What Next For The Buffalo Sabres?
A look at some potential goalie trade bait, the obstacles facing teams in this year’s trade market plus the latest on the Hurricanes, Jets, Islanders, Penguins and more in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
POTENTIAL GOALIE TRADE BAIT
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin included Florida’s Chris Driedger, Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper, Anaheim’s Ryan Miller and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick on his list of 10 goaltenders who could get moved at the NHL trade deadline. Detroit’s Jonathan Bernier, San Jose’s Devan Dubnyk, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin and Arizona’s Antti Raanta are the others.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Driedger’s a pending unrestricted free agent but I don’t see the Panthers trading him while they’re among the top three clubs in the Discover Central Division. The same goes for Korpisalo and Merzlikins as the Jackets remain in the playoff chase. Besides, they both have a year left on their contracts so there’s no rush to move either guy at the deadline.
If the Coyotes trade Kuemper I believe that happens in the offseason when they could get a better return from a club with cap space. If Miller wanted one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup he would’ve signed with a contender instead of the Ducks. He’s happy in Anaheim and I doubt he has any intention of leaving.
Quick has two more years left on his contract worth $5.8 million. I don’t see much interest in him given the current cap situation. Even if the Kings picked up half of his cap hit he’s still a declining asset with a long injury history.
Bernier, Dubnyk and Raanta are pending UFAs and thus more likely to move. Khudobin could be intriguing to some clubs and he carries an affordable $3.33 million annual average value, but he’s 34 and that contract has two more years on it.
TEAMS FACING OBSTACLES IN TRADE MARKET
NHL.COM: Dan Rosen reports most NHL clubs are still trying to navigate through quarantine protocols and a flat salary cap as the April 12 trade deadline approaches. He also adds the cost of top rental players such as Buffalo’s Taylor Hall and Eric Staal and New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri could be a high draft pick and a top prospect. Those in the rumor mill with term on their contracts, such as Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg, could be more expensive.
Some teams, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, are in the market to add players before the deadline. The Islanders have additional salary-cap flexibility after placing captain Anders Lee (knee injury) and his $7 million cap hit on long-term injury reserve.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Any significant movement by Canadian teams could come by the end of March. If they wait until the deadline any player acquired from American franchises will be unavailable until April 27 after they’ve cleared the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people crossing the US border into Canada. That won’t leave them much time to adjust to their new teams before the playoffs open on May 11.
LATEST ON THE HURRICANES, JETS AND SHARKS
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said he and Dougie Hamilton’s camp have agreed to table contract extension talks until the season is over. Hamilton is in the final season of a six-year, $34.5 million contract and is slated for UFA eligibility this summer.
Waddell also said he believes his club is close to a contract extension for head coach Rod Brind’Amour. He could be willing to tinker with his roster before the trade deadline, citing a need for a right-shot defenseman and perhaps a top-nine forward.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Waddell doesn’t have to make any significant moves with his club battling for first place in the Central Division. However, he alluded to team owner Tom Dundon’s competitive nature and desire to ice the best team possible. The Hurricanes will be worth watching as the trade deadline nears. Dundon’s wish to turn them into a Stanley Cup contender could push Waddell into the market.
SPORTSNET: Ken Wiebe reports the expectation remains the Winnipeg Jets will try to add a defenseman to play on one of their top-two pairings. The best trade target remains Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm. Columbus’ David Savard could be out of the picture given the Blue Jackets’ recent rise into playoff contention in the Central Division.
Another option could be Anaheim’s Josh Manson. Like Ekholm, he has a year remaining on his contract. The asking price for Ekholm will be high while injuries have limited Manson to six games this season. Wiebe also suggests keeping an eye on Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jets must be careful taking on a defenseman with term on his contract (Ekholm, Manson, Ristolainen) as that could complicate their expansion draft protection list for their blueline. A rental such as Savard or perhaps Vancouver’s Travis Hamonic might be the way to go here unless they work out a deal with the Seattle Kraken before the expansion draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: But are playoff contenders open to acquiring a fading winger like the 41-year-old Marleau at the trade deadline? He has just five points in 30 games this season.
UPDATES ON THE ISLANDERS, PENGUINS AND DUCKS
THE ATHLETIC: Arthur Staple reports acquiring a first-line winger remains the New York Islanders’ priority. He believes Columbus’ Nick Foligno could be off the Isles’ list of targets owing to the Jackets’ recent rise in the Central standings. Vancouver’s Tanner Pearson has been sidelined a month, curtailing the Canucks’ trade options.
Sean Gentille, Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe report the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t shopping defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Despite their left-side blueline depth, they’re reluctant to move a blueliner given the schedule and need for depth to secure a playoff spot. They also rejected a rumor linking the Penguins to Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart, citing the club’s lack of cap space and available assets to pry him away from the Sabres.
