Hello and welcome to a regular Monday edition of NHL Rumours! The offseason marches on and teams continue to prepare for 2020-21. There are still a few good free agents on the market, but rosters are starting to solidify in advance of training camp. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, and Ottawa Senators.
Rumour: Harman Dayal of The Athletic recently broke down what could be some issues on the team’s top-six for 2020-21.
Analysis: Any knowledgeable fan can see that Vancouver’s top two lines might be weaker than many in the league. Yes, Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat are two premier talents under the age of 25, but there are significant questions outside of the top 4-5 forwards.
The candidate with the most promise is former first-round selection, Jake Virtanen. The sixth overall selection from the 2014 Draft improved to 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games but his possession numbers were still below-average. He still represents the option with the highest ceiling despite somewhat underwhelming numbers. The most logical decision is to try Virtanen on the top line with Pettersson and J.T. Miller while moving Brock Boeser down to the second with Horvat and Tanner Pearson. That gives the team its best top-six lineup based purely on potential.
The only other option if Virtanen can’t handle a top role is Loui Eriksson… yeah. That’s not a great contingency plan for Vancouver and could definitely cause issues down the stretch. It’s a problem that could easily manifest itself and work to bring down the team but also one that’s easily addressed. With players like Mike Hoffman and Anthony Duclair still on the market, the Cancucks could fight their way into a bit more top-six insurance. They currently have no cap space but finding a way to clear up cap space with Eriksson’s deal — or somewhere else — could help them fight for space.
Rumour: Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe recently explored what the Jets need to do in order to address gaps in the blue line.
Analysis: The Jets are in an awkward place on defence. The blueline has a respectable collection of bodies between Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk. Those three represent the best offensive defenders on the team. The problem is the supporting cast is an underwhelming combination of grinders like Nathan Beaulieu and Tucker Poolman. Winnipeg needs at least one more reliable or intriguing defender to be ready for the coming season.
Ville Heinola is possibly the smartest choice despite being a huge risk at 19-years-old. Winnipeg gave its first-round selection from 2019 a cup of coffee last year and he didn’t disappoint. The Finnish defender had a perfectly fine one goal and five points in eight games. Obviously, that is too small of a sample to project stardom, but there was very little in the raw numbers to suggest he can’t win a spot in training camp.
The defence could go in a very different direction if Heinola doesn’t win a regular job. Beaulieu is mostly a penalty-killing option and battled injuries throughout 2019-20. Derek Forbort joined the team this offseason, but is a pure checking defender. The same is mostly true of Luca Sbisa, Sami Niku, or prospect Dylan Samberg. The Jets have invested on offence since the postseason ended, but another move to address the blue line might be necessary if the team wants to maximize its potential.
Rumour: Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun brings us the last of today’s NHL rumours. He recently wrote about what the Sens might do before the 2020-21 season begins.
Analysis: Ottawa still needs help in so many places. It has three or four forwards who can produce at a good rate, but depth will still be a major issue. The team’s growing prospect pool is probably at least one season away from making any significant impact beyond one or two skaters. Ownership has also shown somewhat reluctance to spend much more than the league requires it to; the Senators have just $63.7 million committed for 2020-21 before new deals are signed for the few remaining restricted free agents.
However, there isn’t much talent remaining on the open market. The two best scoring options are Mikael Granlund and Mike Hoffman. Granlund would be a brilliant signing considering his consistency and versatility, but he will probably cost more than ownership wants to spend. Hoffman is the best scorer, but will also cost somewhat significant dollars and doesn’t do much besides score. Ottawa probably needs to dig deep if it really wants to acquire someone who is both cheap and effective.
The only alternative to spending money is to trade for more talent. Ottawa has three second-round picks in the 2021 Draft. One or two of those would be very enticing to a team willing to shed some money. There are still a few teams over the salary cap including the Toronto Maple Leafs. Trading one of the second-round selections for Pierre Engvall or Nic Petan wouldn’t be the dumbest move the Senators can make. The Atlantic Division is strong, but Ottawa can’t rely solely on prospect development if they want fans to get excited.