With all but eight teams out of Stanley Cup contention, Rumour Season is upon us. Here's the latest on which players might be on the move this summer, and how some teams are approaching what could be a really busy summer.
Where might Seth Jones land?
Between the departure of head coach John Tortorella, the return of president John Davidson, and the impending roster overturn ahead, the Columbus Blue Jackets are staring down an off-season of much change as they attempt to rebuild on the fly. It looks like star defenceman Seth Jones will be a big part of that.
On Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported during the Saturday Headlines segment that Jones recently told the organization he won't be re-signing at this time, opting instead to test free agency.
“I’m saying 'for now' at this point because I don’t like to deal in absolutes, but it does appear as if he is prepared to test free agency and we’ll see how Columbus decides to handle this over the next little while,” said Friedman.
Jones has one season remaining on his current deal, which carries an affordable $5.4-million cap hit. He'll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career following the 2021-22 season and will no doubt be earning a sizeable raise.
While Jones' departure feels like another tough blow for the Blue Jackets, who have watched a long line of high-profile free agents leave for bigger markets these past few years, it's also an opportunity for a club that needs to retool and will likely go all-in on youth and development. How much they can get in return for Jones on the trade market will sway greatly depending on whether the team acquiring is looking for more than a one-year boost to its blue line, of course.
While the best outcome would obviously be for Jones to decide to stay, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline pointed out that this current approach -- making clear his intentions one year out and working with the team amicably -- is the next best outcome.
Davidson told The Columbus Dispatch reporter Brian Hedger that Jones has been "very open" with GM Jarmo Kekäläinen and that the two have had "great discussions" about how to proceed.
"It’s professional. That’s the way we want to do our business. … If [Jones] chooses not to sign a long-term deal, I won’t disrespect him for it. He has that right. I mean, that’s the business of hockey," Davidson told Hedger. “He’s a player we’d love to have for the long-term, but if that’s not going to work out, then we have to do what we have to do to protect our franchise to continue to build a hockey club with players that want to be here. It’s that simple.”
So, where might Jones land? According to Portzline, the Los Angeles Kings appear to be the early favourite. As far as trade partners go, they're a great match -- L.A.'s got a really deep pool of prospects and young players just hitting the NHL, and lots of draft picks as well, including No. 8 overall this year. Portzline reports that the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens "are expected to be major players, too."
Where do the Sabres and Eichel go from here?
Wednesday brought a little diversion from regular programming for the Buffalo Sabres: Good news! Yet, even after winning the No. 1 overall pick at the upcoming 2021 draft, the big story is still all about Jack Eichel.
Friedman addressed part of the situation in his latest edition of 31 Thoughts:
“The 12-week rest and recovery period Buffalo asked Jack Eichel to take ended on the weekend. Everyone’s being very quiet about this, because it’s already gotten enough public attention, but there will be conversations this week on where this goes from here. I do believe both the Sabres [with the NHL] and Eichel [with the NHLPA] have discussed what their options are if there is still disagreement about the next steps. The likely outcome is a trade,” wrote Friedman.
During the 31 Thoughts podcast on Friday, Friedman and Marek dug a little deeper into Eichel’s injury situation and the standoff between the Sabres and their star player when it comes to the preferred route of recovery.
One of the big questions here comes down to this: If any team acquiring Eichel must also sign off on his handling of his own recovery, how much does that alter the field of interested candidates?
Rinne not ready to decide future
The final game of the Nashville Predators' regular season felt like a farewell for Pekka Rinne, his parting gift a shutout against Carolina to (probably) end an era.
During his end-of-season media availability earlier this week, following Nashville's first-round elimination, Rinne wasn't ready to call it a career just yet. The UFA and 2021 King Clancy finalist is leaving the door open for various options -- including signing elsewhere.
Just like longtime New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist did with the Washington Capitals before health issues held him off the ice, it's possible Rinne could join another club as a veteran backup to help out a young netminder.
What's next for Big Z?
Following the first-round ousting of the Washington Capitals, Zdeno Chara penned a thank you post to the Capitals that read like a farewell letter, too.
"I have been so very fortunate to be a part of the Washington Capitals organization. Since day one I’ve been welcomed with open arms and every day was a pleasure to come to the rink," Chara wrote, via his Instagram. "Even though our season didn’t end the way we all wanted I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to play for Washington. To all the players, coaches, staff, fans and especially my family, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Chara was a strong, if short-lived, addition to Washington's blue line, but with another underwhelming post-season result comes change. With Washington likely turning to younger options in-house, it makes sense to see Chara elsewhere next year should he keep his career going. Last off-season, he took his time with the decision and it would only make sense for him to do the same again now.
Spezza keen to return to Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs management made it clear during Wednesday's end-of-season media availabilities that the club's Core Four is staying intact as the organization looks to keep building after its first-round collapse against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We are going to do this here in Toronto with this group. There will be changes that’ll be made, there’ll be tweaks along the way, of course. The team will evolve, the people will evolve. But we are going to get this done,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told reporters earlier this week.
