The Maple Leafs must move heaven and earth to land a top center in the draft

Dion Phaneuf Jake Gardiner

There are many things the Maple Leafs have done of late that’s rankled their fan base. Retaining the services of head coach Randy Carlyle tops the list, but after Toronto’s stunning late-season collapse, the general sentiment surrounding the franchise is still one of uncertainty and frustration.

There’s one way the Leafs can change that in the next few days: trade up in the NHL entry draft and select a center to serve as a franchise cornerstone.

That’s easier said than done. Given the fact there’s no consensus on the No. 1 pick, there could be more teams than ever jostling to move up in the draft. The owners of that pick, the Florida Panthers, have made it abundantly clear they’re willing to trade it in return for players who can help them win immediately. The Edmonton Oilers have the third overall selection and they too are under all sorts of pressure to produce in the standings sooner than later. So the opportunity is there. Now it’s about what kind of offer it would take to push the Leafs up from their current No. 8 slot and into a place where they can acquire the type of dynamic prospect they’ve been lacking for most of the past five decades.

Some have linked captain Dion Phaneuf to any move up in the draft the Leafs might make – and he would improve the blueline of the Panthers and Oilers – but his seven-year, $49 million contract extension means Toronto would have to take back an onerous deal. To avoid that scenario, I’d be fine with dealing any other blueliner not named Morgan Rielly, in combination with a young NHL-caliber forward or two and/or a draft pick of note, to acquire a better pick. Read more

Flyers trade Scott Hartnell to Columbus for R.J. Umberger, reinforce their status as NHL’s Game of Thrones franchise

Adam Proteau
Scott Hartnell R.J. Umberger (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are a few things you can count on in every NHL off-season: GMs and team officials will step to the entry draft podium and thank the host city (as well as their fan base watching the proceedings back at Jimmy Bob Jesse Joe’s Alabama Steakhouse and Cheesecakery Grill); players will be overpaid in free agency; and the Philadelphia Flyers will conduct major surgery on their roster.

The first two of those summertime staples will take place in the next week or so, but the Flyers got a jump-start on their end Monday afternoon by trading heart-and-soul left winger Scott Hartnell to Columbus for left winger R.J. Umberger and a fourth round draft pick. And once again, Philly’s ever-spinning personnel carousel unsettles a roster that probably just needed to be left alone.

Both Hartnell and Umberger are 32 years old and both make close to the same money – Hartnell has a $4.75-million cap hit, while Umberger has a $4.6-million hit – and while the Flyers save on contract term length in the transaction (Umberger has three years left on his deal and Hartnell has five), there’s little doubt the Blue Jackets are getting the better player. Read more

Why the Edmonton Oilers should trade down at the draft

Matt Larkin
Oilers draft

Another year, another high draft pick for lowly Edmonton. Before Craig MacTavish and company race to the podium, some benevolent GM around the league, I beg you, save this poor team from itself. Trade up and take the Oilers’ No. 3 overall selection. Assuming Aaron Ekblad goes to the Florida Panthers, the best path to improvement for Edmonton is to acquire an established asset for its first pick, move down several slots and use a lower-first round pick on defenseman Haydn Fleury.

I’m a broken record talking about the law of diminishing returns with Edmonton and skilled forwards at the draft. The Oilers’ first selections each year since 2007:

2007 (6): Sam Gagner
2008 (22): Jordan Eberle
2009 (10): Magnus Paajarvi
2010 (1): Taylor Hall
2011 (1): Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2012 (1): Nail Yakupov
2013 (7): Darnell Nurse

Last’s year’s selection of Nurse – which I loved – ended Edmonton’s six-year run of applying a “best available” approach and taking a slick forward. Unless you count Taylor Hall as the exception of that group, it’s six consecutive selections of a smallish, defensively deficient, offensively gifted forward. The more clones you have of one player type, the less impactful each one becomes.

Is it any surprise, then, we’ve seen Edmonton morph into the perennially promising team that never delivers? It’s the same song and dance. Sexy video game team, tantalizing offense, no physicality, porous defense, suspect goaltending, nowhere close to the playoffs.

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Fun with semantics: Did Jason Spezza request a trade?

Ken Campbell
Jason Spezza

One thing in l’Affaire Jason Spezza that has become clear is that Spezza is no Dany Heatley. What isn’t so clear is whether or not Spezza actually asked for a trade out of Ottawa. Senators GM Bryan Murray maintains that Spezza did, those close to the player say that isn’t exactly the case.

According to sources close to Spezza, the scenario went down a little differently than it’s being portrayed. In his exit interview with Murray, Spezza laid his cards on the table. He told Murray that if the Senators were intent on a quick rebuild and were in the acquisition mode in terms of bringing in top-end talent, he wanted to be a part of it. But if the plan was to tear down the roster and rebuild the team with young players and draft picks, it might be best for the organization to maximize his value now and that he would not stand in the way of a deal involving him, provided it was not to one of the 10 teams in his modified no-trade clause. Read more

Defense-desperate Oilers land rights to Nikita Nikitin as hunt for blueliners heats up

Nikita Nikitin (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers on Friday tried to get a head start on what promises to be a desperate, league-wide off-season search for capable blueliners by acquiring a negotiating rights window with Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin.

