The early struggles of the Buffalo Sabres this season continue to stoke speculation over the futures of winger Thomas Vanek and goaltender Ryan Miller, who are free agents next summer.
Though the duo have been fixtures in the trade rumor mill for months, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Sabres management had told rival clubs this summer not to enquire about the pair until “around Christmas” to allow time to fully assess their roster.
Considering their awful start, it's assumed the Sabres will field offers for the pair sooner than expected, but their respective cap hits ($7.142 million for Vanek, $6.25 million for Miller) remain major sticking points.
With 24 teams carrying less than $5 million in cap space, the Sabres would either have to accept considerable salary as part of the return for either player, or offer to pick up half their respective contracts to make them financially palatable to interested teams.
Miller also has an eight-team no-trade list, though it's assumed he could go to any club considered a playoff contender.
Their free agent status also makes moving them this early in the season quite difficult. Teams tend to have more interest in pending free agents as playoff rental players near the trade deadline. Unless either player agrees to sign a new contract with their prospective new team, there simply won't be much interest in them right now.
Defenseman Tyler Myers' name has also surfaced in the rumor mill. A reader recently asked the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson about the possibility of the Oilers acquiring the 6-foot-8, 227-pound blueliner.
Matheson was uncertain about the Oilers interest in Myers, suggesting the Sabres asking price would be one of Edmonton's good young forwards. He feels the Sabres would “probably” trade Myers, but that they aren't actively shopping him.
Matheson also cited the regression in Myers' play the past two years along with his $5.5 million cap hit as factors that hurt his trade value, but noted his youth (23) and size would prove attractive to some teams.
Myers, the 2010 Calder Trophy winner, could benefit from a change of scenery and playing with a better club, but with five seasons remaining on his contract, he's too expensive a gamble right now. If the Sabres shop him, the earliest opportunity could be next summer when the salary cap is expected to significantly increase.
GARDINER RUMORS HAVE DIED DOWN, BUT COULD RISE AGAIN
The trade rumors that dogged Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner earlier this month have died down, allowing the 23-year-old blueliner to focus on regaining the strong form he displayed during the Leafs’ playoff series last spring against the Boston Bruins.
Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun observed Gardiner is averaging 19:49 of ice time per game, putting him third among Leafs defensemen. Still, questions persist over Gardiner's future with the Leafs.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos recently speculated the early success of rookie blueliner Morgan Rielly could push Gardiner toward the trade block near the March 5 trade deadline.
Kypreos noted the two play a similar style, plus Gardiner will become a restricted free agent next summer. He also believes the Leafs asking price for Gardiner will be steep.
It's a long way, however, from now until the trade deadline, allowing plenty of time for Gardiner to become the physical blueliner Leafs coach Randy Carlyle wants him to be. Should Rielly falter during that period, the Leafs could opt to retain Gardiner for the playoffs.