NHL Rumours: Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes

NHL Rumours

Hello and welcome to a Thursday edition of NHL rumours! The second round of the postseason has begun, but eliminated teams are just as busy. They are preparing for what should be a hectic offseason of drafts and free agency. Be sure to check with the Last Word on Hockey frequently for the latest happenings around hockey. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, and Arizona Coyotes.

NHL Rumours

Toronto Maple Leafs

Rumour: Brendan Shanahan recently provided comments to Sportsnet regarding the future of Toronto’s core.

Analysis: There is absolutely no reason to break up the core that Toronto has built. The quartet of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander is as good as any in the entire league. Throw in Morgan Rielly and you have a top unit capable of standing against almost anyone. Yes, the group did struggle and fail against the Montreal Canadiens, but that’s a small sample issue. It’s more a case of repeating bad luck than anything.

Many people have used this most recent early exit to rail against Toronto’s use of analytics as it relates to the core. The problem is neither the team’s central figures nor its use of data. The problem is that the roster was a top-heavy mess that relied on ageing or ineffective players to defy recent trends. No good analytics department would have demanded the team trade for Riley Nash or Wayne Simmonds and use them as much as Toronto did.

Shanahan is absolutely right to want the core kept together with a rebuilt supporting cast for 2021-22. The Leafs have a solid farm system with several solid middle-six players on their way. That should not turn into leverage for gritty players who also failed to help the team win this year. The Leaf’s use of analytics is under fire right now, but multiple data-driven teams are still in the postseason. The issue isn’t with using data. It’s how to deploy it effectively and that might be the next stage in the franchise’s evolution.

Minnesota Wild

Rumour: Michael Russo of The Athletic recently broke down a possible maximum deal for star youngster Kirill Kaprizov.

Analysis: Minnesota should absolutely try to retain Kaprizov for as long as possible, but they can’t alienate him in negotiations. The young Russian is the Calder Trophy favourite and can basically dictate how long he wants to be a Wild. Nobody is saying he will try to hamstring the team’s spending elsewhere, but he doesn’t have to do them any special favours either.

The team also probably can’t re-sign Kaprizov for its preferred deal without losing another key player somewhere along the way. They already have roughly $63 million committed to the NHL roster and that is without new deals for multiple key figures. A Kaprizov contract with a cap hit of $8 million or more would leave less than $12 million to spend on the open market while also trying to retain Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek.

It’s perfectly reasonable to want a shorter deal with a higher average value if you are Kaprizov. He just had a fantastic season, but he is already 24 years old. A maximum deal would push him into his early 30s and into a demographic that doesn’t typically get big contracts anymore. The squeeze on veterans is only going to increase as the league gets younger and more efficient. A deal of four or five years gets Kaprizov close to his age 30. The season when there should still be plenty left for another big payday.

Arizona Coyotes

Rumour: Craig Morgan recently dove into some numbers regarding Conor Garland‘s next contract.

Analysis: Garland won’t suddenly leap to the top of Arizona’s salary commitments, but his cap hit will jump significantly from its current point near the league minimum salary. The former fifth-round pick just completed his second consecutive season with 39 points and did it in far fewer games. The Coyotes will need him around as part of its next competitive core.

With that in mind, it is very good that Arizona has so few big contracts on its plate for 2021-22. The highest is Oliver Ekman-Larsson and even that is only $8.25 million per year through 2026-27. The league’s salary cap will rise at some point between now and then. A rise will only make contracts like that more manageable. Garland is easily the big priority this offseason and even he shouldn’t cost more than $5-6 million annually moving forward.

A deal of that size would still leave the team with plenty of money to rebuild a blueline that is about to see five players hit free agency. One or two might return, but the time feels right for the team to move on from some veterans. Dropping either Alex Goligoski or Niklas Hjalmarsson for Kyle Capobianco gives the team far more youth and financial flexibility. Similar things can be said about letting Jason Demers walk in exchange for promoting Victor Soderstrom if he’s ready. Expect Garland to get a big raise, but not to the point where the team can’t make other big moves this offseason.

Stay tuned for another edition of NHL Rumours this week.

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