Less than 24 hours from the official opening of NHL free agency, a number of franchise-altering questions are still in need of answers.
In the west, the Flames faithful hold their breath as Johnny Gaudreau elects to test free agency, while a bidding war prepares to brew for Stanley Cup champion Nazem Kadri. Out east, The Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation continues to take shape, while Penguins legend Evgeni Malkin debates moving on from the club with whom he’s collected three championship rings.
With the chaos kicking into high gear Wednesday, here’s the latest from around the NHL rumour mill:
JOHNNY GAUDREAU’S FUTURE IN CALGARY IN DOUBT AS HE TESTS FREE AGENCY
As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported, the Flames star forward has decided to test free agency.
This means that when the clock hits midnight on Tuesday night, Gaudreau will lose the ability to sign an eight-year deal with Calgary, meaning from that point on, the max option for him — whether in Calgary or anywhere else — will be a seven-year contract.
NHL insider Frank Seravalli shed some light on where things were at with Gaudreau’s negotiations with Calgary, joining Sportsnet 960 on Tuesday to discuss the latest.
“These two sides have continued to engage over the last 24 hours or so. There was a significant push from the Calgary Flames in the last 12-24 hours. And they’ve put a massive offer on the table,” Seravalli said, adding that he believes the latest deal offered to Gaudraeu is north of $10 million per year.
“They’ve put an offer on the table that would not only make Johnny Gaudreau the richest player in Calgary Flames history, but on top of that, one of the select few highest-paid players in the NHL today.”
Of course, the sway that hefty price tag has remains to be seen.
“To me, I’ve never really gotten the sense that this has been about grabbing every last dollar for Johnny Gaudreau — it’s been more about fit,” Seravalli said. “I think right now, there’s two things on the table for Johnny Gaudreau — taking a massive deal to stay in Calgary and have your number retired at some point when you wrap up a fantastic career, or take a lot less money and a probably imperfect deal somewhere else closer to home, that suits your lifestyle and your family a lot better at this moment in time. So, that’s been the wrestle in Johnny Gaudreau’s mind and gut for the last few weeks.”
For what it’s worth, one of the teams Gaudreau has long been linked to, the Philadelphia Flyers, cleared cap space Tuesday by exercising a buyout of forward Oskar Lindblom, opening up $3.33 million in space.
Regardless of which way Gaudreau’s decision falls, the ramifications in Calgary and beyond are bound to be significant. For the Flames, it’ll be especially important for another of the team’s star free agents, RFA Matthew Tkachuk.
“If you’re Matthew Tkachuk and you see Johnny Gaudreau walk, someone that you’ve had not only so much individual success with, but also you know that your team’s not going to be quite as good now, and you’re one year away from unrestricted free agency, do you essentially try to wedge your way out or force your way out?” Seravalli said. “That has to be a realistic option on the table.”
RANGERS THE LIKELY FRONTRUNNER FOR CUP CHAMP NAZEM KADRI
Fresh off a standout performance during Colorado’s run to the Stanley Cup — following a career-best regular season — Kadri sits on the cusp of a hefty payday. Asked what the cap number will likely be for the highly sought-after centreman’s next deal, Seravalli said he believes Kadri will get at least $8 million per year.
“It’s somewhere in the eights. It’s significant. It is a massive, massive number,” he told Sportsnet 590. “I’m told that the interest in Nazem Kadri is going to be significant — there’s a whole number of teams that have been watching Kadri, see his production, his season, and really just what he showed in the playoffs. That grit, the ability to come back, the complete nature of his game that’s continued to grow. … He’s looking at an enormous payday.”
While a number of teams are sure to be in on the former Maple Leaf, another Original Six club appears to be leading the pack.
“From everything that I’ve heard to this point, I believe the New York Rangers are the frontrunner for Nazem Kadri,” Seravalli said. “I think the plan is to try and take the money that Ryan Strome was earning, to slide that over to Nazem Kadri and have him slot in as the New York Rangers’ 2C, in an ideal world for the next seven years. They’re certainly on the list of teams — maybe four or five teams — that are going to be trying to do everything they can to get Kadri.”
MAPLE LEAFS LOOKING FOR BARGAIN FOURTH-LINE PIECE
Trying to find roster solutions with little cap space to work with, the Maple Leafs handled one bit of business Monday, swinging a trade for netminder Matt Murray. But a number of questions still remain in net, up front, and on the blue line. Seravalli suggested 25-year-old goaltender Ilya Samsonov — who wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Washington Capitals — as a potential target to fill out Toronto’s tandem, but such a move would likely require Toronto clearing some cap space, perhaps by dealing defender Justin Holl.
As for the rest of their cap situation, here’s how he sees it shaking out:
“A small chunk of that — probably $1 million, $1.25 million, $1.4 million, whatever it ends up being — is probably going to be the [Rasmus] Sandin deal. Clearly qualifying [Pierre] Engvall, he’s a player that they have not only interest in, but see a future in, given what he brought to that line defensively and all the other aspects that are an element of his game, that are a bit different from anyone else. … [Ilya] Mikheyev is going to be too expensive. They really need a fourth-line piece — I think to this point, Colin Blackwell is too expensive, given what he might be able to get.
“So, they’re looking in that $750,000-to-$1 million range for another fourth-line piece. But a big chunk of [Toronto’s $6.3 million in cap space] is probably going to be chewed up by a goaltender — the question is how much?”
