As another Thursday rolls in, Last Word on Hockey returns with another edition of NHL Rumours. As most of the NHL’s 31 teams are now sitting at home, the race to the free-agent frenzy in October is starting to switch into overdrive. With many big-name talents available, this fall projects to be one of the oddest free agencies in recent memory thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, and Vegas Golden Knights all have crucial talents coming into free agency. It’s why they find themselves featured in this edition of NHL Rumours.
St. Louis Blues
Rumour: In a mailbag piece for The Athletic, Jeremy Rutherford says he believes the Blues have lowballed captain Alex Pietrangelo in contract negotiations and that the relationship is souring quickly.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) September 9, 2020
Analysis: What a terrible run it’s been recently for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, proved again by NHL Rumours.
Eyebrows were raised when he signed defenceman Justin Faulk to a massive extension last summer after acquiring him via trade. A seven-year term at $6.5 million a season was a risky gamble for a power-play oriented defenceman who had yet to play a game for the team. Oh, and don’t forget about that no-trade clause!
Eyebrows were raised when he signed defenceman Marco Scandella to a lengthy in-season extension after acquiring him via trade. A four-year term at $3.275 million a season was a risky gamble for a defensive defenceman on the wrong side of 30.
None of this conveyed the right idea to Pietrangelo, who’s served as the team’s captain for the past four seasons since the departure of David Backes. He led the team to its first Stanley Cup last season and has been a member of their blueline for 12 campaigns. Management seemed more interested in the contingency plan if he left instead of actually re-signing him. While not exactly an egotistical man, it would’ve and should’ve struck Pietrangelo the wrong way. Negotiations were slow, and now when they’ve heated up, apparently, the Blues have been making offers well below market value. It’s an embarrassing look for a management group that’s been lauded for its efforts in building a championship team. It appears those days are over as quickly as they began.
Rumour: The Minnesota Wild will not re-sign longtime centre Mikko Koivu this offseason, meaning he’s played his last game in a Wild uniform, per The Athletic’s Michael Russo.
Wild offseason update: End of an era for Mikko Koivu? Plus, trade/buyout banter https://t.co/92L9dhZZp4
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) September 9, 2020
Analysis: It appears two Central Division captains will not be back with their teams next season. Koivu was not playing an impact role for the Wild by any stretch this season. However, it’s still sad to see him go. One of the more underrated defensive forwards in the history of the NHL, he never won a Selke Trophy and was nominated only once. Koivu produced offensively as well, producing multiple 50+ point seasons for the Wild.
If Koivu chooses to retire, his high hockey IQ could benefit him immediately. He could be extremely valuable to the Wild in a front-office role. If he’s able to transition into a scouting position, his unique perception of the game will pay dividends for the team for many years to come.
It also means the real end of an era in Minnesota. It’s a sign that the team is looking towards a more serious rebuild or roster refresh. While his departure is a tough loss emotionally, the Wild stand to benefit from a shakeup. The team has largely been regarded as one of the most mediocre in the NHL over the years. They’re in desperate need of fresh new talent.
Vegas Golden Knights
Rumour: Per The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, the Golden Knights have offered goalie Robin Lehner a five-year extension in the neighbourhood of $5 million a season.
My belief at this point is the Golden Knights’ plan is to sign Lehner to a long term extension, and sources around the league have indicated to me those talks may have already begun.
What I’m hearing about the Golden Knights and pending UFA Robin Lehner-https://t.co/oHQnZnI9aQ
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) September 9, 2020
Analysis: Lehner’s playoff performance was going to be a big influence on his contract this summer. He’s delivered the goods for the Golden Knights, and considering the decline of Marc-Andre Fleury, Lehner’s quickly become the undisputed starter for Vegas. With a .924 save percentage so far in these playoffs, combined with a .920 save percentage in the regular season, Lehner has proved himself as one of the league’s elite goalies. A long-term deal was in the cards for him this offseason.
If $5 million is the final price on this deal, it’s a win for general manager Kelly McCrimmon. Five years is a sweet spot as Lehner will only be 34 at the conclusion of the deal. It’s unlikely (but not impossible) that he’ll undergo decline by then.
This still begs the question of what they want to do about Fleury. A buyout is an option, as well as a trade. However, it’s extremely unlikely that ‘Flower’ is back in Vegas next season. $12 million is an exorbitant price to pay for two goalies.
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