Rumor Roundup: Hawks still trying to peddle Sharp and Bickell

GettyImages-Sharp-Bickell

The increase in the NHL salary cap ceiling from $69 million to $71.4 million does little to help the Chicago Blackhawks escape from salary cap hell for 2015-16. They have over $64 million invested in cap payroll, leaving only $7.3 million to invest in new contracts. With restricted free agents Brandon Saad and Markus Kruger to re-sign plus several UFAs to re-sign or replace, the Blackhawks must shed salary.

It’s widely assumed left wingers Patrick Sharp ($5.9-million annually for two more seasons) and Bryan Bickell ($4-million annually, two years) are the likely trade candidates. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reports that, as of Monday evening, the Hawks weren’t far along in trade talks about any player.

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Rumor Roundup: It’s official – Matt Beleskey done with the Ducks

Matt Beleskey (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Anaheim Ducks’ efforts to re-sign pending UFA winger Matt Beleskey ended in failure. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports the 27-year-old rejected the club’s best offer and is headed to unrestricted free agency on July first.

Murray told media members at Tuesday’s GM meetings: “We made a really fair offer. God bless him.”

Beleskey is coming off a career-best 22-goal season, along with eight goals in 16 playoff games. He’s completing a two-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $1.35 million. Given the lack of depth in this summer’s UFA pool, Beleskey could command more than $4-million annually on the open market.

It’s possible the Ducks could shop Beleskey’s rights before the July 1 free-agent deadline. If so, the Ducks could get a conditional draft pick if the winger signs with the team his rights were dealt to. It’s not much, but it will be better for the Ducks than losing him for nothing.

KESSEL TO…THE PENGUINS?
Hearing word that the Pittsburgh Penguins were among the preferred trade destinations of Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Phil Kessel raised some eyebrows in Pittsburgh. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review believes acquiring Kessel is something the Penguins should consider, though he acknowledges there are significant issues working against such a move.
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Rumor Roundup: Would the Capitals, Penguins or Islanders trade for Patrick Sharp?

Patrick Sharp. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

While the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their latest Stanley Cup championship, GM Stan Bowman will begin the difficult task of determining which of his players become salary-cap casualties. The Blackhawks have more than $64 million invested in cap payroll for 2015-16. They must re-sign restricted free agents Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger, as well as find space to re-sign or replace their unrestricted free agents.

This isn’t the first time Bowman’s faced this problem. Following the Blackhawks 2010 championship, he shipped out several salaried players to become cap compliant for the following season. While he doesn’t have to trade as many this time, he’ll still have to make the difficult choice of determining who must move.

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Top 5 NHL stars-turned-coaches

Larry Robinson (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Members of the NHL’s coaching community come from a wide variety of backgrounds – some, like Canucks coach Willie Desjardins, have degrees in social work; others, like Dallas’ Lindy Ruff, are hockey lifers with a background as a worker bee NHLer – but, for the most part, very few of the game’s elite stars have found success as bench bosses. The reasons for it are complex, but by-and-large, the best of the best usually prefer to spend their time away from the type of high-pressure environment occupied by a coach in hockey’s top league. And that’s why news the Red Wings were close to naming Hockey-Hall-of-Famer Chris Chelios as an assistant to new head coach Jeff Blashill is interesting: you rarely see a former player of his calibre at ice level without his equipment on.

Who are the best modern-era players who have evolved into NHL coaches or assistant coaches? Here are the Top 5:

5. Adam Oates. Like the other players who made this list, Oates is a Hall-of-Famer who amassed 1,420 points in 1,337 regular-season games and is regarded as one of the better playmakers in league history. He began his post-career coaching days as an assistant in Tampa Bay and then New Jersey, before the Capitals made him their head coach in June of 2012. And although he failed to make the playoffs in two years guiding the Capitals before he was fired at the end of the 2013-14 campaign, Oates quickly returned behind the bench with the Devils as a “co-coach” alongside Scott Stevens midway through this past year. He’ll likely get another shot, at least, as an assistant, with another NHL franchise. Read more

Jacques Martin will help coach Penguins from press box next season

Jared Clinton
Jacques Martin (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

The Penguins are referring to Jacques Martin’s role with the team next season as Pittsburgh’s “eye in the sky.”

