While the futures of pending UFAs Eric Staal and Cam Ward continue to dominate the NHL rumor mill, there's another player the Hurricanes could be willing to move. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch claims left winger Jeff Skinner tops GM Ron Francis' list of players he'd most like to move this season.
This isn't the first time this season Garrioch claimed the 23-year-old forward could be available. He also acknowledges the difficulty in moving Skinner's contract, which has four years remaining at an annual cap hit of $5.75 million. Garrioch reports hearing the Hurricanes could toss in a prospect in a package deal to get Skinner off their books.
Skinner's concussion history and poor performance this season are other notable factors hurting his trade value. With only 10 points in 28 games, not even the addition of a promising youngster could tempt a rival GM to take on that cap hit. Unless Francis is willing to take on a toxic contract in return, he'll have to absorb part of Skinner's cap hit to truly sweeten the deal.
Garrioch also cites a league executive claiming the Hurricanes want to retain only a few good young players. If so, that means Staal, Ward and fellow UFAs Kris Versteeg, John-Michael Liles, Riley Nash and Chris Terry could also hit the trade block before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Francis could also shop players with contracts beyond this season, like Jordan Staal and Ron Hainsey. Like Skinner, Jordan Staal carries a hefty annual cap hit ($6 million per season) for several years (through 2022-23), making him extremely difficult to trade. Hainsey, at just over $2.833-million annually through 2016-17, is a more likely trade option.
Garrioch also believes the biggest decision facing the Toronto Maple Leafs this season is what to do with goaltender James Reimer. A pending UFA on July 1, the 27-year-old is earning an annual average salary of $2.3 million.
With a 2.01 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, Reimer currently ranks among the league leaders in those categories. He's on pace to put up the best goaltending stats of his career. Re-signing him seems a no-brainer, except for the fact the Leafs have invested over $4-million annually in struggling Jonathan Bernier.
When this season began, Bernier was considered the Leafs starter while Reimer was expected to be dealt at the Feb. 29 trade deadline. While the Leafs aren't considered playoff contenders this season, the front office and coaching staff want to be competitive. The unexpected role reversal of their goalies could give management something to think about.
For now, the Leafs can remain patient and see how the duo perform over the remainder of the season. If Bernier regains his form, it could make it easier to capitalize on Reimer's improvement in hopes of netting a decent return at the deadline. If Bernier's still struggling, Reimer could have a longer future in Toronto than originally expected.
The Leafs have over $36 million invested in next season's payroll, so they can easily afford a raise for Reimer whilst carrying Bernier's salary into next season. If necessary, they can also afford a buyout of the remaining year of the latter's contract if they believe recent call-up Garret Sparks has a future in the NHL.
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.