NHL Rumours: Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers

NHL Rumours

Hello and welcome to another Monday edition of NHL Rumours! The offseason has slowed down considerably but that doesn’t mean teams have stopped planning for 2020-21. There are still free agents worth signing and salary commitments to balance. More will happen between now and the beginning of the coming season. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and the New York Rangers.

NHL Rumours

Toronto Maple Leafs

Rumour: James Mirtle of The Athletic recently indicated that the Toronto front office might be content with its current roster going into the next season.

Analysis: Nobody can force the Maple Leafs to make any more moves at this point in the offseason. They have a fairly stacked roster and are $1.47 million under the cap ceiling. Most of the remaining money will go to Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott but neither of them has much bargaining power as restricted free agents. Toronto may re-sign them to very cheap contracts and march ahead into 2020-21.

However, a sizable chunk of production will rely on ageing veterans. Jason Spezza is back after nine goals and 25 points in 58 games. The Leafs will need him to produce at a similar level again possibly next to Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton. That would be one of the league’s experienced trios with over 50 combined seasons but it would also be one of its oldest. Toronto is very split between young, high-skill players and some of the oldest ones still playing. That doesn’t leave much in the middle.

Despite having a roster build largely on extremes, there isn’t an obvious hole that can’t be addressed internally. There are a handful of prospects and offseason signings that can easily step in if someone is hurt or underperforms. Pierre Engvall stepped in last year and was a huge surprise with seven goals and 16 points in 15 games. He is one of several players that ensures Toronto probably doesn’t need to move anyone out or bring any more players in at the moment.

Vancouver Canucks

Rumour: Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre recently dove into how the Canucks can reinforce its depth despite a tight cap situation.

Analysis: Vancouver is in a tough spot. They have just under $2 million in remaining space but need to re-sign Jake Virtanen and Adam Gaudette, players who combined for 30 goals and 69 points in 128 games. There are some ways to work around the crunch like demotions to the AHL or long-term injured reserve but it doesn’t look great.

The Canucks do not look especially deep on the bottom-six but there is enough talent and grit to make things work. Virtanen and Gaudette are big parts of that though. The bigger concern is on defence where at least one rookie might be necessary. Olli Juolevi could start the year as one of the organization’s better prospects after two goals and 25 points in 45 games in the AHL last season. Jett Woo, Jack Rathbone and Guillaume Brisebois also add their own unique dimensions to the blueline depth. It’s safe to say at least one will play some sort of role this season if nothing else is done.

But relying on so many young defenders might not sit well with an organization on the cusp of big things. One other possibility is trying to buy out a bad contract. 34-year-old Brandon Sutter is the most logical choice. He scored just eight goals and 17 points in 44 games last year despite a cap hit of $4.375 million. The team will need an arbitration settlement with Virtanen to give themselves a window for such a buyout, so there is more to come on this issue for the Canucks.

New York Rangers

Rumour: The final NHL rumour for today comes from the New York Post’s Larry Brooks. He details how the Rangers’ priorities have shifted after completing recent extensions. 

Analysis: The Rangers have a young team brimming with potential but two players still need contracts as key depth pieces. Those two are 27-year-old Ryan Strome and 24-year-old Brendan Lemieux. Both are valuable until New York decides to employ younger players in future seasons. Evolving Wild has their contracts totaling 10 years and almost $9 million combined but both have arbitration hearings scheduled for early November.

Strome’s next contract should be substantial even if restricted free agency limits his negotiating power. The former fifth overall selection from 2011 has been a steady performer for years and saw a huge jump in production in 2019-20. His scoring jumped from 18 goals and 33 points in 63 games in 2018-19 to 18 goals and 59 points in 70 games last year. Strome showed outstanding promise next to some of the team’s stars including Artemi Panarin and should be rewarded accordingly. Lemieux is more a bottom-six agitator but is useful at this point in the organization’s competition curve.

If the team can trim off some of Strome’s expected salary, that could give them a chance to sign one more cheap free agent if they desire. There are no obvious holes on the roster but it is still a relatively young squad moving into next year. They really only need to consider an extra forward or defender in the event of injury. With that in mind, someone like Kevin Connauton on the blueline or Corey Perry for the fourth line could be a sound investment. The Rangers have plenty of financial and roster flexibility with so few contracts left to resolve.

That does it for today’s NHL rumours. Be sure to watch for tomorrow’s edition.

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