Thomas Vanek (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Minnesota Wild and Philadelphia Flyers could respond to their early summers with buyouts. Minnesota could seek to cut ties with Thomas Vanek, while R.J. Umberger could be sent packing in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Florida GM Dale Tallon will have the green light to add to his roster this off-season.
As more NHL teams become first-round casualties of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the more speculation grows over their offseason moves.
After yet another roller coaster season for the Minnesota Wild ended in an early playoff exit, GM Chuck Fletcher faces some tough decisions. The biggest, of course, is deciding if interim head coach John Torchetti returns on a full-time basis. After that, Fletcher could shake up his inconsistent, under-performing roster.
With only around $12 million in available salary-cap room for 2016-17, it's expected the Wild GM will buy out the remaining season of disappointing left wing Thomas Vanek. The 31-year-old is owed $7.5 million in actual salary, though the cap hit is $6.5 million.
The roster decisions get tougher after that. Michael Russo of StarTribune.com speculates restricted free agents Darcy Kuemper, Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba could become trade candidates. A blueliner such as Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella could also be dangled as bait for a scorer.
Dumba and Brodin were linked to the Edmonton Oilers for center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins before the trade deadline. Their disappointing performances in the Wild's opening-round ouster by the Dallas Stars could resurrect those rumors.
UMBERGER BUYOUT LOOMS, FLYERS SEEK DEPTH
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi wonders what Flyers GM Ron Hextall has in store for his club this summer. Citing the Flyers' need for experienced forward depth, he lists Kyle Okposo, David Backes, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, Mikkel Boedker and Eric Staal as options in this summer's UFA market.
Carchidi also notes Hextall only has around $12 million in cap space for 2016-17. Restricted free agents Brayden Schenn, Radko Gudas, Nick Cousins and Brandon Manning will be seeking raises this summer. All have salary arbitration rights. Buying out R.J. Umberger and trading defenseman Mark Streit ($5.25-million cap hit) or winger Matt Read ($3.625 million) would free up much-needed dollars. Carchidi also floats the notion of shopping goaltender Michal Neuvirth for a sniper.
Considering Neuvirth's opening-round series against the Washington Capitals, he's not going anywhere. Streit only has a year left on his contract, but his salary, age (38) and partial no-trade makes him a tough sell. Read, 29, lacks a no-trade, but the decline in his production over the last two seasons won't enhance his trade value. Buying out Umberger, however, is an easy way to find an additional $3 million.
Hextall could look toward free agency to bolster his lineup, but his preference is to build up his roster through trades and from within the Flyers farm system. He's likely to stick with that plan again this summer.
PANTHERS PREPARED TO BUILD ON PROMISING SEASON
Having finished atop the Atlantic Division this season, the Florida Panthers are disappointed in their early playoff exit at the hands of the New York Islanders. However, there's considerable optimism looking ahead to 2016-17. With their depth in rising young talent, particularly forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers should be even better next season.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggests Panthers management should bring back veteran winger Jaromir Jagr for another season, re-sign Trocheck to a long-term extension and pursue Andrew Ladd via free agency. Of these, the easiest is re-signing Jagr. The Sun-Sentinel's Harvey Fialkov reports GM Dale Tallon said the 44-year-old wants to return for another season. Tallon doesn't foresee any difficulty in getting a new deal worked out.
Trocheck, 22, is completing his entry-level contract and enjoyed a breakout performance this season with 25 goals and 53 points as a second-line center. Tallon signed Barkov and Bjugstad to lucrative long-term deals and could do the same with Trocheck.
With a projected $26 million in salary-cap space, Tallon has the green light from ownership to invest in roster improvements. He could have more money freed up if Dave Bolland is unable to continue playing. The Miami Herald's George Richards reports Bolland is meeting with specialists in Toronto and the Panthers are expected to cut ties with him.
The 29-year-old Bolland missed most of this season due to a nagging ankle injury related to a severed tendon suffered nearly three years ago. Fialkov claims the club can get out of his $5.5-million per season contract via insurance loopholes. That could make it easier for Tallon to pursue Ladd via free agency.
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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