Top Players Still Available in the 2019 NHL UFA Market
The latest on Mikko Rantanen plus an update on the Flames in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT’S UP WITH RANTANEN’S CONTRACT TALKS?
TSN: cited Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic recently telling NHL.com he’d prefer re-signing Mikko Rantanen to a long-term contract. Sakic is also willing to accept a short-term deal. He wants to get the restricted free agent winger re-signed before training camp opens next month.
“There’s a lot of players (in the NHL) in that same situation, a lot of great hockey players that are coming up,” said Sakic. “We’ll just see how all the players and agents handle that. There are comparable numbers that are starting to come in. We’re open to different possibilities.”
COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: (Stick tap to Shawn Lamba) Adrian Dater cites sources “close to the situations” claiming there’s been no contact between Sakic and Rantanen’s agent, Mike Liut, since the NHL Draft in June. He also said the Avalanche haven’t made an offer yet.
Dater dismissed the notion of a rival club signing the 21-year-old winger to an offer sheet, citing the Avs’ $16.5 million in salary-cap space. He believes Rantanen will “almost certainly” command at least $8.5 million per season on his next contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No contract talks between Sakic and the Rantanen camp in nearly two months is unusual. Then again, if Liut wants to see what other comparable RFAs like Toronto’s Mitch Marner and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk receive, it makes little sense for Sakic to attempt discussions throughout the summer.
Talks between the two sides will pick up once September rolls around. Sakic wants to get him re-signed before training camp opens and I daresay Rantanen doesn’t want to miss camp. Be it a long- or short-term contract, the winger will get a hefty raise.
And no, I don’t see Sakic trading Rantanen if he’s not signed when training camp opens. Unless Rantanen demands a trade (and that’s not happening), there’s no reason to go to that extreme.
VALIMAKI INJURY PUTS FLAMES IN THE MARKET FOR A DEFENSEMAN
THE SCORE: Josh Wegman cites Sportsnet’s Pat Steinberg reporting Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving will consider all options to find a replacement for sidelined defenseman Juuso Valimaki. Oliver Kylington is a natural internal option but Treliving also intends to explore trade possibilities.
Wegman also notes there are some notable veterans (including former Flame Dion Phaneuf) available in the unrestricted free-agent market. He points out the Flames have under $8 million in salary-cap space and must re-sign restricted free agent winger Matthew Tkachuk. They’ll have to shed some salary if they add a player with a significant cap hit.
THE ATHLETIC: Scott Cruickshank reports the Flames’ top-six defense from last season remains intact. He also considers Kylington as a likely candidate to replace Valimaki. He suggests winger Michael Frolik ($4.3 million) as a cost-cutting trade option.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Valimaki’s injury should put to rest the trade speculation dogging Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie this summer. Treliving will conduct due diligence to see what affordable options are available in the trade and perhaps the free-agent markets. Nevertheless, it sounds like Kylington (over $730K cap hit) will be Valimaki’s replacement.
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.
Updates on Jesse Puljujarvi and Jason Zucker plus a look at the notable players still available in the UFA market in today’s NHL rumor mill.
PULJUJARVI DOUBLES DOWN ON TRADE REQUEST
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples cites Finnish newspaper Kaleva reporting Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi still wants to be traded. Unlike previous reports where Puljujarvi’s agent spoke for his client, this time it’s the winger personally making his intentions known. A restricted free agent, he said he’ll stay in Finland until he has a new contract.
‘I want a new start with some other team. Playing in North America is still my goal.” “I will stay on Oulu until I have a contract. I will find a place to play somewhere.’
Puljujarvi added he’s recovered from his recent hip surgery and feels much better. He’s hoping to be traded by the Oilers before training camp.
Staples, however, doubts Puljujarvi doubling down on his trade request will changes things much. The Oilers would need a solid trade offer to move him. That’s still possible but increasingly unlikely given clubs are now locking in their rosters “and finding ways to get out of the cap trouble that may have forced a trade.”
Staples feels the best option is for the Oilers to simply allow Puljujarvi to spend this season playing in Europe and regaining his confidence.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Puljujarvi isn’t re-signed or traded when training camp opens next month, he could be forced to swallow his pride and return to the Oilers if he wants to play in the NHL. If he thinks personally telling the press he wants a trade will force Holland to move him, he’s setting himself up for disappointment.
I don’t doubt Holland has looked into trade Puljujarvi but the youngster’s stock is probably so low right now that whatever offers the Oilers received doesn’t make moving him worthwhile. Holland won’t trade him for peanuts or for the sake of making a deal.
