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.”
Golden Knights Gameday: Six D? Six D! Hague In
Nick Holden enters the lineup for the Vegas Golden Knights as the team prepares for a stretch of four consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes
Want to prepare for the game like a pro? Read on for former NHL broadcaster Tom Callahan’s news and notes for the game tonight.
As the Vegas Golden Knights prepare to start a series of four straight games against the Arizona Coyotes, the team has announced lineup changes for the contest.
Vegas Golden Knights 2-0-0 vs. Arizona Coyotes 1-0-1
After playing the first two games with five defensemen and 13 forwards, head coach Pete DeBoer announced the team will return to a more standard six defenseman and 12 forwards. Nic Hague returns to the lineup and will pair with Zach Whitecloud on the 5/6 pair. That means Cody Glass, who had struggled in his first two games of the season, will head to the press box.
Vegas has done some juggling of lines in practice in accordance with the new lineup and you can expect it to look something like this:
It’s also possible that Roy will slide to the middle with Nosek on the wing. The nice thing about the Golden Knights’ depth is that they have more than a few natural centers on the team. Nosek, Roy, Kolesar, Glass, Karlsson, and Stephenson can all play center. So keep that in mind.
Also, the power play units have shifted as well since Glass is out. Tuch has taken the place of Glass on the PP1 unit, while Roy and Hague saw time on the second unit in practice. Of course since Vegas has only had two power plays we haven’t seen much in the real world that tells us how good or how bad things are going to go in that department yet.
For Arizona, probably the biggest note is that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is not on the trip with the team for the first two games after suffering an injury last game. While it’s not believed to be long-term, missing OEL is a huge hole for the Coyotes when it comes to generating offense from the defense.
Keep an Eye On
Vegas – I’ve really liked the start to the season for Mark Stone. He’s made some incredible plays to set up important goals for the Golden Knights and is flying around out there. If being named captain has put a little extra pep in his step to start the year, so be it. No one looks like they’re having as much fun out there right now as Stone.
Arizona – Phil Kessel is on fire to start the season. Three goals in his first two games on five shots. No, that sick 60% shooting percentage is not going to last. But it does mean that Kessel is feeling it and his nose for the net is twitching. I realize many people like to dump on Kessel, but the guy can score. Last year was a disappointing one for Kessel and the Coyotes, so the pump has been primed for a bounce back year.
- Vegas has been tied with its opponent after the first period in both games of the season so far and gone on to win.
- The Golden Knights have not scored in the second period yet this season, while the Coyotes have not allowed a goal in the second period yet.
- Vegas has not allowed a third period goal in its first two games.
- The VGK have only had two power plays so far this season, the fewest in the NHL.
- Reilly Smith needs one assist for 100 with the Golden Knights while William Karlsson needs two assists for 100 with the team.
- All three of OEL’s assists on the season came in the last game against San Jose.
- Arizona is averaging four goals per game in its first two games, fifth-best in the NHL.
- Phil Kessel’s three goals in two games puts him approximately a quarter of the way to his season total last year of 14 goals.
- Kessel does have five goals in seven career games against the Golden Knights.
Glass Out, Hague In As Golden Knights Shuffle Lines
From the outset of camp it was clear that Chandler Stephenson was favored over Cody Glass for the position between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Glass started on the third line centering Alex Tuch and Nicolas Roy.
Now it appears Glass has been dropped to the extra squad as of today’s skate. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ben Gotz, Roy slides over to center Tuch and Tomas Nosek, who elevates to the wing from fourth line center. Keegan Kolesar fills the spot between William Carrier and Ryan Reaves on the fourth unit.
Also, with Glass’ $863k out of the lineup, Nicolas Hague is back in as the sixth defenseman. Hague’s AAV is roughly $792k so it appears the five defensemen experiment is over for now.
Honestly there’s not a huge reaction of surprise here because Glass hasn’t had much of an impact so far. Granted it’s early yet, and a lot of pressure on a young player trying to come back from a major injury. Glass didn’t make it back in time to join the team in the bubble last season, and has been off from game action for a long time. While it would have been nice to see him get right back to where he was, it appears that will take time. And for Vegas, they have the forward depth to handle that.
Kolesar moving into the middle of the fourth line is something I look forward to seeing. While he had a bit of a rough start to the season, Kolesar is now getting a chance to skate a regular turn and perhaps settle in more. Young players only get better with experience, and Kolesar will get more minutes in this setup.
I have to wonder if Glass is not dealing with some after-effects from his surgery and recovery, but perhaps he’s just having a rough start to the season. Either way, he’ll have some practice time to iron it out.
Power Play Changes
The power play units have also shuffled, with Tuch moving up to the first power play unit instead of Glass. Roy and Hague are now on the second power play unit. Vegas hasn’t scored a power play goal yet, but they’ve only generated two chances in two games. Obviously with Glass out there was going to be some shuffle, but the more concerning part is the fact that there simply hasn’t been much generated yet by the offense in terms of man advantages.
Generally, when a team takes defensive zone penalties it’s because the other team has an advantage that could generate a dangerous scoring chance. Quite frankly Vegas hasn’t generated as many dangerous scoring chances as one would expect as of yet. Yes, they did drop a five-spot on the Ducks Thursday, but Saturday the scoring didn’t ignite until desperation set in.
Again, it’s early in the season. I’m willing to give everyone a pass for the first few games as they get it going. But if that trend continues, it will be deeply concerning.
Tom’s Takeaways: VGK 2 – ANH 1 (OT)
Wearing the brand new gold jerseys for the first time, Vegas Golden Knights waited until the last minute to get the offense going. William Karlsson scored to tie the game at 18:38 with the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, and Max Pacioretty ended the game just seven seconds into overtime as Vegas pulled out a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night.
Here are Tom Callahan’s quick takeaways and analysis.
Fleury Looked Sharp
Marc-Andre Fleury looked really sharp against the Ducks Saturday night. He was aggressive without being ridiculous, responsive, reactive, and seemed to be one step ahead of the Ducks on several occasions. He even pulled out a classic poke check along the way. Fleury seemed to be tracking pucks well and aware of rebounds when they were present. All good news. The reason Vegas was able to tie the game late starts and ends with Fleury.
Mark Stone Keeps Rolling
Stone, along with his linemates Max Pacioretty and Chandler Stephenson, are flying around out there. While Stephenson hasn’t figured as prominently in the mix yet, Stone is on fire. He set up both the game-tying and game-winning goals yesterday. Starting overtime with Pacioretty, Stone stole the faceoff at center, broke in on the left side in a 2-on-1 and fed Pacioretty for the game-winning goal pretty as you please. This combo is going to cause massive damage to opposing defenses this season.
Gibson Couldn’t Stop Them All
Without another fantastic effort from John Gibson, the Ducks would have been down a few goals in regulation. Gibson once again made save after save on prime VGK scoring chances to keep his team in it. One wonders how much more people would notice him on a winning team. Put him on the Oilers for example, and that team is a Cup favorite.
Gold Jersey Debut
The brand-new VGK gold jerseys made their debut last night, and for 58 minutes I was worried. When teams drop a new kit fans usually love it, the players say the right things and they sell like hotcakes. But then there’s the actual business of wearing them in a game. If you wear the golds and get blanked by the Ducks, that starts a bad mental image of those jerseys for the players. Fortunately Vegas pulled the game out, so the jerseys are so far safe from this fate. I’m not kidding when I say NHL players and coaches can kill an alternate uniform just by believing it’s bad luck. So winning that game in those jerseys was big.