Pierre LeBrun reports Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray could attempt to trade a few veteran players between now and the start of next season as he transitions his roster toward younger players. However, most of those moves might not come until the offseason. Murray admits things are quiet in the trade market due to the pandemic, the flattened salary cap, and this summer’s expansion draft.
Murray doesn’t have many rental players to shop. The Ducks GM could instead look for a hockey deal, with LeBrun suggesting winger Rickard Rakell making the most sense. Rakell is a good two-way winger with an affordable $3.78 million cap hit through next season.
LATEST ON DUMBA, STAAL, MANSON, MERZLIKINS AND RAANTA
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek updated their NHL Trade Deadline Big Board. Several notable additions include Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins and Arizona Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dumba’s on this list because of the difficulty facing the Wild in protecting him in the expansion draft. With the team playing well, however, general manager Bill Guerin could be reluctant to make a significant move that might upset team chemistry. He could wait until the offseason, perhaps around the NHL Draft, to trade Dumba before the expansion draft.
Staal’s garnered plenty of attention in the rumor mill with recent speculation tying him to the Edmonton Oilers and his former club, the Carolina Hurricanes. I consider him most likely to move among the newbies on The Athletic’s list.
Injuries have limited Manson to six games this season. Custance and Duhatschek noted there is precedent for teams to acquire an injured defenseman at the trade deadline (Sami Vatanen). However, the year he has remaining on his contract could create headaches for teams trying to protect their defensemen in this summer’s expansion draft.
The Blue Jackets’ fading playoff hopes could lead to them moving Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo at the deadline. With a year left on his contract at an affordable $4 million, he could be enticing for teams seeking goalie depth beyond this season.
The Coyotes could consider shopping Raanta as he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. However, that’s not a certainty with starter Darcy Kuemper sidelined and the Coyotes trying to stay in the playoff chase.
UPDATES ON THE SABRES AND COYOTES
WGR 550: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes the Buffalo Sabres are trying to determine the value of all their players and where they fit into the club’s long-term plans. He believes GM Kevyn Adams is receiving calls and could be calling other clubs to see what the trade value is for his players.
He believes Eric Staal “will be motivated to go somewhere and play”. He expects the Sabres could get a second-round pick for him but this is a buyer’s market. Friedman also wonders if the club sees Sam Reinhart as part of their future with or without Jack Eichel. He thinks there is interest in the Sabres’ winger.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ll be very surprised if Staal isn’t playing elsewhere by April 12. As for Reinhart, I don’t doubt there’s plenty of interest. He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights but there are bound to be some teams seeking scoring with available cap space to give him a lucrative extension if the Sabres get a quality offer for him.
AZ COYOTES INSIDER: In a recent mailbag segment, Craig Morgan was asked about the recent Clayton Keller trade rumors, Morgan doesn’t believe the 22-year-old forward is high on the trade board. He has seven years left on his contract with an annual average value of $7.15 million.
Asked about what moves the Coyotes could make at this year’s trade deadline. He anticipates GM Bill Armstrong will try to ship out as many players on expiring contracts as possible in exchange for draft picks as he restocks the prospect cupboard. However, he feels Armstrong could add a player if the right opportunity presents itself.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, look for guys like Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson (if he waives his no-movement clause), Alex Goligoski, Derick Brassard and Jason Demers to become the Coyotes’ trade candidates.
Goligoski recently surfaced in trade speculation. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun recently said he believes the Philadelphia Flyers have him on their list of potential targets. He’s a left-handed shot but can play either side. However, his $5.475 million AAV (with currently $2.69 million remaining to be paid) could be a sticking point.
LATEST ON DOMI AND BERNIER
THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline listed Max Domi in the “Available” category of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trade tiers. He’s made very little impact since joining the Jackets in an offseason trade with Montreal. Given Domi’s struggles, however, Portzline believes they’d have to sell low and that would cement the Josh Anderson trade as one of the worst in franchise history.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some players thrive under a demanding coach like John Tortorella. Some don’t. Domi is in the latter category. Given his inconsistent play throughout his career, however, his trade value is likely at an all-time low.
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan believed Jonathan Bernier will draw plenty of interest around the league from contenders seeking goaltending depth. He thinks they might even get a second-round pick for the pending free agent. Moving him would weaken the Wings’ depth between the pipes but they could attempt to bring him back this summer via the UFA market.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Colorado Avalanche could be among the suitors. The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers suggested bringing him back for the playoffs. However, The Athletic’s Peter Baugh pointed out the Avs’ limited salary cap space could make it difficult for GM Joe Sakic to wheel and deal at the deadline.