UPDATE ON ZUCKER
NHL.COM: Jesse Pierce reports Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker was told directly by team owner Craig Leipold that Paul Fenton was relieved of his duties as general manager. Zucker, 27, was the subject of trade rumors since the middle of last season as Fenton attempted to move him to Calgary and Pittsburgh since February.
“Names get floated out there all the time, and I’m glad the trades didn’t happen,” Zucker said. “It’s always something. If it happens once, it’s in the back of your mind for a bit; if it happens twice, it’s really in the back of your mind, and it was definitely something at the forefront of my life for the last while. But again, it’s hard for me to fault [Fenton] if he thought that’s what’s best for the organization.
“Whether you agree or disagree with it, he felt those were moves that would make the team better, and ultimately Craig disagreed and didn’t like what was happening and decided to go in another direction.”
Zucker added he’s unconcerned about having to prove himself to whoever becomes the next Wild general manager. However, he feels it’s up to him and his teammates “to prove to the GM who they are, why they should keep them, and why they should be centerpieces of the team and things of that’s sort.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With Fenton out of the picture, I daresay Zucker won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. He also now has a 10-team no-trade list, which could complicate attempts by the future GM to move him.
NOTABLE PLAYERS REMAINING IN NHL UFA MARKET
NBC SPORTS: Sean Leahy recently recently looked at some of the noteworthy players still available in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
He expects veterans such as Joe Thornton, Justin Williams, and Nikla Kronwall will either return for another season with the clubs they played for in 2018-19 or retire. He also expects Patrick Marleau will sign with San Jose or hang up his skates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Thornton and Marleau will likely get one-year, bonus-laden contracts with the San Jose Sharks. Williams is believed to be leaning toward another season with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kronwall hasn’t reached a decision yet but Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman indicated his willingness to bring back the blueliner for one more season.
Professional tryout offer candidates include goaltender Cam Ward and Scott Darling and defenseman Dion Phaneuf, Ben Lovejoy, and Marc Methot.
Age and/or injury have taken a toll on these players. They could indeed be forced to compete for jobs via tryout offers when training camps open next month. Methot is reportedly considering retirement.
Among the available forwards, Leahy lists (alphabetically) Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Patrick Maroon, Jason Pominville, and Tobia Rieder as the best of the bunch. The 26-year-old Rieder is the youngest and Leahy suggests he could be a “real bounce-back candidate” this season.
Jake Gardiner remains the best available defenseman. Ben Hutton, 26, is also available.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leahy published this listing before the New York Rangers bought out Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite his struggles with the Rangers, I expect some team will have interest in him.
The Penguins trade Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks, and Dion Phaneuf and Andrew MacDonald are bought out. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While most of the focus in the Penguins trade-rumor mill was on Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, Maatta was also considered a potential trade candidate. He’d fallen out of favor with head coach Mike Sullivan and the Penguins had to free up salary-cap space.
Maatta makes over $4 million annually through 2021-22 while Kahun earns $925K for 2019-20. The move shed over $3 million for the Penguins, giving them over $6 million in cap space for next season. The Penguins also get back a decent player in Kahun. The 23-year-old is a speedy, versatile forward who can play center or wing and tallied 37 points as a rookie this season, all but two of those at even strength.
For the first time in years, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has plenty of salary cap space to work with. Maatta brings what should be an invaluable injection of youth and puck-moving skill to their blueline. While he struggled this season, he helped the Penguins win two Stanley Cup championships. Perhaps a change of scenery will help him regain his confidence.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Kings have bought out the contract of veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf. He was due to earn $5.25-million per season from the Kings through 2020-21. Cap Friendly has the buyout breakdown for the Kings and Phaneuf’s former club, the Ottawa Senators.
CSNPHILLY.COM: The Philadelphia Flyers yesterday placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers to buy out the final season of his contract. MacDonald, 32, had one year remaining on his five-year contract with an annual average value of $5 million. Cap Friendly has the details of the buyout.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: These moves were unsurprising. Both blueliners are past their playing prime and carried too much salary. Still, I can see them signing affordable one- or two-year contracts with clubs seeking experienced depth and leadership on their bluelines.
There was speculation the Kings might also buy out center Jeff Carter. The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman reports Kings GM Rob Blake saying Phaneuf will be their only buyout this summer.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks raised concern over the NHL’s concussion protocol after Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk admitted he played through a concussion he suffered earlier in the postseason.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brooks isn’t the only person raising the alarm over the issue. Did DeBrusk hide his symptoms from team doctors? Was the coaching staff and management aware of his situation? If so, why did they allow him to continue playing? As my pal Scotty Wazz of The Face Off Hockey Show points out, this doesn’t reflect well on the league’s concussion program.
STLTODAY.COM: Check out the photos of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup victory parade.