Hello and welcome to a regular Sunday edition of NHL Rumours! Not much has changed around the league in the last few days. Teams are either grinding through the postseason or preparing for an interesting offseason. We are just weeks away from drafts and free agency, so check in with Last Word on Hockey often for the latest happenings. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rumour: Darren Dreger recently reported that Zurich head coach Rikard Gronberg has recently been interviewed as a head coaching option.
About to jump on with my pals @TheInstigators. We’ll chat about the Sabres coaching search. Rikard Gronborg, head coach of the Zurich Lions has been interviewed for the Buffalo job. Good coach.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 4, 2021
Analysis: This would be a very atypical hire for many teams, but it makes sense for Buffalo considering their recent hiring tendencies. They have chosen less experienced coaches over hiring a coaching retread from the established ranks. Going with a coach from Switzerland fits that mould exactly.
Gronberg hasn’t been the coach of the ZSC Lions for very long, but the team was excellent in his first season in 2019-20. They finished the regular season 31-13-6 before the pandemic ended the National League’s season. He was also the Swedish Men’s head coach in 2018 when they finished fifth at both the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang and 2019 World Championships in Slovakia. It looks like a fairly solid international resume on paper. Having a coach with international experience could help Buffalo’s own young players from overseas like Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Asplund.
However, it’s fair to question Gronberg’s interview in the first place. He might be an excellent coach, but the team needs far more than just a game tactician. It also needs a strong personality behind the bench to tell ownership to stay out of things. Buffalo’s roster is top-heavy and dysfunctional thanks to bad contracts and personnel decisions. A lot of that can be, in part, contributed to meddling owners. It’s unclear whether or not Gronberg has the personality to set clear parameters on what he needs to succeed; a failure to do so would only perpetuate the Sabres’ current streak of abysmal failure.
St. Louis Blues
Rumour: Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic recently had a mailbag where he speculated on the Blues’ need for more talent on the wing.
Analysis: The list of potential left-wing free agents is extremely talented this summer. The most talented players in the pool include Taylor Hall and Gabriel Landeskog, but also Sam Bennett, who surged following a midseason trade. Any of them could be a fantastic and vital addition for the Blues, who definitely need an infusion of talent on the top-six.
The main question will be how much can they afford to spend on the position. The 2021-22 NHL roster has roughly $63.5 million committed so far. That leaves just $17-18 million to spend without considering restricted free agents like Jordan Kyrou. Many of St. Louis’ pending re-signees probably won’t cost too much, but every dollar they spend internally limits what they can do on the open market. It could force them to look for an option in the lower tier of dedicated left-wingers.
With that in mind, consider Bennett a perfectly fine option. The former fourth overall selection looked bad in recent years with the Calgary Flames but blew up after joining the Florida Panthers. The 6’1″ forward posted six goals and 15 points in 10 games. That is easily the highest scoring rate of his career. A 25-year-old former top-five pick is far from the worst option the Blues could pursue.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Analysis: It makes perfect sense for Toronto to target Seth Jones in a general sense. The current Columbus Blue Jackets defender is a very good right-handed defenceman. That is the sort of profile that would fit perfectly into the Leafs’ current blueline situation next to Morgan Rielly or Jake Muzzin. Jones’ cap hit of $5.4 million through next year is large, but it’s not an impossible addition to Toronto’s salary commitments.
The problem is that signing Jones beyond 2021-22 does seem impossible. That isn’t because Jones wouldn’t want to stay with a team with championship aspirations. It’s because he would probably cost far too much for the team to retain. He would hit free agency at the same time as both Rielly and goaltender Jack Campbell. Both are key pieces right now. Keeping Jones would almost guarantee one of the core forwards is a trade option. That would negate a decent amount of what Jones adds.
That said, Toronto is one of the few teams with both the prospect depth to acquire Jones and the talent to make a championship a reality with him. Yes, they did just suffer yet another disappointing postseason exit. That still doesn’t make them any worse than one of the eight or 10 best teams in the entire league. Adding Jones would be a clear sign that the team’s front office wants to make one more serious run at the Cup until they are forced to make hard roster decisions.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned for more NHL rumours in the coming days!