Rumor Roundup: Is O’Reilly available?

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When the Colorado Avalanche matched the offer sheet Ryan O’Reilly signed last Feb. 28 from the Calgary Flames, they couldn’t trade him for one calendar year. With O’Reilly’s trade restriction ending just before this year’s trade deadline, The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater recently expressed concern over O’Reilly’s future in Colorado.

Given last summer’s front office changes and O’Reilly’s strong contributions to the club’s improvement this season, Dater doubts the Avs shop the 22-year-old after his trade freeze is lifted. Dater subsequently reported the two sides peacefully agreed to postpone contract talks until the summer.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun also noted O’Reilly’s trade restriction will soon be lifted. LeBrun claims numerous NHL clubs are closely watching what the Avalanche do with the versatile youngster, who can play center or the wing.

The cost of qualifying O’Reilly’s rights ($6.5 million) and his contentious contract talks with the previous front office explain the musings over his trade status. It remains to be seen if the Avalanche pay O’Reilly more than leading scorer Matt Duchene, who’ll earn $6 million on average over the next five seasons, starting in 2014-15. They must also re-sign restricted free agent goalie Semyon Varlamov and decide if they’ll trade or retain pending unrestricted free agent center Paul Stastny.

With the Avalanche currently among the top teams in the Western Conference, they’re unlikely to move a valuable player like O’Reilly. He’s a restricted free agent so they don’t have to worry about losing him for nothing in the off-season. If they must shop a player to address a need elsewhere in the lineup, Stastny seems the likely candidate.

WILL GABORIK CHANGE JACKETS?

Columbus Blue Jackets right winger Marian Gaborik remains hopeful of playing for Slovakia in next month’s Sochi Winter Olympics.  He’s currently sidelined by a broken collarbone and requires medical clearance from the Blue Jackets to participate in the tournament.

Playing in the Olympics isn’t the only uncertainty facing Gaborik, who turns 32 next month.  Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch noted the Jackets have only four games following the Olympics leading up to the March 5 trade deadline to evaluate Gaborik’s performance and his place within the roster. The Jackets are currently playing well, entering this week having surged into a wild card position with six straight victories.

Gaborik is an unrestricted free agent this summer and Portzline claims there’s no indication of contract talks between the two sides.  For the second straight year, Gaborik could be moved at the trade deadline.

Despite Gaborik’s injury history, his offensive skills will make him a tempting target for playoff contenders in need of scoring depth. The Blue Jackets parted with Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore to acquire Gaborik from the New York Rangers at last season’s trade deadline.  With his UFA eligibility and ongoing injury issues, the Jackets won’t get a comparable return.

SALIVATING OVER STAMKOS

Much of the hockey world is following Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos’ swift recovery from a broken leg and gauging his chances of playing for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics. A few folks, however, are dreaming about where Stamkos could be playing when his current contract expires.

Stamkos’ eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July 2016 has Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox suggesting the Leafs pursue the Markham, Ont. native if he doesn’t re-sign with the Lightning.

If Stamkos enters the 2016 UFA market he’ll attract numerous suitors willing to pay top dollar for his services. The deep-pocketed Leafs would certainly be among them.

Tampa Tribune columnist Erik Erlendsson, however, rejects the notion of Stamkos leaving Tampa Bay in 2016. Erlendsson said he’s “99.91” percent certain Stamkos will be re-signed well before his UFA eligibility.

It’s anyone’s guess what the future holds for Stamkos, but Leafs Nation shouldn’t get its hopes up expecting he’ll be coming home in 2016.

PENGUINS WILL SHOP ‘D’ TO UPGRADE ‘O’

As the Pittsburgh Penguins’ injury-ravaged defense gets healthier, Simon Despres, 22, finds himself the odd man out.  Last week the Penguins assigned him to their American League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to ensure he gets more playing time.

Penguins GM Ray Shero is reportedly in the market for a scoring left winger and third-line depth. It’s believed Shero could shop one of his young blueliners to address one of those needs.

Despres has been mentioned as a trade candidate since last summer. This latest move stokes anticipation he will become Shero’s bargaining chip near the trade deadline.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays 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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