Speaking of potential options in net for Toronto, the Daily Faceoff insider also shed light on just how close Cup champion and 2021 Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury was to a potential move to the blue and white this off-season — and why it likely would’ve cost less than what the Maple Leafs will be paying Murray.
“I think it was something that was certainly a consideration,” Seravalli said when asked about whether Fleury-to-Toronto was a possibility before the veteran re-upped with Minnesota. “And whatever reporting was out there that Marc-Andre Fleury had no interest in playing in Toronto, or had nixed the idea of it last spring during the trade deadline, I think that was always overblown. I think when it came down to it, and these chairs started to fill up in a hurry, and you saw Colorado make the decision to go with Alexandar Georgiev, that’s when I think Marc-Andre Fleury jumped into gear saying, ‘Hey, I actually really like the situation in Minnesota. Before they go and move on to the next guy on their list, maybe I should just get a deal done there.’ So it never really got to the point where it was an option for the Leafs.
“My guess is that wherever he ended up, he was always kind of looking at the same type of deal — a multi-year deal in the mid-three [millions], whether it was in Colorado, whether it was in Minnesota, Toronto, Washington, wherever it was. It clearly kind of came down to pecking order.
“And the way I always viewed it from the Fleury perspective was Colorado was his first choice, Minnesota was second, Toronto third and Washington and whoever else fourth and fifth.”
REST OF GOALIE CAROUSEL TAKING SHAPE, BUT PLENTY COULD STILL CHANGE
With the Maple Leafs choosing Murray as their No. 1 heading into the 2022-23 season, much of the chatter heading into Wednesday has surrounded the likelihood of Jack Campbell inking a long-term deal with the Edmonton Oilers, and Cup-winner Darcy Kuemper doing the same with the Washington Capitals.
While both situations seem set to close as expected, Seravalli believes it’s not necessarily a given.
“They were down this path with Jacob Markstrom, it felt like, a few years ago. Where everyone was saying, ‘Jacob Markstrom’s going to Edmonton’ — and he ends up in Calgary. So, I would certainly say, given the situation, given nothing’s done until it’s done, that remains a possibility, that things end up falling apart.”
That being said, some recent moves around the league suggest at least one of the two marquee netminder free agents will be landing in Washington.
“I think there’s been enough hypothetical interest that would seem to place both those goaltenders, one in Edmonton, one in Washington. And I think you need to look no further than how Washington’s handled their goaltending situation — Vitek Vanecek traded to the New Jersey Devils, and it seems like Vanecek and [Mackenzie] Blackwood are going to be the pair there in New Jersey. We know that goaltenders are in demand, and there’s very few impact [goaltenders] out there, yet they let Ilya Samsonov walk as a non-QO player on Monday.
“Why would a team who doesn’t have any goalies let a first-round pick, that’s a homegrown talent, walk for nothing on Monday unless they know that they’re spending more on Wednesday to bring another guy in? So you can piece it all together there quite clearly. It’s right out there in the open.”
AS PENGUINS NAVIGATE MALKIN NEGOTIATION, BLUE-LINE TRADE LIKELY COMING
The Penguins have a franchise-altering decision on their hands with future Hall of Famer Evgeni Malkin. After a drawn-out negotiation that saw GM Ron Hextall and Co. wait to fully engage with Malkin until after inking Kris Letang to a long-term deal, and then finding disagreement on what each side felt was the appropriate term, No. 71 has decided to test the market Wednesday.
If he walks, the Pens will have a massive hole to fill at 2C, as well as a fan base — and plenty of players in their room — that likely won’t be impressed at how the negotiations played out, and how they ended.
As the team prepares to take another run at inking Malkin, or finding his replacement on the market, it appears Hextall will likely look to clear some more cap space by trading away a defenceman, according to The Athletic‘s Rob Rossi.
Pittsburgh has a surplus of talent on the left side, with Mike Matheson, Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson all earning between $4-5 million next season, and young P.O. Joseph ready to graduate to the big club.
Whether the team is able to bring back Malkin or not, Hextall noted at the NHL Draft that the feeling among the club’s front office following their playoff loss to New York was that they need more offensive help.
“I mean, you can see clearly that we need a couple more forwards,” Hextall had said. “I feel pretty comfortable with our defence, but we do need a couple more forwards. We do have space.”
The Pens still have roughly $10 million in cap space to work with, which could rise even higher should they move one of those D-men.
VETERANS DAVID PERRON, BRENT BURNS SET FOR POTENTIAL MOVES?
Elsewhere around the league, a couple veteran stars look to be headed for a change of address as well.
With the San Jose Sharks transitioning into a rebuild and Mike Grier beginning to sort out the team’s next steps, the new GM shed light on how the team will approach longtime Sharks defenceman Brent Burns‘ future.
“He’s been here a long time. He’s been a great Sharks player. I’ll let him kind of lead the way a little bit on that,” Grier said Monday. “Depending on the conversation, if it is something where he says he wants to go somewhere and try and win, I get it.”
On Sportsnet’s 32 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman reported that plenty of teams have interest in the 37-year-old, and have already reached out to the Sharks. Friedman noted the Dallas Stars could be an option for Burns, with John Klingberg set to see what his options are as a UFA.
Also heading to market is veteran forward David Perron, who’s coming off a strong 27-goal, 57-point effort for St. Louis.
Since returning to the Blues four years ago, Perron has amassed 94 goals and 221 points in 251 games, adding 38 points through 47 playoff games — including 16 during the Blues’ 2019 Cup run. The 34-year-old is coming off a four-year deal that paid him $4 million per year.