Should the Golden Knights pursue Jack Eichel? Could the Leafs risk losing more key players next summer? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
VEGAS HOCKEY NOW: Steve Carp recently wondered whether the Golden Knights were among the clubs to re-engage with the Buffalo Sabres regarding their interest in Jack Eichel. He believes they should be in the mix for the Sabres captain.
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (NHL Images).
Carp acknowledged the questions and uncertainty over which medical procedure Eichel could undergo for the herniated disc in his neck. Nevertheless, he feels the 24-year-old center is worth the risk. He’d become the bonafide No. 1 center the Golden Knights have lacked since Day 1. He’s also an elite star who’s still young and the chances of a full recovery from whatever procedure he undergoes are in his favor.
Acquiring Eichel would probably mean moving two players from the current roster to free up the cap space for his $10 million annual average value. It could result in getting a third or a fourth team involved to make the dollars fit. The Sabres will also insist on first-round draft picks and a top prospect such as Peyton Krebs as part of the deal.
Despite the expense, Carp feels Golden Knights owner Bill Foley could go for it if he believes Eichel can help the club win the Stanley Cup.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres’ asking price from the Golden Knights earlier in the offseason was reportedly Krebs, winger Reilly Smith, defenseman Nicolas Hague and a first-round pick. Whether that still stands is unknown at this time.
I believe Eichel could be that final piece of the championship puzzle for the Golden Knights. Absorbing his cap hit could be difficult but not impossible to sort out.
The Golden Knights have surprised us with significant acquisitions such as trading for Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone and signing Alex Pietrangelo. It wouldn’t surprise me if they pursue Eichel during this season or next summer.
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos wonders how many more players the Maple Leafs could lose because of their limited salary-cap space. Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen departed this summer as free agents. Morgan Rielly could follow them out the door next summer.
“After that, who knows?”, asks Traikos. “Maybe it’s Ilya Mikheyev or Jack Campbell. Or someone even more important, like William Nylander.” He also pointed out it wasn’t just money and term or a chance to play alongside Connor McDavid that prompted Hyman to leave the Leafs. “After five years of post-season exits, it sounds like Hyman wanted out. Like he needed a change.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s a fair question. How many other good players currently on the Leafs’ roster today won’t be there this time next year due to cap constraints? It’s also fair to wonder how many could get discouraged with the club’s direction if they once again come up short in the playoffs.
Those questions aren’t something the Leafs have to worry about right now. They’ve got a full season ahead of them. Nevertheless, those concerns will dog this club, especially if they slump at any point in the upcoming schedule. Another disappointing playoff exit could lead to big changes and not just on the roster.
TORONTO STAR: Chris Johnston recently suggested the large contracts signed this summer by several notable NHL defensemen could make it difficult for the Maple Leafs to sign Morgan Rielly to a contract extension. Chicago’s Seth Jones, Columbus’ Zach Werenski, Colorado’s Cale Makar and New Jersey’s Dougie Hamilton inked multi-year deals worth an annual average value of $9 million or more.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (NHL Images)
Johnston doubts Rielly’s next contract will come in lower than $8 million per season. He and Dallas’ John Klingberg would become next summer’s top unrestricted free agent defensemen if they opt to test the market. Rielly’s averaged roughly the same point percentage as Hamilton and Washington’s John Carlson over nearly the same number of games.
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas could take a wait-and-see approach to this season before engaging in contract discussions with Rielly. He could also take the same approach as he did last season with Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen by treating the blueliner as an “own rental” for this season and letting him skate away next summer. Johnston points out, however, those players weren’t as valuable as Rielly.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Johnston also noted the Leafs’ limited salary-cap space for 2022-23. Cap Friendly shows them with a projected $67.78 million invested in 14 players. Goaltender Jack Campbell is also slated to become a UFA while promising defenseman Rasmus Sandin is a restricted free agent.
