Hello and welcome to a Monday edition of NHL rumours! The Stanley Cup playoffs continue in the Canadian bubbles but the offseason is approaching for more teams each day. Last Word on Hockey remains committed to bringing the best news and analysis each day. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, and Chicago Blackhawks.
Rumour: Mark Spector of Sportsnet recently dove into how Edmonton might address its goaltending situation for 2020-21.
Analysis: It’s going to be difficult for Edmonton to upgrade its goaltending duo for next season given cap constraints. The Oilers already have almost $66 million committed for 2020-21. That just leaves just $15 million or so to address pending free agents or acquire someone via the open market.
However, the team should try to upgrade from Mike Smith. The 38-year-old wasn’t bad in 2019-20 as he did bounce back somewhat from a poor 2018-19 campaign. Smith increased his save percentage from .898 to .902 but his goals-against-average went from 2.72 to 2.95. He only counted $2 million towards the cap hit, which is certainly an amount he might be fine taking for another season. The issue is that he is one of the oldest goalies in the league. Edmonton can’t afford to risk him falling off the performance cliff and potentially hurting another season for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The problem with moving on from Smith is that none of the team’s goalie prospects were especially good this year. Their best prospect, Dylan Wells, had a poor 2019-20 in the net and probably needs at least one more year of seasoning in the AHL or ECHL. That means the team should use what money they can on the free-agent market.
If they can create enough space using young players elsewhere, Thomas Greiss could be an outstanding option. The 34-year-old had a .913 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against for the New York Islanders during the regular season. He will want the chance to be a primary starter as he nears retirement. Greiss had a cap hit of $3.33 million this year but probably doesn’t receive a major raise after splitting the year with Semyon Varlamov.
Rumour: Elliotte Friedman recently mentioned that Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be one player to watch as the Coyotes engage with the offseason.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 23, 2020
Analysis: Ekman-Larsson has been with the Coyotes for his entire career but the veteran defender might have a hard time staying with the franchise. His scoring dropped significantly from 14 goals and 44 points in 81 games last year to nine goals and 30 points in 66 games this season. The team already has $74 million committed for next year which makes his $8.25 million cap hit cumbersome.
It’s hard to see how Arizona could move Ekman-Larsson’s contract but he might bring back a decent return. He is still just 29-years-old and coming off consecutive 40-point seasons. Several teams might be in the market for a top power-play defender of his calibre. The Winnipeg Jets are one such team that just went through a season with one of the least-experienced defensive units in the league. The Jets don’t have the deepest pool of assets but Ekman-Larsson would add serious experience to the team’s blueline.
Arizona is capable of surviving without Ekman-Larsson as well. 35-year-old Alex Goligoski has one more year on his contract and just had a strong four-goal, 32-point season acting as one of the team’s most often-used defenders. Jakob Chychrun also improved for a second-straight campaign with 12 goals and 26 points in 63 games. The 22-year-old could be poised for a significant increase in usage for 2021-22.
Finally, it might be a good time to promote top prospect Kyle Capobianco to the NHL. Capobianco had a strong AHL season with 10 goals and 37 points at 22-years-old. They also have Victor Soderstrom in their system who is ready to play at the AHL level. Moving Ekman-Larsson will be difficult but it would give Arizona a lot of flexibility in a flat-cap era.
Rumour: The Athletic Chicago’s Mark Lazarus and Scott Powers recently broke down some of the questions facing the Blackhawks this offseason. This included some consideration of the goaltending situation.
Analysis: Chicago had a strong postseason but ultimately fell short against the Vegas Golden Knights. They now have to decide how to handle pending free agencies for Corey Crawford and Malcolm Subban. Crawford is an unrestricted free agent while Subban’s free agency classification is restricted. The question is if both should return.
Crawford had a fine 2019-20 with a .917 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against but he is going to be 36-years-old for 2020-21. He had a cap hit of $6 million this year which might increase if he re-signed with the team. The Blackhawks could bring him back but they already have $63 million committed to the NHL roster before factoring in pending free agents and minor contracts. There will be more affordable goaltenders on the market if Chicago wants to explore the open market. Greiss would be another strong option but someone like Laurent Brossoit might be worth a look as well.
Chicago could also decide to use a younger, in-house option in tandem with Subban. Collin Delia lost the backup job when the team signed Robin Lehner but the 26-year-old has struggled in the NHL. He has a career .906 save percentage and 3.65 goals-against-average. The team might decide it’s time for Delia to get proper ice time. However, neither Subban nor Delia are givens for next season. Chicago might also let Kevin Lankinen get a few starts next year. The 25-year-old hasn’t played in an NHL game yet but he did have a decent .909 save percentage and 3.03 goals-against for AHL Rockford. None of Chicago’s existing options are exciting but they will likely look very different in-net next year.