Another disappointing early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs is expected to bring about changes to the Washington Capitals.
Their recent elimination – a four-game sweep in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning – marked the fourth straight year the Capitals failed to advance beyond the early rounds and were knocked out by a lower seeded team.
Washington sports pundits were quick to suggest a shakeup is coming this summer for the Capitals and speculated over the possibility of Bruce Boudreau being replaced as coach.
GM George McPhee, however, was quick to dismiss that scenario, saying Thursday he expected Boudreau would return next season.
Trades may also be in the offing, but veteran right winger Mike Knuble, who was recently re-signed to a one-year contract extension, doubted McPhee would make a knee-jerk reaction by “blowing up” the roster because that isn’t the GM’s style.
Don’t expect Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom to become trade candidates, but inevitably the Alexander Semin rumor mill will lurch back into motion in the coming weeks.
Trading Semin isn’t impossible but, given his $6.7 million salary for next season and his playoff inconsistency, it’s unlikely.
One trade possibility involves moving one of the team’s goaltenders, perhaps for a scoring forward or physical defenseman with leadership and playoff experience.
With promising Braden Holtby ready to join the Capitals next season, McPhee has the option to move either Michael Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov.
SHOULD MONTREAL KEEP MARKOV OR WISNIEWSKI?
Montreal Canadiens fans received some good news earlier this week when it was reported defenseman Andrei Markov’s agent would soon meet with Canadiens management to being contract talks.
Agent Don Meehan is expected to meet with Habs GM Pierre Gauthier at the end of May in hopes of hammering out a deal for Markov, who is coming off a multi-year deal worth $5.75 million per season and is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
When healthy, Markov is unquestionably among the league’s top defensemen, but over the past two seasons injuries have limited him to only 52 regular season games and eight playoff games.
Gauthier has admitted he wants to re-sign Markov, but there was late-season speculation he only offered the blueliner a one-year extension for the same salary, while the Markov camp sought a three-year deal.
If Gauthier cannot re-sign Markov, he’ll consider turning to James Wisniewski, who’s also eligible for UFA status and did a fine job after joining the Habs in a mid-season trade with the N.Y. Islanders.
Wisniewski recently said his objective was to play for a winning team, rather than join the club that offers the most lucrative contract. He also said he enjoyed playing in Montreal and would be willing to return, but acknowledged the team not only has to consider re-signing Markov, but prepare to give P.K. Subban a big raise when his contract expires after next season.
Gauthier would prefer to retain both Markov and Wisniewski, but ultimately he’ll have to choose between them. Markov has more talent, but Wisniewski will be more affordable plus he brings an extra measure of grit to the Montreal blueline.
SABRES’ STAFFORD SEEKS RAISE
The Buffalo News recently noted the improvement this season of Drew Stafford couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sabres right winger, who becomes a restricted free agent July 1.
After showing glimpses of his potential the past four years, the 25-year-old Stafford had a break-through performance this season, with 31 goals and 52 points, along with a plus-13 rating, which is indicative of the improvement of his defensive game.
Those numbers will make Stafford, who earned $2.3 million in 2010-11, a candidate for an offer sheet, but given the Sabres’ new deep-pocketed owner, Stafford more likely will be re-signed by July 1.
HURRICANES FACE CONTRACT DILEMMAS
Luke DeCock of The Raleigh News & Observer recently wrote Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford faces some difficult decisions regarding pending UFAs Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose and Joni Pitkanen.
Rutherford has expressed his interest in re-signing Cole, who earned $3 million this season, but that depends on Cole’s asking price in both dollars and term. It appears unlikely Rutherford can afford to retain Pitkanen, who made $4.5 million in 2010-11.
Cole’s best season have been with the Hurricanes. After a brief and unhappy stint with Edmonton, he may not be keen to move on from Carolina again, even for the promise of an increased salary. He may be willing to accept a smaller raise for a longer contract to remain in Carolina.
DeCock suggested the most difficult decision Rutherford faces is choosing between Jokinen and LaRose, who both made $1.7 million this season. Of the two, Jokinen’s offensive skills (namely in the shootout) make him more worthwhile to retain.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.