With the opening round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs complete, here's the latest speculation involving several clubs that failed to advance to the second round.
Boston Bruins. A defense corps depleted by injuries contributed to the Bruins' opening-round demise against the Ottawa Senators. ESPN.com's Craig Custance believes they must bolster their blueline depth for next season.
Free agent options include Washington Capitals rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk, but he would be an expensive addition. Custance suggests pursuing a more affordable blueliner with a shorter-term contract via trade to help the transition for young defenders such as Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy.
Chicago Blackhawks. A lack of youth and speed on defense contributed to the Blackhawks getting swept by the Nashville Predators. The Chicago Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom thinks the Blackhawks would ideally trade Brent Seabrook, but his age (32), no-movement clause and $6.8-million annual average salary makes him an unlikely trade candidate.
The Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus notes a high number of players carrying no-movement or no-trade clauses gives the Blackhawks limited cap flexibility. He suggests moving Niklas Hjalmarsson because of his limited no-trade clause. However, finding one of the 10 teams that the 29-year-old will accept being dealt to won't be easy.
Columbus Blue Jackets. Freeing up salary-cap space could be the Blue Jackets' priority. They've got over $70 million tied up 21 players with restricted free agents Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson to re-sign. Even with David Clarkson ($5.25-million cap hit) on permanent long-term injured reserve and the impending loss of a roster player to the expansion draft, the Jackets need more wiggle room under the cap.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance wonders if veteran winger Scott Hartnell might consider waiving his no-movement clause. The 34-year-old was willing to do so last summer but withdrew the proposal when there were no trade offers. Given the Jackets' improvement this season, Hartnell could be keen to stick around.
Minnesota Wild. Another disappointing early playoff exit could spark some off-season roster changes. They also risk losing a good defenseman such as Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin or Marco Scandella to the expansion draft in June. ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggests peddling one of those blueliners for a young center.
The Wild must also re-sign restricted free agent forwards Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, who hold arbitration rights and due for significant raises. To clear some cap space, Custance advocates exploring a way to move veteran winger Jason Pominville. Given the 34-year-old Pominville's $5.6-million annual cap hit, modified no-trade clause and fading production, a contract buyout could be the only solution.
Montreal Canadiens. The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey believes the Canadiens must determine the intentions of superstar goaltender Carey Price, who's eligible in July 2018 for unrestricted free agency. The Habs can open contract talks on July 1 and Price says he wants to stay. But if Price won't commit to a new deal, Hickey suggests shopping him for a top-line center and perhaps a stop-gap goalie to buy time until promising Charlie Lindrgren is ready.
The Habs must also attempt to re-sign UFA right winger Alexander Radulov and restricted free agents Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu. The 30-year-old Radulov could get a five-year deal worth between $6-$7 million annually. Galchenyuk and Beaulieu, however, face less certain futures. Given their struggles this season, they could hit the trade block in June.
San Jose Sharks. CSN Bay Area's Ray Ratto wonders if this season was the last for long-time Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. With their careers winding down, they'll have to accept one- or two-year deals worth far less in annual average salary than the $6-million plus of their current deals.
The Sharks have over $54 million invested in 15 players and all their younger core players under contract. Should they pass on re-signing Thornton and Marleau, they will have sufficient cap room this summer to pursue younger scorers via trade or free agency.
Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite the Leafs' surprising improvement this season, they need a skilled, experienced top-four defenseman. They could pursue Washington's Kevin Shattenkirk via free agency. However, ESPN.com's Craig Custance believes a better option could be using left winger James van Riemsdyk as trade bait for a blueliner whose contract doesn't extend too far into the future.
Like Price in Montreal, the 27-year-old van Riemsdyk is a year away from UFA status. With rising young stars Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner to be re-signed within the next two years, JVR could prove too expensive to retain. Peddling him to clubs at risk of losing a quality defenseman to the June expansion draft, such as the Anaheim Ducks or Minnesota Wild, is a possible option.
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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