What Next For the Chicago Blackhawks?
In today’s NHL rumor mill: the Flames face some big offseason decisions, it might be time for the Sharks to consider trading Timo Meier or Kevin Labanc and Nikita Zadorov’s uncertain future with the Blackhawks.
TSN: Salim Valji examined the seven-year tenure of Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving and the big decisions he faces in the offseason. He pointed out the perception of the Flames as a flawed team has grown, suggesting it’ll take more than a handful of transactions to turn this disappointing club into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
Winger Johnny Gaudreau’s no-trade clause kicks in after this season and he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Team captain Mark Giordano could be exposed in the expansion draft. Under-performing winger Matthew Tkachuk will be a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights requiring a $9 million qualifying offer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Treliving took responsibility for the Flames’ discouraging performance this season but that’s cold comfort for their fans. There could be growing calls for a new GM but Valji points out Treliving has two years remaining on his contract.
Gaudreau’s future could be Treliving’s biggest decision. The 27-year-old winger is a whipping boy for the Flames’ woes as his production has declined over the last two years. He could be their best trade chip but interested parties will want to know if Gaudreau will sign a contract extension before committing to a trade. He’d have more value if he’s under contract beyond next season.
Exposing Giordano in the expansion draft is a calculated risk. The Seattle Kraken could select him but could prefer another option given his age (37) and UFA eligibility next summer.
Tkachuk disappointed this season but the Flames could be reluctant to part ways with the pesky 23-year-old winger. He’d attract plenty of interest in the trade market but some teams will balk at that hefty qualifying offer.
THE ATHLETIC: Kevin Kurz points out it’s not just the San Jose Sharks’ veterans who are playing poorly of late but also their younger players. Most concerning is Timo Meier (24) and Kevin Labanc (25) aren’t performing to the level expected of players with their contracts.
Kurz wonders if it might be time to trade one or both but that won’t be easy. While they lack no-trade protection, Labanc has a $4.725 million cap hit for the next three seasons while Meier’s is $6 million annually for the next two.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Their trade value at this point would also be affected by their play this season. Factor in those cap hits and getting a worthwhile return for either guy this summer seems unlikely.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Ben Pope suggested the Blackhawks’ signing physical defenseman Riley Stillman to a three-year contract extension casts more doubt over Nikita Zadorov’s future in Chicago. He speculates Zadorov’s RFA rights could be traded in the offseason.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman listened to offers for Zadorov at the trade deadline but set a high asking price. He might have to lower it to move the blueliner this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stillman’s $1.35 million annual average value and age (23) makes him a younger, more affordable option for the Blackhawks than the 26-year-old Zadorov, who’ll cost $3.2 million to qualify his rights. He’s also got arbitration rights this summer, making him perhaps more difficult to move this summer.
What could be in store this summer for the Oilers? Will the Blackhawks re-sign or trade Nikita Zadorov in the offseason? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Salary-cap limitations prevented Oilers GM Ken Holland from making big moves at the recent trade deadline. Terry Jones expects Holland could be able to do more in the offseason and next season once he’s out of salary-cap hell.
Holland told Jones he doesn’t know if top-pairing defenseman Oscar Klefbom has made a decision about continuing his career following shoulder surgery. He intends to speak with the blueliner in June and July as they get closer to the expansion draft and free agency.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Klefbom has two more seasons left on his contract worth an annual average value of $4.167 million. Getting him back healthy for next season will certainly help his defense core.
If Klefbom’s career is over he’ll go on permanent long-term injury reserve if necessary, giving the Oilers GM some cap relief to perhaps put toward re-signing an unrestricted free agent such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson or Tyson Barrie, or perhaps to find one of their replacements.
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Following last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, Ben Pope suggested Nikita Zadorov has the remainder of this season to prove to the Chicago Blackhawks he still belongs in their future. Pope wrote the Blackhawks set a high asking price for the big 26-year-old blueliner before the trade deadline but decided to keep him when no one met that price.
