Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers' off-season plan will include searching high and low for help on defense, but it could take trading a way a piece of the core to land a legitimate top-two blueliner. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars will have to get creative in solving their goaltending problem.
The Edmonton Oilers need for a top-pairing defenseman remains a hot topic among the media. With their depth in young scoring forwards, it's assumed one of them will be dealt to address the Oilers' blueline needs.
Appearing last Friday on 630 CHED radio, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman discussed with host Bob Stauffer what it might take for the Carolina Hurricanes to pry center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Stauffer feels it'll take more than defenseman Justin Faulk while Friedman countered it could take more than Nugent-Hopkins to land Faulk.
If the Oilers and Hurricanes are discussing Faulk, the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson points out Hurricanes assistant GM Rick Olczyk used to hold a similar position with the Oilers. He could help GM Ron Francis assess Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins.
The Hurricanes certainly need to bolster their offense, but it's doubtful they'll use their best defenseman as trade bait for a scoring forward. Faulk's the anchor of a rebuilding young blueline corps and carries a very affordable $4.833-million annual cap hit through 2019-20. Unless Faulk wants out of Carolina, and there's no indication he does, the Hurricanes have no reason to move him.
The Oilers might be better off setting their sights on Colorado Avalanche rearguard Tyson Barrie. Friedman told Stauffer he think the 26-year-old Barrie, who's a restricted free agent this summer, is “definitely in play.” He gets the impression the defenseman's agents and Avalanche management are having difficulty reaching agreement on a new contract.
Barrie should attract interest from the Oilers, but his departure would create a big hole on defense that the Avs could struggle to fill. Sitting among this season's worst defensive teams, trading away a skilled puck-moving blueliner won't address that problem.
Speaking of Nugent-Hopkins, The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa feels he could be a good fit with the Minnesota Wild. Like the Hurricanes, the Wild are deep on defense and in need of skilled depth at forward.
Nugent-Hopkins was frequently mentioned this season as a trade candidate. At one point, there were rumors claiming the Oilers and Wild had discussed a possible move. They could revisit those discussions leading up to the NHL Draft weekend in late June.
FIXING GOALTENDING PROBLEM WON'T BE EASY FOR STARS
Following the Dallas Stars elimination from the second round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues, coach Lindy Ruff defended the performance of goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. However, that hasn't stopped questions about the duo's future in Dallas.
The Stars cannot expect improvement next season by sticking with the tandem of Lehtonen and Niemi. Of the 16 playoff teams, they had the worst regular-season goals-against average (2.78) and finished the playoffs with a bloated combined GAA of 3.23.
Trading one of them, however, won't be easy. Lehtonen earns an annual average salary of $5.9 million through 2017-18 and Niemi's making $4.5-million per season. Both have partial no-trade clauses.
If Nill can move either Lehtonen or Niemi, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News suggests Carolina's Cam Ward, San Jose's James Reimer or Nashville's Carter Hutton as free-agent options. If Nill goes the trade route, Heika lists Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop or Anaheim's Frederik Andersen as trade targets.
Of Heika's free-agent list, Reimer would be the best bet. The Penguins could peddle Fleury this summer if they believe young Matt Murray is ready for prime time. Bishop is eligible for UFA status next July. Depending upon what the Lightning do with Steven Stamkos, they could find it difficult re-signing their starting netminder. Andersen, however, seems the most likely trade candidate, as the Ducks appear wedded to John Gibson as their starter.
Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press points out Nill's former connection to the Detroit Red Wings as an assistant GM. She wonders if he'll pursue Wings veteran Jimmy Howard, who's lost the starter's role with the Wings to Petr Mrazek. St. James suggests a three-way trade scenario in which the two clubs swap Howard for Niemi and the Wings flip the latter to a team in need of goaltending depth, such as “Toronto, Calgary or Carolina.”
One option floated by rumormongers has Nill making a pitch for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The New York Post's Larry Brooks, however, curtly dismisses that notion. “Lundqvist is not being traded to Dallas. So stop.”
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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