Welcome back to the Monday edition of NHL Rumours. We have entered the holiday roster freeze but that doesn’t stop the rumours from swirling like fresh snow. Last Word on Hockey will continue to bring you the best news through the end of 2019 and beyond into the new year. Today’s NHL Rumours focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues.
Rumour: The first of today’s NHL rumours features a mailbag from Josh Yohe of The Athletic. In it, he discusses some of the moves the Pens could make as they approach the trade deadline.
Analysis: The Penguins have suffered an unfair number of injuries but that hasn’t slowed them down much. The team is still in the race for a playoff birth while locked in a tight battle with the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers for third in the Metropolitan Division. Production is coming from multiple players except for Alex Galchenyuk. The 25-year-old skater is having a career-worst year coming off a 41 point campaign in 2018-19. Pittsburgh would love to trade him as an asset whose contract expires after the season ends.
Two players stand out as options for Pittsburgh if they can move the remainder of Galchenyuk’s cap hit. The team nearly traded for Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild before Phil Kessel exercised his no-trade clause. That might still be on the table despite Zucker’s recent leg injury. The deal would give Minnesota a younger and cheaper option than the 27-year-old Zucker along with an extra draft pick or similar compensation. Adding Zucker would also give Pittsburgh a more productive option in the top-six once he returns from his leg injury. Zucker has 12 goals and 24 points in 28 games compared to Galchenyuk’s two and 10.
There is an alternative to Zucker as well in the form of Tyler Toffoli. The Los Angeles Kings forward is having a good year with nine goals and 21 points through 37 games. He is the same age as Zucker with a less expensive cap hit. Either trade makes sense for Pittsburgh as they seek to extend the success it has seen in the Sidney Crosby era.
Rumour: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman recently examined some of Ottawa’s upcoming free agents and if Brady Tkachuk‘s next contract affects the front office’s decision making.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 22, 2019
Analysis: Ottawa has a lot of decisions to make and how much Tkachuk is worth is one of them. He is still on his entry-level deal but that will expire after 2020-21. The Senators must decide how many players they will keep beyond this year. They have an astonishing 18 players scheduled for free agency if you look only at the NHL roster and injured reserve list. Some of them will remain after the season ends but Tkachuk’s future value looms over the entire process.
The 20-year-old is having a good year with 12 goals and 21 points in 37 games but the team needs to retain players around him. His physical style could lead to the occasional injury so investing in upcoming free agents like Anthony Duclair becomes necessary. It keeps Ottawa from getting too reliant on prospects while also ensuring it doesn’t have too much money concentrated on too few players. There are already big contracts on the books for Colin White and Thomas Chabot. The Sens should not put themselves in a situation where three players take up so much cap space that roster flexibility suffers.
St. Louis Blues
Rumour: The final NHL rumour for today is another mailbag but this one comes courtesy of The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford. He briefly clarifies where contract talks currently stand with star defender Alex Pietrangelo.
Analysis: There is no argument that Pietrangelo is having one of the strongest seasons for a defenseman this year. The 29-year-old has nine goals and 26 points in 37 games for the Blues. He is a strong contender for the Norris trophy at this stage if he keeps it up and St. Louis continues to win.
However, his fantastic play means he will receive a significant salary increase when his current contract ends after this season. He should easily be able to say he is worth a deal equal to some of the league’s highest-paid defensemen like Brent Burns or John Carlson. He has the 20th highest cap hit for defenders in 2019-20 but that should jump into the top five range considering his recent production.
The problem is that he will turn 30, which is not an age where teams love to hand out large deals. There is also the fact that St. Louis will need new deals for several of their promising youngsters including Vince Dunn and Sammy Blais. They will also add a ton of money to their books when Vladimir Tarasenko comes off the injured reserve list. Signing Pietrangelo is a major priority but financial constraints limit even the best of front offices. A new deal might mean some of the Blues’ other expensive players become trade bait in the near future. The salary cap will go up this summer but that won’t save everyone.
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