Rumor Roundup: Is Phil Kessel a fit with Flames, Blues or Panthers?

Phil Kessel (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman’s claim last Saturday the Toronto Maple Leafs were getting trade inquiries for Phil Kessel, there’s growing speculation over where the 27-year-old scorer could be dealt.

If a Kessel trade happens, Friedman believes it will be a couple of weeks before it takes place. That’s likely because the NHL draft weekend (June 26-27), where many off-season trades generally take place, is fast approaching.

Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer who twice reached the 80-point mark, has value on the trade market. His contract, however, is a sticking point. He has seven years left at an annual cap hit of $8 million. Factor in the projected marginal increase in the cap ceiling for 2015-16 from $69 million to $71 million and it could prove difficult for the Leafs to find a suitable deal.

Friedman subsequently appeared on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central panel to discuss potential destinations for Kessel. He notes Predators GM David Poile had interest in the Leafs right winger, but doubts Nashville is a destination now, pointing out it has young stars like left winger Filip Forsberg and defenseman Seth Jones to re-sign the following season. Other destinations could include the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.
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Five players who are top buyout candidates this summer

Vincent Lecavalier

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray made headlines Thursday afternoon when he said the team has considered buying out the contract of 25-year-old winger Cody Hodgson.

Hodgson signed a six-year contract in September 2011 valued at an average annual salary of $4.25 million, but his production slipped in a big way this past season as he managed just six goals and 13 points in 78 games. Hodgson, who was drafted 10th overall by the Canucks in 2008, hasn’t quite panned out to be the big star the Sabres were hoping for when they acquired him from Vancouver at the 2011-12 trade deadline.

While he did manage consecutive good in 2012-13 and 2013-14, including scoring a career high 20 goals and 44 points in the latter, the drop in play was cause for his name to be mentioned in buyout talks during the season. With Hodgson currently working out in Sweden with a skating coach, according to Murray, if he comes into training camp and his play doesn’t please the staff, it’s possible he’s a late addition to the free agent pool.

Hodgson isn’t the only player who could be headed for a buyout this summer, and here are five other notable players who could be getting paid by two clubs next season: Read more

5 Stanley Cup-winning goalies who were “just OK”

Antti Niemi

A hot goalie can take his team deep into the playoffs, but a cold one can also go pretty far with a strong enough team in front of him. A goaltender has won the Conn Smythe Trophy six out of the last 20 years, but we’ve also seen some pretty mediocre performances from Stanley Cup champion goalies.

We may well be in for another one this year. The Ducks’ Frederik Andersen is the only remaining goalie in the playoffs with a goals-against average under 2.00, and the rest of the pack have all had their struggles this post-season. Henrik Lundqvist is just getting over allowing 12 goals in two games, and Ben Bishop just allowed five goals in back-to-back appearances. Then there’s Corey Crawford, who temporarily lost his net to Scott Darling earlier this post-season.

The goaltending hasn’t been great, but does that mean Andersen is the odds-on favourite to win the Cup this year? Or will a mediocre performance in net be enough to carry the Rangers, Lightning or Blackhawks to the final?

The latter is certainly possible. Just look at these five netminders. To quote former Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, these guys were OK. Just OK.
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Hurricanes, Flames, Blackhawks in running for Czech defenseman Jakub Nakladal

Jakub Nakladal (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Standout Czech defenseman Jakub Nakladal could be heading to North America next season and if he does, it appears he could be landing with the Hurricanes, Flames or Blackhawks.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nakladal is working on finalizing an NHL deal and Carolina, Calgary and Chicago are the three teams left in the running. While there haven’t been many reports on what exactly the 27-year-old blueliner is looking for in a destination, he certainly has his pick of destinations following a stellar campaign with TPS Turku of Finland’s SM-Liiga. Read more

Jagr and Eichel proving age means nothing at the World Championship

Jaromir Jagr (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

As we pause briefly from the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s turn our eyes over to Europe for a second, where the World Championship is down to four teams. Canada plays the Czech Republic in one semifinal, while Russia and the United States renew hostilities on the other side of the bracket.

If Canada hopes to move on, they’ll have to stop an ageless icon. Meanwhile, the Russians will have their hands full with a powerful teenager.

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Hi, my name is Ken…and I’m addicted to the draft lottery simulator

Connor McDavid (Photo by Ken Andersen/Getty Images)

Spoiler alert: The Buffalo Sabres will win tonight’s NHL draft lottery with the numbers 11, 5, 6 and 7. Your trusty correspondent knows this because he went to this really cool website that simulates the NHL draft lottery and it told him so.

Then he did it 99 more times because, like a certain potato chip, you can’t do it only once. The website, http://nhllotterysimulator.com/#/official, took on a new life on Friday when the NHL made public the lottery number combinations for each of the 14 teams in the event. Suddenly, fans everywhere could, with the click of a keyboard, determine where Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will end up next season. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Kari Lehtonen for Jimmy Howard or Cam Ward?

Kari Lehtonen (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Heading into the off-season, Dallas Stars management face a difficult decision regarding the state of their goaltending. Depth between the pipes was a serious issue, as the Stars failed to find a suitable backup for struggling starter Kari Lehtonen. As a result, they finished the season 27th in goals against.

In a recent chat with Stars fans, the Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News speculated over Lehtonen’s future. While acknowledging the 31-year-old is a “35-win, .917 goalie” who would be difficult to part with, Heika is wavering on whether Lehtonen can regain his form with the Stars.

Heika’s concern is understandable. While Lehtonen won 34 games for the Stars, his goals-against average (2.94) and save percentage (.903) was among the worst for NHL starting goalies. It didn’t help that Lehtonen’s backups (Jhonas Enroth, Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas) fared little better, though Enroth improved in his final games of the season.

Perhaps Lehtonen would benefit from a fresh start, but moving him won’t be easy. In addition to his woeful stats, he’s got three years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. He also has a no-trade clause, though that becomes a limited one starting in 2015-16. Heika wonders if the Detroit Red Wings would be interested in a swap of Jimmy Howard or if Carolina would want to trade Cam Ward straight up for Lehtonen. Read more

Draft lottery odds: the most likely outcome for your team

Connor McDavid (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

It’s amazing how things will change by Saturday night. Connor McDavid will know which NHL team he will belong to. The McDavid parents will know in which city their son’s adult life will begin to unfold and flourish. Vendors will go crazy preparing McDavid jerseys, signs and apparel.

(And make no mistake, McDavid will be the first overall selection in the June 26-27 NHL draft in Sunrise, Florida. There will be zero drama with that pick.)

The NHL’s draft lottery will be televised Saturday night at 8 pm. The proceedings will begin about 7:30, but the drawing of lottery balls will take place about a half hour later. McDavid’s most likely destination is a city other than Buffalo, but Buffalo has the best odds of all the 14 non-playoff teams. Here’s how it works.

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