NHL Rumours: Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens

NHL Rumours

Hello and welcome to a Monday edition of NHL Rumours. Hockey remains on hiatus but news continues to trickle in from around the world. Last Word on Hockey will keep bringing you the best news and analysis from across the hockey universe each day. Today’s NHL Rumours feature the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens.

NHL Rumours

Edmonton Oilers

Rumour: A recent mailbag on Sportsnet from Mark Spector indicates the Oilers would happily buy out forward James Neal if the circumstances allow.

Analysis: Neal was so close to working out in Edmonton. He was blistering in October with 11 goals and 13 points and good through December. However, 2020 wasn’t kind to the 32-year-old where he scored no goals and just four points in 13 games. He also missed February due to injury. That isn’t good enough for someone who costs $5.75 million for the next three seasons. Neal simply made too much money without recent production in a world where the salary cap might stay flat for next season.

The money that would go to Neal would instead go a long way towards securing a top asset on the free-agent market. Most of Edmonton’s big needs are secured with a prime top line, a decent blue line, and goalie Mikko Koskinen but they need more. The offence needs some major attention. The Oilers need another scoring threat to supplement stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

If Edmonton can use Neal’s money and find space elsewhere, they could make a run at former Oiler Taylor Hall. Hall has been fine in 2019-20 splitting time between the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes but he hasn’t been the dominant presence most expected this season. Edmonton has top-six ideal for someone of Hall’s calibre. He could slide next to McDavid, Drasaitl or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and give Edmonton another dangerous look on the wing. It’s a shame Neal didn’t work out after a strong start but his money could go towards keeping Edmonton on top in the Pacific Division.

Carolina Hurricanes

Rumour: The Athletic’s Sara Civian had a mailbag in late April where she discussed Carolina’s looming free-agent decisions.

Analysis:  The ‘Canes aren’t in a bad spot, salary-wise. Most of its core is under control for the next several seasons. Only six players on the current NHL roster are scheduled for free agency at the end of 2019-20. The problem is that the salary cap might stay flat at $81.5 million. Unfortunately, that will squeeze someone out since not everyone can get a raise.

Sami Vatanen is an easy casualty in a flat-cap scenario. He was injured almost immediately after Carolina acquired him from the New Jersey Devils in early February. The 28-year-old scored five goals and 23 points in 47 games for the Devils but might not ever skate for Carolina. His recent injury history is terrible and Carolina stacked its blueline at the deadline.

The team has several strong options if they part ways with Vatanen after this season. Haydn Fleury broke out this year with four goals and 18 points in 45 games and looks poised for more when hockey returns. The Hurricanes also have promising 26-year-old Brady Skjei who came from the New York Rangers at the deadline. Skjei was buried in New York but still managed eight goals and 23 points in 60 games. Both Skjei and Fleury represent low-risk alternatives to the injury-prone Vatanen.

Montreal Canadiens

Rumour: Luke Fox of Sportsnet recently had some quick thoughts where he revealed that European import Mikko Lehtonen might consider joining the Montreal Canadiens.

Analysis: The 26-year-old Lehtonen had his contract terminated with Jokerit in Russia’s KHL. The Finnish defenceman had one of the best seasons in his league with 17 goals and 49 points. He also had one goal and four points in six games before the KHL playoffs were cancelled. He was a strong offensive option for a good KHL team, so the bidding for his services will be intense.

Montreal certainly needs help on its blueline. Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot are good but the Canadiens need some young talent on defence. Their core of forwards is right in the middle of its competitive window and Carey Price likely has a few good years remaining. Montreal needs to act now if it wants to win a Stanley Cup.

Lehtonen would be an excellent addition to a competitive Canadiens squad. He shoots left-handed so they could pair him next to either Petry or Weber at even strength. He would also give the team another option at the point for its power play. There would be some adjustment but the KHL is a strong league. Lehtonen would likely be just fine coming to North America after years overseas.

Montreal reportedly has competition for Lehtonen’s services. The Devils and Los Angeles Kings are also rumoured to be involved in the Lehtonen sweepstakes as they rebuild. Montreal has the strongest current situation. That should give them an edge in any potential contract negotiations.

That does it for today’s edition of NHL Rumours. Keep your eyes posted for another edition during the week.

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