With the NHL holiday trade freeze lifted, there’s expectation Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford could be ready to make a significant move. Recent speculation suggests top defenseman Kris Letang could become a trade candidate.
The long-time lynchpin of the Penguins’ blueline, the 30-year-old Letang missed the last 23 games of 2016-17 and the entire 2017 postseason recovering from neck surgery. While on pace for a respectable 55-point campaign, he’s struggling in his own zone.
On Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said he heard Letang’s name bandied about in the rumor mill. Noting the Pens won the Stanley Cup without the blueliner last spring, Kypreos believes that could make moving the veteran rearguard more palatable to Rutherford. Kypreos also thinks the Pens want to shed some salary. Letang has four years left on his contract with an annual average value of $7.25 million plus a modified no-trade clause. Shipping him out would free up considerable cap dollars.
Trading a defenseman carrying a hefty contract in-season isn’t easy but it can be done. In February 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators in a multi-player deal. Like Letang, Phaneuf has a $7-million annual cap hit plus a modified NTC.
Kypreos’ colleague Elliotte Friedman believes the Pens would want two forwards, preferably a center and a winger, in return for Letang. He follows up by suggesting the Montreal Canadiens could be a trade match, suspecting they could be on his list of potential trade destinations. Friedman notes, however, adding Letang would leave the Habs with $27 million invested in Letang, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner on their blueline. Prying two scoring forwards away from the offensively anemic Canadiens could also prove difficult.
Unlike Phaneuf, Letang’s health is another problem area. He has a long history of injuries (including concussions) and missed 26 games in 2013-14 to a stroke, though he’s since made a full recovery. On Thursday, the Penguins placed him on injured reserve with a lower-body injury retroactive to Dec. 24.
Rutherford may have floated Letang’s name in the rumor mill to see if there’s any serious interest. Concerns over the blueliner’s health, along with his expensive contract and current on-ice struggles, could make him a tough sell.
BRUINS SEEKING TO FILL HOLES ON BLUELINE, WING
The Boston Bruins could soon be active in the trade market. Despite their strong play of late, they still have a couple of roster issues to address. The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa reports a right winger and a left-side defenseman are on their post-holiday trade freeze wish list.
Shinzawa suggests Vancouver Canucks winger Thomas Vanek could address one of those needs. The 33-year-old Vanek is on an affordable one-year, $2-million contract. Eligible for unrestricted free agent status in July, he’s unlikely to fit into the Canucks long-term plans. Though Vanek’s best seasons are behind him, he’s on pace for a 25-goal, 60-point campaign. It could take some time, however, for the Canucks to put Vanek on the trade block. They could wait for the Feb. 26 trade market in hopes of boosting his trade value. If they’re still in the wild-card hunt by then, they could retain him for a postseason push.
Shinazawa acknowledges finding a left-side blueliner could be tougher to fill. He notes the Bruins have always thought highly of Carolina’s Noah Hanifin, but the Hurricanes would set a high asking price. Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Ericsson of the Detroit Red Wings and Brendan Smith of the New York Rangers wouldn’t be as costly but all have annual cap hits exceeding $4 million.
Of those three, Martinez would be the best option. Earlier this season, there was talk of the Kings perhaps moving him or Jake Muzzin for a scoring forward. But with Los Angeles riding high in the Western Conference standings, they could be reluctant to make that type of move now.
The Wings would probably love to shed Ericsson’s salary. Ditto the Rangers with Smith. However, the Bruins are unlikely to do those clubs any favors.
HOFFMAN HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER FROM SENATORS
As the Ottawa Senators playoff hopes continue to fade, winger Mike Hoffman remains the center of trade speculation.
Prior to the holiday trade freeze there was talk suggesting he could be a good fit with the Edmonton Oilers, perhaps as a sniper on Connor McDavid’s line. However, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman doesn’t think there’s a trade match there. While Friedman didn’t elaborate, it could be because the Senators would want a good young NHL-ready player in return.
Friedman wonders if the Carolina Hurricanes or St. Louis Blues could make a pitch for Hoffman. The Hurricanes must bolster their offense if they hope to end their long playoff drought. The Blues, meanwhile, lost winger Robby Fabbri to season-ending knee surgery while winger Jaden Schwartz is out several weeks with an ankle injury.
If it’s a young defenseman the Sens seek for Hoffman, the Hurricanes have those in spades. However, their preference could be to offer up draft picks or prospects. Same goes for the Blues, who have no intention of parting with 24-year-old rearguards Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.
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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