Though there are four teams left standing in the playoffs, the off-season is not far away. Speculation is ramping up as to who will test free agency, who will be traded and which teams will make the most significant changes.
With a robust goalie market, a flat cap and a number of teams in need of new looks, this figures to be an off-season unlike any other. Here’s the latest look at some of the buzz around the league, including from a team that is still playing meaningful games.
IS FLEURY GOING TO BE LEAVING LAS VEGAS?
It’s hard to believe this is a talking point, but here we are. From the moment Marc-Andre Fleury landed in Vegas in the expansion draft he’s been the smiling face of the franchise, and he led them to the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1. But now we’re looking at the real possibility of a breakup, and not an especially clean one at that.
There’s no doubt that Fleury is Vegas’ backup now, playing only when Robin Lehner needs a breather. Lehner, however, is a pending UFA, but rumours are swirling that he and the team are close on an extension. If that comes to fruition there’s growing speculation that Fleury would become available on the trade market. It’s hard to imagine him being OK to move ahead as the team’s backup, especially following a social media post from his agent suggested head coach Peter DeBoer had stabbed Fleury in the back by relegating him to a support role.
“It seems as if the relationship here is damaged,” Elliotte Friedman said on the FAN 960 in Calgary this week. “The one thing I don’t like to do is come out and say it can’t be repaired or it’s over. I think it’s more likely headed in that direction, but we’ve seen stranger things happen before.
“It’s clear Fleury is unhappy with what’s transpired there. It’s clear the organization isn’t happy with the tweet from his agent and how that played out in the middle of the playoffs. But there’s a lot of moving parts here. One of those is Fleury’s contract. One of those is the overall cap crunch around the league. One of those is that there’s a lot of goalies available right now. There’s a lot of options for teams to go on right now.”
As we’ve previously explored, this off-season’s goalie market is shaping up to be a fascinating one. It looks like a buyer’s market, which doesn’t help the Golden Knights.
We’ve also explored how many teams are really up against the flat cap and having to make tough choices because of it. Fleury makes $7 million against the cap for another two seasons and has been in decline for a bit, which is why Vegas felt it needed to get Lehner at the trade deadline to begin with. Vegas would almost certainly have to retain some of his cap hit to make it work.
But is that even enough? How many teams view Fleury as more than a split-start tandem player at 35 years old?
COULD THE LEAFS TRADE FREDERIK ANDERSEN?
Whether or not you think trading Frederik Andersen is a good idea for the Maple Leafs, the aforementioned loaded goalie market makes it necessary for the team to at least explore all its options. Andersen has been solid in the regular season in his time with Toronto and can’t be blamed outright for their series loss to Columbus in 2020, but he’s 30 and a year away from free agency, so if the Leafs can find a better option (tandem or otherwise) to move forward with from here, they have to at least consider it.
And you better believe there’d be interest in Andersen. Not only has he been a consistent performer in the regular season, but he’s incredibly cheap. While his cap hit will be $5 million in 2020-21, the actual salary owned to Andersen is just $1 million after his signing bonus was paid.
“I think Carolina’s a team that has interest,” Friedman said on the FAN 590 in Toronto. “I think they want to upgrade from Mrazek-Reimer. Andersen would clearly be an upgrade. And he’d be the kind of guy Carolina would go after because, one, I think he’s a good goalie and, two, he’s very cost effective… that makes him very, very attractive.”
Of course, the Leafs would have to have a follow up plan and couldn’t trade Andersen if Jack Campbell was the only goalie left. Whether they get Andersen’s replacement in another trade or through a free agent signing, that has to be in place before moving on an Andersen deal.
“I think if he gets traded it’s about getting them to another situation in goal they like better,” Friedman said. “I think that trade is about ‘OK we’ve got something else we want to do and now we’re going to create the room to do it.”
PIETRANGELO, BLUES GOING THROUGH ‘DIFFICULT’ NEGOTIATION?
And it’s looking more and more likely that that’s where this is headed.
The Blues have just $5.8 million in cap space with both Pietrangelo and RFA defenceman Vince Dunn to re-sign. Other bodies would surely have to move out to make sure there’s room for both, but that’s easier said than done.
“We’d love to get Alex signed,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “At the end of the day it’s a math equation.”
The last time Armstrong talked about one of his UFA’s needing to fit a “math equation” he was discussing pending UFA David Backes in 2018 — and Backes left that summer.
The Blues had previously re-signed a number of their own players this season: Marco Scandella, Brayden Schenn and Justin Faulk will combine to make over $16 million against the cap in 2020-21, and that’s left little wiggle room for Pietrangelo.
Had the cap continued to rise, perhaps this contract would have been completed sooner. But everything is complicated right now, and we should no longer be surprised if Pietrangelo hits free agency and ends up elsewhere in 2020-21.
“I’ve been lead to believe that’s a much more difficult negotiation than I think a lot of us have realized,” Friedman said.
COULD THE CANADIENS TRADE DOMI?
When Montreal first traded for Max Domi two years ago, they didn’t have a lot of organizational depth at the centre position. It was a weakness for them. But things have quickly changed, with Phillip Danault taking a step as a high-end defensive pivot and the arrival of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, who both played well in these playoffs.
Domi’s role was diminished in the post-season and he followed up a 72-point first year in Montreal with a 44-point production in Year 2. Now he’s an arbitration-eligible RFA and though Montreal would be able to handle the $5 million or so his next contract is expected to be, term will be a sticking point. Domi is 25, inching closer to UFA status, and it’s unclear now where he fits into the Canadiens’ plans over the coming years.
He also made news when he changed his agent to Darren Ferris, leaving many to wonder what the motivation was behind that decision and how it related to the Canadiens.
“He’s getting closer to free agency and you know if you want to sign him longer term it’s going to be a bigger number and I just think it might not make sense long-term for Montreal to do that if his role isn’t going to increase,” Friedman said. “They’re not guaranteed to trade him, but they’re definitely going to look and see what the market is for him.”