NHL Rumour Roundup: As Canucks look to buy, will Maple Leafs ‘reset’?

Mike Halford and Jason Brough wonder if the Canucks are starting to put the pressure on Elias Pettersson’s camp to talk contract ahead of the trade deadline.

The 32 Thoughts podcast headed to Victoria, BC this week ahead of Hockey Day in Canada, where a live episode was recorded Thursday night.

The episode included three great interviews with Brian Burke, Kevin Bieksa and James Patrick, a Q&A session with the crowd and, of course, trade rumour talk.

That’s where today’s Rumour Roundup picks up.

In the most recent episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, Elliotte and Jeff talked about trade rumours around the Canucks and Jake Guentzel, Marc-Andre Fleury, John Gibson and the goalie market, and the situation the Maple Leafs find themselves in between buyer and seller.

THE CANUCKS WILL WANT JAKE GUENTZEL…IF HE’S AVAILABLE

Sitting first overall in the NHL by points, regulation wins and goals per game, the Vancouver Canucks are one of the best surprise stories of the season so far.

After missing out on the post-season three years in a row, Vancouver is now seen as a top contender in the stronger of the two conferences. If there are any questions still, they’ll revolve around another stat the Canucks have led the NHL in for much of the season: PDO, or the total combined shooting percentage + save percentage.

While that number tends to average out around the league at 100, it’s not strange for good teams to finish well above that. Still, Vancouver’s current PDO of 104.9 (12.1 shooting percentage + 92.8 save percentage) at 5-on-5 would be the highest of any team on record if the season ended today. That shooting percentage, in fact, would be the highest mark of any team in the NHL’s data dating back to 2009-10 (the 2021-22 Blues’ 10.4 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 is the highest 82-game mark on record).

One way those numbers could stay high all season? Add another scorer at the trade deadline of course. There’s been plenty of talk recently about how aggressive the Canucks will/should be in trades this season, given how surprising the first half has gone. But they have a window here and, in a front office led by Trader Jim Rutherford, the Canucks figure to be in on the biggest names.

“Rick Tocchet knows Jake Guentzel. Jim Rutherford knows Jake Guentzel. If Jake Guentzel’s going to be available the Vancouver Canucks are going to be in it,” Elliotte Friedman said on Friday’s 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. “But so are a lot of other people.”

Guentzel, a two-time 40-goal scorer who has 19 goals and 46 points through 42 games, would be one of the most impactful scorers available. At 29, Guentzel makes $6 million against the cap this season and then becomes a free agent in the summer.

And the Penguins, who missed the playoffs last season and haven’t won a series since 2018, could make sense to be a seller. As of Friday morning, they are 10th in the East, three points out of a wild card spot, but with games in hand of every team in front of them. They’re not out, but they’re far from a guarantee to get in — and no one views the Penguins as a legitimate Stanley Cup threat anymore.

Even still, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in tow (the latter two recently re-signed) Pittsburgh can never really be in “rebuild” mode and they even added Erik Karlsson over the summer. But with an ageing core, diminishing Cup hopes, a thin prospect cupboard and no first-round pick in 2024, the organization has to be considering how to bring balance to the picture.

That difficult task ultimately falls to president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, who walked into this impossible situation over the summer. This week, Dubas poured cold water on Guentzel trade talk, calling any rumours of ongoing trade talks “premature.”

“We’ll continue to go through the season here and I’ll continue to evaluate where we’re at,” Dubas said on a local radio appearance. “Either after the All-Star break or after the season we’ll do what’s best for everybody — best for the Penguins, best for Jake, and we’ll determine that together. That’s really it.”

Could the Penguins re-sign Guentzel, and at what rate, to keep leaning into this core? Or does he become a top rental target on the market?

While Rutherford’s teams have historically acted early to get a jump on the trade market — and they have already acquired Nikita Zadorov this season — this deal will be on Dubas’ timeline. Guentzel, too, might have a decision to make.

“To me the biggest decision here is where’s Pittsburgh going and I think they’re bracing for a future where they’re going to say ‘we’re not trading prospects, picks for short-term fixes,” Friedman said. “I do believe one of the things that Guentzel’s been weighing is if the Penguins aren’t going to be all-in does this make sense for (him)? Once that gets formalized I think the auction will begin.”

MARC-ANDRE FLEURY AND THE GOALIE MARKET

Looking at the standings, the Minnesota Wild appear to be sliding more and more into a seller’s position, nine points out of the second wild card spot and as close to the first wild card spot as they are to the tanking Anaheim Ducks behind them.

But they’ve also been hammered by injuries this season and so GM Bill Guerin is still holding on to hope his team can turn it around in the next 38 games.

“There’s a lot of hockey to be played, so we’re definitely not ready to wave the white flag,” he said this week.

Still, from the outside, this seems to be headed in one direction. As playoff hopes fade, the Wild will have to consider recouping assets for their expiring contracts.

Top of mind in that regard is 39-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury, who is in the last year of his contract. Whether he returns to the NHL next season, or this is the end of a Hall of Fame career, Fleury may be asked about waiving his no-movement clause before the March 8 deadline. His AAV is $3.5 million.

