NHL Rumours: San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens

NHL Rumours
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Hello and welcome to a Tuesday edition of NHL Rumours! Another week of hockey is upon us and that means plenty of happenings. Teams continue to wrestle with injuries and postponements that alter lineups almost daily. Continue to visit the Last Word on Hockey as we stay on top of all the league news and analysis. Today’s NHL rumours feature the San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, and Montreal Canadiens.

NHL Rumours

San Jose Sharks

Rumour: Kevin Kruz of The Athletic recently dove into what some of the team’s large contracts mean for the future.

NHL free agent frenzy

Analysis: It’s safe to say that San Jose has one of the thinnest NHL rosters with some of the worst contracts. Five players are under contract for at least five more seasons with annual cap hits of $7 million or more. It’s even worse when you remember that three of them are on defence and two are 33-years-old or older. Nobody should criticize players like Erik Karlsson or Evander Kane for getting their money, but it’s put the team in a terrible position.

Such a top-heavy approach to team building has resulted in the team losing some players who are now doing very well elsewhere. Joe Pavelski left the team after 2018-19 and is dominating with the Dallas Stars in 2020-21. Joonas Donskoi has been the same solid player with the Colorado Avalanche while averaging a cap hit of just $3.9 million. The team might not be a contender with those two, but they are certainly worse without them. It’s clear that the method of locking some players down long-term has backfired.

That makes a fast rebuild almost impossible. Such large contracts are largely untradeable even without the extra stress of a global pandemic barring most fans from attending. The team also lost out on a very high draft selection in 2020 as a result of the Karlsson trade that puts them even further behind. San Jose can take one of two strategies at this point. They can either trade everyone making reasonable money now or suffer for a few seasons until the cap ceiling rises and see what that does to the market. Things look very bleak for the Sharks for the next few seasons.

New Jersey Devils

Rumour: A recent mailbag from The Athletic’s Corey Masisak investigates what the team might do with defenceman Will Butcher.

Analysis: Butcher has not played this year after missing the last part of 2019-20 due to injury. It’s easy to make the argument that the team should trade him now considering the success of Ty Smith as a future blueline anchor, but there are reasons to keep Butcher around even if he doesn’t skate much in 2020-21.

The first reason is that the team will need bodies. The Devils have had several games postponed in recent weeks, which will only condense their schedule further. That means every available skater is important if someone suffers an injury during the compressed sprint that will come. New Jersey doesn’t have any young defenders who are better than Butcher and can also switch in and out of the lineup. His recent lack of playing time might not fetch that sort of skater either. Finally, Butcher has the possibility of a large role in 2021-22 with four current defenders scheduled for free agency.

Butcher has plenty of value if New Jersey hangs on to him past this year. He has 13 goals and 95 points in 215 career games. His average ice time has never exceeded 19:16 per game, but a career 50.7 percent Corsi For in a secondary role is fine. Butcher is still just 26-years-old with a cap hit of only $3.7 million. There is no reason to sell-low on him right now. It’s better to wait and see what he can do when he has an opportunity again.

Montreal Canadiens

Rumour: Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin revealed through David Pagnotta that star prospect Cole Caufield will turn pro this year.

Analysis: This news should excite every hockey fan. Caufield is one of the best prospects in the game and is dominating the NCAA level this year. He leads the nation in scoring with 17 goals and 33 points as a sophomore. The only players who might threaten his lead are teammate Linus Weissbach and Quinnipiac’s Odeen Tufto, both seniors. Caufield is a popular choice for the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award and his debut could look similar to that of Cale Makar. Makar joined the Avalanche after a dominant run in college won him the same award in 2018-19.

Caufield’s problem will be a lack of an obvious spot in the lineup when he leaves school. The Canadiens are one of the best teams in the NHL this year and their top-six is stacked. It would take an injury to give the talented prospect a spot at the top of the depth chart. The best place for him might be on the third line where he can receive sheltered minutes while also avoiding some of the penalty-killing time that often falls to bottom-six skaters. Such a spot probably means a slight demotion for someone like Joel Armia or Artturi Lehkonen depending on what the team looks like in the future. There is no doubt the Habs’ draftee will be a star, but major minutes might wait until 2021-22.

That does it for this edition of NHL Rumours. Stay tuned for another edition on Wednesday

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