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Off the Record: Stars Circle Back to Former VGK Haula, CBJ + Hoffman? | VHN+

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Erik Haula: Photo by Michael Miller

In terms of the NHL Trade market and unrestricted free agent signings, it remains quiet but thanks to injuries, we may also see the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets sign some key unrestricted free agents. 

The restricted free agent market has been more active. Some players like New York Rangers forwards Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux as well as Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar avoided arbitration with their respective teams. Other RFA’s like Detroit Red Wings winger Anthony Mantha re-upped long-term. That appears to be the trend for now as an array of cap-strapped teams continue to just take care of their own young talent and wait for the UFA and NHL Trade markets to open up.

“I honestly don’t see that happening until we at least have a tentative start date for the season and teams know the potential calendar they’re dealing with to sort things out,” an NHL executive told Off The Record recently.

Another NHL source with direct knowledge of the planning for the 2021 season believes the players aren’t going to agree to anything before January 15.

“I think it’s February. I don’t think any player is going to vote to do training camp over the [Christmas and New Year] holidays. It might be January 15, but I think it’s more likely somewhere [in early] February.”

Until then, there’s still going to be plenty of chatter amongst NHL league and team executives, scouts, coaches, players, and agents. This is where you can find out what the chatter’s all about. Welcome to another edition of National Hockey Now’s ‘Off The Record’!

1. What About the AHL?

 The AHL already announced a tentative start date of February 5 but plenty of AHL players are wondering if they will get paid before then?

Off the record: “These guys have contracts so why aren’t they being paid?” one prominent hockey agent asked OTR Monday. “Nobody seems to have an answer for this. Some of these guys are going to feel that pinch soon if they’re not already. Where are the parent NHL clubs on this too? These are questions that need to be answered.”

2. Dallas Hurt, Looking at Haula

The Dallas Stars just got a double-whammy of bad injury news as goalie Ben Bishop (torn meniscus in right knee) and center Tyler Seguin (right hip arthroscopy and labral repair) will both be out for five months after surgeries in the last three weeks. After signing Roope Hintz to a three-year contract worth $9.45 million on Monday, the Dallas Stars currently have $3.4 million in cap space.

Off the Record: NHL source confirmed to OTR Monday that the Stars had already explored signing UFA center Erik Haula and with the injury to Seguin, have circled back with the Haula camp. 

As of now, goalie Jake Oettinger will likely back up Anton Khudobin but could the Dallas Stars could explore the NHL free agency and NHL trade markets for a more experienced backup?

Off the Record: On Monday, an NHL agent agreed with OTR that UFA goalie Jimmy Howard could be a target, pointing out the link that Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill has to Howard from their days together in Detroit when Nill was the Assistant GM.

3. Calgary Flames Needs and Options

On October 30, Darren Dreger reported that the Calgary Flames were looking (not urgently) for another right-shot defenseman. Given the fact that current Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin’s name has been in NHL Trade rumors before, I made some calls to see if Calgary GM Brad Treliving could use Hanafin as trade bait to acquire another RHD, but also unload some cap space.

Off the Record: The consensus amongst those calls to scouts and one high-ranking Hockey Op’s member of an NHL team was that Hanifin isn’t being shopped but that doesn’t mean Treliving won’t at least listen to a ‘hockey trade’ type offer.

So, take Hanifin out of the NHL trade rumors, unless a team comes calling with him as their primary target. However, Calgary has just over $1 million in cap space and Hanifin has four left with a $4.9 cap hit per season. Based on those same conversations, keep an eye on the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and the Columbus Blue Jackets as teams that could begin those conversations. 

4. Mike Hoffman: Columbus or Nashville?

Many around the NHL have been waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets. With the recent news that Columbus Blue Jackets will be without forward Gustav Nyquist for five to six months after his surgery for a torn labrum, there’s been plenty of chatter that Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen will increase his pursuit of UFA winger Mike Hoffman.

The Blue Jackets made a very noticeable effort to clear cap space over the last two months and with $8.1 million remaining he has enough to sign Hoffman to a one-year deal like the one-year, $8 million contract Taylor Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres last month.

Off the Record: Is it a good fit for Columbus? One NHL source cautioned linking the Blue Jackets to Hoffman because of John Tortorella’s team-first mentality. That “sum of the parts” mantra helped Columbus navigate through an array of injuries and player departures over the last two seasons.

Would Kekalainen want to risk disrupting that culture he has built if there are really character issues with Hoffman?

Another industry source said Hoffman issues were “overblown” and the room in Florida liked him. 

5. New York Islanders Come Full Circle

Could New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk be a cap casualty and leave Long Island in the same way the Boston Bruins dealt him to New York?

Off the Record: According to one NHL source, that’s been the plan for a while now but there have been no bites on him and the two years $6 million AAV cap hit left on his contract.

It’s no secret the Isles have listened to offers for Nick Leddy and the two years with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million but with the stranglehold on so many teams’ cap situations, GM Lou Lamoriello can’t find fair value.

Bonus: Montreal Canadiens – NYI Trade Talk

Off the Record: An NHL source close to this situation confirmed to OTR that prior to this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens tried to trade for Leddy on more than one occasion. Given Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s active offseason and Montreal is over the $81.5 salary cap ceiling, things have clearly changed. 

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[…] Just as it has the airwaves and press clippings, the potential 2020-21 NHL season start date and format has been the topic du jour amongst ‘NHL Professionals’ (players, coaches, scouts, management, agents) since our last edition of ‘Off The Record.’  […]

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OTR: Bruins, Kings Big-Game Hunting; Teams Called About Price | VHN+

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What should we make of Carey Price’s struggles? A rival team executive weighed in on what could be coming down the road for the Montreal Canadiens goalie, the most likely course of action, and if he has any value on the NHL trade market. Also in this week’s OTR, the LA Kings joined the Boston Bruins as teams that are big-game hunting, and how do the Colorado Avalanche figure into both of those scenarios?

It’s been an interesting week Off the Record. The NHL trade whispers have quieted as the Jake Virtanen to Anaheim deal petered out (for now). Penguins GM Ron Hextall said the Penguins would consider adding toughness, and the Seattle Kraken are lurking.

More on all of that in the latest Off The Record:

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Off the Record: Speculation Ties Pens to Gibson; Vancouver Mess | VHN+

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The Pittsburgh Penguins’ new management team will be in place soon. With new GM Ron Hextall, Brian Burke will assume the role of President of Hockey Operations as he arrives in town on Sunday. Hockey insiders are already pontificating about the first big Hextall and Burke move on the NHL trade market. Some, including a source close to the Penguins, are already speculating about John Gibson, a native Pittsburgh son, who is in a sinking situation in Burke’s old stomping grounds, Anaheim.

Also, in Off the Record, did the Vancouver Canucks owner try to put out a fire that he started? And, are the Blackhawks still all-in on the rebuild they warned fans about, or are they suddenly seeing visions of playoffs dance through their heads?

More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:

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Off The Record: Virtanen Chatter, Quarantine & Pains in the A** | VHN+

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The NHL trade market is getting muddy as teams need immediate help, but quarantine rules stand in the way. Would a Jake Virtanen for Jake DeBrusk trade make sense for the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, or is there a Virtanen sweepstakes in the East Division being held up by the Pittsburgh Penguins GM search?

Teams watched the fallout from the Patrik Laine-Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. The quarantine period for both players surely affected the NHL trade market and how teams proceed. Teams can’t get immediate help. 

What should we make of the rapid COVID outbreaks around the NHL? Is there a snowballs’ chance the league could return to Hub cities?

More on that in the latest ‘Off The Record’:

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