Zadorov becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. It’ll cost $3.2 million to qualify his rights but it’s expected he’ll seek more than that on his next contract. Pope speculated Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman could trade Zadorov this summer if he fails to solidify his role as their shutdown defenseman.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks shipped winger Brandon Saad to the Colorado Avalanche for Zadorov and Anton Lindholm, the latter spending this season on their taxi squad. The big blueliner could be shopped in the offseason or perhaps left exposed in the expansion draft if he fails to make a positive impression over the remainder of this season.
Bowman will probably prefer to trade Zadorov rather than lose him for nothing to the Seattle Kraken. The decline in his stock, however, means he might only fetch a mid-range draft pick or a prospect.
THE ATHLETIC: Responding to a reader’s question yesterday, Eric Stephens believes the Anaheim Ducks will set a higher asking price for defenseman Josh Manson and winger Rickard Rakell because they each have a year remaining on their respective contracts. He feels the Ducks should seek a first-round pick and a top prospect for each player. Stephens doesn’t know if general manager Bob Murray is shopping Manson and Rakell but he’s getting a lot of calls.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With so many of the top rental players off the market perhaps there will be more interest in Manson and Rakell before the deadline.
STLTODAY.COM: Tom Timmermann reports the Blues’ recent surge back into playoff contention muddies the waters regarding their trade plans. Pending free agent winger Mike Hoffman seemed the most likely trade candidate but that may have changed due to an injury to forward Robert Thomas.
It would take a significant offer and pessimism on the part of Blues’ management over contract talks to pry winger Jaden Schwartz loose. Like Hoffman, he’s a UFA this summer. So is center Tyler Bozak, who might be enticing to clubs seeking depth at center. Vince Dunn is a restricted free agent and could be appealing as an offensive defenseman.
Timmermann believes the Blues would seek draft picks to restock their prospect pipeline.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson reports the Oilers need a left-winger, a second-pairing defenseman and a third-line center. GM Ken Holland, however, doesn’t want to part with a first-round pick or a Grade-A prospect for a rental player. He’s also hampered by limited salary-cap space. Matheson speculates Holland could wait and see if the price drops for pending UFAs such as the Blues’ Mike Hoffman or the Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holland could pursue a player or two with term on their contracts. That will require some salary-cap creativity as we saw in the Savard and Foligno trades over the weekend in which a third-team used their cap space to broker a deal.
CALGARY SUN: Wes Gilbertson believes Sam Bennett is the Flames’ most valuable trade chip approaching the deadline. However, the fact he’s still in Calgary over two months following his agent’s public trade request suggests any offers have been underwhelming.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bennett’s a restricted free agent this summer so Flames GM Brad Treliving doesn’t have to move him at the deadline. He could wait for a better offer during the offseason before the Seattle expansion draft.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Chip Alexander reports Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell recently mentioned a right-shot defenseman and an extra forward as trade deadline possibilities. He speculated Waddell may have had discussions with the Ducks about Josh Manson or the Los Angeles Kings about Sean Walker. Both are right-shot defenders with term remaining on their contracts.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We know the asking price for Manson could be expensive. The Kings could be reluctant to part with Walker as he’s in the first season of a four-year deal with a $2.65 million annual average value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It was reported yesterday the Penguins had acquired Deslauriers but that was subsequently walked back. Perhaps it was because they were in the process of acquiring Jeff Carter from the Kings. We’ll find out later today if they revisit a Deslauriers deal.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks expects a quiet trade deadline for the Rangers. He believes GM Jeff Gorton would listen if he received offers for Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich or Mika Zibanejad to perhaps lay the groundwork for offseason deals. However, they haven’t gotten any such inquires.
Brooks also believes the Rangers could buy out the final season of banished defenseman Tony DeAngelo’s contract this summer if he’s not traded at the deadline or selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
THE ATHLETIC: Scott Powers and Mark Lazerus report a Chicago Blackhawks source said management is resigned to getting less than expected for forwards Mattias Janmark and Carl Soderberg after seeing the Detroit Red Wings receive only a fifth-round pick from the Montreal Canadiens for Jon Merrill.
