The disappointing showings from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi should have the Dallas Stars on the lookout for goaltending help this off-season while keeping in mind the need to possibly beef up the blueline. Meanwhile, the Predators could look to move out top playoff performer Colin Wilson in order to free up space to bring in a more consistent scoring threat.
The Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are the latest to join the list of playoff casualties. Their early exits from the postseason makes them fodder for offseason trade and free-agent speculation.
Shaky goaltending was the prime culprit in the Stars’ departure. The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi entered the playoffs with the worst combined regular-season goals-against average (2.78). They finished with a bloated combined GAA of 3.23.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance recommends the Stars upgrade between the pipes, but that won’t be easy. The Stars have over $10 million invested in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18. Niemi carries a full no-trade for 2016-17 while Lehtonen holds a partial NTC.
Should GM Jim Nill trade or buy out Lehtonen or Niemi, the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika lists Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators as free-agent options. He also suggests Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks as trade targets.
Reimer would be the best of the free-agent options, especially if they can get him on a short-term deal for under $4-million annually. Of Heika’s suggested trade options, Andersen is most likely to be available and probably the most affordable to obtain.
Matt Murray’s rise could make Fleury expendable, but the Pens could keep that tandem together for another season to ensure Murray is indeed ready to become a full-time starter. Bishop has another season remaining on his contract and the Bolts don’t have to rush into moving him this summer.
Noting captain Jamie Benn is eligible for UFA status in 2017, Custance believes they should re-sign him to a league-maximum eight-year deal. He feels they must avoid a Steven Stamkos-like situation whereby his contract status becomes a distraction throughout the ’16-’17 campaign.
Forget about being a distraction next season. The longer the Stars take re-upping Benn this summer, the more questions there will be about his future in Dallas.
Like Stamkos with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Benn is the Stars’ franchise player. He’s also a better player than Stamkos. He won the Art Ross Trophy last season and is a Hart Trophy finalist this season. He’ll be an expensive re-signing, perhaps between $10-11 million per season on an eight-year deal. Given Benn’s value to the Stars, they can’t risk derailing their progress by letting him walk next summer.
PREDATORS SHOULD LOOK AT SCORING WINGERS
Custance also offers up off-season suggestions for the Nashville Predators. He believes they should attempt to sign Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson via free agency and trade left winger Colin Wilson.
The 30-year-old Eriksson’s two-way style makes him a good fit for the Predators. However, he could seek around $6 million per season on a five-year deal. That might prove too expensive for cost-conscious Predators GM David Poile.
Custance makes the case that it’s best to move the inconsistent Wilson now. He feels his strong playoff performance, which included a franchise playoff record seven-game points streak, could enhance his trade value.
Signed through 2018-19 at an annual cap hit of just under $4 million, shedding his salary could free up room for Poile to make other additions or to re-sign first-line winger Filip Forsberg to a lucrative new contract. Still, Wilson’s solid post-season could also give Poile a reason to keep him.
STANDING PAT MAY BE CAPITALS’ BEST MOVE
As for the Capitals, media consensus suggests there’s very little they need to do. While their early playoff departure following a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season is disappointing, it’s believed they only require minimal adjustments for 2016-17.
Sportsnet’s Luke Fox speculates third-line UFA forwards Mike Richards and Jason Chimera should be replaced with younger and faster players. He advocates replacing free-agent blueliner Mike Weber with Vancouver Canucks rearguard Dan Hamhuis, though he advises not to get into a bidding war for his services.
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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