Considering how much those blueliners Johnston mentioned received this summer, we can forget about Rielly accepting a “hometown discount” to stay in Toronto. While the salary cap is expected to rise by just $1 million to $82.5 million for ’22-’23, there will be teams prepared to sign him to a long-term deal worth $9 million annually or more. The Leafs won’t be among them unless they shed some salary first.
The Leafs could trade Rielly but that’s not going to happen unless they’re hopelessly out of playoff contention by the March trade deadline. The front office still believes their current roster can stage a deep playoff run and contend for the Stanley Cup but they can’t do it without their best defenseman.
THE ATHLETIC: Michael Russo reports Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin admits some obstacles remain in his quest to get Kirill Kaprizov signed before the start of training camp. Part of it involves getting a work visa to travel to the United States, get tested for COVID-19 and undergoing a seven-day quarantine as per NHL protocols before joining the Wild.
Russo believes Guerin and the Kaprizov camp have once again reached a stalemate. Sources say the Wild has offered a variety of terms with an annual average value of $9 million. Guerin doesn’t believe they’re very far apart but acknowledged negotiations can take a while. Nevertheless, he said his club has made “a very fair offer, and that’s just where we are.”
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports talks are continuing between the Senators and Brady Tkachuk’s representatives. While discussions have been cordial they could increase in intensity as the start of training camp on Sep 23 approaches. It’s believed the Senators have offered up an eight-year, $64 million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Senators have a better chance of getting Tkachuk into training camp than the Wild with Kaprizov given the number of hurdles the latter would have to clear. Russo speculated the Wild’s unwillingness to include signing bonuses in their contracts could be a sticking point.
What can the Leafs do to address their short- and long-term salary-cap issues? What’s the latest on the Panthers? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons took note of young defensemen such as Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse, Colorado’s Cale Makar, Chicago’s Seth Jones and Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen landing long-term deals worth over $8 million. He believes the going rate for a 27-year-old blueliner like the Leafs’ Morgan Rielly is around $8 million per season, which is a big raise over his current $5 million annual cap hit.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (NHL Images).
He believes the Leafs face a challenging decision with Rielly. Do they re-sign him? Do they let him depart via free agency next summer? If they re-sign him, how will they clear sufficient cap space for his new contract?
Complicating things further is goaltender Jack Campbell will also become eligible for unrestricted free agent status next summer. Simmons speculates it could the Leafs $6 million they don’t have to keep them both.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That’s why some observers believed the Leafs could trade Rielly this summer rather than risk losing him next summer for nothing. However, management is sticking with its core (which includes Rielly, their best puck-moving defenseman) for the coming season.
Cap Friendly shows the Leafs with $67.78 million invested in 14 players for 2022-23. Assuming the cap rises that season by $1 million, that’ll leave the Leafs with $14.7 million in projected cap space. If they re-sign Rielly for $8 million annually, they’ll have only $6.7 million left to re-sign Campbell and promising blueliner Rasmus Sandin, leaving nothing to fill out the rest of the roster.
They could let Rielly walk or shop him before the trade deadline. However, that will leave a big hole on their blueline that could prove difficult to fill.
Simmons also observed the Maple Leafs are above the salary cap but don’t have to be cap compliant until the start of the regular season. He wonders which players will be waived in training camp or whether Alex Kerfoot will be moved in a cost-cutting trade.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs are 1.394 million over the $81.5 million cap. They also have 15 forwards under contract. Rather than trade Kerfoot, they’ll likely attempt to demote two or three of those extra forwards or see one or two of them claimed by other clubs via waivers.
Regarding rumors linking the Panthers to Zdeno Chara, Richards believes they want to add another veteran defenseman but he’s not sure if Chara is the right fit. He also acknowledged the trade rumors about winger Frank Vatrano before the expansion draft. While nothing came of them, he didn’t rule out the possibility of a training camp deal.
Richards also predicted Sergei Bobrovsky could be moved out in 2023 “one way or another” but it won’t be a contract buyout.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bobrovsky will have just three years remaining on his contract following 2022-23. However, he must waive his no-movement clause first. The Panthers will also have to pick up a healthy chunk of his $10 million annual average value to facilitate a trade. Even then, they won’t get much interest in Bobrovsky if his performance doesn’t improve by that point.
