The St. Louis Blues have hoisted the Stanley Cup, after an emphatic Game 7 win. This is not only a historic moment for the city of St. Louis, it means the off-season is officially upon us. As a result, it’s prime-time for NHL rumours. They’ve come out in droves and Last Word will be eagerly covering them all leading up to the highly anticipated July 1 date. Today, we look at NHL rumours surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Rumour: On TSN 1050, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun sparked the recent NHL rumours and reported that the Leafs aren’t parting ways with defenseman Jake Gardiner just yet. While the team would be open to bringing Gardiner back, it is all reliant on what star restricted free agent Mitch Marner decides to do this summer.
Pierre LeBrun on TSN 1050:
The Leafs are keeping the door open on re-signing Jake Gardiner, but they can't really go that route until they figure out Mitch Marner's deal.
Gardiner was able to avoid surgery since the Leafs were eliminated and is feeling better.
— The Leafs IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) June 12, 2019
Analysis: While many Leafs fans have been quick to expel Gardiner, keeping him around would be great for the Leafs. It’s no secret that Toronto has had their fair share of issues on the back-end. The fact-of-the-matter is, Gardiner is a very good defenseman. He netted 43, 52, and 30 points in the past three seasons respectively and has proven to be a dynamic offensive threat. He makes a noticeable impact on every aspect of the game. For a team that has struggled so much with their defence, losing a key piece like Gardiner is detrimental.
As a result, it comes as no shock that the Leafs are keeping the door to re-signing Gardiner open. Of course, there’s no way to perfectly predict the Leafs summer. Everything hinges on Marner’s deal. What the Leafs can do with the contracts of Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev, two players we have seen in recent rumours, could also have a big effect on Toronto’s cap situation.
Rumour: Pierre McGuire is one of many to report that, if he doesn’t re-sign with Toronto, the market for Gardiner will be fairly large. Among the teams interested, McGuire reports the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild will be among the most active. The Athletic’s Michael Russo, who covers the Wild, backs this theory but says that Chicago is a sure candidate, implying that Minnesota will likely refrain from talks with Gardiner.
McGuire says he would be shocked if Jake Gardiner doesn't sign with either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Minnesota Wild.
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) June 11, 2019
Analysis: For just about any team, pursuing Gardiner is a great idea. As aforementioned, he’s a true difference maker on the ice and would bolster any roster. However, the Hawks don’t fall into this group. While yes, adding a player like Gardiner would be great, it would also severely clog Chicago’s defence.
Chicago boasts two great left-handed defensemen in Erik Gustafsson and Duncan Keith. The two scored a combined 100 points last season, with Gustafsson tallying 60 on his own. They have undeniably notched the top two left-defence positions, leaving the third for up-and-coming players like Gustav Forsling.
Adding Gardiner to this mix would throw a wrench in the Hawks system. To effectively use top-four calibre players like Gustafsson, Keith, and Gardiner, one will need to move to the right side. This isn’t much of an option either, though as the Hawks are again clogged up with players like Brent Seabrook and Henri Jokiharju to fill those roles.
So, in short, the Hawks don’t have the open spots on their roster to warrant bringing in Gardiner. Yet, many sources remain persistent that Chicago will pursue Gardiner. With the clogged up system, this news could be the start of many more rumours to come out of Chicago.
Rumour: Phil Kessel is now expected to stay with the Penguins next year, per TSN’s crew. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that, if Kessel doesn’t leave, someone will. Speculation has started to swirl now, with some reporting that Kris Letang may be on the hot seat.
Analysis: Finding out who is likely to be on the move is complete speculation. Dreger said, “I would say this, with the exception of Sidney Crosby, [Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford] is willing to listen on just about everyone.”
There is one easy assumption, though. The rumours surrounding Kessel, and now the continuing trade rumours, show that Pittsburgh is looking to shake up a roster that’s been fairly unchanged for the past few years. Rutherford won’t look to trade minor players like Zach Aston-Reese or Olli Maatta. Instead, fans can expect a big-name player like Letang, Evgeni Malkin, or even Kessel to be on the move.
It can be assumed that, with this major deal, the Penguins will look to retool their defence. They’ll want to quickly retool their lineup, instead of divulging into a complete rebuild. This style of recreating a lineup would be very reminiscent of what Don Sweeney has done with the Boston Bruins and could prove very effective, especially if the Penguins can receive an attractive return for the star they choose to deal.
New York Rangers
Rumour: TSN’s team has also reported that the New York Rangers could be looking to buy-out one of their players’ contracts this summer. Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said, “It’s on the table.. regardless of what we do with this buyout window, we’d certainly look at the second one, too, depending on what comes up over the next few weeks. A lot can happen.”
Analysis: This rumour is again followed by a healthy amount of speculation. The Rangers are currently in the midst of a rebuild and are hampered by a handful of poor contracts. The Post’s Larry Brooks has named Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk as two likely options for a buy-out this summer.
Both defensemen have been disappointing, to say the least. The Rangers have been tied to many free agents, including Erik Karlsson, and removing Smith or Shattenkirk from the roster could both free up a spot for said free agent, as well as obviously opening room in the cap. The Rangers want to be very active this summer but will need the added cap space that a buy-out would give them to accomplish this goal and re-sign all of their restricted free agents.