There was no immediate word on what Oilers GM Craig MacTavish surrendered to land the rights to Nikitin, but given that the 28-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent in a couple of weeks, it won’t be much. Nikitin has size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), but the Russian isn’t a physical threat and was a third-pairing d-man for Columbus last year, averaging just 17:06 of ice time and posting two goals and 15 points in 66 games. In 2011-12, his first year with the Jackets after being dealt from St. Louis, he amassed more than twice that amount of offense (seven goals and 32 points in 54 games), but if he does sign with Edmonton, Oilers fans shouldn’t expect a return to those totals.

Nikitin earned $2.5 million in 2013-14 and in a weak free agent market, he’ll get some type of raise. MacTavish clearly wants to avoid the inevitable inflation of a player’s worth that occurs when free agency kicks off; that’s not to say he’ll have to give Nikitin $4 million a season, but he will have to offer him enough to forego free agency. Read more

Avs sign Jamie McGinn, but Colorado’s real contractual crossroads are still to come

Adam Proteau
Jamie McGinn 2014 in Denver, Co.  (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Colorado Avalanche settled up one piece of financial business Thursday night when they re-signed left winger Jamie McGinn to a two-year, $5.9-million contract extension.

Their biggest off-season negotiations, however, are still to come.

It’s a decent deal for McGinn, a 25-year-old restricted free agent who posted career bests in goals (19) and points (38) for Colorado last season after bouncing between the American League and NHL in San Jose’s system for four years. His new contract takes him to unrestricted free agency and if he can break the 20-goal barrier, the Fergus, Ont., native will earn himself a handsome raise.

That brings to 18 the number of players Avs executive vice-president of hockey operations Joe Sakic has under contract for next season. The problem is, two of the players who aren’t in that category are two of their most important: UFA center Paul Stastny and RFA center Ryan O’Reilly. And Colorado fans should be nervous, because scenarios certainly exist that lead to at least one, if not both players being ex-Avs in the not-so-distant future. Read more

Ask Adam: trading Jason Spezza and Mike Green; amnesty buyouts; and national pride

Mike Green

After an unexpected absence, THN’s online mailbag is back, and better than ever. Well, maybe just back. Thanks to all who submitted a question.

Hi Adam,

Now that Jason Spezza has requested a trade from Ottawa, and that GM Bryan Murray said “I know I won’t get the value, in all likelihood, that I should get for him”, what will it take to acquire him?
Niclas Emanuelsson, Säffle, Sweden

Hi Niclas,

Although Spezza is still a valuable NHLer, you’re not looking at an Eric Lindros-to-the-Flyers-type trade package to land him. Spezza just turned 31 and is in the last year of his contract, so any team that acquires him won’t be ponying up draft picks, prospects and NHL-ready young players.

Murray surrendered one of each of those to acquire Bobby Ryan from Anaheim last summer, but if he can get two of those three components (depending, of course, on the prospects and/or players and/or picks involved) for his captain, he’ll be satisfied and pull the trigger on a trade. As you said, Murray already has acknowledged he’s not going to get equal value for Spezza – that’s always the case when a player’s trade request goes public – so the best he can hope for is to create a bidding war (preferably, among Western Conference teams) and drive up the price as best he can. Read more

Spezza requests trade: These five landing spots make sense

Matt Larkin
Jason Spezza

Bombshell? No, more of a “bombshell.” Jason Spezza has long been attached to trade rumors, so the news he’s demanded a trade out of Ottawa merely makes things official.

For some fans, this is a sad goodbye. Spezza, who turns 31 Friday, ranks second all-time for the franchise in goals, assists and points. He’s been a crucial part of Ottawa’s plans since it drafted him second overall in 2001 (stick tap to Mike Milbury).

But from a cold, calculating, hockey perspective, this is great news for Spezza and the Senators. He gets a new beginning and perhaps a chance to pursue a Cup, depending on where he lands. The Senators relieve themselves of a $7-million cap hit before the season starts and will likely get the best possible return before Spezza commences the final year of his deal. He’d command less as a trade deadline rental and, given how injury-prone he’s proven in recent years, there’s no guarantee he’d be an available chip by next March. Even better for all parties, Spezza’s actual 2014-15 salary is only $4 million.

Should Ottawa pursue a hockey trade or look to, er, reacquire the type of young talent it gave away in the Bobby Ryan deal? We can’t read GM Bryan Murray’s mind, so let’s focus on the other half of the impending swap. Here are five destinations that make sense for Jason Spezza, keeping in mind he can veto trades to 10 teams as part of his modified no-trade clause.

1. Nashville Predators. I’m not the first pundit to suggest Music City as Spezza’s ideal destination, but that doesn’t mean I can’t agree. Sens beat writer and THN Ottawa correspondent Bruce Garrioch listed the Preds as a team after Spezza, and the deal makes too much sense. The Preds have the cap space, Spezza would have instant familiarity with old teammate Mike Fisher, Spezza would fit coach Peter Laviolette’s high-octane system, and Nashville would have its first and only No. 1 pivot since it borrowed Peter Forsberg for an hour.

2. St. Louis Blues. Doug Armstrong doesn’t have to extend Vladimir Tarasenko for another year, leaving Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund as his high-priority restricted free agents to re-sign. Even if that takes $15 million, the Blues should have enough left for Spezza. The main thing they lacked against Chicago in the playoffs was a game-breaking offensive weapon. Imagine Spezza dishing passes to Tarasenko?

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