The club announced Tuesday that Martin, who was previously in an advisory role to GM Jim Rutherford and an assistant coach with the Penguins, will be Pittsburgh’s special assistant to the head coach and watch games from the press box and deliver analysis to coach Mike Johnston during each contest. He’ll also be pre-scouting for the Penguins, something he had already been doing prior to his new role. Read more

As Keith and Hedman are proving, to win a Cup, you need a horse on ‘D’

Duncan Keith (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s the debate that never really ends – which NHL position do you absolutely need a star at in order to win a Stanley Cup championship? – and it likely won’t end by the end of this column. But the impact of Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on the 2015 Cup Final adds more evidence to what many see is an overwhelming pile of it that favors one position: you can win a Cup without a traditional No. 1 superstar center, and you can win one without a cream-of-the-cream-of-the-crop goalie, but you cannot hoist the most storied trophy in professional sport without the presence of a workhorse, perennial Norris-Trophy-candidate defenseman.

Keith has averaged more than 31 minutes through 22 games, and Hedman is leading his team with nearly 24 minutes of ice time on average. Both are arguably the respective Conn Smythe Trophy candidates as playoff MVP. They’re out there virtually every other shift, usually taking on the opposition’s top players. And considering how Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane have had scoring issues in this series, Hedman and Keith are doing what they’re being asked to do in all aspects.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Seven of the past eight Cup-winners employed a blueliner who could command control of the play in a manner few of his peers could. Two of the past three years, the L.A. Kings have sent the gazelle-like Drew Doughty over the boards more than 27 minutes per playoff game. In Chicago’s most recent two Cup wins, Duncan Keith has averaged nearly 28 minutes a game. When Boston won it all in 2011, Zdeno Chara was on the ice some 27.5 minutes a night. When the Red Wings won their last championship in 2008, Nicklas Lidstrom gave his team nearly 27 errorless minutes per game. The Pittsburgh Penguins were an anomaly in 2009 – Sergei Gonchar was their most-utilized defenseman at 23:02 per game – but when the Ducks won it in 2007, they had an incredible three defensemen averaging more than or a shade within 30 minutes each game (Scott Niedermayer and 29:50, Chris Pronger at 30:11, and Francois Beauchemin at 30:33). Take away just about any player from their aforementioned championship squad, and there’s no assurance that squad would have its name etched on the Cup. Read more

53-year-old Chris Chelios set to join Red Wings coaching staff?

Chris Chelios (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

53-year-old Chris Chelios may be getting back on the players bench next season with the Detroit Red Wings.

According to TSN’s Aaron Ward, when the Detroit Red Wings finalize their entire coaching staff for the upcoming season, expect to see Chelios named an assistant coach alongside newly minted bench boss Jeff Blashill.

While Ward reported the Chelios announcement could be expected today during Blashill’s introductory press conference, he and Red Wings GM Ken Holland were mum on who would join the coaching staff. Blashill did, however, note that he would like to have his entire coaching staff in place by the end of the week. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Kessel, Malkin and Nash in new locales next season?

Rick Nash. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The days leading up to the NHL draft, which this year is June 26-27, are typically when the most off-season trade activity takes place, so it’s no surprise some big names are resurfacing in the trade rumor mill.

Of these, few are bigger than Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. During an appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan in Calgary, Elliotte Friedman said there were rumblings around the league over Malkin’s growing unhappiness with the Penguins.

Friedman suspects season-ending comments from team president-CEO David Morehouse (claiming Malkin, captain Sidney Crosby, coach Mike Johnston and GM Jim Rutherford would return next season) were meant to address that speculation. He doesn’t know if the Penguins intend to trade Malkin, and with the club about to go up for sale, doubts such a move occurs until that’s completed.

Reactions to Friedman’s remarks were swift. Malkin’s agent, J.P. Barry, told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was puzzled over the origin of these rumors, claiming they weren’t coming from him or his client. Pittsburgh sportswriter Dejan Kovacevic claimed Friedman’s information was erroneous, citing Malkin’s season-ending remarks expressing his happiness living and playing in Pittsburgh. Friedman subsequently backtracked from his remarks.

