Hello and welcome to a Sunday edition of NHL Rumours! Every day brings us closer to the start of the 2021-22 season. That means plenty of signings, trades, and general roster adjustments as we approach what is hopefully a return to a normal year of hockey. Today’s NHL Rumours feature the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, and San Jose Sharks.
New Jersey Devils
Rumour: Corey Masisak of The Athletic recently explored if the Devils have adequately addressed their final centre spot.
Analysis: The fourth centre is important, but it isn’t usually something that kills teams on a regular basis. New Jersey fans shouldn’t fret over any of the options they currently have given the talent at the top of their roster. They also have a strong farm system that should produce someone if not this year, then next.
Of the choices they do have, however, Jesper Boqvist does seem like the correct one even if his 2020-21 season wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Yes, his possession stats were pretty poor, but Boqvist was basically neutral in that regard during the 2019-20 season. He really shouldn’t get ignored because of 28 games in a pandemic-shortened year. At the very least, using the former 36th pick from 2017 as the 4C allows Pavel Zacha to play a position in which he is comfortable while Dawson Mercer can develop at a reasonable pace in the minors.
We also can’t rule out New Jersey using part of their remaining $12.1 million in cap space to sign someone. Several centres are still unsigned, including former Devil Travis Zajac. He might be happy to take a moderate pay cut to return as a veteran scoring presence on a team with very real postseason aspirations. The team also doesn’t have any serious re-signings going into 2022-23. A trade might be just what they need if training camp doesn’t produce an obvious winner.
Rumour: Elliotte Friedman indicated on a recent 31 Thoughts podcast that the Panthers may have interest in Zdeno Chara.
Analysis: Florida clearly feels as though it has a championship-calibre roster. That is the only reason a team should consider adding a defenceman in his mid-40s who posted just two goals and 10 points in 55 games. It almost isn’t worth adding Chara just for hits and blocks even if he costs the veteran-minimum salary.
The Panthers don’t have an obvious roster need for Chara in the event he is unwilling to act as a seventh defender. After all, the team’s depth chart looks very respectable on the blue line already. Kevin Connauton or Noah Juulsen should be able to step in as well should someone get hurt. Chara simply doesn’t do enough on the ice to justify being on this team if it has serious postseason aspirations. Putting him in more than 20-30 games with his declining stats would almost counteract some of their aggressive offseason moves.
However, teams do still value unplayable options with the sort of experience and presence that Chara brings. Fans also love gritty veterans skating into their 40s. It might work purely from an enjoyment and gate receipts perspective. Just don’t expect this signing to have a positive impact on the ice, should it happen.
San Jose Sharks
Rumour: Kevin Kurz of The Athletic recently explored some feelings surrounding Evander Kane’s presence on this roster.
Analysis: It will be truly incredible if Kane suits up for San Jose in 2021-22. It does seem as though his reputation has suffered too much damage from allegedly betting on his own games. Front offices do have to eventually break with toxic presences even if they did just lead the team in scoring.
It should be very easy to dump him if he is rostered and the team struggles. The Pacific Division shouldn’t be especially tough, but San Jose’s numerous horrible contracts make it impossible for them to improve significantly in any free agency period. An early hole will make cutting his contract so much more palatable to ownership.
However, it is not impossible for Kane to return. Players have recovered from numerous black marks to lead teams over the years, though none quite as universally loathed as possibly throwing games. His future will be much clearer if the investigation into his gambling produces no evidence of note. At that point, it will be up to some strong veteran personalities to put Kane in his place in the locker room.