The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are over halfway complete and the NHL Draft is about a month away.
It's officially rumour season.
There are more than a few big names who could be dealt this off-season, and that list is growing all the time. Next week we'll look at some teams that could make these deals happen, and there's no shortage of franchises that fall into that category. Add in the Seattle Kraken factor and we have the makings for a rumour mill that is beginning to heat up.
WILL JACK EICHEL HEAD TO THE WESTERN CONFERENCE?
There will be a long lineup of teams calling Sabres GM Kevyn Adams about a few of his players. Jack Eichel is the biggest name, but Sam Reinhart is coming off a good season of his own, is a 25-year-old RFA, and will be of interest to the teams seeking a centre. Rasmus Ristolainen is the blueliner Buffalo could trade but, really, anything is on the table.
"I think they want to start over," Elliotte Friedman said on the latest 31 Thoughts podcast.
As far as Eichel goes, the New York Rangers are one team presumed to have interest and hold a number of assets the Sabres might find appealing. But you could understand if Buffalo preferred to move him out of state at least, or further -- the less they meet him and remind fans all over again of what they lost, the better?
On WGR's The Instigators this week, Friedman discussed how the Sabres would rather move Eichel to a Western Conference team.
"I do believe it's heating up," Friedman said of the Eichel trade market. "I believe the Sabres' preference is to send Eichel west. Some of the eastern teams I've spoken to or heard from say they can tell the Sabres aren't as thrilled with the idea of him being in the same division and/or conference. I think some of the eastern teams believe if they're going to get him it's really going to cost them."
The Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild are a couple western team speculated to be in on Eichel.
The Anaheim Ducks are involved, too.
"I definitely think there's something going on there," Friedman said on his podcast about the Ducks' interest in Eichel. "The other thing too is Anaheim wasn't willing to include (Trevor) Zegras or (Jamie) Drysdale for (Pierre-Luc) Dubois. I'm curious to see how this grinding goes for Eichel."
Friedman also mentioned the Ducks would be interested in Reinhart, though acquiring both players would be tough to pull off. More likely is that every team interested in Eichel is also interested in Reinhart to some degree, knowing the cost of acquisition wouldn't be as high.
If the Sabres are going to reconstruct their path forward again, prospects and high picks will have to be the key pieces in any return.
But this is a year unlike any other, and the 2021 draft is considered more of a crap shoot than usual, even at the top. Some leagues had full seasons, some had shortened seasons and the OHL didn't have any games at all, forcing some of its players to go to Europe or miss a year entirely. Scouting was harder to do in-person across the board and because of that it's believed more teams than usual are willing to trade 2021 picks. Gems have a higher chance of falling down the draft board now.
Speaking to The Instigators, Friedman says he doesn't believe that's necessarily the case with Buffalo.
"The Sabres don't seem to be incredibly intimidated about this draft," he said. "There are a lot of teams that are really wary of this draft because they haven't seen a lot of the players. Apparently what Buffalo has said is, 'We can get a second high pick because of that and we better know the players.'"
As for those western teams, the Ducks hold the third-overall draft pick, the Kings sit at eighth overall, and the Wild have picks 21 and 25.
IS SEATTLE CLOSE TO HIRING ITS FIRST COACH?
Kraken GM Ron Francis has always said he planned on having his coach hired before the expansion draft, which is now about a month away. Seattle was rumoured to be interested in Rod Brind'Amour whose contract was up, but the Carolina Hurricanes re-signed him this week.
Now ex-Arizona coach Rick Tocchet seems to be the favourite.
"I'm understanding he's got a third meeting with them set up," Friedman said on the podcast. "I never like to say anything's a guarantee, but just the fact it's a third meeting you gotta think it's a good omen for him. I heard David Quinn had been interviewed by them and someone told me his interview was pretty good. But any time you go for a third there's some reason for that, right? It seems like Tocchet at this point in time."
If the Kraken make their decision soon, it would leave the Sabres and Coyotes as the only two teams left with coaching vacancies. The Sabres may yet bring interim coach Don Granato back, and it would be a surprise if the Coyotes spent big money on a coach.
That would leave an interesting dynamic in the coaching carousel heading into next season.
"I don't see Buffalo or Arizona going the Babcock, Tortorella, Claude Julien route, so what I think next year is, when the season starts, if a team gets off to a slow start there's going to be some serious juice in terms of what could be available for a team that begins poorly."
