The latest on the Hurricanes and Leafs plus recent speculation about Zdeno Chara’s future in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NHL.COM: Tom Gulitti wondered if the Carolina Hurricanes will upgrade their goaltending and if they’ll sign defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Netminders Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are unrestricted free agents next summer, as is Hamilton.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (NHL Images).
Gulitti noted Mrazek’s and Reimer’s contract status, pointing out questions linger over whether the Hurricanes need better goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. General manager Don Waddell said he’s “very comfortable” sticking with his goalie tandem through this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mrazek and Reimer weren’t bad last season plus their combined $6.25 million cap hit makes them very affordable for the Hurricanes. Nevertheless, neither goalie has really ever stood out as a starter.
The Hurricanes will stick with this duo for the upcoming season but could go shopping for help if one or both struggle before the trade deadline. Waddell could also be in the market for an upgrade next summer if Mrazek and Reimer fail to carry the club deep into the playoffs.
The Hurricanes would like to sign Hamilton before the start of the season to remove any questions about his future with the franchise. However, the flattened salary cap and economic impact of the coronavirus could affect those efforts. Waddell isn’t ruling out a long-term deal but isn’t ruling out a short-term contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates Hamilton’s in the final year of a six-year, $34.5 million contract with an annual average value of $5.75 million. He could be receptive to a short-term deal but salary and no-trade protection could be the main issues. The Hamilton camp could seek a significant raise for their client, perhaps as high as $8 million annually if he has another Norris-worthy performance.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons believes the Maple Leafs lack a typical third-line center. While they have Joe Thornton and Alex Kerfoot, “Thornton can’t play 200-foot hockey anymore and can’t be counted on to play in the defensive zone. Kerfoot is a better winger than he is a centre.” Simmons feels the combination of the two will test head coach Sheldon Keefe’s ability to manage in-games throughout the season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It could also force Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to seek help before the trade deadline if it becomes a significant issue.
Simmons also wonders if the fact Zdeno Chara still hasn’t signed with the Boston Bruins is an indication the big defenseman is packing it in.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perhaps, though his agent recently said his client is waiting to see what the format for next season looks like. A shortened schedule with limited travel could be to the 43-year-old Chara’s liking.
Some recent Leafs speculation and a look at Dougie Hamilton’s contract situation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked what might happen if the Toronto Maple Leafs miss the playoffs or are eliminated in the opening round. He believes team president Brendan Shanahan, general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe should be granted one more shot in 2021-22. However, it could spell the end of the “Core Four” of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (NHL Images).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox noted Dubas has resisted breaking up that core, pointing out the moves made during this offseason doesn’t project a sense of hot-seat panic. Nevertheless, a shakeup could be in store if the Leafs make another early playoff exit or miss the postseason entirely.
Matthews, Tavares and Marner each earn over $10.8 million annually. Tavares has a full no-movement clause. It could be difficult moving one of them under a flattened cap for 2021-22, Nylander could be the more likely trade chip. His annual average value ($6.96 million) is more affordable and he lacks no-trade protection.
Fox believes the Leafs are done for the offseason. He doesn’t rule out professional tryout offers (PTO), noting Dubas said he’s open to anything. However, the club’s lack of cap space makes it unlikely they’ll sign another UFA or go the PTO route.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs are above the $81.5 million cap by just over $1 million according to Cap Friendly. They have no room for other additions unless Dubas acquires a player on permanent long-term injury reserve for additional salary-cap wiggle room or makes a cost-cutting trade.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes Dougie Hamilton’s next contract is among several big decisions facing the Carolina Hurricanes in 2021. GM Don Waddell is interested in negotiating a new deal with him before the start of the season.
O’Brien speculates Hamilton will want security after being traded twice. While the 27-year-old rearguard could find next year’s UFA market challenging, O’Brien notes high-end defensemen like Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug received lucrative deals this year. Even lesser blueliners like Chris Tanev, Dylan DeMelo and Joel Edmundson were among those receiving significant terms.
The Hurricanes must also re-sign rising star Andrei Svechnikov plus goaltenders James Reimer and Petr Mrazek will become UFAs next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s understandable that Waddell would be interested in signing Hamilton before this season opens. The puck-moving blueliner is in the final season of a six-year deal with an AAV of $5.75 million. Hamilton was in the running for the Norris Trophy last season until sidelined by a broken leg. Another Norris-worthy performance in 2020-21 could push his asking price to between $8 – $9 million annually.
