Welcome back to another edition of NHL Rumours from the crew at Last Word on Hockey. We’re almost into the month of March and some teams are past the quarter season mark. With that, rumours are swirling around the league. Today’s NHL rumours segment will focus on rumours surrounding the Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and the Boston Bruins.
All NHL rumours come from their original source and are subject to change.
Rumour: In the most recent edition of Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, Friedman speaks about upcoming unrestricted free agent Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He states that he wants to remain an Oiler, and the Oilers want to keep him around as well.
Analysis: Nugent-Hopkins was drafted first overall by the Oilers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The 27-year-old has spent his entire career with the Oilers organization. He also has been performing at the highest level of his career over the last two seasons. Playing with Connor McDavid tends to have that effect. So of course Nuge is going to want to stay in Edmonton. Who wouldn’t want to play with the best player in the game? Drafted as a centre, Nugent-Hopkins made the move to the wing during the last two seasons. This move was made to give McDavid a solid producer on his flank. This allows the Oilers to move forward with the strongest one-two punch down the middle with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
However, the issue with playing with McDavid and scoring at the rate that he is driving up the cost of the player. Nugent-Hopkins is scoring at almost a point per game pace over the last two seasons. He will certainly get a raise from his $6 million AAV he currently makes. He could potentially price himself out of Edmonton.
According to capfriendly.com, the Oilers have roughly $25 million in cap space for next season. However, they only have 12 players under contract. Along with Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have key free agents in Kailer Yamamoto, Adam Larsson, and Tyson Barrie. They will also need to replace backup goaltender Mike Smith. If Nugent Hopkins were to take a contract like say Matt Duchene did with the Nashville Predators, that would only leave the Oilers with around $17 million to build the rest of the team. That just doesn’t cut it. The Oilers are going to have to get really creative if they want to be able to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And in a flat cap world during a pandemic, that’s not going to be easy.
Vegas Golden Knights
Analysis: Well, that pretty much axes all rumours swirling around the veteran goaltender. Fleury’s name has been in the rumour mill ever since the Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner prior to last year’s trade deadline. However, with Lehner appearing in just five games this season due to injury, Marc-Andre Fleury seized the opportunity to show it is still his crease in Vegas. While Lehner has been mediocre in his five starts this season, Fleury has been lights out. He has posted a record of 8-3 with a goals-against-average of 1.55 and a save percentage of .942 to go along with three shutouts. Fleury has really turned back the clock this season. The 36-year-old is playing as he did in his later days in Pittsburgh.
His numbers now are a career-high for the veteran netminder. While they might not be sustainable over the course of the season, Fleury is a very early candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Being a fan favourite as well and known as an excellent teammate, it should come as no surprise that Bill Foley does not want Fleury going anywhere.
Analysis: Shinzawa points out in the article that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney doesn’t tend to extend his UFA’s. He has allowed Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Anton Khudobin, Marcus Johansson and others to walk in free agency since 2018. During the same stretch, Shinzawa points out only Chara and Jaroslav Halak were the only 35-or-older players to re-sign in Boston. That alone points to the Krejci walking away.
The other thing that is mentioned is the Bruins have Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka ready to take over as full-time centres now. With Krejci still playing well at this stage of his career, cap space alone may not allow the veteran centre to stick around. Because of his play, someone will be willing to pay him more than the Bruins. And because the Bruins have key free agents such as Brandon Carlo, Trent Frederic, Nick Ritchie as well as both goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to re-sign at the end of the season, the cap space just won’t be there for Krejci. Unless of course, Krejci was willing to accept a massive decrease from his $7.25 million per season he gets now.
It’s a situation that most likely won’t be looked at until the off-season. However, we could be looking at the end of an era for Krejci and the Bruins.