While the NHLPA and the NHL engage in talks to pull off another NHL return and play the 2020-21 season, we will take a break from that and get the latest from the NHL trade market and NHL Free Agency rumblings. With the reality of the NHL season upon us, the general managers are burning cell phone minutes.
The NHL trade market and free agency rumor mills are churning.
Where could longtime Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara end up playing this season? Are the Winnipeg Jets ready to move on from Patrik Laine? How serious were those Steve Stamkos trade rumors?
That and more in the latest ‘Off The Record’!
Note: Before we begin, Pittsburgh Hockey Now and the Hockey Now Network would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of former Colorado Avalanche General Manager Pierre Lacroix, who passed away on Sunday.
1. NHL Source: ‘Jets Won’t Mind Moving On From Laine At All.’
Despite being the biggest name in the NHL trade rumors before and during the NHL Entry Draft, 22-year-old winger Patrik Laine remained with the Winnipeg Jets. However, let’s not forget that on October 16, Laine’s agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott told TSN and Athletic NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun that it would be “mutually beneficial to both player and the team if Patrik Laine is traded.”
Teams are starting to circle back on previous NHL trade talks and NHL Free Agency. It appears the team is poised to move Laine and his $6.7 million cap hit. According to PuckPedia.com, Winnipeg is $722,855 over the cap. Besides moving the final season of Laine’s two-year contract to free up cap space for the Jets, there are rumblings the Winnipeg organization isn’t too happy with the young Finnish sniper’s attitude.
Liut and Scott said Laine was not happy with his minutes, nor how head coach Paul Maurice used him. According to a source close to the situation, the Jets believe Laine has been given numerous chances to earn more minutes and a bigger role but hasn’t embraced or earned it.
Off the Record: “Look, no one is saying he’s out partying every night and showing up late for practice or anything, but let’s just say his focus isn’t there, and maybe he needs to lay off Fortnite or basically be ready to go every game and not some here and some there,” the source said. “I can tell you right now that the team feels the same as him and his agents, and maybe it’s just time to move on.”
2. Broadway ‘Zee’?
The New York Rangers are now one of a group of numerous teams that OTR has confirmed. The list also includes the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Since the last OTR, multiple NHL sources recently pointed to the New York Rangers as a team ready to pursue unrestricted free agent defenseman Zdeno Chara.
“Don’t forget who was technically the GM when Chara signed with the Bruins,” one source pointed out.
Of course, that was current New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton. Just over three months before Chara signed a five-year $37.5 million contract and became the Boston Bruins captain on July 1, 2006, the Bruins named the Melrose, MA native their interim GM. After a disastrous 2005-06 season that saw the Bruins trade their previous captain and superstar center Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks, Gorton took over for Mike O’Connell in March of 2006.
Gorton was the interim GM, but it was no secret that incoming Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli orchestrated the Chara and Marc Savard signings. The hulking defenseman won the Norris Trophy in 2009. In 2011, Chara led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years when they beat the Vancouver Canucks.
A New York team source has confirmed to “Off the Record” that the Rangers and Chara’s camp have indeed expressed mutual interest. Just as Chara and his agent Matt Keator have told other NHL clubs since free agency began, there really was ‘no rush’ for talks with the Blue Shirts beyond the mutual interest expressed.
If Chara wants another shot at the Stanley Cup, are the Rangers really a contender? They made the NHL postseason by default when the NHL expanded the postseason to 24 teams.
If these talks between the future Hall of Famer and the Rangers get serious, Gorton will have to shed some cap space. New York is just $879,356 below the flattened $81.5 million salary cap.
Off the record: “Chara could just be a mentor to the young Bruins defenseman coming in now, so why would he go to do the same with Adam Fox, (former Bruins prospect) Ryan Lindgren and [Tony] DeAngelo?” one source asked BHN Monday. “Then again, Jeff has built a team that can make the playoffs again, and in a 56 or 48-game season, you never know.”
3. Could The Lightning Actually Trade Stamkos?
No one expected Tampa Bay Lightning Steve Stamkos to hit the NHL trade market. Still, the Stanley Cup champions’ reigning captain was mentioned as possible trade bait about one month after the team lifted their second Stanley Cup. GM Julien Brisebois needs to shed a big salary to become cap compliant and sign his key restricted free agents.
The idea that Stamkos would agree to waive his full no-movement clause seemed highly unlikely. That hasn’t stopped BriseBois from poking around to see if any teams would be willing to take the remaining four years with an $8.5 million AAV cap hit.
Off the Record: “I can tell you this, I know he’s reached out to a number of teams, ours being one of them,” a Western Conference executive told the Hockey Now network. “Julien will need to sweeten the pot with a first-round draft pick on top of Stamkos, and if it were our team, we’d want a second. I’m not sure he’s willing to do that now, but he has looked at this and plenty of other ways to free up space.”
4. Rangers, Sabres, and Devils Looked Into Pacioretty
Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley denied reports (including ours) that Vegas shopped winger Max Pacioretty.
However, three NHL management sources and two scouts have told the Hockey Now network that if Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon hasn’t been shopping Pacioretty, he at least listening. Vegas is one of the teams over the salary cap limit and couldn’t find a deal this offseason for $7 million goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Too many sources confirm McCrimmon explored ways to free up cap space by unloading the remaining three years at a $7 million cap hit on Pacioretty’s contract.
Off the record: “As you pointed out, the Kings and Penguins have circled back, and I’m hearing the Devils, Rangers, and Sabres are interested,” said one management source.
5. ‘Real Chance’ NHL Begins In Hub Cities
Two weeks ago, OTR told you that cities were still campaigning to be NHL hub cities for a potential 2020-21 NHL season despite numerous reports that teams would very likely be playing in their own arenas. Despite the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine beginning Monday, it appears that the COVID surge that continues to ravage the United States and Canada has convinced the NHL to keep bubble and NHL hub cities as a real option to start the season.
Even if that doesn’t happen, the league will keep designated Hub cities on standby just in case.
Off the Record: “That will remain an option going forward,” an NHL source told OTR. “We are making sure we are ready for anything.”