Hello and welcome to another Monday edition of NHL rumours! We are only weeks away from the beginning of NHL free agency and teams are busy making advance plans. Continue to check in with Last Word on Hockey as news breaks for the latest updates and analysis. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Vegas Golden Knights.
Detroit Red Wings
Rumour: Elliotte Friedman indicated that the Red Wings and goaltender Jimmy Howard will part ways when free agency officially begins.
Add another team/player to the goalie market: DET and Jimmy Howard. Howard, 36, said he was “probably not” going to continue with the Red Wings, but squashed rumours he was retiring, saying, “Someone is going to have to tell me I can’t play anymore”…
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) September 20, 2020
Analysis: It’s not surprising that the two parties would not stick together for 2020-21. The Red Wings need to find the goaltender of the future and Howard doesn’t want to suffer through the same rebuild so close to retirement. It only makes sense that the two would look for something new going into next season.
For Detroit, that means again relying on Jonathan Bernier as the primary goalie with someone other than Howard backing him up. Bernier was perfectly fine in 2019-20 despite Detroit being a putrid mess in almost every regard. The former first-round pick from 2006 won 15 of his 41 starts with a .907 save percentage and 2.95 goals-against-average. He is easily the best starting option Detroit has unless they spend money on the position in free agency. Detroit doesn’t have many experienced options in its minors, but Calvin Pickard might be the choice. He had the worst NHL season of his career in 2019-20 but it’s either re-sign Pickard or bring in someone from the outside.
Howard should be able to find a job despite his age and a crowded goalie market. The veteran struggled in his age 35 season but he should be a fine backup or third goaltender for a competitive organization. Multiple teams will be looking for goaltending bargains when free agency begins and Howard certainly seems prepared to do whatever he can to stay in the league. The only question aside from ability is how much money Howard will want. He had a cap hit of $4 million in 2019-20 but might need to take a pay cut to find a good NHL job.
New York Islanders
Rumour: Dan Rosen of NHL.com recently had a mailbag where he answered a question around how the Islanders remain competitive in 2020-21.
Analysis: The Isles were a very good team in 2019-20 but they will need to make moves to stay in the mix in the Metropolitan Division. They have roughly $8.9 million in cap space but core pieces Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews will consume that amount. That means a potential trade to free up some money.
It’s hard to say who a likely trade candidate might be. Andrew Ladd costs just $5.5 million in annual cap space but is 34-years-old. He is also coming off a season in which he played in just four NHL games. Ladd certainly doesn’t feel like someone the team needs to retain. Leo Komarov might be a similar trade candidate. He fits coach Barry Trotz’s physical style with 123 hits but he will cost the team $3 million in cap space. New York can trade Ladd or Komorov or both and use internal options to boost scoring without sacrificing grit.
The Islanders have several interesting internal options if they wish to use them. Kieffer Bellows led New York’s AHL team in scoring with 22 goals and 31 points in 52 games. He is one of the team’s better prospects and managed to score two goals and three points in his eight-game debut this season. Oliver Wahlstrom is also an interesting prospect to consider as a boost to the team’s bottom-six offence but he is even younger than Bellows. The Islanders might decide their offensive prospects need another season of development. That would mean looking for help on the open market where several quality scorers are expected to draw serious interest.
Vegas Golden Knights
Rumour: The same mailbag is the source of our final NHL rumour for today. Rosen also addressed what Vegas might do at goaltending after a surprising playoff defeat.
Analysis: Vegas should not panic going in 2020-21. Yes, they lost to the Dallas Stars in surprising fashion. However, it is still a very talented team built to win the Stanley Cup. It is also a team facing some tough decisions with only $4.9 million current cap space.
The most logical move is indeed to sign goalie Robin Lehner to a long-term deal. He is much younger than Marc-Andre Fleury and had a better 2019-20. Lehner finished the season with a .920 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against Fleury’s .905 and 2.77, respectively. Fleury is still a fine goaltender but will cost Vegas $7 million for both 2020-21 and 2021-22. Moving him would create significant space to improve the team elsewhere.
The team doesn’t have major assets to re-sign other than Lehner but that doesn’t mean everybody is leaving. Chandler Stephenson was a great midseason addition with eight goals and 22 points in 41 games after a trade with the Washington Capitals. Vegas has only four other skaters that need contracts otherwise. They are in a fantastic position to add another bottom-six reinforcement for both offensive and defensive purposes. It just all depends on how they resolve the situation with Fleury, Lehner, and Lehner’s potential backup. Be sure to look for our next article on NHL Rumours.