In Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts column for Sportsnet, the venerable hockey insider touches on several different trade topics we’ve heard about over the last few weeks. The most interesting is perhaps one brewing between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings surrounding Riley Sheahan. Friedman seems to think the deal could be contingent on whether Detroit comes to terms with restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou, who is currently still holding out of training camp without a contract.
Many have fairly assumed, in a very quiet off-season, that there has simply been no interest in 40-year-old Jarome Iginla. However, if Iginla’s agent, Don Meehan, is to be believed, the future Hall of Famer is actually just being very “selective” with where he signs next. Meehan told the Calgary Sun’s Michael Traikos:
“I think after his lengthy career he can afford to be very selective. It’s having the independence to choose where you want to be and look for a perfect situation for yourself.”
The only problem with that, despite Meehan’s insistence that Iginla has received offers this off-season, is that beggars can’t be choosers. Iginla’s “wish” list is thought to include a return to the Calgary Flames, where he spent much of his illustrious career, a return to the Pittsburgh Penguins, now two-time Stanley Cup champions, or a return to his hometown of Edmonton to play for the Oilers. It makes sense that Iginla would want to play for any of those three teams. But what do up-tempo, high-powered offensive clubs like those want with an old, slow power forward who scored just 27 points last year. Sure, Iginla’s experience and leadership is invaluable in the locker room, but could he really make the Flames, Pens, or Oilers any better on the ice?
Only time will tell as the waiting game continues for Iginla. Traikos too doubts Iginla’s plan to wait for the perfect opportunity, but as training camp wears on, there are bound to be openings that he may have interest in. However, the likes of Brian Gionta, Jiri Hudler, and numerous others on PTOs are also looking to jump on those spots. Iginla has earned the right to choose how he ends his career, but if he really wants to end it with another season of NHL hockey, he may need to be more open to other opportunities.
While major roster moves at this point in the season are unlikely, it sounds like Toronto could be looking to make some moves later in the season, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. The Maple Leafs who are overloaded with forwards and will have to worry about salary cap issues for the impending future (the currently are $4.58MM over the cap) might be willing to move some of their veteran forwards whose contracts are close to expiring. According to Dreger, the team might be looking to move James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov during the season to get some value for them.
Van Riemsdyk would be a valuable trade chip for the Maple Leafs. The 28-year-old put up 29 goals and 33 assists last year and will be making $4.25MM in his final year of his contract. Trade speculation surrounding van Riemsdyk isn’t surprising. There was plenty of that last year. With all the contracts the Maple Leafs have, including the deal to sign Patrick Marleau as well as an eventual long-term deal that will go to Auston Matthews, Toronto will likely be forced to make some moves.
Bozak had 18 goals and career-high 55 points last year and could also be a key trade asset for the franchise. There were plenty of rumors surrounding the 31-year-old center this offseason in which both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers were interested in bringing him. Komarov also had a solid year for the Leafs as the 30-year-old center put up 14 goals and 18 assists.
Dreger said that while it is unknown whether the franchise intends to eventually move one or all three, but suggested that a team like the Anaheim Ducks might be the perfect trade candidate for Toronto as the Ducks might be looking to add a third-line center.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins announced they have signed undrafted 18-year-old Jordan Bellerive to a three-year entry-level contract. The 5-foot-10 center put up 27 goals and 29 assists for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes last year, but to many people’s surprise did not get drafted. He joined the Penguins for the 2017 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, New York and led the prospects with seven points (four goals, three assists) in three games. He is expected to return to his junior team this season.
- Eric Engels of Sportsnet writes that the Montreal Canadiens are taking a serious look at defensive prospect Victor Mete as a potential line partner with veteran Shea Weber. Mete, a fourth-round pick in 2016, put up 44 points in 50 games last year for the OHL’s London Knights. The scribe reports that the 19-year-old has not looked out of place next to Weber and is a perfect complement to him.
- John Vogl of the Buffalo News writes that former KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin, who signed with the Sabres this offseason, is working hard to earn a spot on the Sabres’ defensive rotation. The 24-year-old has been paired so far in camp with defensive-minded Justin Falk, which many believe is a perfect pairing. The offensive-minded Antipin scored 24 points in 59 games for Magnitogorsk Mettallurg last year.
