The New York Islanders made a trade on the opening day of training camp, shipping winger Michael Grabner to the Toronto Maple Leafs for five minor leaguers. An unrestricted free agent next July, Grabner's slide down the Isles depth chart made him the subject of trade rumors earlier this summer so this move wasn't surprising.
Grabner isn't the only Islanders winger to pop up in the off-season rumor mill. Newsday's Arthur Staple reports right wing Kyle Okposo was “briefly shopped around” by GM Garth Snow before the 2015 NHL Draft. Like Grabner, the 27-year-old is eligible for UFA status in July.
Staple claims contract talks between Snow and Okposo's agent Pat Brisson were brief and unproductive. Okposo is in the final season of a five-year, $14-million contract. While his annual cap hit is $2.8 million, his actual salary for 2015-16 is $4.5 million. Given his performance over the past couple of years, he will likely seek a significant raise (perhaps over $6 million) on a long-term extension.
Staple also reports there's a belief around the league the winger could be had “for the right price”, though he didn't elaborate what that could be. For his part, Okposo claims he's unconcerned about the rumors and focused on the upcoming season.
Despite a recent injury history, Okposo has 30-goal potential and a 67-point season (2013-14) on his resume. Indeed, if he stays healthy through 2015-16, a 70-point campaign isn't out of the question. He will certainly make an attractive trade chip, but he can also help the Islanders reach the playoffs this season.
Unless one of the Isles' promising young forwards unseats Okposo as a top-six winger, a trade at this point appears unlikely. The earliest that might happen is near the Feb. 29th trade deadline, and only if the Islanders are out of the post-season picture.
BLUE JACKETS WILLING TO DEAL FORWARDS
With training camps now underway, keep an eye on the Columbus Blue Jackets over the next couple of weeks. The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reports there's talk the club is still involved in trade talks with teams seeking forwards.
Portzline notes GM Jarmo Kekalainen claims he believes in his current defense corps, but that didn't stop him trying to bolster it this summer. The Jackets made a contract offer to UFA blueliner Christian Ehrhoff before he subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Kings. Portzline believes the possibility of a trade could increase if one or more of their promising forwards cracks the lineup.
No word on which forward Kekalainen might dangle for a defenseman, but it's safe to say Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner or recently-acquired Brandon Saad aren't going anywhere. One possibility is veteran winger Rene Bourque, who has one year (at a cap hit of $3.333 million) remaining on his contract. Right wing Cam Atkinson surfaced in last season's rumor mill, but in March he was signed to a three-year extension.
DEVILS LOOKING TO DEAL?
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes the New Jersey Devils are also worth watching over the next couple of weeks. Friedman notes the Devils have plenty of cap space and 43 players under contract.
Given the Devils lack of offensive production last season, expect them to add scoring depth on their wings. Indeed, they already made one addition, signing UFA winger Jiri Tlusty to a one-year, $800K contract. Tlusty, 27, scored a career-high 23-goals during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes. Last season, he tallied 14 goals and 31 points in 72 games split between the Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets.
The Devils also have wingers Tyler Kennedy and Lee Stempniak in camp on a tryout basis. Kennedy, 29, netted 14 points in 38 games last season with the San Jose Sharks, while the 32-year-old Stempniak potted 15 goals and 28 points in 71 games split between the New York Rangers and the Jets. Perhaps one or both could make the cut. If not, management will seek out a trade.
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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