NHL Rumours: Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames

NHL Rumours

Hello and welcome to a regular Thursday edition of NHL rumours! We are getting closer to the offseason every day. That means plenty of chatter regarding contract extensions from around the league. Things will get busy, so check with Last Word on Hockey frequently for the latest news and analysis. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames.

All NHL rumours come from the original source and are subject to change.

NHL Rumours

Toronto Maple Leafs

Rumour: Pierre LeBrun recently dove into which defencemen will feature this offseason, including Morgan Rielly.

Analysis: Toronto should do everything in its power to retain Rielly. The  27-year-old skater finished fifth on the team in total points and was tops among defenders in power-play ice time. He was also second to only Zach Bogosian for possession numbers among defenders with at least 10 games. It is hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve a huge contract extension and raise that would boost his cap hit above its current figure of $5 million. Defenders with the ability to post .5 points per game or better aren’t easy to find consistently.

It isn’t as though the Leafs have an obvious replacement for him either. They have several intriguing prospects for their future blueline, but none are obvious replacements should a deal fail to materialize. It would be up to a committee including Jake Muzzin and prospect Timothy Liljegren to shoulder the burden if Rielly ends up somewhere else after 2021-22. The team’s core of forwards would still be intact, but the team’s overall ceiling would lower noticeably.

The good thing is that the front office has a year to get something done with the former fifth overall selection. They would probably rather get something sooner rather than later, but there are very few competing contract extensions heading into 2022-23. Being able to devote full attention to a player of Rielly’s calibre should make negotiations fairly smooth if the team doesn’t lowball its star defenceman as the offseason begins.

Edmonton Oilers

Rumour:  David Pagnotta recently revealed that contract talks between the team and Adam Larsson will resume soon.

Analysis: The 28-year-iold Larsson isn’t a central figure on the team’s offence, but they could definitely work to keep him in the organization. The team’s blueline depth isn’t strong enough to rule out bringing back Larsson if the price is right.

That is because the former fourth-overall pick from 2011 is a tremendous defensive asset. His 166 hits and 128 blocks led all Edmonton defenders in 2020-21. His possession numbers weren’t great by themselves, but 63.4 percent of zone starts on defence will impact almost any defencemen negatively. The Oilers can certainly use Larsson’s grit as it tries to build a consistent winner around its small core of offensive stars.

It also helps that Edmonton does not have too many key players to re-sign going into next season. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will command a huge raise, but the team has just $53.4 million committed to the NHL roster for next year overall. That should leave plenty for Larsson even if Nugent-Hopkins is the main priority. They can’t afford to drop him for nothing with very few prospects that can be classified as true defensive defencemen. Expect Larsson to be one of the organization’s most important extensions as its offseason continues.

Calgary Flames

Rumour: We recently had comments from Sportsnet’s Shane O’Brien regarding Matthew Tkachuk‘s desire to stay in Calgary.

Analysis: Fans should be terrified if Tkachuk wants to leave. First, he is the team’s best player overall and a developing leader. Second, the combination of cap hit and restricted free agent status makes him a risky trade acquisition. He doesn’t have much leverage, but he is good enough that he can cause problems if a team trades for him in the next year.

It isn’t hard to see why Tkachuk might want to leave. The team has regressed in many ways from its strong 107-point campaign  in 2018-19. Tkachuk has also seen his scoring drop from a high of 34 goals and 77 points to just 16 and 43 in 56. He is still an elite talent on both ends of the ice, but it is fair to ponder how much support Calgary can give him. Their moves over the past few years don’t scream contender outside of a big contract for Jacob Markstrom.

It also doesn’t help that Calgary has just roughly $16 million available for extensions and free agents at the moment. Losing a big contract like Mark Giordano‘s to expansion will help, but it is hard to see how much the Flames can really commit given the number of key restricted free agents that need new deals. It won’t be easy or popular, but trading Tkachuk now might be the best way to build a new offensive core as the current one ages. We can’t and shouldn’t make any predictions now. That doesn’t mean we should expect a bright future ahead for the organization either. The first half of 2021-22 will be vital in determining its long-term direction.

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