Dustin Byfuglien. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets head into the 2015-16 season with two key unrestricted free agents-to-be in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Both could garner big returns if dealt at the trade deadline, but the Jets might try to hang on to two of their cornerstone players. In Toronto, there might not be as many changes coming as originally thought.
Recent internet-generated trade speculation involving Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien caught the eye of SI.com's Allan Muir. Byfuglien, 30, becomes eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. While the Jets don't have to move the big blueliner this summer, Muir notes re-signing him could be tricky.
Like Byfuglien, Jets captain Andrew Ladd could become a UFA next July. Center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Jacob Trouba will be restricted free agents in line for significant raises. Muir points out the Jets are a budget club that usually doesn't spend toward the league's cap ceiling.
Muir observes the recent rumor tied Byfuglien (who had a modified no-trade clause) to the Boston Bruins, but they must ship out salary to absorb his $5.2-million cap hit. Muir also suggests the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks as possible trade partners.
If the Jets cannot afford to re-sign Byfuglien, trading him this summer would avoid uncertainty over his future becoming an unnecessary distraction in 2015-16. However, the best time for such a move was late-June, when teams have more cap space and willingness to deal.
By this point in the off-season, most clubs have already invested their cap dollars, leaving little room to take on a high-salaried player like Byfuglien. A trade is still possible, but it's now more difficult to find a suitor who can make the dollars fit under the cap.
Muir believes Jets management could punt this issue ahead to season's end. Keeping Byfuglien for 2015-16 allows blueliner Tyler Myers, acquired in February from Buffalo, a chance to adjust to his first full season in Winnipeg. It also allows the promising Trouba another season to develop into a top-two rearguard.
Byfuglien's presence also improves the Jets' chances for a return trip to the playoffs. If they happen to be out of playoff contention before the 2016 trade deadline, Byfuglien could become the most valuable rental player on the market.
TRADE RUMORS CALM IN TORONTO
When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded right winger Phil Kessel on July 1 to Pittsburgh, it was assumed other members of their oft-criticized core would soon be dealt. Over a month later, however, all remains quiet in Leafs Nation.
NBC Sports' Jason Brough believes those core players – which include Bozak, defenseman Dion Phaneuf and left winger Joffrey Lupul – aren't out of the trade rumor woods yet. Younger players like Kadri, Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk and the recently re-signed Jonathan Bernier must still prove themselves willing to be part of the Leafs' rebuild.
Brough expects the Leafs revamped front office will remain active on the trade front as they rejuvenate their core with new, younger players. He acknowledges, however, it won't be easy to move higher-salaried players like Phaneuf, Bozak and Lupul.
As for those younger Leafs, they'll be expected to become part of the rebuilding process going forward. Should any of them fail to measure up, management won't waste time shopping them.
Those changes, however, will likely happen during the regular season. At this stage, the Leafs front office and coaching staff appear intent on analyzing their veterans' performance before deciding if further significant moves are needed.
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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