The NHL season is midway through and things are heating up. This has sparked plenty of NHL rumours, adding to the excitement of the mid-season. As long as NHL rumours remain around, Last Word on Hockey will look to keep fans up to date. Today, we will cover rumours surrounding the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins.
New York Rangers
Rumour: Per Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, the Rangers are not actively pursuing a contract extension with favorite-trade-target Chris Kreider.
“I’m a Ranger until they tell me I’m not a Ranger.”
— luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) January 24, 2020
Analysis: This comes as no surprise. Kreider has been on the trade block for years, with NHL rumours heating up over the course of this season. He now sits as one of the most notorious names in trade rumours, with plenty of teams supposedly looking to acquire the winger.
Kreider is a clear-cut top-six winger. He’s a great talent, with 17 goals and 32 points in only 48 games this year. This puts him on pace for 29 goals and 55 points. If he matches this pace, he will tally his third 50-point season. He was on pace for 52 points in 2017-18 but missed time due to injury.
Kreider’s skillset is truly unique. He’s a gritty, aggressive forward who boasts great speed, well-rounded shooting and hands, and strong possession metrics. His skillset is being shown during All-Star weekend. Among other things, he participated in the Fastest Skater competition. It’s hard to wonder what the asking price for Kreider will be. For a young team like New York, though, a young-and-capable prospect and middle-round pick may be plenty.
Galchenyuk has been another defiantly prominent member of recent NHL rumours. The Penguins have been very unsatisfied with his play since he joined the team this summer. He has netted 16 points in 41 games so far. This puts him on pace for an even 32 points. This would be his lowest-scoring season since the 2013-14 campaign when he netted 31 points in 65 games. Even in that year, though, Galchenyuk still at least managed 13 goals, three more than what he’s on pace for this year.
This lacklustre performance has been surprising, to say the least. Galchenyuk was swapped for Phil Kessel in a trade this summer. He has not managed to live up to Kessel’s level of play, though. This is despite being on a roster featuring star talent like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel among others. Now, the Penguins clearly want to find a way to manage a net positive out of their investment.
Friedman notes that this will likely come in the form of roughly two-years-older Jason Zucker, who has 14 goals and 28 points in 40 games this year. Zucker has been another popular member of recent rumours, although many think he may be already removed from Minnesota’s trade block. Still, the Penguins could find a way to reel in the potent forward if they packaged Galcheyuk with a couple of draft picks or young players. While there’s clearly no telling how a trade would work out, with Galchenyuk’s bust surprising everyone, the hopes are clearly that Zucker would meld better with names like Malkin and Crosby. The deal sounds great for Pittsburgh. Its progress rests on whether Minnesota decides to listen to offers for Zucker or not.
Analysis: Backes’ reputation through his career has been that of a gritty, power-forward. He’s used his 6’3″, 215lbs (190cm, 97kg) frame as much as possible and has managed 14 NHL seasons as a result. It was his size and physical style of play that drew him away from the St. Louis Blues, who he captained for five years, and to Boston for the 2016-17 season. Yet, since joining the Bruins, Backes hasn’t looked the same. After scoring at least 45 points in eight straight seasons for the Blues (save for the lockout 2012-13 season where he was on pace for 47 points), Backes hasn’t managed to score more than 38 with Boston.
Last year, in a bottom-six role, Backes netted only 20 points in 70 games. His bleak play continued into this year. After 16 games played, and only three points scored, the Bruins decided to waive Backes’ contract on January 17th. He was designated for assignment to the AHL and has used the NHL’s extended break to take in the drastic change. This isn’t much of a surprise, though. Backes is a hardened NHL veteran who hasn’t seen the AHL since the 2006-07 season. The whiplash caused by a sudden send-down is enough to stun any player.
The crew at Sportsnet made one thing very clear, though: Backes will not be retiring. The always-humble forward clearly feels his worth still lies in the NHL and will fight to return to the league as soon as possible. He has been a prominent member of the Bruins trade block for a while but has yet to be dealt with thanks to his massive $6 million cap hit. His modified no-trade-clause only makes things harder. This contract is also what drove teams away from claiming Backes when he passed through waivers.
If there’s any sort of light at the end of the tunnel for Backes, it is the fact that he will likely be bought out at the end of this season. There is no sense in Boston paying an AHL player $6 million. They’ll look to rid themselves of this poor contract as soon as possible. This could open the door for the 35-year-old Backes to sign with another team, quickly earning a spot back in the NHL and a chance to regain the potency he boasted in St. Louis. It’s likely just this scenario that he’s hoping for as he decides to not retire. Although, there’s no way to defiantly say. The only sure thing right now is that Backes is not done just yet.