Given the Penguins decline in recent years, it’s understandable if Malkin feels frustrated over the club’s direction. However, his public comments and those of his agent aren’t suggestive of someone who might welcome a trade. Even if he did want out, the upcoming sale of the team certainly would make it difficult to fulfill that wish. Even if Penguins management wanted to move Malkin, his full no-movement clause complicates that option.

MAPLE LEAFS GETTING CALLS ON KESSEL

Friedman also reports a handful of teams spoke with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the recent NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo regarding their asking price for right winger Phil Kessel. He believes if a trade happens it probably won’t take place for at least a couple of weeks. That’s likely because NHL teams are waiting to find out what the salary cap will be for 2015-16.

Over the second half of this season, the 27-year-old Kessel was a frequent subject of trade speculation. He has seven years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $8 million plus a partial no-trade clause. It’s believed the Leafs wish to move him for a return of younger, more affordable assets.

Despite criticism over Kessel’s conditioning and defensive play, he’s reached the 30-goal mark five times. He’s led the Leafs in scoring every season since joining the club in 2009. There is a market for a player of his offensive skills.

Kessel’s salary, however, could be a sticking point. Two-thirds of the NHL’s 30 clubs have cap payrolls in excess of $55 million for ’15-’16. Of those, 13 have payrolls over $60 million. With the salary cap projected to modestly increase from $69 million to $71 million, that doesn’t leave many clubs with the cap space to comfortably absorb his contract. To consummate a deal, the Leafs could be forced to pick up part of Kessel’s salary.

NASH’S TIME UP IN NEW YORK?

A week after the New York Post’s Larry Brooks floated the notion of the New York Rangers trading winger Rick Nash to shed some salary, TSN’s Bob McKenzie weighed in with his thoughts on the Rangers exploring the possibility of trading their 30-year-old leading scorer.

McKenzie notes the Rangers’ limited salary-cap space for 2015-16 and their need to re-sign restricted free agent center Derek Stepan and left winger Carl Hagelin. He notes that Nash, who has three years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $7.8 million, still has a full no-trade clause. However, it will become a partial NTC on July 1.

With a cap payroll of $59.5 million for 2015-16, it could cost the Rangers over $9 million in combined salary re-signing Stepan and Hagelin. That won’t leave much room to re-sign forwards center J.T. Miller and right winger Jesper Fast, let alone sufficient space to replace pending UFAs Martin St-Louis and James Sheppard.

If trading Nash isn’t an option, Rangers management will have to prune elsewhere. One option could be moving out one of their defenseman. Dan Boyle, who has a year left on his contract at $4.5 million, seems a likely candidate. However, the 38-year-old’s best seasons are behind him and he carries a no-movement clause.

STAMKOS EXPECTED TO RE-SIGN LONG TERM

What would the early-June rumor mill be without trade rumors regarding one of the Stanley Cup finalists? And no, we’re not talking about the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks.

The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons recently took note of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’ limited ice time during the playoffs. He suggests Stamkos isn’t a favorite of Lightning coach Jon Cooper and wonders if that might force the 25-year-old superstar to reconsider re-signing with Tampa Bay.

Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent next summer so his future with the Lightning will obviously be a topic of interest. However, considering the Bolts’ status as a Cup contender, there’s little reason why Stamkos would want to seek greener pastures. Unless his contract talks become contentious, it’s expected he will re-sign an expensive long-term extension.

DEFENSEMEN WILSON, HEJDA OUT IN COLORADO

The Colorado Avalanche have six NHL-ready blueliners under contract for next season and, according to the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers, the club looks ready to part ways with defensemen Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson.

While it’s not the most fearsome roster of blueliners, the Avalanche have Erik Johnson, Brad Stuart, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Nate Guenin and Zach Redmond locked up through at least 2015-16. With nearly $11 million remaining under the salary cap, Colorado could dip into the free agent pool to solidify their top six and use a current blueliner as a depth option.

This past season, the Avalanche were in the bottom third of the league in goals against. If they can improve their defensive play, they can make strides in 2015-16.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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