With only one week until the opening round of the 2023 NHL Draft, it marks the time of year where speculation, both on the trade and free agency fronts, ramps up significantly.
On the latest episode of 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed much of the latest buzz from across the NHL.
It was reported earlier on Wednesday the Buffalo Sabres are working on contract extensions for defencemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. In addition to some brief talk regarding the Buffalo blue line, Friedman mentioned New Jersey and Timo Meier appear to be working on an eight-year deal as Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald has previously alluded to, plus the Boston Bruins are interested in bringing back pending unrestricted free agents Tyler Bertuzzi and Garnet Hathaway.
So, what else is being tossed around on the rumour mill?
Would Ducks take early swing on Michkov at No. 2?
It’s not much of a secret the Chicago Blackhawks are prepared to select Connor Bedard with the first-overall pick next Wednesday night.
The current consensus is that some combination of Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson and Will Smith will then make up the rest of the top four picks in 2023, but as we are often reminded at this time of year, just because something is expected to happen doesn’t necessarily mean it will.
Anaheim has the No. 2 pick and Jeff Marek, after receiving an interesting message, pondered whether the Ducks would go slightly off the board.
Matvei Michkov is the top-ranked international skater according to Central Scouting’s final rankings, and perhaps this draft’s most notable wild card since he has three years remaining on his KHL contract with Sochi, which means the earliest he’d make his NHL debut would be in 2026.
Friedman said Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek’s “give a beep metre on what other people think is very low” and he pointed out Verbeek got his front office start working under former teammate Steve Yzerman in both Tampa and Detroit. Yzerman is known for taking risks like he did at the 2019 draft when he selected Moritz Seider sixth overall despite the defenceman being expected to go somewhere in the middle of the opening round that year. Seider, of course, is off to a solid start to his NHL career and won the Calder Trophy as top rookie in 2022.
If Anaheim and the other teams in the top four at the draft (Columbus and San Jose) pass on Michkov then draft intrigue could really begin with Montreal at No. 5.
Increased chatter around Flyers
Friedman said “I think Philly’s ready to do a lot of things” and “I did have a couple teams tell me they do think the Flyers will have at least one more first-round pick than they already have.”
The Flyers currently hold the No. 7 pick and the No. 22 pick they received from the Kings as part of the three-way trade with Columbus in which they traded Ivan Provorov.
Friedman added he heard it could be from trades involving centre Kevin Hayes, who has three years at more than $7.1-million AAV remaining on his contract, or potentially someone else on the roster. Names like Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Scott Laughton are also out there, but the prices for those players would presumably be higher than the price for Hayes.
Lindholm’s future with Flames
The Calgary Flames are another team with major roster decisions to make in the relatively near future. Defenceman Noah Hanifin is entering the final year of his contract and is a candidate to get moved at some point, but Friedman thinks “the rest of their decisions surround (Elias) Lindholm.”
Friedman said he thinks the Flames and the 28-year-old forward are talking about a potential extension somewhere in the vicinity of the contract Bo Horvat signed with the Islanders in February after being acquired from the Canucks (eight years at $8.5 million per). Friedman added he thinks there have been conversations about the direction of the team.
“I think Lindholm has indicated that if he commits he wants to know that the team is still going to try to compete, that it won’t be a (full) rebuild,” Freidman said before speculating the Flames are waiting for Lindholm’s decision before turning their attention to other players such as Tyler Toffoli, Nikita Zadorov and Chris Tanev, all of whom are also entering the final year of their current deals. Friedman also said he has heard Jakob Markstrom wants to come back to the team, so that might quiet any trade rumours surrounding the goaltender.
Suffice to say, first-year GM Craig Conroy’s summer will be an interesting, and potentially busy, one.
Is anyone on the Blues untouchable this off-season?
St. Louis Blues reporter Andy Strickland was a guest on The Jeff Marek Show on Tuesday and said he doesn’t think the Blues have any untouchable player currently on their roster, although forward Robert Thomas would be the closest thing to that.
St. Louis has three first-round picks in 2023, an aging blue line and several movable contracts.
Will Maple Leafs extend Nylander?
There’s not currently a definitive answer to that question — and, sure, the future of Auston Matthews in Toronto is the more pressing matter — but Friedman believes Maple Leafs management “will take a run at this.”
Marek mentioned the fact that Nylander is represented by Lewis Gross, the same agent representing Johnny Gaudreau who famously didn’t re-sign with the Flames in 2022 back when now-Leafs GM Brad Treliving was with Calgary.
Nylander, whose current cap hit is just shy of $7 million, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2023-24 campaign.
Soucy expected to be popular name in free agency
Seattle received calls this past trade deadline about the availability of defenceman Carson Soucy and Kraken GM Ron Francis routinely said thanks but no thanks.
Soucy is set to hit the open market on July 1 and there is plenty of interest in the 28-year-old blueliner. Soucy is coming off an annual cap hit of $2.75 million and is expected to get a raise this summer, which could price him out of town. Seattle does have roughly $20 million in cap space currently but also needs to make decisions on five pending RFAs, including Vince Dunn on the back end.
Soucy’s stock increased in value after a solid post-season and Friedman speculated that a team like Vancouver, which recently bought out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, could be one of many clubs interested.
What can Blackhawks do to add support for Bedard?
It seems obvious Chicago will select Bedard with the No. 1 pick on June 28 but with an additional pick in the opening round (No. 19 overall acquired from the Lightning in the 2022 Brandon Hagel trade) and four second-round selections, it’s conceivable the Blackhawks could move up from that 19th spot or use some of those assets to add to its rebuilding roster. Defencemen Seth Jones and Connor Murphey are the only players currently signed beyond next season in Chicago.
GM Kyle Davidson can also look to free agency where Friedman pondered the idea of bringing in a high-level talent like Vladimir Tarasenko or Max Domi to play with Bedard, who will be in the spotlight and garner nightly attention from opposing teams next season.
Would Pittsburgh move the No. 14 pick?
The Penguins and interim GM Kyle Dubas know the team needs to put an emphasis on franchise depth this off-season, but they also must figure out the goaltending situation. Tristan Jarry is a pending UFA and the goalie market this summer is expected to be rather volatile.
Friedman said “there’s a lot of people curious about Pittsburgh” and “what a couple of teams were thinking about is will Dubas put his first-rounder on the table for a goalie?”
This draft class is considered relatively deep so a mid-first would be a high price to give up for a goalie, especially since the team has a dearth of high-end prospects in the pipeline.
Dubas traded away Toronto’s 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2025 first-round picks when he was Maple Leafs GM, so it’s not like he a stranger to pulling off deals of that nature.