SPORTSNET: Chris Johnston reported Saturday it sounds like there’s a lot of conversations between agent J.P. Barry (who represents Dougie Hamilton) and other NHL clubs. The 28-year-old Carolina Hurricanes defenseman is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28.
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (NHL Images).
Hamilton and his agent have been granted permission by the Hurricanes to speak with other teams on a deal that could work into a sign-and-trade situation. However, Johnston gets the feeling this won’t be resolved quickly, suggesting it could take several weeks, perhaps close to the July 28 start date of free agency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Next month’s NHL expansion draft (July 21) is probably a big reason why a possible sign-and-trade scenario for Hamilton would take weeks. The acquiring club would have to include him on their player protection list.
If the Leafs aren’t trading any of their high-priced forwards, trading Rielly seems the most logical way to clear cap space to sign Hamilton. Slated to become a UFA next summer, Rielly will seek a big raise over his current $5 million annual cap hit.
That might not be the best move on the Leafs part. They would get deeper on the right side of their blueline by signing Hamilton, but moving out Rielly leaves a big gap on the left side.
THE LATEST ON EKMAN-LARSSON
AZ COYOTES INSIDER: Craig Morgan confirms reports indicating the Arizona Coyotes will explore trade options for Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The 29-year-old defenseman is also more open to that possibility compared to last fall when he was willing to waive his no-movement clause for only the Boston Bruins or Vancouver Canucks.
Ekman-Larsson has six more seasons left on his contract worth an annual average value of $8.25 million. Morgan points out the blueliner’s performance has declined over the past several seasons. A change of scenery might do him good after years of losing in Arizona and carrying the burden of the captaincy.
Morgan indicated Ekman-Larsson has not provided the Coyotes with a list of preferred trade destinations. However, the plan is for the club to seek whatever trade option are available and present them to the defenseman’s camp to see what ones are acceptable. The Coyotes could look for comparable contracts that other clubs are trying to move. Perhaps some of those could have a little less term. They could also retain part of his salary.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Moving Ekman-Larsson’s contract wouldn’t be easy under normal circumstances. It could be more difficult under a flattened salary cap this summer.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Coyotes can work something out. Retaining part of his salary could be more enticing for other clubs, but it still means the Coyotes would be carrying that portion for six more years.
COULD RISTOLAINEN BRING MORE PHYSICALITY TO PENGUINS BLUELINE?
Kingerski speculates offering up a second-round draft pick, plus more, could get it done, or perhaps a team could get away with a solid prospect. The New Jersey Devils are also said to be interested in Ristolainen, who wouldn’t object to getting traded.
The Penguins would need to clear some cap space for Ristolainen’s $5.4 million cap hit. However, they could get some relief from the Seattle Kraken in next month’s expansion draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins management made it clear during the season and after the playoffs that they’re looking to add more size and grit to their lineup. Ristolainen could help but they could also have other options in mind.
It’s been a week since the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the first round but that hasn’t stopped speculation over their offseason plans. Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TORONTO SUN: Michael Traikos believes the clock is ticking for the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup hopes with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner under contract. Matthews’ current deal expires in 2024, Marner’s the following year.
If things go sideways, the pair can depart via the unrestricted free agent market. Traikos doubts the pair will want to endure another five years of disappointment, much less a decade.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Traikos feels the Leafs have three seasons to either win the Cup or make significant progress toward doing so to convince those two to stay. A lot can happen over that time. What Dubas does over the next three years will determine the futures of Matthews, Marner and the Leafs.
Terry Koshan believes Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas could find it difficult to bolster the roster with limited cap space this summer. They have roughly $67.8 million invested in next season’s cap payroll, leaving little room under the $81.5 million cap.
With Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan adamant that high-paid forwards Matthews, Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander aren’t going anywhere, the Leafs will have to look elsewhere to free up payroll.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (NHL Images).
