Los Angeles Kings left winger Milan Lucic is among this summer's top potential unrestricted free agents. The 27-year-old power forward is enjoying a fine season with the Kings, on pace for a 20-goal, 55-point campaign.
Lucic is completing a three-year, $18-million contract, earning $6.5 million in actual salary this season. On March 8, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported Lucic's agent and Kings management exchanged contract proposals. He also said they're in the early stages of talks which could take a while, pointing out how long it took the Kings to re-sign Anze Kopitar earlier this season.
While there's mutual interest in reaching a deal, it could prove difficult. The Kings have over $64 million invested in their 2016-17 salary-cap payroll. They'll get an additional $2.25 million if center Vincent Lecavalier retires as expected this summer.
Even with deducting Lecavalier's salary, and assuming next season's cap ceiling is $74 million, re-signing Lucic to a lucrative contract extension will still be a tight squeeze. It could make it difficult to re-sign or replace other free agents this summer.
If Lucic and the Kings fail to get a deal done, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Vancouver Canucks could pursue the Vancouver-born winger. Friedman also cites colleague Nick Kypreos' speculation the Edmonton Oilers could be another suitor, noting the ties between Lucic and Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli from their days with the Boston Bruins.
Chiarelli's priority, however, is bolstering a defense lacking top-four depth. Luring Lucic to Edmonton could cost well over $7-million annually on a long-term deal. That's money better spent addressing the Oilers' blueline. Unless Chiarelli intends to swap high-scoring left winger Taylor Hall this summer for a top-two defenseman, adding Lucic doesn't make much sense for the Oilers.
FLAMES HAVE MANY OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM IN GOAL
With a league-worst 3.09 goals-against per game, goaltending was a major weakness this season for the Calgary Flames. Pending UFA goalies Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo aren't expected back. For GM Brad Treliving, finding at least a suitable starting netminder is an off-season priority.
The Calgary Sun's Eric Francis suggests Anaheim's Frederik Andersen, Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop, Arizona's Mike Smith, Detroit's Jimmy Howard and Vancouver's Ryan Miller as potential trade targets, with San Jose's James Reimer and Carolina's Cam Ward among the UFA options.
The Lightning are unlikely to part with Bishop, as Andrei Vasilevskiy doesn't seem ready yet for the full-time starter's job. Smith's injury history and unwieldy contract should keep him in Arizona for the foreseeable future, while the Canucks will hang onto Miller for next season.
Sportsnet's Jonathan Willis, using the metric of a median .919 save percentage over the past three seasons, ranks Reimer, Los Angeles' Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo's Chad Johnson, Boston's Jonas Gustavsson and Anaheim's Anton Khudobin as the best free-agent targets. Of these, he considers Reimer the pick of the litter.
Willis lists Andersen, Howard, the Islanders' Thomas Greiss, St. Louis' Brian Elliott, Philadelphia's Michal Neuvirth, Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky, Colorado's Semyon Varlamov and Toronto's Jonathan Bernier as trade options. He notes the obvious weaknesses of several of them, including the limited starter experience of Greiss and Neuvirth, along with Bobrovsky's injury woes.
The Avalanche are probably unwilling to move Varlamov yet, as they could give promising Calvin Pickard another season to prove himself at the NHL level. Bernier's stock plummeted this season. While a change might do him good, it's doubtful Treliving sees him as the solution to the Flames' goaltending issues.
Of the trade and free agent options cited by Francis and Willis, Andersen and Reimer are the logical choices. It remains to be seen, however, if Treliving pursues either guy this summer.
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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