As for the long list of pending UFAs to complement that foursome of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, that's all to be determined. In a breakdown of the club's one-year veteran acquisitions, Sportsnet's Luke Fox highlighted forward Jason Spezza and defenceman Zach Bogosian as the two most likely to return for another short-term shot.
Spezza, who earned a league-minimum $700,000 in 2020-21, indicated he wants to return:
“Yeah, I would. I feel like there’s a lot of unfinished business. I feel very invested in the group here, and I’m hopeful that I get another opportunity to do that again next year and push this team over the top,” he said reporters.
Leafs want Hyman back, but can they afford him?
The Maple Leafs' biggest free agency questions are centred around Frederik Andersen and Zach Hyman. While the re-signing of Andersen feels less and less likely, considering his price tag, the Leafs' cap situation, and the play of Jack Campbell while Andersen was sidelined by injury, Hyman is a different story.
By all accounts, Hyman loves being a Maple Leaf and the club wants to keep him in blue and white long-term. But a player like Hyman is going to warrant tons of interest around the league, and he's likely to get offers Toronto simply cannot match.
“There’s no bones about the fact that we would be very interested in having him back,” GM Kyle Dubas said of Hyman. “I think it has to work out fair for both sides. Zach’s going to want to be treated fairly, we’re going to have to figure out something that works in the short- and long-term and that will be up to [Leafs assistant GM] Brandon Pridham and [agent] Todd Reynolds to sort that out.”
While there are no concrete reports out there yet, Elliotte Friedman drew an interesting comparison during an appearance Boomer in the Morning on Friday between Hyman's situation and that of defenceman Morgan Rielly. Rielly will be a UFA next off-season, and he's another great example of a player who loves being a Leaf and is extremely well-respected in the organization, but one whose talent will be in high demand should he hit the open market. Listen to the conversation here, beginning at the 14:30 mark:
Don't expect Penguins to break up core
Another team committed to keeping its core group intact: Pittsburgh. After another first-round bounce, this Cup-winning group of past success is still the main driver of the franchise's future.
“We see a future with this core,” GM Ron Hextall told reporters. “These guys have been here a long time. We had a good year. It certainly didn’t give me pause to think about what we should do with this core.”
Goaltending proved to be the team's biggest weakness in the playoffs. Despite strong regular-season numbers, Tristan Jarry struggled mightily in the post-season. Hextall gave the the 26-year-old netminder a vote of confidence:
“You saw what happened in Game 5, an unfortunate error there. And then Game 6 wasn’t the best. But I don’t think we would have been where we were without Tristan and we all have to remember Tristan is a young player,” Hextall said. “He’s going to learn from this and he’s going to come back better in September.”
Dolla Bill Kirill can take Minnesota to the bank
There's no question about what's atop Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin's to-do list: lock up Kirill Kaprizov. Kirill the Thrill certainly lived up to his nickname, posting a team-high 27 goals and 51 points while all but guaranteeing himself a Calder Trophy victory for rookie of the year.
As for his other nickname -- Dolla Dolla Bill Kirill -- he's about to live up to that one, too.
Michael Russo of The Athletic reported over the weekend that, "It’s believed the Wild have already offered him an eight-year contract north of $8 million."
This is a unique situation. Kaprizov’s status as a 10.2(c) RFA means he cannot be snatched away via offer sheet. The 24-year-old can become a UFA as early as the 2024 off-season, which has a bridge deal in his best interest. Obviously for Guerin, that puts the pressure on management to eat up a few of those UFA years.
Another player to watch in Minnesota: Zach Parise. The 2020-21 campaign was not kind to the veteran, who fell through the lineup and wound up a healthy scratch for parts of the regular season and the first three games of the playoffs.
Despite being locked up for four more years with a no-move clause, the situation between player and team feels much less certain than contract terms indicate.
Ducks could be a team to watch
Between the ongoing flat cap and the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, this could be a busier off-season than most as teams try to navigate both. That puts the Anaheim Ducks in an interesting -- and potentially beneficial -- position.
With a number of their young up-and-coming stars ineligible to be plucked away by Seattle, the Ducks could be in decent position ahead of the expansion draft to make some moves and advance their rebuild. At this pivotal time in their roster overall, it will be really interesting to see how GM Bob Murray will approach the entry and expansion drafts.
While he will have a long to-do list when it comes to signing several young RFA forwards awaiting their first post-ELC deals (including Max Jones, Sam Steel, and Maxime Comtois), he'll be coming into some cap space with the big-money contract of Ryan Getzlaf ($8.25 million) and David Backes ($4.5 million) off the books. How might he use that?
It's unclear whether that to-do list will include bringing back Getzlaf at a reduced rate to help steer the ship of the only franchise he's ever known.
"He’s obviously at the point in his career where he needs to take a little step back and see what’s best for his family and what he thinks his role can be," Murray said last week, via The Associated Press. "We discussed roles on the hockey team. Ryan and I discussed a whole bunch of things, and we will continue to have discussions."