Welcome to Monday’s edition of NHL Rumours. We are roughly one-quarter through the NHL season and news continues to swirl around clubs. Last Word on Hockey will bring you the best rumours and analysis each day. Today we see what is going on with the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks.
Rumour: Sportsnet’s headlines briefly touches on the Calgary Flames and a growing sense of impatience that could indicate moves coming.
Analysis: It’s not a secret the Flames are struggling. They were just 10-9-3 after a shutout loss against the Arizona Coyotes going into Sunday evening. That loss dropped them just one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and two over the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. Some of their numbers indicate bad luck but others show that they just aren’t as good as they were last year. Stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are on slower paces compared to 2018-19 and there isn’t anyone standing out in their place.
Assuming the team’s luck doesn’t turn around, what could the front office do? The team doesn’t have much of a farm system to reinforce the NHL roster and Calgary doesn’t have many valuable trade assets. A bold move would be to trade Elias Lindholm for future assets but more likely is shipping Michael Frolik or Travis Hamonic. That would give some of Calgary’s younger players slightly more opportunity than they have right now. The team is in such a tenuous position it is hard to predict just how radical their moves might be.
Rumour: The Athletic Montreal’s Arpon Basu dives into a potential pending decision at the centre position.
Analysis: Indeed, the centre position is typically one that requires a bit of experience but the NHL is changing rapidly. The game is moving faster than ever and players are debuting at younger ages. Montreal has the luxury of having several high-quality options at the spot for the foreseeable future. Phillip Danault is the top centre right now but Nick Suzuki is making a strong claim to be that guy eventually. The Canadiens are so deep they have almost a half-dozen players that could skate up the middle next year.
The good thing with Montreal’s depth is that no big decisions are looming beyond pending free agency for Max Domi. Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins are also due to hit the open market but are bottom-six players. It isn’t until the 2021-22 offseason that the salary situation gets tricky.
If the team lets Thompson go and retains Cousins, that means there are three centre spots open outside of Danault. Suzuki would possibly go the first or second permanently. Placement on either line would move Domi to a wing and likely shift Joel Armia down to the third. That would likely bump Jordan Weal to the fourth and someone else to healthy scratch territory. Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Ryan Poehling would then take the third and fourth centre spots. This is a complicated picture so the Canadiens could trade someone eventually to avoid too big of a logjam.
Rumours: The third of our NHL rumours also comes from The Athletic. Rick Dhaliwal of The Athletic Vancouver examines several topics but most interesting are his views on Canuck superstar Elias Pettersson.
Analysis: It is hard to believe Pettersson is still producing on his rookie deal that runs through the end of 2020-21. He has certainly positioned himself for a massive payday in line with ones given out to Mitch Marner and Mikko Rantanen. His career point-per-game is a stellar .99 which is higher than both of the other forwards rewarded big contracts this past summer. He is certainly worth every penny to the Canucks.
The key to a new Pettersson deal, like most other new contracts, is finding the money. Vancouver has almost no cap room right now and a handful of players will need new contracts this coming summer. Jake Virtanen and Jacob Markstrom are just two pending free agents that figure into Vancouver’s current plans. Tanner Pearson and Quinn Hughes will need new contracts themselves the same year as Pettersson.
All that adds up to an interesting situation if Pettersson is indeed going to receive a Connor McDavid-type deal. It might result in a trade for cap space or someone being let go entirely. Troy Stecher has been discussed a salary casualty several times. Additionally, Alexander Edler will be almost 36 when he hits free agency.
Those are just two players Vancouver could replace with cheaper assets. That would free $8 million across two offseasons. Part of that will certainly go to Pettersson but some will go to one of Vancouver’s other key assets. Big contracts such as this always produce concern in front offices. A hard salary cap means teams must balance satisfying their top players while also having enough to support them.