It’s likely Fleury would only seriously consider going to a Cup contending team, and one where he’s more than a depth emergency option.

“Marc-Andre Fleury has the right to call his shot. He deserves it, he’s earned it and you heard Minnesota say this week they are not giving up on the season,” Friedman said. “But if we get to a point where the Wild are out, to me, Colorado is one of those teams that’s going to ask Marc-Andre Fleury ‘would you be interested in us?'”

“The other team that screams Fleury to me is Carolina.”

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The Avalanche make sense. Alexandar Georgiev’s play has soured this season after a breakout 2022-23, leaving Colorado without a .900 save percentage goalie and 24th in overall team save percentage. The Hurricanes, too, are struggling at the position, ranking 30th in team save percentage. Frederik Andersen remains out, while Pyotr Kochetkov and Antti Raanta have dealt with injuries at times this season too, and fourth-stringer Yaniv Perets had to come in relief this week.

Another team with an obvious need in net are the New Jersey Devils, who rank 31st in team save percentage. With Akira Schmid and Vitek Vanecek both struggling (70th and 90th out of 91 goalies in Goals Saved Above Expected) 23-year-old Nico Daws has started six of New Jersey’s past nine games, winning three with a .916 save percentage.

Four points out of a playoff spot now, the Devils finished with 112 points last season and even beat the NY Rangers in the first round. But given their precarious position in the standings, would they still be viewed as a contender by someone like Fleury?

Or, are the Devils seeking a goalie who would be around for a while?

“I don’t know if New Jersey is that team this year,” Friedman said. “To me I think New Jersey goes for something longer term. Can they make Calgary the kind of offer that Calgary takes to Jacob Markstrom? That seems to make more sense for New Jersey.”

Big names on the goalie market are nothing new, but seeing one move — especially in-season — would be. The problem with the goalie market, as we’ve explored time and again, is that these kind of established starters don’t often move, so the returns are completely undefined. Perhaps the major uptick in the salary cap that’s on the horizon will open the gates a little more. There is certainly no shortage of teams looking for netminding.

“Teams looking for goalies are New Jersey, Carolina, Los Angeles, Colorado, possibly Edmonton,” Friedman continued. “Toronto was. I heard the problem for Toronto was they wanted to trade a sixth round pick or something for a goalie who could help them while Samsonov was down, and they couldn’t get traction.”

A couple other goalies to watch for on the trade market, according to Friedman:

John Gibson, Anaheim, $6.4 million AAV through 2026-27: “There was a time last summer where I thought Anaheim was going to say ‘let’s move on from the contract. Let’s just take the best deal we can.’ Gibson asked to be traded to a contender and Anaheim was willing to accommodate him,” Friedman said. “It’s a hard deal to do because the trade is for Gibson and retention, if you need it, and most teams need it. I think it’s been really hard.

“Verbeek is a really tough negotiator. I thought they would want to move on, but I think he’s holding to his price and I’m not convinced that he gets dealt this year.”

Jake Allen, Montreal, $3.85 million through 2024-25: “I think (GM Kent Hughes) has got a price he’s set and I think it’s a draft pick. I think the other issue is (Allen has) got one more year. There’s always the trade price and the retention price and the price gets higher if theres retention,” Friedman said. “There was a time this year where I thought Jake Allen was going to be in Edmonton. Now I’m not convinced that’s going to happen.”

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WHAT’S TORONTO’S MINDSET: BUY OR RESET THE ROSTER?

With a 4-3 win in Calgary Thursday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs moved back into third spot in the Atlantic and cooled the temperature around them for at least another day.

But, still, the conversation around this team centres around how good they really are compared to expectations. Should these Leafs be buyers once again at this deadline or are their roster holes and inconsistencies exposing them as a team that should instead take the season to reshape things?

“I think Toronto’s thinking bigger picture. I don’t think this is about this year anymore. I think they’re thinking about where they’re going. I really wonder if deep down the organization is saying ‘we’re not good enough to win this year, we are resetting and reshaping our roster,'” Friedman said. “The more I think about the Nylander negotiation, getting him signed, it was about ‘what does our structure look like so we can start to rebuild that roster.'”

The pending Mitch Marner and John Tavares extensions, which can be signed as soon as July 1, loom large. Marner figures to get a raise on his $10.9 million AAV, but how much? Tavares would be 35 whenever his next contract kicks in, so would he consider a discount from his $11 million rate and, again, by how much?

But it’s not just that. The Leafs have to consider their entire defence corps, where Morgan Rielly is the only blueliner signed past next season. And then there is the goaltending. Joseph Woll is still hopefully the No. 1 and proves it when he returns from a high ankle sprain, but if that happens he too will be due a healthy raise on his $766,667 rate when his contract expires after next season.

“I think before they committed to signing Nylander they went everywhere in the league and said ‘is there a defenceman making Nylander’s money or close to it that we can replace him with’ and those players are not available,” said Friedman.

So what does that mean? Will Toronto try to address its defence in-season? Could they explore moving out any pending UFAs, from TJ Brodie, to Max Domi or Tyler Bertuzzi?

After years of buying, it’s suddenly not clear how this year’s Maple Leafs will approach the trade deadline.

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