The Hurricanes have over $52 million invested in 12 players for 2020-21. Big raises for Hamilton and Svechnikov could use up a combined $15 million. Given the uncertainty over next season and another flattened salary cap, the Hurricanes might not spend to the ceiling for 2021-22. The longer Hamilton goes unsigned, the more his name will surface in the rumor mill during 2020-21.
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TSN: Following the St. Louis Blues trading Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, Frank Seravalli listed a number of goaltenders potentially available in the offseason.
Free-agent options include Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Washington’s Braden Holtby, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, the New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, Chicago’s Corey Crawford, Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s Mike Smith, Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, Anaheim’s Ryan Miller, and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
Possible trade chips include Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Arizona’s Antti Raanta, and one of Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins.
Among the trade options, Seravalli reports the Penguins are believed to have an offer on the table for Murray. He speculates the Leafs, Oilers, Flames, Senators, Sabres and perhaps the Avalanche could become suitors.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This summer could be a buyer’s market for goaltenders. Plenty of options to choose from here.
Of the UFAs, I believe Markstrom, Lehner and Crawford will re-sign with their current clubs. The Stars could stick with Khudobin as Ben Bishop’s backup depending on what he seeks in his next contract. The Flyers could bring back Elliott for another year backing up Carter Hart.
Holtby, Greiss and Talbot would be the best available options. However, finding new homes and lucrative deals could be difficult to come by depending on what happens in the trade market.
The trade candidates are a mixed bag. Andersen could be the best of the bunch. He catches a lot of flak from some Leafs fans over his playoff record, but he’s not to blame for his club’s porous defense. It’s to his credit he’s posted up the numbers he has given his heavy workload.
Murray has two Stanley Cups on his resume but he’s also struggled with injuries and consistency over the past couple of years. Raanta is an outstanding netminder when he’s healthy but he’s often sidelined.
Korpisalo and Merzlikins both played well this season, but are they truly ready for full-time starter’s work? Either guy could be a bit of a gamble.
Fleury turns 36 in November and his play during this season in part prompted the acquisition of Lehner at the trade deadline. Lundqvist is past his prime and carries an $8.5 million cap hit next season with a full no-movement clause. I doubt the Rangers will find many takers for King Henrik unless he waives his NMC and the Blueshirts pick up a healthy chunk of his cap space.
Smith, Howard, Miller and Anderson are well past their prime. Maybe Miller returns with the Ducks for one last season. Otherwise, he and the others could face retirement.
THE EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples cited Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman including goalie Darcy Kuemper among the Arizona Coyotes’ trade chips. Staples feels Kuemper would be worth pursuing by the Oilers if they can clear out some money on defense. The Coyotes are without a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft, leading Staples to wonder if it would be wise for the Oilers to give up a first-rounder when other goalies could be more affordable in contract and return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Based on Kuemper’s performance this season, the Oilers should definitely look into acquiring him. I’m not saying they should overpay, but if what Kuemper did over the past two seasons is an indication of what lies ahead, he could be a big upgrade between the pipes in Edmonton. His performance in this year’s postseason will likely draw lots of interest from other clubs if the Coyotes shop him. As Friedman noted, however, that will depend upon what the next Coyotes’ GM wants to do.
THE ATHLETIC: James Mirtle examined the Leafs options to replace Andersen if they decide to trade him. While acknowledging there’s no guarantee they’ll move Andersen, Mirtle believes they have a legitimate interest in Robin Lehner and could be among the bidders for his services when he becomes a UFA.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner will cost a lot more than the $5 million AAV the Leafs are paying Andersen for next season. He’s already making that much on a one-year deal. Yes, the flattened cap will have an effect upon Lehner’s next contract and those of his fellow pending UFAs. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got offers between $6-$7 million annually on a four- or five-year deal. The Leafs will have to shed more payroll if they hope to land Lehner.
Kevin Kurz recently observed the San Jose Sharks need a goaltender to pair with or supplant starter Martin Jones. He wondered if Andersen might be a better fit with the Sharks, noting he played his first three NHL seasons in the Western Conference with the Anaheim Ducks. If the Carolina Hurricanes decide to pursue a top-flight netminder, perhaps the Sharks could bring back James Reimer. He likely wouldn’t cost much beyond a mid-round pick.
