Welcome to Friday. Last Word on Hockey’s NHL Rumours series is continuing strong into the offseason. With such a quick turnaround before the expansion draft, as well as the buyout window opening today, there’s an incredible amount of rumblings surfacing about how teams’ rosters may alter this offseason. Today’s edition takes a dive into NHL rumours surrounding the Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, and Vegas Golden Knights.
Analysis: Montreal and general manager Marc Bergevin were already in a tough spot with the salary cap last season, doing a dance of emergency recalls and AHL/taxi squad assignments throughout the season to maximize what little cap space they had. That will only get worse in 2021-22. There’s a multitude of pending free agents demanding raises on their next deals.
Byron could be a casualty of this cap crunch. One of the more impactful waiver claims in recent memory, Byron’s done a solid job with the Habs after being picked up in 2015-16. He broke out the following season with a 22-goal, 43-point campaign, both career-highs. That season and his continuing success earned him a four-year, $13.6 million extension that kicked in for the 2019-20 season. However, age and injuries have caught up to Montreal’s alternate captain. Despite his age, he’s still an effective penalty killer. Unfortunately, his declining offensive ability makes him a natural odd man out of Montreal’s forward corps. Spreading out the impact of his $3.4 million cap hit over the next four seasons instead of the next two could prove beneficial. As Montreal tries to stay in contention, every dollar counts.
A potential buyout this offseason sees its greatest rewards delivered immediately. Byron’s cap hit is lowered to just $533,333 for 2021-22. It saves Montreal nearly $3 million in what is, in all probability, their most important offseason in recent history.
Hearing that teams are calling the Panthers on pending UFA G Chris Driedger, perhaps jump ahead of the UFA market by trading for his rights ahead of time. But there’s also the Seattle factor to consider. Do the Kraken want him as part of expansion? Intriguing situation.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 8, 2021
Analysis: Driedger has been one of the NHL’s more impressive goaltending stories in recent seasons. After just three games of NHL experience prior to the 2019-20 season, an incredible .932 save percentage with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons earned him a call-up into Florida’s tumultuous goaltending situation. Before his eventual injury, Driedger looked like he could be an unexpected answer in the Florida crease. Over the past two seasons in Sunrise, Driedger’s accumulated a 21-8-4 record paired with a .931 save percentage. While his sample size isn’t the largest, he’s now shown in back-to-back seasons that he’s at least an NHL-level option.
It’s only natural that teams are salivating to have the value-laden Driedger as a cost-effective option for their goalie tandem. There’s a natural fit for the Seattle Kraken here, as Florida doesn’t have much to lose in the expansion draft. Acquiring the rights to the UFA goalie could be Seattle’s best bet. In terms of more competitive teams looking to add a cost-effective goalie, both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs present themselves as strong favorites to land Driedger. What’s for sure is that teams across the league are realizing the value prospect with Driedger. Florida will be happy to let Spencer Knight get more playing time next year while also receiving some assets for Driedger, who’s served the team admirably.
Vegas Golden Knights
Analysis: We could very well be in for two straight offseasons where Vegas makes a seemingly impossible acquisition a reality.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon did this dance last year. Playing fast and loose with the salary cap allowed him to get one of free agency’s biggest prizes in defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. While it forced the team to move Nate Schmidt, his rough season with the Vancouver Canucks this year made the trade-off look worth it, at least in the short term. But while last year’s acquisition was about solidifying a strength, acquiring Eichel would be about rectifying a weakness.
Vegas has demonstrated the ability to generate enough shot quantity to get them into and far through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but never enough quality to get them over the top. Eichel boosts their forward group as one of the top talents available on both the free-agent and trade markets. He also serves what’s undoubtedly their weakest position: centre. His 30-goal, 80-point potential is salivating, especially with the potential of playing with truly elite wingers. Yet any possible trade would involve Vegas needing to clear massive amounts of salary, and likely from their biggest strength.
Both of their All-Star caliber goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, often a frequent topic of NHL rumours, would be unlikely to waive their trade protection for a move to Buffalo. But a deal could be in place with Vegas, as the Golden Knights are exempt from the expansion draft. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Seattle engineers a sign-and-trade with Driedger. They’d theoretically ship him to Vegas in exchange for the more expensive Lehner or Fleury. While it could be wishful thinking for Knights fans, it’s at least a road that’s being explored.
All salary figures via CapFriendly.
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