NHL Rumor Mill – June 6, 2023
NHL Rumor Mill – June 6, 2023
The Senators exploring trade options for Alex DeBrincat, proposed trade destinations for Connor Hellebucyk and Blake Wheeler, and speculation over what Auston Matthews’ cap hit on his next contract will be in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
SENATORS EXPLORE TRADE MARKET FOR DEBRINCAT
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports the Ottawa Senators have begun exploring the trade market for Alex DeBrincat. A source described it as the Senators conducting “due diligence” given the 25-year-old left winger’s desire to wait until the sale of the club before engaging in contract talks.
DeBrincat is a restricted free agent this summer. He’s also a year away from unrestricted free-agent status. Senators management is considering its options from taking him to arbitration to trading him.
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch speculates the decision on DeBrincat could come before the end of this month. League sources confirmed the winger’s agent informed management that his client isn’t ready yet to discuss a contract extension.
Garrioch believes Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has to see what the trade market looks like for DeBrincat if the winger isn’t committed to staying with the Senators. He noted that the upcoming NHL draft is a time when teams are trying to make deals to shape their rosters for next season.
Dorion has publicly said he’ll make a qualifying offer to DeBrincat. If he’s unwilling to sign it, the Senators GM hinted he could take the winger to arbitration and ask for a 15 percent drop on his qualifying offer.
DeBrincat was earning an average annual value of $6.4 million on a three-year contract. However, he made $9 million in actual salary this season, which is what it would cost to qualify his rights. A 15 percent reduction would be around $7.8 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Senators acquired DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2022 NHL Draft. They could be forced to move him during this year’s draft if the winger remains reluctant to sign a long-term contract.
Trading DeBrincat would be considered a loss for the Senators considering they gave up their first and second-round picks in last year’s draft to Chicago to acquire him. However, Dorion could save face if he can find a solid return that provides the Senators with immediate as well as long-term help.
LATEST ON HELLEBUYCK AND WHEELER
DAILY FACEOFF: Matt Larkin proposed seven trade destinations for Connor Hellebuyck if the Winnipeg Jets attempt to peddle the 29-year-old goaltender.
The Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are Larkin’s top-three landing spots for Hellebuyck. The three clubs could become Stanley Cup contenders with strong, reliable goaltending. However, the Hurricanes also need game-breaking scoring, the cap-strapped Kings still hope to re-sign pending UFA defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov and the Devils face re-signing two expensive wingers in Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes’ focus could be more on their scoring, especially given their front office has said they’re willing to bring back pending UFA goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. The Kings would have to free up cap space to take on Hellebuyck and re-sign Gavrikov. The Devils, however, could still have sufficient cap room to take re-sign Bratt and Meier and still add Hellebuyk.
Larkin also listed the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights as possible destinations.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see the Senators pursuing Hellebuyck unless he’s willing to agree to a long-term contract extension. It’s bad enough they could be trading away Alex DeBrincat after a year, they don’t need to see Hellebuyck heading out the door next summer as a free agent.
The Penguins have the cap space for Hellebuyck but I don’t believe they can come up with a suitable return to tempt the Jets given their depleted prospect pool and aging roster. The Leafs need to improve their defense core plus I think they’ll stick with the more affordable goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll. The Golden Knights lack the cap space to pull it unless they’re willing to shed over $6 million to do it.
WINNIPEG SUN: Scott Billeck believes it would be shocking to see Blake Wheeler back with the Jets next season. The 36-year-old left winger was stripped of the captaincy by head coach Rick Bowness but still wields influence in the dressing room. He has a year remaining on his contract but his $8.25 million cap hit will be difficult to move unless the Jets retain part of it.
Billeck suggests buying out Wheeler. While that would cost $2.75 million against their salary cap, it would provide $5.5 million in cap savings for next season to put toward retooling the roster.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jets could try to move Wheeler in this summer’s trade market. As Billeck observers, they’ll have to take back a bad contract, retain half of his cap hit in a trade with another club, or attempt a three-team deal that spreads his cap hit around.
Despite those options, I wouldn’t be surprised if they buy out Wheeler later this month. His age and cap hit works against finding a suitable trade partner.
MATTHEWS SET TO BECOME NHL’S HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER
TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons believes Auston Matthews will become the NHL’s highest-paid player in 2024-25. The 25-year-old Maple Leafs center is a year away from UFA status.
Simmons observes that Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon will be the highest-paid player with an average annual value of $12.6 million while Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid is second at $12.5 million.
While Matthews lacks MacKinnon’s Stanley Cup ring and McDavid’s plethora of individual awards, Simmons believes he’ll get between $14 million and $15 million annually on his next contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve speculated that Matthews could get a more conservative $13.5 million but it wouldn’t shock me if it exceeds $14 million. He’s a two-time Richard Trophy winner who last year became the first player in over a decade to tally 60 goals in a season. The Leafs center has reached the 40-goal plateau in five of his seven NHL seasons and won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2021-22.
Matthews isn’t a better player than McDavid. Nevertheless, if the Leafs won’t pay him between $14 million and $15 million annually, another club will happily do so via next summer’s free-agent market, when the salary cap is expected to jump by at least $4 million. That’s the way the market works.
As for McDavid, he’ll regain his title as the NHL’s highest-paid player once his current contract is completed at the end of 2025-26.