Over the weekend, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman created a stir by reporting a source claiming Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk could return to Russia following this season.
Datsyuk, 37, is apparently making this decision for family reasons. He has a year remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $7.5 million, which Friedman points out would remain on the Wings' books because he was past his 35th birthday when he signed the deal.
If Datsyuk decides to finish his playing career in Russia, Ken Campbell suggests offloading his contract to a team in need of reaching next season's salary-cap minimum, like perhaps the Arizona Coyotes. The Wings could use the freed-up cap room to pursue Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos via free agency in July.
With over $33-million invested in just 12 players for 2016-17, the Coyotes could consider adding what would be $7.5 million of dead salary space to become cap compliant by taking on Datsyuk's contract. They made a similar move last summer, acquiring the remainder of all-but-retired defenseman Chris Pronger's contract from the Philadelphia Flyers in a multi-player deal.
Landing Stamkos, however, isn't a certainty for the Red Wings. If the 26-year-old tests free agency in July, he could command up to $11 million annually on a seven-year deal. The Wings could pass in favor of a more affordable option.
The Wings also have questions about their goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard. It's assumed Howard, 32, will be traded this summer. He's struggled over the past two years and lost the starter's job to the 24-year-old Mrazek. Howard also carries a $5.3-million cap hit through 2018-19, while Mrazek is a restricted free agent in need of a raise over his current $733K.
However, Mrazek has stumbled in recent weeks, getting pulled from four games. The Detroit New's Gregg Krupa wonders how that will affect management's offseason plans between the pipes.
Mlive.com's Ansar Khan doesn't expect the Wings will trade Mrazek, but suggests the latter's recent performance could affect his contract talks. Instead of a long-term extension, the Wings could offer up a two-year bridge deal.
Depending upon what Mrazek received, keeping their goalie tandem intact for next season could take a combined $10 million bite out of their cap payroll. The Wings obviously aren't trading Mrazek, but Howard's inconsistent play, pricey cap hit and modified no-trade clause also makes him difficult to move.
A better option could be leaving Howard unprotected in a possible expansion draft next summer in hopes a new team takes his contract off their hands.
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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