Nikita Nikitin (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks are off to a good start but GM Stan Bowman is still looking to improve the roster. Bowman is reportedly seeking a bottom-pairing defenseman via a trade or waivers. Defenseman Nikita Nikitin could be had from Edmonton and the Oilers could also shop goaltender Ben Scrivens, especially to a team like the Sabres seeking goaltending help.
Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman spent the off-season finding ways to shed salary without carving too deeply into his roster depth. For the most part, he appears to have succeeded. The Blackhawks are off to a good start to this season, summer additions Artem Anisimov, Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley seem to be fitting in well and youngsters Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin are playing well.
However, Bowman isn't done tinkering with his lineup. The Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc cites a source claiming the Blackhawks are actively shopping for a defenseman. Kuc notes there's concern over the lack of experienced depth on their third defense pairing.
Such blueliners tend to carry affordable contracts, but the Blackhawks are bumping up against the $71.4-million salary-cap ceiling. With only $350K in cap room as of Oct. 11, Bowman must bolster his blueline while cutting some salary.
One way could be demoting a player carrying a two-way contract. Forward Kyle Baun or defenseman Viktor Svedberg fall into that category. Another could be demoting a player on a low-salaried one-way contract, like winger Viktor Tikhonov ($1.040 million) or blueliner David Rundlad ($1.050 million), and use the $950K cap savings to put toward a defenseman. Bowman could also offer up one of those players via trade.
OILERS’ NIKITIN AVAILABLE ON TRADE MARKET
If the Blackhawks can free up some significant cap space for a defenseman, they should give the Edmonton Oilers a call. The Oilers recently demoted veteran defenseman Nikita Nikitin and his $4.5- million cap hit to their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. The move only provides the Oilers with $950K of cap relief and prompted some speculation over the 29-year-old's future.
David Staples of the Edmonton Journal recently cited a report out of Russia claiming KHL club Avangard Omsk was interested in signing Nikitin, who began his professional career with them over a decade ago. However, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman subsequently reported Nikitin isn't returning to Russia.
As the Oilers continue their transition toward a younger roster, Nikitin could become a trade candidate at some point in the season. His cap hit, however, means the Oilers must either pick up part of his salary or take back a toxic contract in return. It could take until at least mid-season, after the Oilers have already paid out half his salary, before a rival club comes calling.
SCRIVENS, REIMER TWO POTENTIAL OPTIONS FOR SABRES
Speaking of the Oilers, they might be able to help the Buffalo Sabres out of their current goaltending jam. With Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner out 6-10 weeks with an ankle injury, there's growing speculation Sabres GM Tim Murray could swing a deal for help between the pipes. Ken Campbell notes the Sabres have little experienced depth beyond backup Chad Johnson. Campbell lists the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks as possible trade targets.
The Oilers could be worth adding to that list. They recently demoted former starter Ben Scrivens to their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. The 29-year-old might benefit from a chance at a fresh start with another NHL team. Though he's carrying a $2.3-million cap hit, the Sabres have the cap space to comfortably absorb it.
Another option could Toronto Maple Leafs backup James Reimer, who's an unrestricted free agent at season's end. The Leafs have committed to Jonathan Bernier as their starter, meaning Reimer will likely move on next July. However, the Leafs could be unwilling to deal with a nearby division rival this early in the season.
While the Sabres are a long shot to contend for a playoff berth this season, they still hope to improve. Murray owes it to his players and the long-suffering fan base to bolster the goaltending and give his team a fighting chance.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.