Patrick Sharp. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Blackhawks need to cut salary, and it widely assumed Patrick Sharp is headed out. But where will he land? Also, are the Maple Leafs asking too much for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf? And is Kyle Okposo going to be dealt for draft picks?
While the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate their latest Stanley Cup championship, GM Stan Bowman will begin the difficult task of determining which of his players become salary-cap casualties. The Blackhawks have more than $64 million invested in cap payroll for 2015-16. They must re-sign restricted free agents Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger, as well as find space to re-sign or replace their unrestricted free agents.
This isn't the first time Bowman's faced this problem. Following the Blackhawks 2010 championship, he shipped out several salaried players to become cap compliant for the following season. While he doesn't have to trade as many this time, he'll still have to make the difficult choice of determining who must move.
It's widely assumed veteran winger Patrick Sharp, 33, is mostly likely to be dealt. NHL.com's Brian Hedger reports a source told him the longtime Blackhawk could be traded this week.
Sharp's carrying an annual cap hit of $5.9 million for two more seasons. While his numbers were down in 2014-15 (43 points in 68 games), he's only a year removed from a career-high 78-point performance. He also netted 15 points in 23 playoff games this year. The short term remaining on his contract and his offensive experience could make Sharp attractive to clubs in need of scoring wingers.
During a recent appearance on NHL Live, TSN's Darren Dreger said Sharp was linked to the Washington Capitals. The New York Post's Larry Brooks believes the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders could pursue the veteran winger.
Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports there's talk out of Chicago claiming the asking price for Sharp is a first-round pick, a top prospect and an NHL forward on an entry-level deal. She considers that “absurd.”
Bowman can't be faulted for trying to sell high. He can't afford to take back much salary so it makes sense to seek a return of prospects, picks and an affordable young player. However, he'll likely settle on something considerably lower to clear Sharp's salary from his books.
ARE THE LEAFS ASKING TOO MUCH FOR KESSEL & PHANEUF?
As the days leading up to the NHL Draft are usually a time of renewed trade activity, there's increasing interest in what the Toronto Maple Leafs will do with right wing Phil Kessel and captain Dion Phaneuf. The pair remains a fixture in the trade rumor mill and there's anticipation one or both could be dealt before the draft weekend is over.
The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons reports hearing Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and new Leafs coach Mike Babcock want Kessel traded, but they won't just give the 27-year-old right winger away. They're apparently less keen to move Phaneuf.
TSN's Darren Dreger believes Kessel's contract (seven years remaining at an annual cap hit of $8 million) remains difficult to move. He's been told the Leafs are willing to move both players but they want a good return for each. If the right deal can't be found this summer, they'll retain them for next season.
Leading up to this season's trade deadline, the Detroit Red Wings were reportedly interested in Phaneuf. There was speculation they might revisit those talks, however MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports the Wings are no longer interested in the Leafs defenseman.
It appears the Leafs place significant trade value upon the pair. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites two hockey executives claiming the asking price is “way, way too high.” One of them told LeBrun the Leafs could end up eating more of Kessel's salary than they think.
Regardless of what Shanahan and Babcock think about Kessel and Phaneuf, they're both still in their playing prime and under long-term deals. There's no reason to accept poor returns for either guy simply to rush them out of town. Both can be retained in hopes improved performances under Babcock improves their trade value.
IS OKPOSO ON THE MOVE?
In recent years, New York Islanders GM Garth Snow has shown a willingness to make bold trades, though with mixed results. His swap of Matt Moulson to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek during the 2013-14 season did not pan out well. Prior to the start of this season, however, Snow had better results with his acquisitions of defensemen Johnny Boychuk from Boston and Nick Leddy from Chicago. Both have become cornerstones of the Islanders' defense.
Snow could swing another significant deal heading into the upcoming draft. Newsday's Arthur Snow cites two sources from outside the Islanders organization claiming right winger Kyle Okposo could be on the trade block.
Though Okposo is coming off solid back-to-back seasons, Staples suggests Snow might be unwilling to re-sign the 27-year-old to a lucrative new contract. Okposo is eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency and Staple speculates he could seek a six- or seven-year deal worth $7-million annually. The winger also missed considerable time this season to a detached retina and struggled to regain his offensive form.
The Islanders lack first- and second-round picks in the upcoming draft. It's possible Snow could use Okposo as a bargaining chip to move up into the first round, though he'll likely want more than just a pick in return. If Okposo is indeed available, his offensive skills and $2.8-million cap hit for 2015-16 will attract considerable interest from teams seeking affordable scoring punch.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.