- The Wild are expected to name Tim Army as their new AHL head coach, Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reports (Twitter link). He served as an assistant with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season but also has 15 years of NHL coaching experience under his belt between Anaheim, Washington, and Colorado.
- Wild winger Luke Kunin is hoping to skate later this week for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in early April, reports Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press. The 20-year-old sustained the injury back in March but had to wait until the swelling went down before going under the knife. While Kunin is hopeful that he will be ready for training camp, recoveries from ACL tears can often take closer to six months to recover which would put his availability for the start of next season in question. If he does get the green light from team doctors by then, he has a very good chance of cracking Minnesota’s opening night lineup.
Of all the players scheduled for salary arbitration in the coming weeks, perhaps no case is likely to go all the way through the hearing and the decision than that of Jason Zucker. The Minnesota Wild forward is coming off of an incredible year, scoring a career-high 33 goals and 64 points, both of which were top-three for Minnesota. However, he is also coming off of a $2MM salary and is due a substantial raise. The problem with this scenario is that the Wild are lacking in cap flexibility, facing less than $11MM in space with both Zucker and young stalwart defender Matt Dumba yet to sign. A lack of cap space cannot be used as an argument in an arbitration hearing, but Minnesota will use whatever else they can to drive down the price on Zucker. If they are unsuccessful, Zucker is likely to land in the $5MM+ range that could make things difficult on the Wild and possibly force a trade.
For what it’s worth, Zucker hopes that it won’t come to that. Speaking with Dane Mizutani of TwinCities.com, Zucker confirms that he and agent Eustace King are still busy negotiating with the Wild in hopes of coming to a resolution. Zucker states:
“I want to be in Minnesota; I love Minnesota. My family roots are now here. This is a second home to us and I want to be here. We have a great team. We have a lot of really good things going for us. … If it was my choice, I’d be here playing for the Wild next season.”
The 26-year-old met his wife in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and the couple now have two kids. Mizutani writes that Zucker is also very involved with the community, including leading a campaign to support a local children’s hospital. He clearly has strong ties to the area and a passion for the organization and would like to stay put.
With that said, Zucker also understands the reality of the situation. He adds that “it’s part of the business. If I get traded, it is what it is and I’ll look forward to a fresh start.” Zucker is confident in his ability, even stating that he feels he has room to get better and would likely expect to be compensated as such. Zucker sounds like he is honestly hoping to remain with Minnesota, but also doesn’t sound like a player about to take a hometown discount. Only time, and possibly an arbitrator, will tell what happens next with Zucker and the Wild.
The Dallas Stars have a tough road ahead of them. With new inspiring head coach Jim Montgomery ready to take the reins in Dallas, the team is eager to force their way to the top of the Central Division, but they also know that if the team can’t sign star Tyler Seguin to an extension sometime this year, everything they’ve worked for could fall apart.
The 26-year-old star is coming off a career-high 40 goals, but has also seen his team not reach the playoffs in three of his last four seasons. On top of that, Seguin has not signed an extension as of yet, something that could have happened on July 1. NHL.com’s Mike Heika writes that while Seguin has been careful about what he says about his next contract, he has expressed his love for the city.
“My focus is I have another year with the Dallas Stars, so there is no real thought of thinking of other teams or thinking of free agency,” Seguin said. “My focus is getting ready to play this year … I love it here. My objective is I want to win a championship here. I love Dallas, it’s home to me. So that’s my No. 1 goal.”
Heika writes that one obstacle is the team is hesitant to sign any player to a higher AAV than the deal they gave Jamie Benn back in 2016. Unfortunately, Seguin might easily be able to pass that mark as John Tavares recently signed for an $11MM AAV and with salaries increasing yearly, that could be an issue that Dallas might have to re-examine.
- Dane Mizutani of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press writes that Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise, who suffered a fractured sternum just three games into the playoffs, says he is 100 percent now and will be ready for training camp. In fact, the 33-year-old feels so good that he has decided to participate in Da Beauty League, a weekly 4-on-4 league, to get himself back into game shape after suffering the injury. Parise, who was one of the top scorers for Minnesota late in the season, including scoring 12 goals over the final 18 games and then three more goals in the first three games of the playoffs, will be a key piece for the Wild to compete for a playoff spot next season.
- Scott Billeck of NBC Sports writes that the Winnipeg Jets are likely going to have to pay up to sign restricted free agent Jacob Trouba and predicts the team will hand him an eight-year deal. The real question is how much will the team have to pay for Trouba, who has developed into one of the best top defensive lines next to Josh Morrissey. Trouba’s numbers may not look impressive, but he had career numbers in assists per 60 minutes at 1.03 and points per 60 minutes at 1.22. Those numbers actually compare to elite defensemen like Victor Hedman, Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban. Those numbers could bring his pricetag to a very high number.
Greg Cronin will be the new head coach of the Colorado Eagles as they move from the ECHL to the AHL for the 2018-19 season. Cronin had served with the New York Islanders for the past four seasons, first as an assistant coach and then as an associate with Doug Weight last season. With Barry Trotz coming in and bringing in a new group, Cronin will head to the AHL where the Eagles are trying to follow up incredible ECHL success with a bang in their first year of AHL contention.
