DALLAS – Bumped into an agent in the lobby of a Dallas hotel and he made the following observation about all the typical pre-draft chatter about blockbuster trades: “A lot of the usual stuff. Usually about 10 percent of it actually happens.”
That might be true, but even if that 10 percent threshold holds, it still could be one of the most intriguing days in years. That’s because the speculation mill is running almost as hot as the heat and humidity in Dallas today. And from here it looks as though the two interesting story lines that are most likely to occur are: 1. The Ottawa Senators trade Erik Karlsson, and 2. The Montreal Canadiens get bold in the draft and take Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the draft.
On the Karlsson front, Senators GM Pierre Dorion would not discuss individual players on his roster when he addressed the media on Thursday, but the possibility that he could deal the organization’s cornerstone this weekend is gaining a lot of steam. “They are definitely shopping him,” said one GM. It’s a deal that is complicated because of the Senators desire to package Karlsson with Bobby Ryan, who has four years remaining on his deal with an annual cap hit of $7.25 million dollars.
If Ryan were part of the deal, that would definitely reduce the potential return for Karlsson. Because what the Senators would get in return for Karlsson beyond the assets is the opportunity to get out from under an onerous contract. The cap space would be nice, but even better for the cash-strapped franchise would be the opportunity to save the money. And with Ryan due a $2 million signing bonus check on July 1, the Senators would want to get this done before then so the team getting him would have to pay that.
The Vegas Golden Knights still seem to be the most likely destination for Karlsson. They have some contracts to get done, including a new deal for 43-goal man William Karlsson, but they also have almost $31 million in cap space. And they were the leading contender to get Karlsson at the trade deadline, when a deal for the defenseman fell apart late in the process. They also have the young prospects that would aid the Senators in their rebuild. “I haven’t had many discussions, to be honest with you,” McPhee said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve got to call some teams to stay current and see what’s going on, but I can’t say we’ve got anything going right now.”
As far as the Canadiens are concerned, should they draft Kotkaniemi it will almost certainly not address their immediate need for help down the middle. That would come, possibly, in the acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres. Is there a fit there for Max Pacioretty, who has one year left on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent? Complicating matters with O’Reilly is his bonus-laden contract, which calls for him to be cut a check for $7.5 million on July 1. The Sabres would likely prefer to deal him before then.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin finds himself in a difficult spot. He has to improve the team that was fourth-last overall in the short-term, but also has to have an eye to the future, hence the speculation of drafting Kotkaniemi. “What I’d like to do is make the team better right away and if that’s there, I will,” Bergevin said. “But also in mind that I have to look to the long term for the good of the Montreal Canadiens regardless if I’m here or not. That’s my responsibility as a general manager, to make the team better now, but always to look at long term, and I will not stop doing that.”
There will be deals made today, there’s no doubt about that. One of them that could come down would involve Washington Capitals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, either to the New York Islanders or the Carolina Hurricanes. One scenario would see the Capitals and Islanders swap first-rounders, with the Capitals moving to No. 12 and the Islanders moving down to 31 and getting Grubauer. The Islanders already have their own pick at No. 11 and would be dealing the pick they got from the Calgary Flames in the Travis Hamonic trade. And with the hiring of former Capitals coach Barry Trotz by the Islanders on Thursday, there’s a familiarity there. If that deal doesn’t work out, the Capitals could send Grubauer to the Hurricanes for the 42nd pick. Dealing Grubauer would allow the Capitals to move Pheonix Copley into the backup spot, since Copley will be on a one-way deal that pays him $650,000 next season. Then 2015 first-rounder Ilya Samsonov, who signed a three-year deal in May, would move into the No. 1 spot with the Hershey Bears of the American League to start his career.
Capitals coach Brian MacLellan said Thursday he thinks Grubauer is worth a first-round pick on the trade market. “He’s the best option that’s out there,” MacLellan said. “There’s pretty good interest. He’s at that level now where he’s ready to be a starter and teams that have that need are interested in him.”
Speaking of the Capitals, MacLellan said he plans to interview assistant coach Todd Reirden next week for the vacant head coaching position and doesn’t plan on interviewing anyone else until after he talks to Reirden. When asked if it is fair to say that it’s Reirden’s job to lose at the moment, MacLellan replied, “You could say that. He’s got history there and he’s ready to try to be a head coach. He’s been successful with our defenseman and I think he can handle the personalities in our room. The players all know him, they’re comfortable with him. He’ll have a good feel for the personalities in our room.”
MacLellan also said he’s given assistant coach Lane Lambert permission to interview elsewhere and will likely do the same for goalie coach Mitch Korn. It’s expected they’ll immediately join Trotz on his staff with the Islanders.
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