With a huge salary cap crunch coming, this could be one of the busiest off-seasons in recent memory and there are a trio of stars who could be on the move. There are rumors surrounding the futures of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Rick Nahs, as well as talk about what Steven Stamkos will do should he reach free agency next season.
The days leading up to the NHL draft, which this year is June 26-27, are typically when the most off-season trade activity takes place, so it’s no surprise some big names are resurfacing in the trade rumor mill.
Of these, few are bigger than Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin. During an appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan in Calgary, Elliotte Friedman said there were rumblings around the league over Malkin’s growing unhappiness with the Penguins.
Friedman suspects season-ending comments from team president-CEO David Morehouse (claiming Malkin, captain Sidney Crosby, coach Mike Johnston and GM Jim Rutherford would return next season) were meant to address that speculation. He doesn’t know if the Penguins intend to trade Malkin, and with the club about to go up for sale, doubts such a move occurs until that’s completed.
Reactions to Friedman’s remarks were swift. Malkin’s agent, J.P. Barry, told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was puzzled over the origin of these rumors, claiming they weren’t coming from him or his client. Pittsburgh sportswriter Dejan Kovacevic claimed Friedman’s information was erroneous, citing Malkin’s season-ending remarks expressing his happiness living and playing in Pittsburgh. Friedman subsequently backtracked from his remarks.
Given the Penguins decline in recent years, it’s understandable if Malkin feels frustrated over the club’s direction. However, his public comments and those of his agent aren’t suggestive of someone who might welcome a trade. Even if he did want out, the upcoming sale of the team certainly would make it difficult to fulfill that wish. Even if Penguins management wanted to move Malkin, his full no-movement clause complicates that option.
MAPLE LEAFS GETTING CALLS ON KESSEL
Friedman also reports a handful of teams spoke with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the recent NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo regarding their asking price for right winger Phil Kessel. He believes if a trade happens it probably won’t take place for at least a couple of weeks. That’s likely because NHL teams are waiting to find out what the salary cap will be for 2015-16.
Over the second half of this season, the 27-year-old Kessel was a frequent subject of trade speculation. He has seven years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $8 million plus a partial no-trade clause. It’s believed the Leafs wish to move him for a return of younger, more affordable assets.
Despite criticism over Kessel’s conditioning and defensive play, he’s reached the 30-goal mark five times. He’s led the Leafs in scoring every season since joining the club in 2009. There is a market for a player of his offensive skills.
Kessel’s salary, however, could be a sticking point. Two-thirds of the NHL’s 30 clubs have cap payrolls in excess of $55 million for ’15-’16. Of those, 13 have payrolls over $60 million. With the salary cap projected to modestly increase from $69 million to $71 million, that doesn’t leave many clubs with the cap space to comfortably absorb his contract. To consummate a deal, the Leafs could be forced to pick up part of Kessel’s salary.
NASH’S TIME UP IN NEW YORK?
A week after the New York Post’s Larry Brooks floated the notion of the New York Rangers trading winger Rick Nash to shed some salary, TSN’s Bob McKenzie weighed in with his thoughts on the Rangers exploring the possibility of trading their 30-year-old leading scorer.
McKenzie notes the Rangers’ limited salary-cap space for 2015-16 and their need to re-sign restricted free agent center Derek Stepan and left winger Carl Hagelin. He notes that Nash, who has three years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $7.8 million, still has a full no-trade clause. However, it will become a partial NTC on July 1.
With a cap payroll of $59.5 million for 2015-16, it could cost the Rangers over $9 million in combined salary re-signing Stepan and Hagelin. That won’t leave much room to re-sign forwards center J.T. Miller and right winger Jesper Fast, let alone sufficient space to replace pending UFAs Martin St-Louis and James Sheppard.
If trading Nash isn’t an option, Rangers management will have to prune elsewhere. One option could be moving out one of their defenseman. Dan Boyle, who has a year left on his contract at $4.5 million, seems a likely candidate. However, the 38-year-old’s best seasons are behind him and he carries a no-movement clause.
STAMKOS EXPECTED TO RE-SIGN LONG TERM
What would the early-June rumor mill be without trade rumors regarding one of the Stanley Cup finalists? And no, we’re not talking about the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks.
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons recently took note of Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’ limited ice time during the playoffs. He suggests Stamkos isn’t a favorite of Lightning coach Jon Cooper and wonders if that might force the 25-year-old superstar to reconsider re-signing with Tampa Bay.
Stamkos is an unrestricted free agent next summer so his future with the Lightning will obviously be a topic of interest. However, considering the Bolts’ status as a Cup contender, there’s little reason why Stamkos would want to seek greener pastures. Unless his contract talks become contentious, it’s expected he will re-sign an expensive long-term extension.
DEFENSEMEN WILSON, HEJDA OUT IN COLORADO
The Colorado Avalanche have six NHL-ready blueliners under contract for next season and, according to the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers, the club looks ready to part ways with defensemen Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson.
While it’s not the most fearsome roster of blueliners, the Avalanche have Erik Johnson, Brad Stuart, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Nate Guenin and Zach Redmond locked up through at least 2015-16. With nearly $11 million remaining under the salary cap, Colorado could dip into the free agent pool to solidify their top six and use a current blueliner as a depth option.
This past season, the Avalanche were in the bottom third of the league in goals against. If they can improve their defensive play, they can make strides in 2015-16.
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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