The Vancouver Canucks' season ended less than two weeks ago, but speculation over their off-season plans keeps percolating in the Vancouver media.
The status of their blueline remains the hot topic. Ed Willes of The Province believes something's got to give this summer, noting GM Jim Benning's willingness to ask players carrying no-trade clauses to waive them.
It's believed a veteran blueliner like Kevin Bieksa or Dan Hamhuis, who each have full no-trade clauses and a year remaining on their respective contracts, could be approached about moving on. Benning intends to re-sign restricted free agent rearguard Yannick Weber, but he'll have to free up some cap space to do so.
Willes believes the Canucks have sufficient depth in goaltenders and prospects to put together a package for a top-four defenseman. It's been suggested third-string netminder Jacob Markstrom could hit the trade block this summer. Still, Benning could be leery of giving up prospects after working to restock an empty cupboard left by his predecessor.
The Canucks GM could swap one of his forwards for a younger blueliner. Zack Kassian's future in Vancouver remains in doubt. Veteran winger Chris Higgins ($2.5-million annual cap hit) could be moved in a cost-cutting deal.
Willes' colleague Jason Botchford notes Canucks' leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata had a disappointing playoff performance. Botchford wonders if Benning might dangle Vrbata to a club in need of scorers, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, if the winger could fetch a first-round pick or a second and a prospect.
Shopping Vrbata only a year after signing him would certainly be a bold move, clearing $5 million from their books for next season. As Botchford points out, the Canucks' limited cap space beyond 2015-16 likely means they can't afford to re-sign the veteran winger.
It's an interesting theory, especially if a team deep in promising and affodable blueliners (like the Penguins) come calling. It remains to be seen if such a deal is out there this summer.
WITHOUT NIEMI, SHARKS NEED NEW FACE IN GOAL
With the San Jose Sharks expected to part company with pending UFA goaltender Antti Niemi, their fans are wondering who they'll pursue as a replacement this summer.
CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz offered up several possibilities during a recent Q&A with his readers. He lists Chicago's Scott Darling or Antti Raanta, Toronto's Jonathan Bernier, Montreal's Dustin Tokarski, Ottawa's Robin Lehner, Boston's Niklas Svedberg, the New York Rangers' Cam Talbot and the New York Islanders' Michal Neuvirth.
Kurz doesn't expect the Sharks will have interest in Chicago's Corey Crawford or Detroit's Jimmy Howard. He also speculates they could pursue prospects like Washington's Philipp Grubauer, Boston's Malcolm Subban, or Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy or Kristers Gudlevskis.
Talbot could become the Sharks' prime target, though the Rangers could seek a first-round pick in this year's draft to replace the one they dealt away last year to Tampa Bay. Lehner could be shopped if the Senators re-sign Andrew Hammond.
The Blackhawks won't part with Darling, but Raanta could be available. If the Leafs seek a more experienced starter, Bernier could be available. However, they could instead entertain offers for backup James Reimer.
Should the Canadiens feel prospect Zach Fucale is ready to become Carey Price's understudy, they could put Tokarski on the block. Neuvirth still hasn't proven himself as a starter. The Sharks will likely pass on him unless they've lost confidence in backup Alex Stalock.
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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