NHL Rumor Mill – June 2, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – June 2, 2021

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.

Of the Leafs’ other unrestricted free agents, Hornby feels Zach Hyman, Jason Spezza and perhaps Alex Galchenyuk should be signed. Siegel thinks restricted free agent Travis Dermott will be an affordable re-signing.

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.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Richards considers it important for the Panthers to free up some salary to re-sign pending free agents such as Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Montour. They’ll also have to consider long-term cap space to sign Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau to contract extensions over the next couple of years.

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.

Jimmy Murphy reported there have been numerous rumors over the last two years linking Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin to the Panthers. Malkin lives in Florida with his family during the offseason.

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.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – November 3, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – November 3, 2020

An update on the 2020-21 schedule, Brendan Shanahan weighs in on fighting and hitting, the Sharks add a depth winger, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

THE SCORE: reports ESPN.com citing sources claiming the NHL won’t consider anything less than a 48-game schedule if they’re forced to play a shortened schedule for 2020-21. A league source told Greg Wyshynski the ultimate goal is to end up with fans in the arenas. “I don’t think we’ll get to capacity, but I think we’ll have enough socially distanced fans,” said the source. The NHL definitely wants fans in the stands for the playoffs if local health restrictions allow it.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL relies more on gate revenue than any of the other major North American professional sports leagues. The sooner they can safely get fans back in the stands, the better for league revenue and the salary cap.

Playing a full 82-game season starting Jan. 1, 2021, and allowing fans gradually back into the arenas over the course of the season is their apparent target. However, there’s also talk they could push that start date to February or March on a shortened schedule (48 to 60 games) if it would safely allow more fans into the arenas by then.

Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan isn’t a fan of big hits that result in injuries. During an interview with the “SmartLess” podcast, Shanahan said, “I know people get pissed at me when I say stuff like this, but I don’t get excited to see a big hit. I get excited when I see a big goal…I don’t want to see any of these young guys on the ice getting carried off.”

Shanahan also believes there’s still a place for fighting if a player is protecting a teammate, but not if it’s to intimidate or hurt another player.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fans who love that style of hockey will decry Shanahan’s comments, but the league’s been trending away from targeted hits and premeditated fights for several years. Shanahan played a role in addressing those issues during his tenure as the NHL’s senior vice president.

SPORTSNET: The San Jose Sharks signed winger Kurtis Gabriel to a one-year contract. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates it’s a two-way deal worth $700K at the NHL level.

FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Panthers have hired Paul Krepelka as assistant general manager. A former player agent, he spent the past two seasons as senior vice-president of hockey operations for the Carolina Hurricanes.

MLIVE.COM: Detroit Red Wings prospect Jared McIsaac underwent surgery on his left shoulder and will be sidelined five-to-six months.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 21, 2020

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 21, 2020

Brendan Shanahan and Bill Guerin remain optimistic the season will resume, the latest on Chris Kreider, the league rejects the Blue Jackets’ signing Mikhail Grigorenko, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

TSN: Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan believes the sidelined NHL 2019-20 season could resume at some point in the coming months. He indicated there’s plenty of determination between team owners and players to return to action, but he also stressed it would be determined by having health care services becoming better prepared to cope with and contain the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, Shanahan feels the NHL has more flexibility to resume its schedule than most people realize. “I don’t really believe stories of these crazy neutral sites. I still always think if we’re going to do this it’s going to be in a hockey market. A market where the infrastructure for putting on hockey and hockey games is available.” Shanahan doubts the season would resume with fans in attendance, but feels there would be an appetite for games on television.

NHL.COM: Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin also believes the season will resume in empty arenas later this year. “The bottom line is, we’re not doing anything unless it’s safe for everybody. And if it is, I think we will, and I think it would be the right thing to do. It’ll be a little unusual, a little unorthodox, but that’s OK. If we just wrap our arms around it and accept it, it will be fine. Once we start playing hockey, you play hockey.”

New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider is recovering well from a foot fracture (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Critics will consider Shanahan’s and Guerin’s comments as wishful thinking. Perhaps it is, but it reflects the genuine desire among the league and the NHL Players’ Association to complete the season, award the Stanley Cup, and recoup some of their lost revenue. The course of the coronavirus, however, remains the determining factor.