Speculation over Marc-Andre Fleury’s future with the Golden Knights, plus the latest on the Flames, Senators, and Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required) Jesse Granger suggests Marc-Andre Fleury‘s defense of his agent, Allan Walsh, gives the impression the veteran goaltender didn’t disagree with Walsh’s provocative post criticizing his client’s lack of playing time.
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (NHL Images).
Over the weekend, Walsh posted an image showing Fleury being stabbed in the back by a sword with the name of Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer on the blade. Fleury appeared in just two of the Golden Knights’ games since the NHL returned to action, with trade-deadline acquisition Robin Lehner seeing the bulk of the starts. He’s had Walsh remove the image from his Twitter feed.
Granger noted Fleury said he speaks regularly with Walsh. The fact Fleury didn’t immediately condemn the image gave the impression the netminder wasn’t that upset over it.
Fleury has two years remaining on his contract while Lehner is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. If the Golden Knights re-sign Lehner to a large contract, Granger believes they could face having between $12 – $14 million invested in the goalie position or they would have to move on from Fleury.
Granger pointed out Fleury has a 10-team no-trade list. Given the flattened salary cap for next season, there might not be many destinations for Fleury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fleury’s future with the Golden Knights is now a topic of speculation that will intensify the longer he remains Lehner’s backup. As Granger noted, trading him won’t be easy. In addition to his no-trade clause and the flattened cap, his $7.5 million annual average value, his age (35), and inconsistency this season could also become sticking points.
LATEST FLAMES SPECULATION
CALGARY SUN: Wes Gilbertson acknowledged Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau’s playoff performance was disappointing. Trading him, however, could be risky. He wondered what the return would be, suggesting they’d have to get someone to replace Gaudreau’s production. Gilbertson mused about perhaps bringing in a blue-chip defenseman with Mark Giordano about to turn 37, or perhaps swapping Gaudreau for picks and prospects and using the cap savings to sign Taylor Hall. The danger would be looking back after the trade and realizing they got little in return.
Gilbertson also pondered if Flames GM Brad Treliving will re-sign Cam Talbot, stick with David Rittich, or pursue a free-agent goalie like Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner or Braden Holtby. He wondered which of their pending UFA blueliners (T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, Michael Stone) will be back. He also thinks Treliving would like to add a Nazem Kadri-type player.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Treliving could quietly gauge Gaudreau’s trade value following the playoffs. Maybe he shops him for a more affordable young winger with upside. Maybe he dumps Gaudreau’s salary and goes after Hall, though that comes with its own risks in terms of salary and Hall’s effectiveness as he approaches 30 next year. Maybe he tries to add that young forward and a gritty secondary scorer.
The goaltending is an interest situation. Re-signing Talbot would be merely a short-term solution as Gilbertson points out. Rittich looks less like a future starter with each passing season. Markstrom, Lehner or Holtby might be better options but they’ll also be expensive.
WILL THE SENATORS ADD A GOALIE?
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch recently suggested several trade options for the Senators if GM Pierre Dorion wants to add a veteran goaltender.
The New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist could be the biggest name available but he might not want to join a rebuilding team. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray could be another trade target.
Garrioch also noted the Arizona Coyotes have Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper while the Carolina Hurricanes may decide they need to do something with James Reimer or Petr Mrazek.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see Lundqvist agreeing to be traded to a rebuilding club in what is likely his final NHL campaign. Murray’s injury history and inconsistency make him a risky acquisition.
The Coyotes won’t part with Kuemper, while Raanta also has a long history of injuries. The Hurricanes should upgrade their goaltending but they could stick with their current tandem because of their affordability. Both are signed for next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Edmundson, Dillon, and Tanev are UFAs at season’s end. Maatta is signed through 2021-22 with an annual average value of $4.083 million but Dillman suggests he could be a buyout candidate. Matheson is under contract until 2025-26 with an AAV of $4.875 million.
Kings GM Rob Blake seems content to continue rebuilding with youth but I can see him making an affordable free-agent addition or two this summer. One of those pending UFA options listed by Dillman could be on his list if he can get them to agree to short-term contracts. He could be reluctant to take on Matheson’s deal.
