In his fourteen years as general manager of the San Jose Sharks, Doug Wilson has made several major trades to improve his roster. Among his biggest acquisitions were Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns. CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz believes it's time for Wilson to make another blockbuster deal.
Kurz notes Pacific Division rivals such as the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are improving while the Anaheim Ducks remain strong. In the Central Division, the high-risk moves by Nashville Predators GM David Poile – shipping defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for center Ryan Johansen and dealing blueliner Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban – are paying off.
The Sharks have over $58 million invested in 17 players for 2017-18. Kurz acknowledges making a major trade remains difficult under the salary cap. But with Thornton and Patrick Marleau aging and eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, he suggests Wilson has salary-cap flexibility if he chooses to pull off a major trade.
Wilson hasn't tipped his hand as to his intentions. He could re-sign Thornton and/or Marleau to affordable, bonus-laden one-year contracts and invest the savings for depth elsewhere in the lineup.
If Thornton opts for free agency, however, the Sharks will need to a top-line center. Kurz suggests Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene, or perhaps John Tavares of the New York Islanders as possible options. The moribund Avs could shake up their roster this summer, while Tavares could hit the trade block if the Isles fail to ink him this summer to a contract extension.
In a normal off-season, Wilson would be hard-pressed to swing a big trade. But the combination of next month's expansion draft and a potentially stagnant salary cap for 2017-18 could forces some clubs into cost-cutting deals.
Should Wilson attempt to make a major trade, Duchene could be his best bet. The 26-year-old carries a $6-million annual cap hit through 2018-19 and put up the worst full-season numbers (18 goals, 41 points) of his eight-year NHL career. However, a move to a better roster could boost his production.
OILERS LOOKING FOR TAKERS FOR EBERLE
The Edmonton Oilers' recent playoff elimination has increased speculation over the future of right winger Jordan Eberle. While the 26-year-old tallied 20 goals and 51 points in the regular season, he managed only two assists in 13 postseason games.
Eberle is signed through 2018-19 earning $6-million per season, but he could become a trade candidate this summer. With Leon Draisaitl coming off his entry-level contract and Connor McDavid completing his next summer, the Oilers must free up cap space to accommodate big raises for both stars.
Moving Eberle's contract could prove difficult. The Oilers could face picking up part of his annual cap hit, tossing in a sweetener such as a young player or prospect or taking back a toxic contract to entice rivals.
Despite Eberle's playoff struggles and hefty salary, he could attract interest from clubs seeking scoring punch with sufficient cap room to absorb his contract. The Edmonton Journal's David Staples considers the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks as possibilities.
The Devils and Oilers have a recent trade history, as left winger Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey last June for blueliner Adam Larsson. A reunion of Hall with his old linemate Eberle sounds enticing but Devils GM Ray Shero must also improve his defense and could make that his off-season priority.
Bolstering the blueline is also a must for new Sabres GM Jason Botterill. He could put more focus on addressing that need instead of adding a high-priced right winger.
Prior to this season, the Canucks attempted to retool on the fly. It now appears they're committing to a full-fledged rebuild and could pass on pursuing an expensive veteran such as such as Eberle.
BOTTERILL HAS WORK TO DO IN BUFFALO
Following the Sabres hiring Botterill last week, Sportsnet's Luke Fox included improving their defensive game and bolstering the goaltending among several priorities he'll have to address.
Fox lists Washington's Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner, Calgary's Michael Stone, Pittsburgh's Trevor Daley and Philadelphia's Michael Del Zotto as possible free-agent defense options for Botterill. Shattenkirk will be expensive and could pass on signing with a rebuilding team. Alzner, Stone and Daley could do the same. Del Zotto won't significantly improve the Sabres' porous blueline.
Botterill could find better options in the trade market. Clubs deep in defensemen at risk of losing one in next month's expansion draft, such as the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild, could be willing to talk trade.
Free-agent goalie options could include Anaheim's Jonathan Bernier, Calgary's Brian Elliott, Ottawa's Mike Condon and Philadelphia's Steve Mason. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury could be available via trade. Botterill's former job was as the Penguins' associate GM so perhaps he can try to sell Fleury on coming to Buffalo.
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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