ESPN.COM: New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider said his recovery from a foot fracture is going well. He anticipates he’ll be ready to return to the lineup if the NHL season resumes this summer.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blues Jackets signing Mikhail Grigorenko to a one-year, $1.2- million contract yesterday was rejected by the NHL Central Registry. The Jackets issued a statement indicating it was due to a misunderstanding over the window for filing contracts. “We have been in contact with the league and Dan Milstein, Grigorenko’s agent, and the contract will be re-filed on July 1.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Grigorenko finished his contract with the KHL’s CSKA Moscow and is considered an unrestricted free agent. However, the Jackets cannot officially sign him until July 1, which is when the league’s free-agent period begins. That date could change depending on whether the league resumes its season this summer. Grigorenko could sign with another NHL club, but I think he’ll stick with the Jackets as they refile in July or later this summer.

TRIBLIVE.COM: Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford indicated everyone in his club’s various hockey operations departments have been regularly discussing contingency plans for the remainder of the season, including the draft and free agency. He said they’ve been talking four or five days a week.

ARIZONA SPORTS: The Coyotes have held calls with their players to review the season and looking ahead. “We had 15, 20 minutes per guy, talking,” said head coach Rick Tocchet. “It’s not exit meetings because I still believe that we’re going to play in the next couple months, I’m trying to be optimistic. But I think it’s important that you stay connected with the team. I know it’s a little harder to do that.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I suspect every club is doing the same as the Penguins and Coyotes. Talking to their players while the hockey ops map out its plans for resuming the season and the off-season.

TSN: The Ottawa Senators hired Anthony LeBlanc as their president of business operations. The former Blackberry executive served as president, chief executive officer and alternate governor of the Arizona Coyotes from 2013 to 2017. LeBlanc replaced Jim Little, who was fired six weeks ago after less than two months on the job followed a heated disagreement with team owner Eugene Melnyk.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best of luck ot LeBlanc in his new job. He’s gonna need it.










Did Early Success Derail The Leafs?

Did Early Success Derail The Leafs?

 










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 15, 2019

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 15, 2019

Bruins take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final, Leafs re-sign Brendan Shanahan, Sabres to name Raph Kruger as head coach. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines. 

NHL.COM: Tuukka Rask made 35 saves as his Boston Bruins edged the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1, taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final. Chris Wagner and Brad Marchand scored for the Bruins while Calvin de Haan replied for the Hurricanes. Game 4 goes tomorrow night in Raleigh at 8 pm ET.

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask backstopped his club to victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final (Photo via NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes had their best game of this series. They controlled most of the play, generated plenty of scoring opportunities and were the more physical of the two clubs. They also got a steady effort from backup goalie Curtis McElhinney. But it wasn’t enough to beat Rask, who was outstanding in this game.

The Hurricanes also missed about half-a-dozen glorious scoring chances and failed to cash in on the power play. They now find themselves on the verge of getting swept out of the Conference Final. 

NBC SPORTS: Wagner suffered an injured right arm after blocking a shot in the third period. His arm was in a sling following the game and he’ll get x-rays to determine the severity of the injury. 

TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs yesterday announced clubs president Brendan Shanahan signed a six-year contract extension. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Color me unsurprised by this news. Under Shanahan’s stewardship, the Leafs rose from one of the worst teams in the league into one of the best during the regular season.

WGR 550: The Buffalo Sabres are today expected to announce they’ve hired Ralph Kruger as their new head coach. Krueger was the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Apart from coaching Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Krueger’s been out of the game for a while. For the past five years, he was chairman of the Southhampton Football Club in the English Premier League. However, he’s a highly-regarded hockey coach. Many Oilers followers believe their club made a big mistake firing Krueger after only one season. 

THE ATHLETIC: George Richards reports Columbus Blue Jackets teammates Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin are vacationing in South Florida. Bobrovsky insists the trip is merely a post-playoff holiday. Rumors link the duo to the Florida Panthers. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The trip prompted speculation this foreshadows their anticipated signings with the Panthers on July 1. The duo remains the property of the Blue Jackets until then. 

THE DENVER POST: Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said he’d prefer re-signing winger Mikko Rantanen to a long-term contract. He also has no problem inking him to a short-term deal if necessary. Rantanen is completing an entry-level contract and could become the Avalanche’s highest-paid player. 

TSN.CA: Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour will miss the remainder of the World Championships with a lower-body injury. Playing for Canada, Montour suffered the injury during a 6-5 win over Slovakia on Monday. 