Dubas could avoid potentially losing Morgan Rielly to free agency next summer by trading him now. It would free up $5 million in cap room but also leave a big hole on their blueline, one Rasmus Sandin could eventually fill. If Alex Kerfoot is taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, it’ll free up $3.5 million.
Koshan considers re-signing Zach Hyman a seemingly insurmountable challenge. He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 28 and the Leafs lack the money to re-sign him. It’s believed the 28-year-old winger could get multiyear offers between $5 million and $6 million annually on the open market. With other holes in the roster to address, the Leafs can’t afford that even if they lose Kerfoot’s cap hit to the Kraken.
Hyman’s agent dismissed a rumor claiming the Leafs had already offered a deal worth $5 million annually.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hyman is a Toronto native. He could accept a “hometown discount” to stay with the Leafs, especially if he thinks he won’t get better offers in the free-agent market under a flattened salary cap. However, this is also his best opportunity to land a lucrative long-term deal. There will be teams willing to pay between $5 million and $6 million for his services on the open market despite the flat cap.
Even if Hyman accepts a lesser deal of, say, $4 million annually, that’s still going to take a big bite out of the Leafs’ cap space. That could force Dubas to consider a bigger move this summer.
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox believes the Leafs must make a decision soon on Rielly. Do they keep him for next season as an “own rental” for one last shot at the Cup with the Leafs, do they trade him, or attempt to negotiate a contract extension starting on July 28? His trade value, combined with his affordable $5 million cap hit, might never be higher than it is now.
TORONTO STAR: Kevin McGran believes trading Rielly should be on the table if the Leafs are committed to Sandin taking over his role. He points out they got a first-round pick and promising prospect Filip Hallander by trading Kasperi Kapanen last year to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rielly would be worth at least that much, and freeing up his $5 million cap hit would give the Leafs room to bring in a couple of affordable bottom-six forwards.
McGran admits it would get tricky trying to move Marner. He expects Dubas won’t change his approach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Trading Rielly is a more realistic scenario than moving Marner. Yes, the latter could happen if the Leafs got a terrific offer. But Rielly’s affordable cap hit for next season is easier for other clubs to absorb than Marner’s $10.9 million through 2024-25.
The question is, will Dubas make that move? As The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel observed last week, the Leafs better make sure they have a suitable replacement lined up. Siegel doesn’t consider Sandin ready yet for a full-time top-four role. If Dubas shares that view, Rielly could return for at least next season unless he can find an appropriate substitution in the trade or free-agent market.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Andersen has played his last for the Leafs. He did his best and was often overworked and underappreciated, but Campbell has taken over the starter’s job now.
I don’t see Rinne leave Nashville if he still wants to play one more season. The Oilers have already indicated they’re bringing back Smith. Dubnyk’s performance has really declined over the last two years. Other free-agent options include former Leafs James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier or the Hurricanes’ Petr Mrazek.
Could Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas or Sheldon Keefe lose their jobs following another early playoff exit by the Leafs? Could the Florida Panthers try to acquire Penguins center Evgeni Malkin? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON THE LEAFS
TORONTO SUN/THE ATHLETIC: Lance Hornby and Jonas Siegel wondered if heads will roll in the Maple Leafs’ front office or among the coaching staff following the club’s early playoff exit.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas (NHL.com).
Brendan Shanahan’s in his seventh season as team president but the club’s postseason woes continue. General manager Kyle Dubas has been in the role three years and head coach Sheldon Keefe completed his second season.
Hornby and Siegel raised some questions about several of the moves made by the franchise in recent years and the overall performance. However, they don’t expect Shanahan, Dubas or Keefe to lose their jobs. They instead anticipate an assistant coach such as Manny Malhotra, Dave Hakstol or Paul MacLean or goalie coach Steve Briere could become a sacrificial firing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sun’s Steve Simmons also doesn’t expect Shanahan, Dubas or Keefe to be fired. One or two of the assistant coaches could be replaced. The Leafs’ struggling power play could cost Malhotra his job.