With the NHL season now less than a month away, it’s time to look at what each team has done this summer and what to watch for in the year to come. Today, we focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last Season: 50-21-11 record (111 points), second in Metropolitan Division (Won Stanley Cup)
Remaining Cap Space: $3.28MM per CapFriendly
Key Departures: G Marc-Andre Fleury (expansion, Vegas) F Nick Bonino (free agency, Nashville), D Ron Hainsey (free agency, Toronto), D Trevor Daley (free agency, Detroit), D Mark Streit (free agency, Montreal), F Matt Cullen (free agency, Minnesota), F Chris Kunitz (free agency, Tampa Bay)
[Related: Pittsburgh Depth Chart From Roster Resource]
Player To Watch: F Jake Guentzel – How exactly are you supposed to follow up a two goal NHL debut on a line with your childhood idol? How about tying a rookie record with 21 playoff points en route to a Stanley Cup victory. That’s how Guentzel started and finished his first season in the NHL, and 2017-18 could hold even more breathtaking moments for the 22-year old forward. With 54 points in a combined 65 regular season and playoff games, Guentzel could have easily been in contention for the Calder trophy had he played a full season. Immediately finding chemistry with Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin, before transitioning to the wing of Sidney Crosby, he’ll have much more responsibility this year.
The Penguins have lost some of their long-time forward depth in Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz and will be relying on players like Guentzel to repeat their performance from last year. Whichever line he ends up on—which could even be the middle of the third group, though the team clearly wants him to remain on the wing—he should crack 50 points and could push even higher. His knack to find open ice and release quick shots has resulted in some incredible totals already in his career, and with superstar players surrounding him it doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.
That said he’ll have to do a better job of keeping his head up this year. Twice last season players were suspended after huge hits to Guentzel’s head, with both Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Manning being sat down by the Department of Player Safety. Though you can’t blame Guentzel for what were illegal checks, both times he was watching the puck as he crossed his own blueline instead of being aware of the rushing defenders. It’s unfortunate that a player has to worry about these hits, but the simple fact is that they do. Guentzel suffered at least one concussion, and could easily have missed more time had something worse happened.
Key Storyline: No team has won three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980’s, but Pittsburgh has a real chance to do just that. With nearly their entire core returning, and with a healthy quartet of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Kris Letang, they will enter the season as one of the early favorites. Last year, it took some late-season additions by GM Jim Rutherford to shore up a painfully deteriorated defense group, and he’s looking to work his magic already with talk about third-line centers in camp today. Should he be able to add an impact player like Matt Duchene, or even just a solid center to add depth down the middle, there are few teams who should be able to compete with them.
The Penguins have smartly left themselves some room under the cap this summer, making low-key veteran additions like Hunwick and Reaves. They’ll have the room to make a splash at the deadline once again, but will have to be careful going forward. Several players including Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist will need new contracts next summer, and there isn’t a ton coming in the pipeline to replace them. While free agent additions like Zach Aston-Reese and Adam Johnson will help that prospect depth, the team has selected one player in the first round in the past five years (Kasperi Kapanen) and included him in the deal to get Kessel. It’s a tightrope at the top, but so far Rutherford has walked it beautifully. The Penguins are hoping they can stay up there just a little bit longer.
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford met with the media today at the start of training camp, and was quite forthcoming about his potential pursuit of a third-line center. Many have speculated that the Penguins would need to look outside the organization, with Rutherford himself saying they were looking for an “impact” player for the role. Today, he said that they were looking at three players for the role, though he obviously can’t name names.
We have our focus on three guys. I think one or two may become available before the season starts.
Pittsburgh has been rumored to be interested in various players over the summer, including Riley Sheahan (DET), Tyler Bozak (TOR), Matt Duchene (COL), and Jordan Staal (CAR) among others, but it’s unclear where Rutherford’s focus lies. It’s hard to see Pittsburgh going out to get one of the top names on the market, but the team does actually have a bit of cap space and some prospect capital that could get a deal done. Whether Rutherford wants to spend it now, or closer to the deadline when he normally does his shopping, is still to be seen.
As we said in our live chat yesterday, the Penguins are likely waiting for someone to shake loose so they can snatch them at a reduced price. A team like Detroit, who will need to make a roster move before the season starts if everyone gets through training camp healthy, could be an example. Regardless of where they’re looking it’s clear that the Penguins aren’t satisfied with the depth they have at the position right now. As camp begins, some combination of Carter Rowney, Zach Aston-Reese, Scott Wilson or even Jake Guentzel would likely be put into the role.
The Penguins have added some goaltending depth to their system as they announced the signing of netminder Alex D’Orio to a three-year, entry-level contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
D’Orio made a strong first impression in the QMJHL last season, playing in 28 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs, who won the league championship, while posting a 2.40 GAA and a 19-2-2 record. He was eligible to be selected in the draft back in June but went unpicked despite being ranked 13th among North American goaltenders by NHL’s Central Scouting.
Pittsburgh invited him to their development camp back in July plus their recently-completed rookie tournament, where he had a .902 SV% in three games.
