Among this year's deep pool of potential unrestricted free agents, Los Angeles Kings left winger Milan Lucic is one of the standouts. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound power forward is enjoying a bounce-back season, on pace for 20 goals and 50 points. Lucic, who turns 28 in June, won't lack for suitors if he tests the free-agent market.
The Kings hope that doesn't happen. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports the two sides are in the early stages of negotiations, having made their initial contract proposals. He claims there's mutual willingness to get a deal done, but it could take time.
Salary-cap space will be an issue. The Kings currently have over $64 million invested in their roster for 2016-17. While the league projected a $3-million increase next season over the current $71.4-million cap ceiling, the struggling Canadian dollar could adversely affect that optimistic prediction.
Lucic is coming off a three-year, $18-million contract. Unless he's willing to accept less money to stay in Los Angeles, or the Kings shed some salary, they won't have a lot of room to squeeze Lucic within their cap payroll and leave sufficient room for other signings.
If the Kings fail to re-sign Lucic, a Pacific Division rival could pursue him. NBC Sports' Mike Halford claims the Vancouver Canucks have long been interested in bringing him back to his hometown.
The Canucks could certainly use Lucic's offensive and physical presence. However, they're also a rebuilding team. If their intent is to focus on adding younger, affordable talent, they could pass on Lucic.
OKPOSO WOULD BE POPULAR TARGET IN FREE AGENCY
One winger destined to test this summer's free-agent waters is Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders. TSN's Darren Dreger claims there was some “back and forth” between the two sides but they don't appear any closer to hammering out a new contract.
Okposo, who turns 28 in April, is in the final season of a five-year, $14-million contract with a very affordable annual cap hit of $2.8 million. Having reached the 50-point plateau this season for the fourth time in his career, he'll be seeking a significant raise in the off-season.
Teams with cap space seeking a scoring winger will beat a path to Okposo's door come late June. The Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils could be among them.
SENATORS IN TOUGH SPOT WITH HOFFMAN
Could left winger Mike Hoffman be playing his final games with the Ottawa Senators? That's the suggestion from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, who points out the 26-year-old forward is a year away from UFA status and eligible to file for arbitration this summer.
Friedman also notes the Senators did well taking Hoffman to arbitration last summer, netting a one-year, $2-million contract. Not bad for a winger who tallied 27 goals and 48 points in 79 games last season.
Exacerbating the situation is Hoffman's production has dried up in recent weeks. With 25 goals and 46 points after 65 games, he's well on his way to exceeding last season's numbers. But since Feb. 13, he managed only three points heading into Saturday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That's earned him a spot in coach Dave Cameron's doghouse.
The stage could be set for a messy round of contract talks between Hoffman and Senators management. If so, the budget-conscious club could put him on the trade block this summer.
EXPECT SABRES TO BUSY IN LEAD-UP TO DRAFT
Keep an eye on the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres this summer. The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington believes GM Tim Murray is well positioned to make a big splash at the NHL Draft, which will be held this year in Buffalo.
Harrington points out the Sabres hold 21 draft picks over the next two years, including four third-rounders in this year's draft. He also speculates Murray could try shipping out mid-level players like left wingers Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno or defenseman Mike Pysyk to clear some cap room for other additions.
In his short tenure as Sabres GM, Murray demonstrated his willingness to make big off-season moves. Last June, he acquired center Ryan O'Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche and re-signed him to a multi-year deal worth $7.5-million per season.
The Sabres have over $46 million invested in next season's roster, giving Murray plenty of room to target players on cap-strapped teams. Don't bet against him swinging a major trade to the delight of the hometown fans at the draft.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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