KIRILL KAPRIZOV'S LEVERAGE IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH WILD
Minnesota grew in popularity on a national stage this season and Kirill Kaprizov was the main attraction. A Calder Trophy finalist, he led the Wild with 27 goals and 51 points, but heads into the off-season an RFA in need of an extension.
Kaprizov is not arbitration eligible, nor can he sign an offer sheet with another team. He's an older rookie at 24, and just three years away from being age eligible for unrestricted free agency, which is complicating negotiations.
According to The Athletic's Michael Russo, the Wild are aiming to sign Kaprizov to a big-money, long-term deal, whereas the player is seeking a bridge contract.
On Friday, NHL Network's Kevin Weekes reported talks between Kaprizov and the Wild had "gone cold" and that one other team Kaprizov could sign with, CSKA Moscow of the KHL, would be interested in bringing him back.
Kaprizov starred for CSKA in each of the three seasons before his NHL arrival, leading them in scoring in his final year. Russo notes that, as of now, Kaprizov's goal is to continue playing in the NHL.
WHY CAROLINA LET DOUGIE HAMILTON TALK TO OTHER TEAMS
Earlier this week Friedman reported that the Canes were giving UFA defenceman Dougie Hamilton a head start on the market by allowing him to speak to other teams about their interest in him.
Hamilton was the Hurricanes' best defenceman this season, is a yearly Norris contender, and a popular player in Carolina. All this paints a picture of a star who could get a huge pay day, and certainly a healthy raise from the $5.75 million cap hit he was playing with.
Carolina has $29.4 million in projected cap space, per Cap Friendly, with eight forwards, four defencemen and no goalies signed.
So why did the Hurricanes let Hamilton speak to other teams early?
"We've had discussions with Dougie and his representation; there's a difference of opinion right now so we said we can either wait for July 28 (opening of free agency) and if we're unable to sign him he could walk for free, so maybe if he finds out there is something that makes sense we could trade him and pick up an asset or we'll have the opportunity to re-sign him, so the door's wide open here," Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. "We love Dougie, he's been good for this franchise. We're certainly all hoping he comes back, but we also felt we didn't want to wait until July 28 to figure that out, so we just got a little head start on it."
Teams would be lining up to have a shot at Hamilton, but cap space remains an issue around the league with $81.5 million continuing to be the upper limit.
In The Athletic, Chicago writers Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers explored the Blackhawks' level of interest in both Hamilton and Seth Jones, but had to weigh the question of if parting with Kirby Dach is worth it for either, considering they are still in a rebuilding position.
HYMAN'S DEPARTURE WOULD BRING DIFFERENT LOOK TO MAPLE LEAFS
According to Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs have $11.75 million in projected cap space next season, with nine forwards, five defencemen and a goalie signed.
Hyman's expiring contract was a $2.25 million bargain and now he could potentially get $5 million or more on the open market as a UFA this summer.
While Hyman's skill set would be missed on the Leafs, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston said replacing it all might require a few different acquisitions.
"I think what it kind of does is set up interesting philosophical questions for them in the off-season," Johnston told 590 The FAN's Writer's Bloc. "I don't think it's a matter of trying to sign one player that does all the things Zach Hyman did.
"It allows them maybe to move towards, I doubt this decision is even made, but perhaps you could look for a different balance in your lineup. Maybe it's a somewhat weaker third player on the top line if you keep Matthews and Marner together. It might allow them to sign two players and achieve maybe a bit better balance through the lineup."
If the Leafs expose Alex Kerfoot in the expansion draft, Seattle might be tempted to pick the centre with two years left on his contract. If they do, it'd free up another $3.5 million from Toronto's cap and allow greater flexibility to re-shape the forwards and find another goalie.
"I think this is part of a wider re-tool, it's not just filling that specific need," Johnston said. "This is the challenge as long as you're keeping those four top players paid what they're paid in a flat cap environment. I think every off-season you'll be trying to fill four or five spots and doing it creatively and cheaply and as effective as possible."
Johnston noted that another change could be less of a focus on filling the bottom-six with veterans. Jason Spezza re-signed for another year and will still fit there, but Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton could be replaced by younger players.
"There's probably some room to try some 25-, 26-year-old free agents who have fallen through the cracks elsewhere and look to find players that can be as effective as Hyman who just haven't earned that reputation yet."