Under Aaron Schneekloth—who will remain with the team as an assistant coach—the Eagles have won two consecutive Kelly Cups in the ECHL. They’ll be trying for the Calder this year, but Schneekloth, assistant Ryan Tobler and goaltending coach Ryan Bach will still be there for the journey under Cronin’s leadership. It is experienced leadership, as Cronin has many years of experience in the NHL as well as time spent as a head coach in both the AHL and NCAA.
- Greg Rallo won’t have to wait long for his next career to begin, as the 36-year old has been named an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Admirals. Rallo only finished his playing career recently, suiting up for 29 games with the Texas Stars in the 2017-18 season. He’ll join head coach Karl Taylor—who was an assistant coach with Texas while Rallo played there—as part of a new staff with the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning have nabbed a coach from the Minnesota Wild organization, hiring Derek Lalonde as an NHL assistant coach for next season. Lalonde had been the head coach of the Iowa Wild in the AHL for the last two years, and is on a fast track to being an NHL head coach one day. He’s flown quickly through head coaching roles in the USHL, ECHL and AHL with winning records at all stops, and will now join a staff in Tampa Bay that is expected to compete for the Stanley Cup. Lalonde was hired to coach the Green Bay Gamblers just a year after now-Lightning head coach Jon Cooper left that organization following a championship season, only to bring the USHL team another championship in 2012.
Given the players remaining on the free agent market, any further fireworks this summer will likely come via a blockbuster trade. It certainly seems possible too, with more than a few major names being floated around. Who will be the first to go?
The biggest fish available for a lucky team to catch is obviously all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson. With one year remaining on his contract and on a sinking ship in Ottawa, the Senators have little choice but to trade the Norris Trophy winner. However, finding the right deal to get a fair return on a player of Karlsson’s caliber is proving difficult and talks between Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion and both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars have reportedly broken down. The noise surrounding a potential Karlsson trade has died down significantly over the past few days.
Another trade target whose apparent availability is being downplayed in Edmonton Oilers winger Milan Lucic. Early in the off-season, there was rampant speculation that a Lucic trade was inevitable. Some said that the team wanted to move on from the remaining five years and $30MM of the underachieving forward’s contract, while others said that it was Lucic who was unhappy in Edmonton and was seeking a trade. Both sides have denied claims that they are seeking a separation, but as most trade rumors go – where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
There’s also Max Pacioretty, who was close to being traded during draft weekend but ended up remaining with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs captain is coming off of a down year and is in the final year of his contract, making his trade value the lowest that it has been in years. Yet, it has continually been reported that the Canadiens are listening on offers. Those reports have grown quiet over the last week or so and it could be that Montreal has simply opted to retain one of the faces of their franchise, but don’t rule out the possibility of a deal just yet.
As potential Karlsson, Lucic, and Pacioretty deals have lost some steam, Columbus Blue Jackets’ star Artemi Panarin has emerged as a popular trade target. Panarin, to his credit, was honest with the organization that he remains unsure if he will be willing to sign a long-term extension to stay in Columbus before his contract expires after next season. As a result, GM Jarmo Kekalainen and company have begun to explore any possible trade scenarios should they choose to mitigate the risk of losing Panarin for nothing as a free agent by dealing him away. However, Panarin is still a young and highly productive player who hasn’t flat out said he won’t resign with the Blue Jackets and the team may be understandably cautious in making a decision on what to do with him.
Another situation playing out between a team who would rather hold on to their asset is the Minnesota Wild and winger Jason Zucker. Zucker filed for salary arbitration this off-season and, after a career season, is due a major bump on his previous $2MM salary. However, the Wild have a surplus of NHL-caliber forwards and a likely shortage of cap space needed to sign both Zucker and young defenseman Matt Dumba. Dumba and the blue line are the priority, potentially making Zucker expendable. Minnesota will do what they can to keep him, but may not have a choice but to get what they can for the 26-year-old scorer.
Finally, there are the Carolina Hurricanes. Last month, there was not hotter name on the rumor mill than forward Jeff Skinner. Approaching the NHL Draft, several insider went so far as to guarantee that he would be traded in the coming days. More than two weeks later, Skinner remains a Hurricane. There is surely a market for Skinner, but the team and new GM Don Waddell have stated that they simply haven’t received an offer yet that they were comfortable with. Carolina clearly values what Skinner brings offensive and the Hurricanes need to be better at scoring next season. Where they have strength and depth is the blue line, yet they have managed to add both Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan this off-season. The team is now overloaded with talented defensemen, especially on the right side, and there is an expectation that veteran leader Justin Faulk is likely going to be odd man out and interest is high in the All-Star.
There are many trade possibilities available, including deals that include more than one of these players, but assuming otherwise: Who is most likely to be the next big name traded this off-season?
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The Anaheim Ducks will retire two numbers this season, honoring Paul Kariya’s #9 and Scott Niedermayer’s #27 at two different ceremonies. Both players have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame following outstanding playing careers, and were huge parts of a franchise that has had quite a bit of success over its first 25 years in existence.
Kariya, the team’s very first draft pick, recorded 669 points in 606 games for the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and was named captain just a few years into his career. His dynamic offensive skill and speed brought the team international attention, and when paired with Teemu Selanne formed one of the most exciting young duos to watch in the NHL. He won just about everything he could in his career except for a Stanley Cup, including Olympic, World Junior and World Championship gold medals, an NCAA title and a pair of Lady Byng trophies.
Niedermayer had a different path to success in Anaheim, coming as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2005. The superstar defenseman brought championship experience to the Ducks, and quickly led them to a Stanley Cup of their own in 2007. That was the team’s first and only NHL championship, and Niedermayer’s Conn Smythe-winning performance was good enough to cement him in their history forever. Another three seasons at an elite level only confirmed his designation as one of the greatest players to ever suit up in Anaheim.
- A few arbitration dates have already been set, as Michael Russo of The Athletic reports that Mathew Dumba and Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild have hearings on July 23 and 28th respectively. Members of the Washington Capitals will also be in Toronto on one of those days, as Liam O’Brien has a hearing set for the 23rd. It’s important to note that teams can sign these players to contracts at any time before an arbitrator actually makes a decision, and only a few (if any) of those who filed for player-elected salary arbitration will even make it that far. For Zucker, an arbitrator could only grant a one-year contract since the Minnesota forward is already 26 and is scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.
- Rumors have been swirling for some time about the status of Columbus Blue Jackets’ forward Artemi Panarin, given that he isn’t willing to open negotiations with the team regarding his upcoming free agency. Panarin is scheduled to hit the open market next summer, and agent Dan Milstein spoke with The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required) to make it clear that his client holds no grudge or animosity towards his current team. Quite the contrary, Milstein explains that the Blue Jackets have been an outstanding organization for Panarin, but that the 26-year old forward simply hasn’t make a decision on his future. Panarin is one of the league’s very best offensive talents, but the Blue Jackets would have to consider trading him if there is a clear indication that he won’t entertain a long-term extension at some point.
Tyler Ennis was recently bought out by the Minnesota Wild, but has now found another home. The Toronto Maple Leafs announced a one-year $650K contract for the diminutive veteran, bringing him in to add some depth to the bottom-half of their lineup.
Ennis, 28, was once an extremely effective player for the Buffalo Sabres, scoring at least 20 goals on three different occasions. The 5’9″ forward doesn’t have a fearful bone in his body, and played bigger than he was by digging hard in the corners and driving hard towards the net. Unfortunately, those kind of plays caught up with his small frame and he has struggled through concussion and groin injuries the last few seasons, while being included as a salary dump by one team and bought out a year later by another. He’ll earn more than $2.4MM over the next two seasons from Minnesota thanks to that buyout, making this new deal seem extremely reasonable for the Maple Leafs.
It is reasonable for Toronto, given that they are rarely worried about actual salary commitments and instead are always dealing with the cap ceiling. For a team that still has plenty of room this summer to make another big splash—even after handing $11MM to John Tavares—Ennis represents a cheap addition that could provide big results. Even last season playing limited minutes in Minnesota Ennis scored 22 points and was a fairly useful player, but the Wild couldn’t afford to keep his $4.6MM cap hit on the books as they look to figure out a way to push past the first round.
For the Maple Leafs, he’ll join players like Josh Jooris, Par Lindholm, Josh Leivo and even maybe Connor Brown in a fourth-line group that could be rotated around for much of the season. Ennis could even provide an option on the powerplay, though Toronto has plenty of talented options to use in that situation. The fact that he’s not a penalty killer will likely hurt his ice time considerably, given that the fourth line won’t be playing a ton for the Maple Leafs this season.
The Minnesota Wild continue to add depth pieces today. The team has agreed to a two-year, two-way contract with forward Michael Liambas as well as a one-year, two-way contract with defenseman Matt Bartkowski. Both Liambas and Bartkowksi are set to make $650K at the NHL level next year, with Liambas getting a bump to $700K in his second year.
More to come…
The Pittsburgh Penguins tried hard to bring Matt Cullen back in 2017-18 after consecutive Stanley Cups, but lost out on him to the Minnesota Wild. That won’t be the case this season, as Cullen is heading back to the Penguins on a one-year contract worth a league minimum $650K.
Cullen, who spent two years with the Pittsburgh Penguins and coincidentally coincide with their two Stanley Cup Championships, left the Penguins after the 2016-17 season and opted to sign with the Minnesota Wild, his hometown team. While he fared reasonably well in a fourth-line role with the Wild, the 41-year-old center was still deciding if he was willing to go through the rigors of another season.
He ended up putting up 11 goals and 11 assists for Minnesota, which is less production than his two years in Pittsburgh. However, the main reason Pittsburgh is bringing Cullen back is for his leadership as well as providing extra center depth for the team.