As D’Orio is only 18 and is signing out of the CHL, he is ineligible to play at the AHL level for the upcoming season. Instead, he’ll return to Saint John where he will likely serve as their starter moving forward with starter Callum Booth (Carolina’s fourth rounder in 2015) set to turn pro in 2017-18.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins can breathe a sign of relief as Kris Letang is officially cleared for contact, reports the NHL.com’s Sam Kasan. The Penguins expect Letang at training camp, which opens this Friday. Letang says that the contact clearance is just the first step, and that he doesn’t know if he’ll be ready by opening night. The Penguins’ defenseman played only 41 games last season after going down with a herniated disc in February.
Marc-Andre Fleury would have likely waived his no-trade clause to go to Calgary last season, according to Eric Francis of Sportsnet who caught up with him in New York. Fleury was very cognizant of all the trade rumors surrounding him at the deadline, and knew Calgary was a potential landing spot.
I heard all the rumors – Winnipeg, Calgary and Vegas.
I didn’t know what was going to happen. At the trade deadline I couldn’t sleep that night, wondering, ‘where am I going?’
Fleury eventually ended up in Vegas with the Golden Knights, where he’s primed to be a starting goalie again and one of the early faces of the league’s 31st franchise. He’ll hope to improve on the .909 save percentage he put up last year, his lowest since the 2009-10 season.
- Fleury’s old teammate Kris Letang has been cleared to rejoin the team at practice after neck surgery in the spring. Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Letang will be on the ice on Friday when Penguins’ camp starts. Obviously the team will still be taking it slow with him, but it’s a big step to getting Letang ready for the start of the regular season. The Penguins found success even without him in the playoffs, but will be relying on him quite a bit again this season.
- The Athletic’s Corey Pronman released the final 50 of his Top 100 Under 25 list that was started yesterday, and—surprise, surprise—Connor McDavid takes the top spot. The rest of the list is a great read, with under-appreciated players like Brayden Point and Jaccob Slavin both making appearances. The sheer number of star players listed is incredible, and continues to show how the NHL is skewing younger and younger in recent years.
- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that he did not ask defenseman Kris Letang to change to a more conservative style of hockey, writes Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sullivan says that he asked him to use better judgement while playing. Letang has missed a lot of time over his career due to his often reckless play and managed to only play in 41 games last year when he needed surgery on his neck and missed the team’s championship run in the playoffs. “There might be an assumption that we’re trying to change the way “Tanger” plays the game. That’s not what the message has been to Kris,” Sullivan said. “It’s been more about making more calculated decisions on when there simply isn’t a play to be made.”
Despite the tumultuous off-season for Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche, GM Joe Sakic fully expects him to show up to training camp. At least, that’s what he told BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater. “He’s under contract and I expect him to be here” Sakic said, “Not everybody always comes to camp early. It’s not for me to (say), but I assume on the 14th, he’ll be here.” Sakic is referring to Duchene being one of only two Avs players under contract not to participate in captain’s practice last week. Holdouts may be rare in the NHL, but Duchene’s words and actions this summer have painted a pretty clear picture of a player who would like to leave Colorado.
If Duchene has reached his wit’s end with the trade rumors that have persisted since late 2016 and truly has no intention of suiting up for the Avalanche again, Sakic has just a few days left to trade him before this begins to enter holdout territory. The perceived problem all along is that Sakic has not dropped the asking price that has long been considered a young top-four defenseman, a first round pick, and one or two more young roster players or prospects. Not only do few (read: any) NHL teams have a young top-four blue liner to spare, but it’s hard to imagine anyone giving up such a package for Duchene, who has just two seasons remaining on his contract and is coming off a down 2016-17 season. Duchene had scored 55 or more points in five of his seven NHL seasons entering last year – and easily would have made it six had the the 2012-13 lockout-shorten seasoned been extended – yet, he ended up with only 41 points and an egregious -34 rating last season; a low point for both he and the Avalanche franchise.
Logic would seem to indicate that, holdout or not, Sakic has to continue listening to offers for Duchene and needs to lower an unreasonable asking price. TSN recently released their list of the top nine NHL trade candidates this season, with Duchene obviously at the top. They list the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, and Pittsburgh Penguins as the mostly likely destinations for Duchene. The Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks have also been in the rumor mix this summer.