The Blackhawks’ cap space remains their hottest commodity for cap-strapped clubs seeking a third-party broker to facilitate a trade. They could also listen to offers for pending RFA defenseman Nikita Zadorov but they aren’t actively shopping him.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is a fixture in the rumor mill but his $4.5 million annual cap hit over the next two years makes him difficult to move. Hall also doesn’t rule out the possibility of young forward Nolan Patrick as a trade option for a second-round pick.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Mark McIntyre reports Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff won’t mortgage his club’s future for a rental player to bolster his blueline. He does have draft picks to use as trade bait and can add a salary with Bryan Little on long-term injury reserve.
McIntyre believes a rental player is a likely route. He suggested defense targets as New Jersey’s Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Murray Sami Vatanen, or Ottawa’s rugged Erik Gudbranson. Others include Dallas’ Jamie Oleksiak or Detroit’s Marc Staal.
Latest return-to-play news plus updates on Max Domi, Nikita Zadorov, Jesse Puljujarvi and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox suggests hockey could return to normal by next September with coronavirus vaccines on the way. The NHL, meanwhile, is attempting to stage a shortened 2020-21 season with empty arenas, an all-Canadian division, a canceled All-Star break and playoffs that could finish in mid-July.
Talk of starting the season on Jan. 1 appears increasingly unlikely with each passing day. The pandemic is hitting rates in some American states not seen elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, the all-Canadian division could hit a snag with rising COVID-19 rates in the provinces with NHL clubs.
Setting aside the entire season, however, doesn’t make sense for the league from a business standpoint. Return-to-play negotiations hit a snag last week over the league’s request for additional escrow and salary deferral from the players.
THE PROVINCE: An NHL player agent told Ben Kuzma the players hold the leverage in return-to-play negotiations because league commissioner Gary Bettman “has to preserve the integrity of the game and they have to play a season – whatever it looks like.” Failure to do so, according to the agent, would hurt the league’s brand.
“If it was a just a clear deferral, I think players individually would look at that, if they had the flexibility,” added the agent. “But players are in different situations. If a guy is on a long-term deal, would it make sense for him to defer some money this year? That’s a voluntary decision and it might be able to work, but the players and league have to agree on it.
“And part of the problem with deferred income is that in the U.S., it’s not guaranteed. So, if an owner wants to declare bankruptcy, the first thing a court is going to throw away is unsecured debt. And if you secure it, you add tax to that particular year.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHL and NHLPA are running out of time to reach an agreement on a return-to-play plan for Jan. 1. The quickest way to that route would be the league backing off on their requests for increased escrow and salary deferral rates, but I don’t see Bettman and the team owners doing that. The players have dug in their heels. If the league does the same, the entire 2020-21 season will be in jeopardy.
ESPN.COM: In a recent interview with Greg Wyshynski, Max Domi addressed his recent trade from the Montreal Canadiens to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He pointed to his and the Canadiens’ struggles last season as factors that led to the deal, but he expressed no ill will toward his former club.
Domi’s looking forward to playing for the Blue Jackets as he feels they’re a team that’s ready to win. “They’re the hardest team to play against in the league. I can tell you that first-hand.”
THE ATHLETIC: Nikita Zadorov is looking forward to a larger role and more responsibilities with the Chicago Blackhawks after being largely a third-pair defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche. Zadorov was traded last month to the Blackhawks.
SPORTSNET: Jesse Puljujarvi’s improvement in Finland bodes well for his return this season to the Edmonton Oilers. He spent all of last season with the Oilers over a contract dispute.
TORONTO SUN: Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen terminated his contract last week with KHL club Jokerit Helsinki and is heading to Toronto to join the Maple Leafs. The 26-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the Leafs in May and was loaned to Jokerit in August.
FLORIDA HOCKEY NOW: The Florida Panthers have officially partnered with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits.