Brandon Saad (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
While all eyes are focused on the Stanley Cup, the off-season will be tricky for the Chicago Blackhawks as they try to lock up Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and round out their defense while staying salary cap compliant. Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche could be looking at shipping out center Ryan O’Reilly and the Buffalo Sabres are contemplating a buyout of winger Cody Hodgson.
Chicago Blackhawks left winger Brandon Saad is garnering favorable reviews for his performance in this year's NHL playoffs. Entering Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 22-year-old Saad's eight goals ranks him among the Blackhawks leading post-season scorers..
Factor in Saad's solid regular-season numbers and it's clear the Hawks have a rising star on their hands. It's also increased the possibility he could receive an offer sheet in the off-season.
Saad, 22, is coming off an entry-level deal and lacks arbitration rights. Blackhawks management obviously intends to re-sign him, but with over $64 million tied up in cap payroll for 2015-16 they won't have enough to ink Saad, re-sign RFA forward Marcus Kruger and replace their departed unrestricted free agents.
It's widely expected the 'Hawks will try to shed salary this summer, with forwards Patrick Sharp ($5.9-million annual cap hit) and winger Bryan Bickell ($4 million) believed the likely trade candidates. However, there's growing speculation a rival club could test their willingness to match an expensive offer for Saad.
Recent rumors suggest the Pittsburgh Penguins could make a pitch for Saad. They're in need of young offensive talent, plus Saad is a native of Pittsburgh. In an interview with Josh Yohe of DK On Pittsburgh Sports, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford wouldn't comment about Saad or players from other clubs because of the NHL's anti-tampering rules. However, Rutherford noted the offer-sheet tactic was within league rules.
If Rutherford intends to make an offer sheet to anyone, it will have to be a more affordable target than Saad. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports the Penguins are among 16 teams (including Boston, Colorado, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, St. Louis and Vancouver) lacking the necessary 2016 draft picks required as offer-sheet compensation for a player of Saad's caliber.
AVALANCHE COULD TRADE O'REILLY
The Colorado Avalanche face a difficult decision with Ryan O'Reilly. The 24-year-old center has a year remaining on his contract worth an annual cap hit of $6 million. He is eligible next July for unrestricted free agency.
Re-signing O'Reilly to an expensive, long-term extension could prove difficult for the Avalanche. Such a deal could also complicate efforts to re-sign young star Nathan MacKinnnon, who's a restricted free agent next July.
Trading O'Reilly could be among their options. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports they're willing to listen to offers leading up to the NHL Draft (June 26-27) in Florida. Friedman notes there's no guarantee the Avalanche will trade O'Reilly at the draft, if at all.
If the Avs place O'Reilly on the block, it's expected they'll demand a quality defenseman as part of the return. Colorado had one of this season's worst defensive records and lack the skill and experience needed on the backend to be competitive in the Western Conference. Finding the right fit, however, won't be easy entering a summer with 20 teams carrying cap hits for 2015-16 of over $54 million and a salary cap ceiling projected to marginally increase from $69 million to $71 million.
SABRES BUYING OUT HODGSON REMAINS AN OPTION
The rebuilding Buffalo Sabres could be prepared to cut ties with one of their young forwards. Matthew Coller of WGR 550 in Buffalo reports Sabres GM Tim Murray acknowledged a contract buyout of Cody Hodgson is among the options under consideration.
One season after achieving career-bests in goals (20), assists (24) and points (44), the 25-year-old Hodgson struggled through 2014-15, tallying only six goals and 13 points in 78 games. He has four seasons left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $4.25 million.
The Sabres have over $26 million in cap space at the current cap ceiling of $69 million. They have room to absorb Hodgson's cap hit for 2015-16 if they decide to give him an opportunity to regain his form. However, Coller notes if the Sabres buy out Hodgson while he's under-26, it'll be at an annual cap hit of over $783K for eight seasons.
Because of Hodgson's contract, Coller believes the chances of trading the young center are slim. If they keep him for another season and he fails to improve, the buyout cap hit jumps to over $1.6-million annually for six seasons.
Selected 12th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, the 21-year-old Grigorenko is a restricted free agent on July 1. He has struggled to crack the Sabres lineup. McKenzie claims the Sabres were willing to re-sign him but not to a one-way contract. The youngster could earn a more lucrative deal playing in Russia in 2015-16.
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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