Right away, a few of those options can have their odds discounted. Having just traded away Travis Hamonic and traded for Jordan Eberle, the New York Islanders and their estimated $3MM in cap space likely lack the capacity and the desire to pony up for Duchene at this point. The Isles are still deep on defense, but with Thomas Hickey and Dennis Seidenberg approaching free agency next year, trading yet another young defenseman like Calvin de Haan, Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock could put the team in hole. Without one of those three, it is hard to see New York making a suitable offer. The defending two-time Cup champs are in a similar situation. While many Pens fans would love to see the embarrassment of riches of Duchene as the third line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh too lacks the cap space, currently about $3.25MM, and the pieces to get the job done. That is, unless Sakic is keen on Olli Maatta or the Penguins offer up Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, or an overwhelming offer of picks and prospects including Derrick Pouliot and enough salary to offset Duchene. It’s a series of unlikely scenarios. Additionally, the Montreal Canadiens lack anything remotely close to a young top four defenseman. Duchene would be a great fit for the Habs, but they simply don’t have the pieces.
The Hurricanes and Bruins certainly have the pieces to acquire Duchene, but it seems unlikely that either will be the team to finally do it. Boston was in talks with Colorado last year, but balked at the ask of a package including Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo and wouldn’t be willing to move Torey Krug either. If the price drops, the B’s have talented young defenders like Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Lindgren, and 2017 first rounder Uhro Vaakanainen waiting in the wings, but even if that was enough, the Bruins’ quiet off-season has indicated that they would like to move forward with their own young players this season. Carolina, on the other hand, is a Duchene-caliber player away from being a true contender and would love to add someone with his ability. However, GM Ron Francis has made it clear that he does not want to trade any of his defensemen. That hasn’t stopped TSN for listing “a Carolina defenseman” as one of their top trade candidates, but as of now there is no reason to think any of Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, or Noah Hanifin are going anywhere. Like Boston, Carolina still has solid pieces if the price drops, such as Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, but another thought has been whispered this summer that may take Carolina out of the Duchene race altogether. Since acquiring Trevor van Riemsdyk from the Vegas Golden Knights back in June, a player who by all accounts they didn’t really need, many have speculated that Carolina is looking to make a run at 2018 premiere free agent James van Riemsdyk, to bring in the scoring power forward that they desperately desire.
The Blue Jackets and Sharks would be ideal landing spots for Duchene, but both teams would need to get creative with their offers. Both squads have a need for a scoring forward, the cap space to take him on and plenty of talented defensemen, but what they would be willing up on the blue line is not exactly what Colorado desires. There is no way that Columbus includes Zach Werenski or Seth Jones in a deal, but could be open to trading David Savard or Ryan Murray. However, each have a caveat. Savard, while a solid top-four talent, has had durability issues and difficulty with consistent production over the past couple of years. While he would be a great addition to any defense, that may not be what Sakic is looking to get back. Murray, while injury prone, is a highly-skilled young rearguard, but, amazingly, the 24-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Any deal involving Murray would first have to include a long-term extension with the league’s worst team. Columbus’ best chance of getting Duchene likely involves a package with top defensive prospect Gabriel Carlsson and a young roster player like Josh Anderson or Oliver Bjorkstrand. San Jose also has a few untouchables on defense, namely superstars Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Colorado also wouldn’t be interested in veterans Paul Martin and Justin Braun. That leaves Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo as the top options. While both have shown top-four potential, they have largely played shutdown roles in their young careers and bring little offensive upside. Like Savard, one would think that Sakic has a little more in mind for the Duchene return than stay-at-home defenders like Dillon and DeMelo. If the Sharks package versatile puck-moving D-prospect Jeremy Roy with either though, then talks could really get started. A package that starts like that and ends with a first-round pick and one of San Jose’s many young forwards could be enough to seal the deal.
Yet, the top candidate to bring in Duchene is likely the reigning Western Conference champs. No, the Predators are not moving any of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, or Mattias Ekholm, but the trick up their sleeve is top prospect Dante Fabbro. A junior teammate of Colorado top prospect Tyson Jost, Fabbro is considered one of the best prospects in hockey and should step into a top four role immediately when he leaves Boston University, much like Charlie McAvoy, who Sakic already targeted in Boston. Fabbro is not just a top-four defenseman, but a potential future #1 or at least a great option to pair with Cale Makar down the road. Sakic would be hard-pressed to find more upside up for grabs than Fabbro, but the Predators are set long-term on the blue line and desperately need to recoup the scoring lost in the Expansion Draft with the selection of James Neal. Fabbro, plus a young forward like Colton Sissons, Frederick Gaudreau, or Pontus Aberg, plus a first rounder and another pick or prospect, and Duchene could surely be on his way to Nashville.
Only time will tell where Duchene ends up, but the best case scenario for all parties is for that destination to not be Denver, Colorado for much longer. Sakic must and will eventually lower his asking price and someone will meet those demands. Could it be Nashville, Columbus, or San Jose? Definitely. Could it be Boston or Carolina? The Islanders or the Penguins? Possibly. Someone totally off the board? Of course. For such a talked-about topic, there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the situation. The next step will be to see if Duchene shows up to camp on Thursday. That decision could have a resounding effect on the trade process.