Andrew Ladd (Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Winnipeg Jets have yet to work out contract extensions with captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, which could make one or both the center of trade talks all season long. Meanwhile, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes has flown under the radar as a potential deadline target.
With the NHL season underway, the contract statuses of Winnipeg Jets left wing Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien remain a key issue for the club. Ladd, 29, and the 30-year-old Byfuglien are eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. Ladd's current contract is worth an annual average salary of $4.4 million, while Byfuglien's is worth $5.2 million annually.
Ladd could seek around $6 million per season on his next deal, while Bygulien could command around $7 million. Both will become hot commodities if they decide to test next summer's free-agent market. To date, there's no word of progress in their respective negotiations with Jets management.
It's assumed the Jets could re-sign Ladd first. However, the Winnipeg Sun's Ted Wyman reports the Jets captain has stopped speaking to the press about his contract status and hinting he might shut down talks with management for the season.
Since July, Byfuglien frequently popped up in trade chatter. Most of it linked him to the Boston Bruins, who are lacking skilled blueline experience. As the season progresses, other clubs are likely to contact the Jets about ‘Big Buff.’
Responding to a reader's question about the Pittsburgh Penguins pursuing Byfuglien, NHL.com's Dan Rosen didn't dismiss the possibility. However, he speculates the all-star break is the earliest Byfuglien will be available.
The Jets are traditionally a budget-conscious club. Management could wait to see how this season plays out before getting into serious contract talks with Ladd and Byfuglien. Both players could also play the waiting game to gauge the club's direction. The longer they're unsigned, the more frequently they'll appear in trade rumors.
BACKES' STATUS COULD BE ONE TO WATCH
Speaking of pending UFAs, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggests St. Louis Blues center David Backes falls under the category of “potential contract extension/trade deadline distraction.” The 31-year-old Blues captain is in the final season of a five-year deal worth an annual salary-cap hit of $4.5 million.
Apart from an early-September rumor claiming the Philadelphia Flyers had inquired about Backes (which Flyers GM Ron Hextall denied), the long-time Blues center hasn't received much mention in off-season trade speculation. Given the conjecture over fellow UFAs like Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, Los Angeles Kings pivot Anze Kopitar and Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, it's not surprising that Backes has been overlooked.
Backes' performance, and that of the Blues this season, will largely determine his long-term future in St. Louis. Despite being a dominant club in the Western Conference over the past four seasons (three of which saw them finish with 109 points or more), the Blues have underachieved in the playoffs, failing to advance beyond the first round in each of the last three seasons.
As the Blues captain, Backes bears part of the responsibility for those playoffs failures. Another disappointing post-season could spell the end of his tenure in St. Louis.
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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