Tampa Bay Lightning restricted free agent right winger Nikita Kucherov continues to skip training camp until he's re-signed to a new contract. While it's expected the two sides could reach an agreement before the regular season opens on Oct. 12, speculation persists over how the Lightning will free up sufficient salary-cap room to accommodate his new deal.
It's assumed Kucherov's next contract could be worth an annual cap hit of $6 million. With the Lightning carrying only $5.5 million in cap space, a salary-dumping deal seems inevitable.
For weeks, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop ($5.9-million annual average value), center Valtteri Filppula ($5 million) and defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million) were mentioned as possible trade candidates. The Tampa Bay Time's Martin Fennelly notes Bishop was nearly shipped to the Calgary Flames this summer. He doesn't expect a rival club to be interested in Filppula's salary and doubts the Lightning can afford to weaken their blueline depth by moving Garrison.
Fennelly also doesn't rule out Tyler Johnson as a trade option, but that doesn't seem likely. The 26-year-old center is a clutch performer. He was a key reason the Lightning marched to the 2015 Stanley Cup final and reached the 2016 Eastern Conference final. Johnson is eligible next summer to become a restricted free agent. Like Kucherov, he's a significant part of the Lightning's future.
As for Bishop, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hasn't ruled out retaining him for the remainder of this season. While the 29-year-old goalie is due for unrestricted free agency next summer, the Lightning's chances of winning the Stanley Cup next spring are better with the 2016 Vezina Trophy finalist in the lineup.
Yzerman's also said Kucherov's new contract will determine what moves he makes to clear some cap room. In the short term, he can start the season by placing winger Ryan Callahan ($5.75 million) on long-term injury reserve. Callahan is recovering from off-season hip surgery, but Yzerman still must clear cap space for his return in late-November.
RIEDER STILL SITTING OUT
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba garnered headlines last week with his public request for a trade. He's not been the only unsigned restricted free agent to float that possibility.
Arizona Sports' Craig Morgan last week reported agent Darren Ferris, who represents Arizona Coyotes left winger Tobias Rieder, suggested it might be best for both sides if his client was traded. Contract negotiations remain at an impasse, prompting Ferris to say it's time to consider other options.
Last season, the 23-year-old Rieder tallied 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 82 games last season. He reportedly seeks a two-year deal worth $2.5-million per season. Ferris claims the Coyotes are offering $2.2-million per season, as well as a lower one-year deal.
Although there isn't much distance in salary between the two clubs, neither side appears willing to compromise. As for a possible trade, Morgan reported Coyotes GM John Chayka rejected that option. Rieder, meanwhile, has kept silent on this issue. He's refusing to report to training camp until he's got a new contract.
TSN's Bob McKenzie notes Rieder, coming off an entry-level contract, has limited options. He could request a trade, accept the Coyotes offer, play in the KHL or continue to hold out. Like Trouba, Rieder must be re-signed by Dec. 1 or become ineligible to play the remainder of the season.
HALAK BACK IN ISLES GOOD GRACES
Throughout the off-season, goaltender Jaroslav Halak's future with the New York Islanders appeared in doubt. After Thomas Greiss backstopped the Islanders this spring to their first playoff series win in 23 years, there was talk the 31-year-old Halak could hit the trade block.
Newsday's Arthur Staple, replying to a reader's question on the Islanders goaltending, speculates that might no longer be case. He suggests Halak's outstanding performance for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey may have changed management's mind. If so, they could start the season carrying Halak, Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube on the roster.
That's what the Islanders did last season, with Berube spending considerable time in the press box. Demoting him isn't an option as he'll have to pass through waivers and the Isles don't want to risk losing him.
Despite Halak's World Cup performance, there isn't much of a market for starting goaltenders right now. The Isles prefer to retain Greiss, who's younger and more affordable than Halak, whose lengthy injury history and $4.75-million cap hit remain potential trade stumbling blocks.
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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