The free agency period opens in one day, but the lack of all-star talent available has teams turning to the trade market to improve their rosters. As such, players like the Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa and the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell could be prime trade targets. In addition, the Montreal Canadiens buyout of P-A Parenteau could open the door for a free agent signing.
NHL unrestricted free agency begins on July 1, but the thin market for available talent has teams considering better options via the trade market.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa is garnering considerable interest. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports 10 teams are looking at the 34-year-old blueliner who has a year left on his contract at a cap hit of $4.6 million. Friedman also claims Bieksa was nearly dealt to the San Jose Sharks, but after a week of talks the deal fell through before the draft.
The Canucks have just over $6.1 million in cap space for 2015-16 and must shed salary for other potential moves. Given the interest in Bieksa, the Canucks could ship him out before the free agent market opens. Failing that, they could gauge interest from clubs that failed to land the few decent UFA defensemen currently available.
Canucks GM Jim Benning made a big splash in last summer's free-agent pool, signing goaltender Ryan Miller and winger Radim Vrbata. The Province's Ben Kuzma reports Benning doesn't intend on making waves this summer, but could consider more affordable options.
Kuzma points out the Canucks’ defensive play was an issue in 2014-15. If Benning seeks an affordable UFA defenseman, Kuzma recommends Boston's Matt Bartkowki or San Jose's Matt Irwin. What happens with Bieksa before July 1 could affect just how much Benning has to chase free agents.
BLACKHAWKS STILL LOOKING TO DUMP SALARY
The approach of free agency isn't putting pressure upon Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman to make his expected salary-dumping deals. Bowman told the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus there's no timetable for those moves to be made.
It's believed Bowman intends to ship out winger Patrick Sharp and perhaps Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg to free up cap space for other signings and additions this summer. The 33-year-old Sharp is linked to Montreal, Pittsburgh and Washington. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Blackhawks and Canadiens were working on a deal involving Versteeg, but it fell through before the recent NHL draft was completed.
If the Blackhawks fail to move Sharp before July 1, Bowman believes he'll have more leverage as teams in search of scoring depth strike out in the free-agent market. Lazerus cites a source claiming the Blackhawks GM intends to play the long game with Sharp, waiting if necessary until training camp to get a deal done.
Bowman's no stranger to playing the waiting game in hopes of finding a suitable trade. Last October, just before the start of the 2014-15 season, he cleared defenseman Nick Leddy off his books by shipping him to the New York Islanders for a handful of prospects.
PARENTEAU BUYOUT OPENS SPACE FOR HABS
Speaking of the Montreal Canadiens, their buyout of winger P-A Parenteau's contract is prompting suggestions it is a precursor to GM Marc Bergevin swinging a deal for a scoring forward.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos speculates this could open room for Bergevin to pursue Anaheim Ducks UFA left wing Matt Beleskey. The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey wonders if pending Winnipeg Jets free agent Michael Frolik is on the Habs' radar.
Buying out Parenteau's $4-million salary for 2015-16 frees up over $2.6 million in cap space for Bergervin, pushing his available cap space to just over $7.5 million. The Habs GM still must re-sign RFA forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Brian Flynn, which will consume over half of that space.
Still, there should be enough wiggle room if Bergevin wants to pursue free-agent forward. However, it likely won't be enough for Beleskey or Frolik, who could receive offers worth over $4-million per season. Such a move will mean shedding salary via trade.
Following the draft, Bergevin claimed his free-agent moves were the re-signings of Jeff Petry and Torrey Mitchell. If so, perhaps the Parenteau buyout is freeing up cap space to take on a salaried player via trade.
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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