There are yet more NHL rumours to peruse as we get closer to the weekend. Last Word on Hockey is here to bring you all the latest news and analysis surrounding an exciting start to the NHL season. Today’s rumours surround the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, and New Jersey Devils.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Rumour: Leading off our NHL rumours this week is Joe Smith of The Athletic. He does mailbag where he discusses who’s in and out when Cedric Paquette returns.
Lightning Mailbag, Part 2: Who is the odd man out when Cedric Paquette returns?@JoeSmithTB answers questions on Luke Witkowski's role, Kevin Shattenkirk's hot start, Steven Stamkos' comments and possible deadline deals.
— The Athletic Tampa Bay (@TheAthleticTB) October 23, 2019
Analysis: The Lightning will certainly welcome Paquette back from the upper-body injury that has kept him out this season. The 26-year-old centre will add a good amount of grit to a fourth line that has lacked stopping power. The team is among the worst at killing penalties this year; their 70% kill rate is tied for third-worst and is 10% below the league average of 80%. That comes a year after Tampa was the league’s best and Paquette was among the team’s leaders in both defensive-zone starts and short-handed ice time.
Paquette’s primary value is his physical style. The 6’1″ forward posted a team-high 269 hits in 2018-19 and 61 blocks. He also won 52.6 percent of his faceoffs. Those numbers are all ideal for someone carving out on special teams. Two of his 13 goals last year were shorthanded on top of the more important stats.
Paquette’s return likely places him on the team’s fourth line with Pat Maroon and either Luke Witkowski or Carter Verhaeghe at even strength. Those three are the team’s least-used forwards in terms of average ice time. Witkowski has the worst possession numbers with an abysmal 35.8 Corsi For percentage. He makes up for it with the second-most hits on the team at 18. Verhaeghe is much less physical but is significantly better controlling the puck. His Corsi For is 54.5%, third-best among all Lightning skaters. Coach Jon Cooper has the luxury of alternating the two players as healthy-scratches depending on the nightly matchup. Neither can be sent down to the AHL without clearing waivers. The fourth line and special teams will benefit greatly from Paquette’s play next to this combination of options.
Rumour: TSN’s Insider Trading briefly mentions contract talks have stalled between the Predators and star defender Roman Josi.
ICYMI, INSIDER TRADING: #TSNHockey Insiders discuss:
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) October 23, 2019
Analysis: Josi is having a strong season thus far. His nine points through nine games place him in a tie for seventh in scoring among defensemen this year. He currently counts for $4 million against the cap in his final year before unrestricted free agency. That number is sure to increase after two straight 50-point campaigns and a third expected in 2019-20.
The problem with giving Josi a raise and making him one of the highest-paid defenders is Nashville’s cap situation. They have a reasonable amount of current space at $3.47 million but have multiple players to potentially sign this summer. There are not many key players in need of a new deal beyond Mikael Granlund but teams have been hesitant to hand out big deals in fear of handcuffing themselves to bad contracts. The Preds are already paying Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene an average of $8 million each for the next several years. It would be a surprise if Josi hit the open market but this is an interesting situation given that the team couldn’t extend him before training camp.
New Jersey Devils
Rumour: The last of our NHL rumours features Corey Masisak of The Athletic answering questions that touch, in part, on New Jersey’s need for a quality third-pairing defender.
Analysis: The Devils are not particularly good on defence. An injury to Will Butcher has forced some short-term shuffling on the blue line. Andy Greene recently returned from an injury that will help but the team still has issues beyond that. Their third pair is an uninspiring rotation of Mirco Mueller, Connor Carrick and Matt Tennyson for the moment. None are scoring threats and are all quite poor with the puck. Carrick is the “best” with a Corsi For of 43.4% That means the team takes just under 44% of the shots when he is on the ice. That number drops down to 31.8 when you consider Tennyson as someone who will occasionally play with Butcher out.
The problem is that while New Jersey needs defence, there is no immediate fix. Ty Smith is their best prospect but is just 19-years-old playing in the WHL with Spokane. The AHL Binghamton team doesn’t have much going for it in the way of defence either. That could mean trading with a team that is at or near the cap ceiling. Two players stand out in this regard. Cody Ceci with the Toronto Maples Leafs or the Buffalo Sabres Marco Scandella. Neither would push New Jersey against the cap as both have a salary cap hit less than the team’s current cap space of $5.5 million.
Ceci would benefit the Devils more as he would solve the team’s third-pairing issues with puck movement and toughness. He has respectable possession numbers when you consider he was playing for a diminishing Ottawa Senators team but still able to score at least 20 points three separate times. Ceci also has very good peripheral stats with over 600 hits and 700 blocks in his 451 NHL games. He is also just 25-years old compared to the 29-year-old Scandella. New Jersey has loaded up on forwards and Ceci could add that extra grit from the blue line teams crave.
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