Over the weekend the New York Islanders helped the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks resolve their respective salary cap issues. The Isles shipped draft picks to the Bruins for veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk, then sent three prospects to the Blackhawks for blueliner Nick Leddy.
These moves provide a significant boost of experience and skill to the Islanders blueline, while the fallout from the respective deals is still being discussed in Boston and Chicago.
The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa observed shedding Boychuk's $3.37-million cap hit frees up space for Bruins management to sign left winger Simon Gagne or to acquire a right winger later in the season. Shinzawa suggested the Bruins could use the draft picks acquired from the Islanders as trade bait.
CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty doesn't expect Boychuk to stick with the Islanders beyond this season, citing sources claiming the 30-year-old rearguard seeks the stability of a team headed toward Stanley Cup contention. He also expects Boychuk will pursue a deal comparable to that of Washington's Brooks Orpik (five years, $5.5-million annually), which rules out the possibility of the Bruins bringing him back via free agency in July.
If Boychuk's free-agent asking price is expensive he could find it difficult to land with a Cup contender. Clubs currently considered challengers for a championship this season – Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues – have limited cap room for 2015-16 to add an expensive second-pair defenseman.
The same goes for talented clubs like the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning. Even if the salary cap climbs to $75 million, these teams will be hard pressed to bid competitively for Boychuk's services.
Possible destinations for him include the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars, provided they're willing to keep pace with the rising salary cap. The Stars might be the best fit as they're overloaded with left-handed shots on the blueline. But if Boychuk truly wants the big bucks, it could be rebuilding teams or non-contenders (like the Islanders or his hometown Edmonton Oilers) who can afford him.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times notes it would've cost the Blackhawks $3.4 million next summer to qualify the rights of Leddy, who will be a restricted free agent. That figure was too high for Hawks management, given their limited cap space plus the need to re-sign talented winger Brandon Saad.
By shipping out Leddy and retaining veteran Johnny Oduya (who's eligible for UFA status in July), Lazerus believes the Blackhawks are pushing for one more championship run this season. After that, they'll be forced to retool their roster to accommodate the new contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, which begin in 2015-16.
While the Islanders might have trouble re-signing Boychuk, they won't face the same difficulty with the 23-year-old Leddy, who could become a significant part of the defense corps in the coming years.
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 Bleacher Report, Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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