Hornby wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs see which goaltenders are available in the summer’s trade and free-agent markets. If nothing’s worthwhile there, he suggests returning with Jack Campbell and either David Rittich or a goalie from within their system. He doesn’t expect Frederik Andersen will be re-signed.
With defenseman Morgan Rielly a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility, Siegel believes the Leafs must decide on his future this year. Trading Rielly would fetch assets and clear cap space but the move would also leave a big hole on their blueline.
As for shopping a core player such as Mitch Marner or William Nylander, Siegel preaches caution here. Making change for change’s sake could set the Leafs back several years, pointing to the Boston Bruins’ trading Tyler Seguin in 2013 and the Edmonton Oilers trading Taylor Hall in 2016.
Both pundits believe the Leafs could lose Dermott or Alex Kerfoot in the expansion draft unless the Leafs cut a side deal with the Seattle Kraken.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs have to tread carefully as Siegel suggests. Nevertheless, they must fully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses to determine what moves are necessary and what’s available to address their needs.
They’ve still handcuffed themselves with those big contracts for Marner, Nylander, John Tavares and Auston Matthews. The latter two, of course, aren’t going anywhere. Tavares has a full no-movement clause while Matthews is coming off a Richard Trophy performance despite his lack of production in the series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Marner, Nylander or Rielly are the prime trade candidates if they wish to shake up the core. Each would fetch significant returns in the trade market. By moving one of them, however, they must ensure they’re not creating one problem by trying to fix another.
Losing Rielly could hurt the Leafs the most as it could prove difficult to replace him on the blueline. If they’re going to trade him they better be sure they’ve got a suitable replacement lined up.
Their depth at center suffered against the Canadiens when Tavares and Nick Foligno were injured. They’ll have to address that issue if Foligno isn’t re-signed and they lose Kerfoot to the Kraken. Finding a suitable goaltender to split the duties with Campbell is a must. So is replacing Hyman if he departs via free agency.
The Leafs sacrificed speed for experienced grit this year. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have physical players in their lineup but they can’t be the slowfooted kind.
They could also end up pursuing bargain players via trades or free agency if they don’t make a significant cost-cutting move. Cap Friendly shows them with nearly $69 million tied up in 14 players. They will get some relief depending on which player they lose in the expansion draft, but not enough to make an impact addition.
THE LATEST PANTHERS SPECULATION
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: George Richards shot down a recent report in the New York Post speculating Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville could head to the Seattle Kraken. “No one is taking it too seriously,” said Richards, pointing out Quenneville is among the NHL’s highest-paid coaches and appears very happy in his current job.
Richards wondered what the Panthers will do with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Keith Yandle. They’re the club’s highest-paid players with a combined annual average value of $16 million. However, both were healthy scratches during the Panthers’ final game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first-round series.
Both players have no-movement clauses plus Bobrovsky has a lot of years left on his contract. After seeing GM Bill Zito trade Mike Matheson and his contract last year, Richards doesn’t rule out the possibility of trading Bobrovsky or Yandle.
Zito didn’t sign Bobrovsky and Yandle to those contracts. He inherited them from his predecessor. Moving Matheson was easier because he lacked no-trade protection and had a more affordable $4.875 million cap hit. Trading those other two presents a bigger challenge for Zito.
Yandle could be easier to move than Bobrovsky. The 34-year-old blueliner’s got two years left on his deal with an annual average value of $6.35 million. It will require some creativity, perhaps a third-party broker and it could cost the Panthers a couple of draft picks or prospects to make happen in a package deal. Still, they’d have a better chance at moving Yandle than Bobrovsky’s $10 million AAV for the next five years.
Murphy cited an NHL source with direct knowledge of the situation saying he believes there is and has been mutual interest there. However, they’re stuck with Bobrovsky’s big contract plus they’re planning to sign Barkov to an expensive new contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Panthers’ rumored interest in Malkin first surfaced when Dale Tallon was the general manager. I doubt that’s the case now under Bill Zito. Even if he found a way to shed Bobrovsky’s salary, I don’t think he’ll use the savings to acquire an aging Malkin.