The Shanaplan Meets NHL Salary-Cap Reality

The Shanaplan Meets NHL Salary-Cap Reality

When Brendan Shanahan was hired as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014, his strategy for rebuilding the moribund roster was quickly dubbed “The Shanaplan” by long-suffering denizens of Leafs Nation.

He cleaned house behind the bench and in the front office. In came well-respected hockey men like Mike Babcock as head coach and Lou Lamoriello as general manager, along with Lamoriello’s eventual successor Kyle Dubas.

Brendan Shanahan’s plan to build the Toronto Maple Leafs into a champion will soon face it’s first significant salary-cap test. (Photo via NHL.com)

The Leafs struck gold in the opening rounds of three successive drafts, selecting forwards William Nylander (2014), Mitch Marner (2015) and Auston Matthews (2016). Since 2016-17, the trio played crucial roles in turning the Leafs from a perennial non-contender into a dominant team.

The Leafs restocked with talent while shedding salary in the process. Expensive, unhappy veterans Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were sent packing. In came forwards John Tavares, Patrick Marleau and goaltender Frederik Andersen. Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, and Travis Dermott were picked up via trades and the draft.

Thus far, “The Shanaplan” is a success. The Leafs are off to a sizzling start to 2018-19, leading the league in scoring. As of Oct. 13, Matthews and defenseman Morgan Rielly were atop the scoring race with Marner and Tavares among the top-six. Matthews and Tavares sat first and third in goals while Rielly was the league’s assist leader. 

Leafs fans are once again daring to dream of the end of their long Stanley Cup drought. Unfortunately, the Shanaplan could be derailed by the NHL’s salary cap.

Despite inking Tavares to a pricey seven-year, $77-million contract, the Leafs entered this season with over $12 million in projected salary-cap space. However, they’re currently mired in a contract standoff with restricted free agent Nylander, who’s back home in Sweden while his agent handles negotiations.

Earlier this month, Shanahan seemed to hint the Leafs would prefer if those players accepted a little less than the full market value in order for the club to maintain a winning franchise.  So far, Nylander doesn’t seem willing to accept any hometown discounts.

Both sides reportedly prefer a long-term contract but money is the sticking point. The Nylander camp apparently seeks over $8-million per season while the Leafs prefer something between $6 million to $6.5 million.

There’s also talk the two sides are working on a short-term bridge deal but the annual salary again remains an issue. The Leafs are believed offering closer to $4 million per season while Nylander could seek over $5 million annually. 

Whether Nylander is worth $8 million is debatable. The Leafs can afford to re-sign him for that much this season if they wished. However, that would take a much bigger bite out of their salary-cap payroll next summer when Matthews and Marner become restricted free agents.

We don’t know what Matthews and Marner will set as asking prices. However, there’s already talk Matthews could command around $12.5 million per season. Should Marner exceed last season’s 69-point performance, he could be in line for $10 million annually.

Assuming the Leafs re-sign those two to those rumored asking prices and paid Nylander $8 million per, they’ll be investing over $30 million in just three players. That total will push their cap payroll for next season, already at over $49 million, to over $79 million tied up in just 14 players. If management can convince Matthews, Marner, and Nylander to accept, say, a combined $25 million, the cap payroll would still come in at close to $75 million. 

Even if the salary cap rose to $84 million for 2019-20, they still won’t have much payroll remaining to flesh out the rest of their roster. That includes re-signing or replacing veteran defensemen Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey, both due to become unrestricted free agent next summer.

That limited wiggle room under the cap ceiling could prompt second-guessing over the wisdom of investing $11 million annually in Tavares. There could also be some grumbling over Marleau’s $6.25-million cap hit through 2019-20 or defenseman Nikita Zaitsev’s $4.25 million per season through 2023-24.

Given the rising young talent already on the roster, it can be argued the Leafs didn’t need to sign Tavares. Perhaps that money would’ve been better invested in bolstering their questionable blueline depth or maybe pursuing more affordable forward options.

Of course, it’ll all be considered worth it if the Leafs end their 51-year Stanley Cup drought next spring but that’s not a certainty.

Despite their offensive prowess, they’re tied with the lowly Detroit Red Wings for the most goals against (22). They’re top-heavy at forward, especially on the first two lines. Andersen is a good goaltender but he’s yet to prove he can carry a club to championship glory. Should these factors derail their championship hopes, they won’t have enough cap room to fix those problems.

The Leafs are starting to navigate a potential salary-cap minefield of their own making. One wrong move could blow up their Stanley Cup dreams.