Rumor Roundup: What’s next for the Blackhawks?; Maple Leafs want Aaron Ekblad?

Ben Smith (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Most teams eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs enter the off-season facing questions over their roster needs and how to address them. But for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, recently eliminated from the Western Conference Final, there’s unlikely to be significant changes.

That’s not to suggest the Blackhawks don’t have any roster issues. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports they were essentially a three-line team for much of the season, unable to adequately replace departed veterans Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. They still lack a dependable second-line center, while the defense struggled at times in the post-season.

The Blackhawks also have limited cap space for 2014-15, carrying a projected $4.6 million. They must also ensure sufficient cap space going forward to re-sign superstar forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agent status next summer.

Despite their faults, however, the Blackhawks were among the NHL’s best teams and came within one goal of returning to the Stanley Cup final for the second straight year. They’re also stocked with promising players. Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith should gain larger roles going forward. Teuvo Teravainen and Jeremy Morin could also see more playing time in 2014-15.

While management could make a move or two, don’t be surprised if it’s only minor adjustments.

LEAFS LOOKING TO LAND EKBLAD?
Former Sportsnet 590 The FAN reporter Howard Berger floated a wild rumor from two NHL sources suggesting a blockbuster trade could be in the works between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. The deal would see the Leafs ship defenseman Dion Phaneuf, center Nazem Kadri and the Leafs first round pick (eighth overall) to the Panthers for defenseman Ed Jovanovski and the Panthers first round pick (first overall), with which the Leafs would select prospect defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Berger writes the Leafs might need Phaneuf’s approval for a trade to Florida, but the blueliner could welcome a move out of hockey-mad Toronto. Berger also claims Kadri doesn’t get along with coach Randy Carlyle. The Panthers have plenty of cap space to take on both contracts.

As for Jovanovski, Berger notes he’s in the final year of his contract at a cap hit of $4.13 million. The 38-year-old defenseman returned from hip surgery this season and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back for 2014-15. If he does, Berger believes he’ll bring size and experience to a young Leafs blueline.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon is willing to trade the first overall pick for the right offer. Perhaps a Phaneuf-Kadri package would tempt Tallon, but unless the Leafs are clearing cap space for bigger additions via separate deals or free agency, they’ll need more from the Panthers than the first overall pick and an ageing defenseman.

Despite the weaknesses in Phaneuf’s defensive game, the Leafs have no one in their system to replace the minutes he plays. Dealing away Kadri weakens them at center, especially if they fail to re-sign pending UFA Dave Bolland.

Berger claims if Jovanovski retires the Leafs would be off the hook for his salary for 2014-15. Jovanovski, however, falls under the “35-plus” contract category, meaning his cap hit still counts against the cap no matter where (or if) he plays.

UMBERGER FOR GAGNER?
Another rumored swap making the rounds involves the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers. The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports there’s speculation the Blue Jackets could ship winger R.J. Umberger to the Oilers in exchange for center Sam Gagner.

Umberger, who has three years left on his contract worth $4.6 million annually, requested a trade following the Blue Jackets playoff elimination. He must submit a list of 10 teams to which he won’t accept being dealt to by June 15.

Portzline acknowledges the Oilers need a big, rugged winger but believes they could be on Umberger’s “no-trade” list. The Edmonton Journal’s David Staples thinks it’s unwise for the Oilers to pick up an expensive, ageing winger whose performance is in decline. If they’re to move Gagner, Staples feels it should be for a younger player entering his prime years, rather than one leaving them.

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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