Welcome back to another edition of NHL Rumours from the crew at Last Word on Hockey. With the semifinals now underway, we’re inching closer to crowning a winner of Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, as the final four battle it out, rumours are swirling around the NHL. Today we look at rumours from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres.
All NHL rumours come from their original source and are subject to change.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Analysis: If Johnston is right, this would be a huge loss for the Maple Leafs. Zach Hyman is such an important part of the Leafs’ lineup. He’s really settled in next to Auston Matthews over the last few years, however, he is the type of player you can move up and down the lineup. He has a work ethic that coaches salivate over. Hyman brings a sandpaper element to his game but has also developed a scoring touch over the last few seasons. He has been a consistent 20 goal scorer for the Leafs, scoring 21 goals in back-to-back seasons before notching 15 in just 43 games in 2020-21. In an 82 game season, Hyman would have shattered both his career-best in goals and points this year, as he finished with just six fewer goals and eight fewer points.
Cap the issue for Toronto
Due to his increased scoring production, as well as his work ethic and gritty style of play, Hyman will most certainly get a nice raise. Unfortunately, it’s a raise that the Leafs won’t be able to afford. Toronto has around $12.5 million in cap space for next season. Meanwhile, Hyman is expected to ask for north of $5 million per season. That is over double what he was making last season. With the Leafs only having 14 players under contract and in need of a goaltender to form a tandem with Jack Campbell, they most likely won’t be able to re-sign Hyman. That is, of course, barring any trades that will relieve them of some cap.
Now, there is the upcoming expansion draft, which could shed some salary for the Leafs. However, it’s unknown who the Seattle Kraken will take from the Leafs. Best guess at this stage would be Travis Dermott, who will be a restricted free agent so that doesn’t help the cap situation for general manager Kyle Dubas at all. If anything, it’s just another player he needs to replace, whether that’s internally or on the open market. Regardless, it’s another strain on the cap for the Leafs.
On the other hand, there won’t be any shortage of suitors for Hyman. As previously stated, his style of play is something teams can’t get enough of. For the Leafs, it’s a huge loss, but they can’t afford to overpay for the 29-year-old forward. So despite it being an upsetting loss, it’s definitely best for the club to forego taking on another large cap hit when there are other needs that need to be addressed. If Dubas can convince Nick Foligno to sign for a cheaper cap hit than what Hyman is expecting, that will alleviate the pain of losing Hyman.
Analysis: As it stands, the Avalanche have about $18 million in cap space entering next season. Although considering that Gabriel Landeskog, Philipp Grubauer and Makar are all free agents, that cap space is essentially spoken for, and then some. Many would think that a Makar bridge deal would work best for the club. However, then Colorado is only risking the stud defenceman’s cost going up in a couple of seasons if he gets a couple of Norris Trophies under his belt and there’s also the potential for the cap going up in a few years too. Both scenarios are extremely plausible and thus a significant concern for the Avs’ front office.
Makar won the Calder Trophy last season and is a Norris Trophy nominee this season. He’s producing at almost a point-per-game pace over his short career. At just 22 years old, the sky is the limit for the youngster. With a player of that calibre, all signs point to him only getting better. Therefore, it’s in Joe Sakic‘s best interest to get the long-term deal done now, rather than later.
Rumour: Also from 31 Thoughts, Friedman states that if the Sabres move Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart, don’t be surprised if they end up with another high first-round selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Analysis: So indirectly, Friedman is saying Eichel or Reinhart could be dealt before the draft. This is as juicy as it gets in terms of a rumour. Jack Eichel has had his name in the rumour mill for quite some time. But the fact that Friedman is saying it could be done in the not-so-distant future has the hockey world buzzing. When we talk about high first-round selection, we think of the top 10. And who holds a top 10 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft? The Los Angeles Kings. LA was already rumoured to be in the market for two top-six forwards in the offseason. What’s more, they are a team that most certainly has the pieces to get an Eichel deal done; they hold the eighth overall selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and have assembled arguably the best prospect pool in the entire NHL.
As such, the Kings could package their first-round pick with one of their stud prospects, like Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev or Quinton Byfield and lure in one of the best centres in the league in Eichel. It just makes too much sense for them to not be in talks with one another. This is certainly a story that we’ll be keeping an eye on. One that will certainly be evolving, each and every day.