Edmonton Oilers’ 8-3 win over the Nashville Predators (Photo via NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barring injury or a significant scoring drought, Draisaitl has the Art Ross Trophy locked up for this season. He’s also put himself into the running for the Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and should be a serious contender for the Hart Trophy as MVP.
The Colorado Avalanche (87 points) edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 to move within one point of the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues. Michael Hutchinson made 17 saves in his debut with the Avs. Colorado rookie defenseman Cale Makar missed the game with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. The Wings, meanwhile, played without winger Adam Erne, who could miss the remainder of the season with a broken hand.
Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, and Colorado Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz were the NHL’s three stars for the week ending March 1.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson underwent shoulder surgery on Monday and will need four-to-six months to recover.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was considerable interest in Anderson leading up to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, but uncertainty over the status of his injury likely scared off potential suitors. His status as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’s also a year away from unrestricted free agent status could make him a fixture in this summer’s rumor mill.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: The San Jose Sharks indicated defenseman Jacob Middleton is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. They’re also believed to have agreed to a four-year, $8-million contract extension with blueline Radim Simek, though this hasn’t been confirmed by general manager Doug Wilson.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Sidelined Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino are close to returning to the lineup. Both are game-day decision’s for tonight’s contest against the Ottawa Senators.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: And not a moment too soon for the struggling Penguins, who’ve dropped six straight games.
TORONTO SUN: Sidelined Maple Leafs blueliners Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci have returned to practice and could rejoin the lineup sometime next week.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey is expected to return to action tonight against the Buffalo Sabres after being sidelined for four games with an upper-body injuy. Winger Patrik Laine (left foot injury) could also return tonight.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg is returning to Sweden for family reasons. The club hopes to provide a further update shortly.
SPORTSNET: The NHL has no plans to make any changes to its emergency backup goalie rule.
Leon Draisaitl reaches 100 points, David Pastrnak gets closer to 50 goals, Steven Stamkos sidelined six-to-eight weeks, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Leon Draisaitl became the first player this season to reach 100 points as the Edmonton Oilers downed the Winnipeg Jets 3-2. Draisaitl led the way with two goals and an assist, giving him a league-leading 102 points. The Oilers (76 points) move into sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division, while the Jets (72 points) remain just outside the Western Conference wild-card picture.
Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl reached 100 points for the second straight season (Photo via NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barring injury or a slump, Draisaitl is well on his way to winning the Art Ross Trophy and should be considered a serious contender for the Hart Memorial Trophy. He stepped up his game during captain Connor McDavid’s recent absence due to injury.
David Pastrnak tallied his 47th goal and Tuukka Rask turned in a 25-save shutout as the Boston Bruins down the New York Islanders 4-0. Charlie McAvoy had a three-point performance for the Bruins (94 points), who hold a seven-point lead atop the Eastern Conference and overall standings. Before the game, the Islanders honored Butch Goring by retiring his No. 91. Isles winger Cal Clutterbuck returned to action for the first time since suffering an injured wrist on Dec. 19.
After taking a 3-0 lead, the Tampa Bay Lightning held on for a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Earlier in the day, the Lightning learned captain Steven Stamkos will be sidelined six-to-eight weeks as he undergoes surgery on Monday to repair a core muscle injury. With 87 points, they sit second to the Bruins in the Eastern Conference standings. The Flames, meanwhile, hold the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 73 points.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stamkos could return in time for the opening round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Ryan O’Reilly’s shootout goal gave the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force the overtime and shootout frames. It was the Blues’ seventh straight win, giving them 88 points and a three-point lead over the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Western Conference. The Stars (81 points) slip four behind the second-place Avs in the Central Division.
The Avalanche picked up their eighth straight road win and sixth consecutive victory by beating the Nashville Predators 3-2. Pavel Francouz made 30 saves for the win. The Avs (85 points) sit three behind the first-place Blues in the Central Division, while the Predators (72 points) hold the final Western Conference wild-card berth with three games in hand over the Winnipeg Jets.
Martin Jones made 30 saves as the San Jose Sharks blanked the slumping Pittsburgh Penguins 5-0. The Penguins (80 points) are third in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ve dropped six straight games.
Martin Marincin’s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner as the Toronto Maple Leafs doubled up the Vancouver Canucks 4-2. Auston Matthews tallied his 45th goal of the season for the Leafs (78 points), who’ve won three straight and hold a five-point lead over the fading Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Canucks (74 points) remain in third place in the Pacific Division.
The Panthers, meanwhile, suffered their sixth straight defeat by dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist in regulation and scored one of the Hawks’ two shootout goals. Mike Hoffman also had a goal and an assist for the Panthers (73 points), who sit five back of the Maple Leafs. Earlier in the day, the Blackhawks announced Andrew Shaw (concussion) and Zack Smith (hand injury) are done for the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Those moves the Panthers made at the trade deadline have done nothing thus far to improve their performance. If they don’t snap out of their funk soon, they can forget about reaching the playoffs, and general manager Dale Tallon could start worrying about his job security.
The Montreal Canadiens blew a 3-0 lead to the Carolina Hurricanes but won the game 4-3 on an overtime goal by Jeff Petry. With 75 points, the Hurricanes are one point behind the idle Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern wild-card spot.
Clayton Keller tallied twice and collected an assist to lead the Arizona Coyotes to 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Coyotes (72 points) are sitting just outside the Western Conference wild-card spots. Sabres rookie Victor Olofsson left the game with an injured right leg.
Artem Anisimov scored two goals and the winner in a shootout as the Ottawa Senators nipped the Detroit Red Wings 4-3, handing the latter their fifth straight loss.
Adrian Kempe scored in overtime as the Los Angeles Kings edged the New Jersey Devils 2-1.
CBS SPORTS: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins was diagnosed with a concussion, but isn’t expected to be out of the lineup for long. Defenseman Ryan Murray will return to action today against the Canucks. He’s been sidelined by a back injury since Dec. 14.