As we enjoy Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re reminded that the seasons of 23 teams are finished and they’re now planning their next moves ahead of what should be a weird and possibly explosive off-season. While the cap will stay flat, there are many teams left wondering what they have to change, with the potential to really blow things up and start fresh with a new look in 2020-21.
So, after months of waiting around, the NHL Rumour Roundup returns with free agent and trade talk.
‘VERY, VERY GOOD CHANCE’ A PENGUINS GOALIE GETS TRADED
This summer’s goalie market is going to be a fascinating one to watch. We have a number of notable pending UFA starters, including current playoff competitors Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner, and even a couple of backup/tandem free agents including Anton Khudobin and Cam Talbot, who both saw playoff action.
There’s also a trade market that could pick up steam. In New York, we have to wonder if Henrik Lundqvist would allow for a move as his contract heads into its final season. This past weekend’s Vegas drama, following a suggestive social media post from Allan Walsh that seemed to imply Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer had betrayed Marc-Andre Fleury by starting Lehner, opens up questions about what comes next in that crease. While Lehner is a pending UFA, it’s no longer out of the question that Fleury’s name appears on a list of summer trade candidates.
Fleury’s former team in Pittsburgh is also in the middle of this action. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry manned the Penguins’ net this season, with Jarry mostly wrestling the starter’s job in the regular season with betters numbers, though Murray got three of the four playoff starts. Both are RFAs and the Penguins still have Casey DeSmith in the minors, who himself is one year removed from a solid NHL season.
Especially with another expansion draft on the horizon in a year, the Penguins don’t want to be in a similar situation to the one they were in with Fleury when Vegas snapped him up. Rather than face the prospect of losing either Murray or Jarry for nothing in 2021, they’d rather move one of them now.
“We know that there’s a very, very good chance that we’re going to have to move one of them,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford told The Athletic. “There is already interest.”
There are plenty of teams that need a goalie, from Minnesota to Edmonton to Calgary to San Jose and maybe even Carolina, Buffalo and Detroit. But with so many goalies of various levels potentially available across all avenues, we’re left to wonder what the going rate will be for either Penguins stopper in a trade. Pittsburgh actually did try to move Jarry last off-season after he spent the year in the AHL and couldn’t find a taker.
Will the Penguins be able to get a return for a goalie that helps them keep the Cup window open a while longer, or will a busy market make that harder to accomplish?
“I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I’m having serious talks or seeing exactly how much I can get,” Rutherford said. “But, I will say, I’m getting close to that point, to understanding just what people are willing to give.”
HAS BRADEN HOLTBY PLAYED HIS LAST GAME AS A CAPITAL?
Had Ilya Samsonov not gotten injured while the NHL was on pause, perhaps he would have been their playoff starter. After all, his numbers were clearly better than Braden Holtby, who finished with a miserable sub-.900 save percentage.
Now Holtby is a UFA and Samsonov will head into another season on a cheap entry-level contract. As Washington tries to keep its own Cup window open, it may make sense to save some dough in the crease.
“It’s still to be decided,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said of Holtby’s future with the team, via NHL.com. “I think it’s going to be difficult, but sometimes opportunities come up that you don’t expect, and I think we’d like to play it out and see what happens.”
As it stands, the Capitals have roughly $10 million in salary cap space for next season with not a lot of notable free agents. Still, Jakub Vrana will need an extension a year from now, as will Alex Ovechkin, whose 13-year pact will expire in 2021.
And besides, keeping Holtby around would mean one of he or Samsonov would be left exposed to Seattle next summer.
NO RUSH TO START CONTRACT TALKS WITH ALEX OVECHKIN
Speaking of Ovechkin, the two sides have not been too engaged in extension talks yet and it doesn’t appear there’s any rush to do so. One year away from UFA, Ovechkin is 188 goals away from tying Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record and could be inside the top five all-time by the end of next season (depending how he plays and how many games it has).
“We’re going to talk when we come back to training camp, continue our conversations,” MacLellan said.
Ovechkin will be 35 in September and that’s right when you’d expect production to start falling off for your average player. Ovi, of course, is not average. His current $9.5 million cap hit still manages to be a bargain for what he provides on the score sheet, but what will that next deal look like? Will he get a raise in the uncertain cap picture? Will he get a multi-year deal or keep it super short?
He’s come this far. Ovechkin has to break Gretzky’s record in a Caps jersey. Right?
TAYLOR HALL’S UFA CHOICE ‘ALL ABOUT WINNING’
On this summer’s UFA pile, Taylor Hall stands as the top forward available. The 28-year-old was traded from New Jersey to Arizona in December and had 10 goals with 27 points in 25 regular season games for the team, followed by two goals and six points in nine post-season games.
Hall’s situation is an interesting one because he’s talked in the past about a desire to be on a playoff team. He has been in the NHL for 10 years now with just 14 post-season games to show for it. In normal circumstances, we’d expect Hall could get a substantial pay day on the market, but not many teams will have room for that now.
So what, exactly, is his priority here?
“I think honestly it’s probably all winning,” he said after the Coyotes were eliminated by Colorado. “Any player at this stage in their career who’s had the career I’ve had, 10 seasons only making the playoffs twice, that’s really what I’m after. We’ll see what happens there.
“I don’t think the money is going to be what it was before Covid or before this season, but that’s fine. I think we get paid a lot of money to play a game and we’ll see what happens.”
When now-departed Coyotes GM John Chayka traded for Hall, he noted that Arizona had a unique opportunity to show the winger what the franchise had to offer and bring him around to the idea of staying in the desert. Time will tell if that strategy worked.
“Getting a chance to spend time in Arizona and join a new team was really fun,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys and I thought the coaching staff was awesome to work with.
“I gotta talk with my agent and just really let things soak in. We don’t even know when free agency could potentially be. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But in saying that, I had a really good experience playing in Arizona and playing for the Coyotes. I didn’t know what to expect coming into it…I had a lot of fun.”