The ripples from the Toronto Maple Leafs shipping defenseman Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators, and the Winnipeg Jets re-signing blueliner Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year deal will be felt upon the NHL trade and free-agent markets.
TSN's Frank Seravalli believes the Leafs, by shipping out Phaneuf's long-term deal with its $7-million annual salary cap hit, are clearing cap room to pursue Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos via free agency. While the contracts of new Leafs wingers Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and defenseman Jared Cowen (combined salary-cap hit of $9.75 million) stretch into next season, Seravalli wouldn't be surprised if none of them start next season in Toronto.
While the 31-year-old Michalek is currently sidelined, Seravalli speculates he could be a decent trade chip to flip to another club before the trade deadline. He also suggests Greening and Cowen could be bought out to free up more cap space.
Seravalli's colleague Bob McKenzie, however, suggests it's premature to assume Stamkos will be available for the Leafs – or anyone else – to chase this summer. He pointed out that it's unknown if the 26-year-old Markham, Ont., native wants to join the Leafs. Even if he hits the UFA market in July, the Leafs will be lining up with a number of clubs to bid for his services.
The Leafs are clearly prepping for a busy off-season. They have plenty of salary-cap space this summer and a front office willing to invest it. Should the cap ceiling marginally rise over the current $71.4 million, the Leafs could target cap-strapped clubs in need of dumping salaries this summer.
Meanwhile, the UFA pool of talent is expected to be the deepest in years. If Stamkos isn't available, potential free-agent targets for the Leafs could include Los Angeles Kings left winger Milan Lucic, New York Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo, Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, Arizona Coyotes' right winger Mikkel Boedker. St. Louis Blues center David Backes or Boston Bruins right winger Loui Eriksson.
The impact from the Jets re-signing Byfuglien will be more immediate. Sportsnet's Mark Spector, SI.com's Allan Muir, and USA Today's Jimmy Hascup believe Jets left winger and pending UFA Andrew Ladd will be dealt by the trade deadline. Spector sums it up by saying one expensive contract for a player due to turn 31 later this year is enough for the Jets.
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun shared Muir and Hascup's opinion that the Byfuglien signing will affect the trade market leading up to the Feb. 29 deadline. LeBrun claims the Kings were among several teams with interest in Byfuglien and must now shift their focus elsewhere. With Byfuglien off the trade market, the value of blueliners like Keith Yandle of the New York Rangers and Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks could rise.
Byfuglien's new deal also raises questions about Jacob Trouba's future with the Jets. Coming off an entry-level contract this summer, he's reportedly seeking an eight-year extension worth around $56 million. With Byfuglien set to earn $7.6 million annually, Tyler Myers carrying an annual cap hit of $5.5 million and Tobia Enstrom carrying $5.75 million per season, Trouba could price himself out of the Jets market.
MORE RUMOR ROUNDUP:
- Trade activity on hold while Jets decide on Byfuglien, Ladd
- Decision time looming for playoff bubble teams
- Oilers eyeing defensemen Hamonic, Vatanen
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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