Could the 2014 Conn Smythe-winner end up on the trade block this season? And where will the Edmonton Oilers find a center to replace the traded Sam Gagner?
NBC Sports’ Joe Yerdon speculates the Los Angeles Kings could be in an awkward situation this season with winger Justin Williams, whose clutch play in the 2014 playoffs earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP.
Williams, who turns 33 in October, is entering the final season of his contract at a cap hit of $3.65 million. The Kings have more than $59 million invested in their roster for 2015-16 and have several young players – including promising forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson – due to become restricted free agents.
With the salary cap expected to rise significantly next season, Yerdon doubts the Kings will have difficulty re-signing their free agents, but he feels retaining Williams could stunt the development of one of those young forwards. If the Kings believe it’s time to promote Toffoli, Yerdon says they could either bid Williams farewell or try to find a way to retain the veteran winger while promoting Toffoli.
It could come down to what Williams seeks for his next contract. Despite his age, playoff contenders seeking a proven post-season performer with leadership abilities will pursue Williams in next summer’s free-agent market. Those teams will also pursue Williams if the Kings decide to move him at the March trade deadline.
Williams, however, could accept a lesser deal and a reduced role to remain with a perennial Cup contender. Kings management prefers to keep their roster intact as much as possible. They could wait until season’s end to work out a new deal with Williams.
WHERE & WHEN WILL THE OILERS FIND A CENTER?
The Edmonton Oilers’ trading away Sam Gagner in late June left them in need of adding a skilled center. Last month, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish stated he’d like to add a center, but he’s yet to address that need.
Pickings are slim via free agency, where the best remaining centers are aging veterans like Saku Koivu, Michal Handzus and Jeff Halpern. That could force MacTavish into the trade market.
The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy noted a recent rumor out of Pittsburgh claiming the Oilers had “keen interest” in Penguins center Brandon Sutter. The Penguins, however, re-signed Sutter this week to a two-year, $6.6-million contract.
McCurdy’s colleague Jonathan Willis suggests the Oilers consider making a pitch for Buffalo Sabres young center Mikhail Grigorenko, who has struggled to crack the Sabres roster. Willis acknowledged the risk of acquiring a still-unproven Grigorenko, as well as the Sabres possible asking price of a 2015 first-round pick, but believes it’s a worthwhile consideration.
If the Sabres decide to move Grigorenko, it won’t happen until after training camp and pre-season, when they’ve had an opportunity to fully evaluate his performance and their roster needs. The Oilers will likely do the same, hoping for better trade targets become available before the start of the season.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.