Hello and welcome to a regular Sunday edition of NHL Rumours! The season marches on as teams grapple with injuries and the pandemic. It’s hard to believe that the 2020-21 campaign is almost half over for some squads, but that is the reality at this point. Last Word on Hockey will bring you the best news and analysis each day as the season progresses. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, and Jim Rutherford.
Rumour: A recent mailbag from The Athletic’s Murat Ates details some of the options available should Winnipeg pursue a defender.
Analysis: There should be a handful of quality defencemen available if the Jets want to metaphorically push their chips in. Someone like Mattias Ekholm or Rasmus Ristolainen could fit nicely on a blueline that is performing much better than expected.
However, there are always complicating factors, even in supposedly ideal fits. Ekholm is a left-handed defender and the Jets are very heavy on that side. The Buffalo Sabres will want top-six forward help and that is in short supply for Winnipeg considering they traded two such players earlier this year. They don’t have a wealth of prospects to trade in exchange for someone with Ristolainen’s skill set.
That could push the team to pursue someone like Sami Vatanen of the New Jersey Devils. The 29-year-old is a chronic injury risk, but is a right-handed shot with offensive punch and a very reasonable cap hit. He also reaches free agency after this year, so there isn’t a long-term commitment. Vatanen could slide in next to Josh Morrissey where he would receive solid minutes in the offensive zone. Winnipeg certainly has the assets to make a low-risk acquisition of this sort happen.
Analysis: The players in question in a potential Vancouver-Anaheim are Jake Virtanen and Danton Heinen, respectively. The problem confronting the two teams is that the salaries do not line up to the team’s liking. Virtanen’s actual salary jumps from $1.7 million this year to $3.4 million in 2021-22. The two players have roughly similar cap hits, but the physical money itself is causing problems.
It’s odd that Anaheim would want Virtanen at all. The current Canucks wing is looking like an absolute bust this season. He has only one goal and a paltry 45.9 Corsi For in 19 games. Heinen looks like a fine third-line option with three goals, six points, 12 hits and 14 blocks in 17 games for the Ducks. Yes, Anaheim would remove one contract negotiation by moving Heinen so they can focus on several others, but there isn’t an obvious performance reason to do this deal.
This is a deal that benefits Vancouver much more than Anaheim. The Canucks have stumbled badly in the first half of 2020-21 with an expensive and mismatched roster. They would prefer to have Heinen’s grit than whatever Virtanen seems to bring to the table at this point. It’s looking like this trade conversation will persist until the April trade deadline.
Analysis: It’s safe to say that Rutherford’s resignation early in 2021 was the most shocking thing in hockey since the pandemic began. It forced Pittsburgh to scramble for a new general manager and created numerous rumours that the team could move on from Sidney Crosby. It now seems as though the 72-year-old is recharged and ready to go.
There may be at least one opening in the near future if Rutherford puts his name on the market. The Nashville Predators stand out as they lag behind in the East Division. They have a very top-heavy and expensive roster that also isn’t very good. It certainly looks like one group primed for a rebuild if ownership relieves current manager David Poile.
Rutherford would have a huge challenge on his hands if he wanted to be a Predator for a few years. It won’t be easy to rebuild a group with huge contracts for multiple players including Matt Duchene and Ryan Ellis. But it also isn’t the worst possible rebuild in hockey as none of the players are particularly old; there are only two players over the age of 30 and both will be free agents after this season. Nashville also has all of its own draft picks in the high rounds, so someone with Rutherford’s experience might love the prospect of building a winner in one of hockey’s non-traditional markets.
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