The Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals are focused on their current second-round playoff series. However, that hasn't prevented some speculation about their possible off-season moves.
Ducks GM Bob Murray could lose a defenseman from his very deep blueline corps in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. He can chose to protect three or four rearguards.
Youngsters Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are ineligible for that draft. Veteran Kevin Bieksa's no-movement clause means he must be protected. He could agree to waive it but that seems unlikely.
That leaves Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson eligible to be exposed in the draft. Any of them would be attractive to the Golden Knights. Rather than lose one of them for nothing to expansion, Murray could move one of them via trade.
Pierre LeBrun speculates the Ducks and Minnesota Wild could become trade targets before the expansion draft by teams seeking blueline depth. He thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning could “investigate their options.” So could the now-rebuilding Detroit Red Wings.
LeBrun also notes Fowler, 25, is a year away from unrestricted free agency. His current annual cap hit is $4 million and he'll be in line for a substantial raise on a long-term extension. Contract talks can begin on July 1.
Re-signing Fowler will be a priority for Murray. Appearing on Montreal's TSN 1050, LeBrun raised the possibility of Fowler being traded if he's unwilling to re-sign, hastening to add we don't know what the blueliner's intentions are.
Over the last two seasons, Fowler has become an invaluable part of the Ducks' defense corps. He could prove costly to retain, perhaps on an eight-year deal worth over $6-million annually. Given his value to the Ducks, he'll likely be protected in the expansion draft and re-signed as soon as possible after July 1.
If Murray does trade a key blueliner before the expansion draft, he'll likely want a high draft pick and/or a top prospect as part of the return. He can't afford to take back a player that could force him to leave another key one exposed in the draft.
For the Capitals, salary-cap space for 2017-18 is a concern. They have over $50 million invested in just 11 players. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, along with forwards T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, will become unrestricted free agents July 1, while restricted free agent forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky and blueliner Dmitry Orlov are due for raises.
The Capitals can't afford to re-sign them all. The Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan reports the 28-year-old Alzner acknowledged he could become the odd man out.
Should Alzner hit the open market he'll be pursued by teams seeking an experienced shutdown defenseman. The Leafs, Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils could come calling.
Meanwhile, Rangers blueliners Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi face uncertain futures following this season. While both are under contract beyond this season, they might not fit into the club's plans. The Blueshirts need more youth and speed on their defense but they must free up cap space to pursue that talent via trade or free agency.
Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Postreports the 32-year-old Klein's performance has slipped over the past two seasons. He was also hampered by a back injury suffered during practice in late-February. Cyrgalis suggests Klein could be exposed in the expansion draft or possibly shopped in a package deal this summer.
Cygalis's colleague Larry Brooks thinks this post-season is likely Girardi's last with the Rangers. He feels the 33-year-old, who carries a $5.5-million annual cap hit, could face a contract buyout.
With Girardi having three seasons remaining on his contract, a buyout this summer counts against the Rangers' cap for the next six seasons. Given how his contract is structured, the cap hit for 2017-18 would be over $2.6 million, $3.6-million annually for the next two seasons and dropping to over $1.1-million annually for the final three seasons.
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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