The Devils interview Gerard Gallant for their vacant head-coaching position, the latest speculation on the 2020 Draft, a potential stumbling block for the league’s plans to resume the schedule, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN: Pierre Lebrun cites sources reporting the New Jersey Devils held a virtual interview last week with former Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant regarding their vacant head coaching position. Interim Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald has also spoken to several other candidates. Current interim coach Alain Nasreddine remains a legitimate candidate for the job.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: Abbey Mastracco wonders if Fitzgerald conducting these interviews for a new bench boss indicates he’ll remain the Devils GM. She points out it would make little sense otherwise for him to be interviewing new coaches. The ownership group recently interviewed former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis for the management job. Fitzgerald last week said he hadn’t had discussions with ownership regarding the future of his role.
The New Jersey Devils interviewed former Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant (Photo via NHL.com).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With the Devils all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention if the schedule resumes, it’s understandable that they would want to start interviewing potential coaching candidates now. Mastracco makes a good point about Fitzgerald’s role. A new GM usually wants to hire his coaching staff. Maybe this is an indicator that Fitzgerald will remain the general manager after this season.
LeBrun, Frank Seravalli, and SPORTSNET’s Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL is considering staging the 2020 Draft in June before the potential resumption of the schedule this summer. It would be unprecedented, as no draft has ever been held before the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While it would create some much-needed buzz for the league, potential complications – such as the draft lottery, conditional draft picks tied to playoff placement, and trading players on current rosters – would have to be addressed. Seravalli indicated this might not be universally embraced by NHL general managers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I get the NHL’s desire to draw attention back to its product at a time when there’s little actual sports news taking place. Nevertheless, staging the draft before the season resumes could create unnecessary headaches. Best to stage the draft following the playoffs and avoid unwanted complications.
Friedman also reports the idea of staging neutral-site games could be a no-go. Instead, the league could consider using one NHL city per division for staging its games. The plan remains to resume the regular season.
TSN: Mark Masters reports Carolina Hurricanes goaltender James Reimer advocates for exhibition games if the league returns to action this summer. He feels it would be helpful for goaltenders to have a training camp and get in a couple of exhibition contests.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It would also be beneficial for all players to get back into game shape before resuming the season, especially with the playoffs being staged soon afterward.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks believes integrating European players will be a stumbling block for the league’s plans to resume the schedule. Different countries have different responses to coronavirus pandemic.
Sweden, for example, has opted for a herd immunity strategy, meaning their social distancing restrictions aren’t as stringent as in North America. Some Swedish NHL players have resumed skating because rinks aren’t closed in their country. The NHL doesn’t intend on issuing a directive to stop them.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Depending on where the returning players are coming from, they could be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days before rejoining their teammates. The league will also have to ensure mass testing of all its players before it can resume play.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Red Wings forward and NHLPA player rep Luke Glendening said he and his teammates would love to finish this season. Health and safety concerns remain important issues, but Glendening said his teammates were “chomping at the bit” to return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Critics of the NHL’s plans to resume the schedule often point to a perceived unwillingness of players on non-playoff clubs, like the Red Wings, to complete the season. It’s assumed they would lack sufficient motivation to return for a season that, for them, is already lost.
Glendening’s comments, however, suggest otherwise. If the players on the worst team in the league are keen to come back, it’s probably safe to assume those on the other non-contenders share that sentiment.
THE ATHLETIC (SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED): James Mirtle examined why NHL players opted to defer their final paycheck, pointing out it’s tied directly to the league’s financial health, hockey-related revenue (HRR), the salary cap, and the collective bargaining agreement.
Mirtle also points out the league’s escrow system wasn’t designed for huge drops in HRR. If it spills over into next season, the league and the players will have to come up with other solutions. He suggested a salary rollback combined with a salary-cap drop.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be very interesting to see what happens beyond this season. If there’s a second coronavirus wave that shuts down part or all of next season, it could have far-reaching consequences for the players and the team owners.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin looks at the leading candidates for this season’s major NHL awards. They include Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (Hart Trophy), Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson (Norris Trophy), Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (Vezina Trophy), and Colorado Avalanche rookie blueliner Cale Makar (Calder Trophy).
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks winger Tomas Hertl said all is going well in his recovery from knee surgery. There’s no indication he’ll miss the start of next season.