We may have reached the dog days of summer when it comes to hockey news, but there are still contracts unsigned, trades that might reach fruition, and uncertainty surrounding a few clubs’ rosters.
Here we gather the latest rumours on Phil Kessel’s trade speculation, the future of John Tavares, John Tortorella’s next contract, and a Tomas Tatar negotiation that could switch from tricky to ugly.
Lightning a potential landing spot for Tavares?
Larry Brooks of The New York Post joins Friedman in wondering if the Tampa Bay Lightning (with an assist from Florida’s attractive tax laws) could lure New York Islanders star John Tavares in a trade or via free agency next summer.
The Islanders appear ready to play 2017-18 without having Tavares under contract for the following season, not unlike Steve Yzerman’s Bolts did with Stamkos a couple years prior.
On Yzerman: The GM has done a fabulous job solving all three of his big-name RFAs this summer.
He turned Jonathan Drouin into blue-chip defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev, then locked up both Tyler Johnson (seven years times $5 million) and Ondrej Palat (five years times $5.3 million) for reasonable rates.
The Lightning have a full squad in place with $3.25 million to spare and won’t have to face another big negotiation until Nikita Kucherov and Anton Stralman are due in the summer of 2019.
Tavares’ friend and former teammate, Matt Martin, spoke to Newsday about the situation in New York.
“Johnny is a pretty loyal guy,” said Martin, who left to join the Maple Leafs when he hit free agency in 2016.
“It’s a tough decision. Obviously, this next contract is probably going to be where he essentially plays for the rest of his career and it’s something he’s got to think over and consider. I don’t think that [just because] he didn’t sign [a contract extension] on July 1 is any indication that he’s not signing with the Islanders.”
Martin cast his vote for Tavares to follow him to Toronto.
“He’s got to think it over and do what’s best for him and his family. As a friend of mine, would it be great to have him? Absolutely. But I want him to do whatever will make him happy and wherever he feels he can win and be successful. [That’s] what you hope for at the end of the day, and that’s all that matters to me.”
Tatar rejects Red Wings’ long-term offer
Tomas Tatar has drawn the first case of arbitration season, and the Detroit Red Wings have reportedly tried to reach a long-term agreement with the explosive forward ahead of Thursday’s hearing in Toronto.
Tatar rejected a five-year, $25-million offer from Detroit, according to MLive.com, because he’s seeking a six- or seven-year pact closer to $6 million on average annually.
The winger is coming off his third straight 20-goal season. He was paid $2.75 million in each of those years.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland does not comment in the article.
Tatar’s agent, Rich Winter, said, “I do not comment on the private affairs of players without them instructing me to do so.”
This is a tricky negotiation for Holland, especially in light of Tatar saying that a one-year deal forced via arbitration could signal the end of the 26-year-old’s stay in Motown.
“Detroit offered me a contract, and even with a few options — for a year, or four or five. We’re still talking about the length, and of course, the financial amount of the contract,” Tatar has told CSA.sk, per the Detroit News. “However, we aren’t going anywhere, and there’s been time enough.
“Arbitration is the last option, I have to sign off, it’s just a mandatory contract. Unless I agree with Detroit, I’ll go to the court [salary arbitration], where they’ll give me a year’s contract. That would probably be my last season in Detroit. We’ll see in a few days or weeks before it all comes together.”
Kessel responds to trade rumours
A year after his name was seriously discussed as a Conn Smythe candidate, Phil Kessel finds himself embroiled in trade speculation once again — this time sparked by a piece by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman’s take: “I do think there is something to the column by Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Penguins will look to trade Phil Kessel.”
Cook positions departed assistant coach Rick Tocchet as the Keeper of the Kessel, the perfect buffer between the player and head coach Mike Sullivan.
“He is my favorite assistant coach of all time I’ve ever played for,” Kessel told The Buffalo News prior to the start of the 2017 Stanley Cup final.
“He understands what it’s like to play the game, to be a player. He just gets it. He’s been there, played a long time. Coached as a head man and an assistant. He makes it fun…. I don’t want to see him go, right? Because he’s a great guy and a great coach.”
Tocchet’s landing in Arizona spurred some Kessel-to-Coyotes whispers and an assumption by some that new Pens assistant Mark Recchi should take the lead with guiding Kessel this season.
Kessel responded by saying that hockey is a business, that you never know what management is thinking, that he’ll play hard for whatever team he’s on.
The winger’s production in Pittsburgh is undeniable: 45 points in 49 playoff games, 129 points in 164 regular-season games.
“Phil Kessel’s an important part of the Penguins,” GM Jim Rutherford told 93.7 FM The Fan. “He gets a lot of points. He scores big goals. He sets up big goals. The more impact players that you have, like we have, the better chance you have of winning.
“He’s an important part. I don’t want to sit here and say that a certain player’s not going to get traded at some point in his career. I mean, Phil already did. But that’s not something that I foresee happening right now.”
Time for Torts to get paid
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach and reigning Jack Adams Trophy winner John Tortorella is about to enter the final season of his deal, which pays him $2 million annually.
With NHL coaches’ salaries jumping over the past couple of seasons — thanks to Mike Babcock’s game-changing commitment with the Maple Leafs — there will be pressure for the Jackets to give Tortorella a significant raise.
“Babcock’s deal changed the whole landscape for everybody,” Gil Scott, who represented previous Columbus coaches Scott Arniel and Todd Richards, told The Columbus Dispatch.
“It will take some getting used to for some franchises, I’m sure. When Bruce Boudreau was let go in Anaheim (and hired in Minnesota), he more than doubled his salary. Claude Julien was let go in Boston, and now he’s making twice as much in Montreal. I guess it was good for those guys to get fired from a contractual standpoint. But that’s how quickly it’s changed.”
Tortorella’s agent, Neil Glasberg, spoke to reporter Aaron Portzline on behalf of the coach for the piece.
“Who just won coach of the year?” Glasberg said. “It’s not the first time he’s won the Jack Adams Trophy, either. He’s won a Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets just had the best season in franchise history, and it’s not even close. Yeah, he should be among the top-paid coaches in the league.”
The 26-year-old unrestricted free agent scored 98 points in 226 NHL games with the Blackhawks, Panthers, Ducks and Rangers.
Dallas Stars property Valeri Nichushkin will skate for the KHL’s CSKA again in 2017-18 but is expected to return to the NHL the following season…. Veteran forward R.J. Umberger has agreed to a professional tryout with the Stars…. The Penguins are still hunting for a third-line centre…. The Boston Globe‘s Fluto Shinzawa reminds us that the New Jersey Devils still have cap space ($19.4 million of it) and, therefore, could help the Nashville Predators if they need to offload a player to get RFAs Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson under contract…. Vancouver Canucks forward Markus Granlund, who underwent wrist surgery on March 24, has not endured any setbacks and should be good to go.