The NHL season is midway through and things are heating up. This has sparked plenty of NHL rumours, adding to the excitement of the mid-season. As long as NHL rumours remain around, Last Word on Hockey will look to keep fans up to date. Today, we’ll cover rumours surrounding the Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Nashville Predators.
Rumour: Trading away Michael Frolik opened up roughly $4 million in cap space for the Flames. In his latest piece, Eric Francis looks at how the team could use this added space.
Analysis: The Flames are at the centre of NHL rumours currently. They traded away Frolik to the Buffalo Sabres in a clear cap dump. Following the trade, Flames general manager Brad Treiviling said, “We didn’t trade to keep [the $4 million in cap space] in our pocket… Our intention is to go out and make the team better. This is a big part of it.”
With clear intentions to make a notable acquisition, Francis listed out four possible names that the Flames could pursue. Chris Kreider and Tyler Toffoli were obvious additions. Both players are being heavily shopped around by their respective teams and will almost certainly be on a new team by the time March comes. The same can be said for Zack Kassian, who is rumoured to be on the trade block after a very strong 2019-20 season so far.
Yet, none of the three seem to really fit in with Calgary’s youthful, speedy style of play. Who does fit in perfectly is Francis’ final mention: Mike Hoffman. Hoffman has similarly been rumoured to be available, for a hefty price. With the new opening in cap space, though, there is seemingly no reason for Calgary to not pursue him. He boasts a tremendous offensive skillset, with admirable speed and awareness. Where Hoffman makes his money, though, is with his goal-scoring ability. He had 36 goals last season, en route to a 70 point year in 82 games. This was a dazzling stat that went fairly unnoticed, as Florida’s lack of popularity has often kept stars like Hoffman, Aleksander Barkov, and Vincent Trocheck from the spotlight.
Nevertheless, Hoffman would be a tremendous addition to the Flames top-six. He’d add a scoring punch to a lineup of playmakers. So far this year, Hoffman has 13 goals in 40 games. Only three Flames players (Elias Lindholm, 16; Matthew Tkachuk, 15; Sean Monahan, 14) have netted more, although they have all played in more games than Hoffman has so far.
Ain’t no way to replace Jake Guentzel. But with some creativity, Jim Rutherford could somewhat offset the absence. What’s he thinking? And what are those moves? Read here to learn more.#Pens @TheAthleticPGH https://t.co/scG2W2PTKD
— Rob Rossi (@Real_RobRossi) January 1, 2020
Analysis: Sidney Crosby fell to injury in early November and isn’t expected to return until late January at least. The Penguins have turned towards Guentzel to step up as the team’s true star, in Crosby’s absence, and he hasn’t disappointed. Through 39 games, Guentzel has a team-leading 43 points. He’s filled Crosby’s shoes as well as anyone can, becoming the catalyst of much of Pittsburgh’s offence this season. With the support of an ever-emerging Bryan Rust and always-strong Evgeni Malkin, Guentzel has managed to propel the Penguins offence to 10th in the league in goals-for.
Guentzel succumbing to a long-term injury is terrible news for the Penguins. He becomes the fifth name on the list of current injuries, with all five players missing multiple weeks at least. Replacing him will be nearly impossible, yet if Pittsburgh can’t find a way to keep their potent offence alive they are sure to fall in the standings.
Rossi seemed to think that the only option for Pittsburgh was to trade for a forward. He mentions Kreider as the most prominent option for the team. This may have some sentiment. While not ideal, Kreider is the best reach in a trade market that’s relatively barren this season. He has two 50-point seasons and four 20-goal seasons under his belt through his eight-year career. While his talent won’t be enough to make up for the absence of Guentzel and Crosby, he would add an admirable boost to the team’s second line and could certainly give Malkin and Rust the boost they need to excel. When Crosby returns, Kreider could make for a terrific asset, offering great goal-scoring ability to Crosby’s wing.
Rossi notes that the Penguins have plenty of options to acquire a forward like Kreider as well. The most ideal option would be to deal away their first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, something that the team has certainly thought about. However, dealing away a goalie could be much more likely. Matt Murray‘s value has remained sky-high thanks to his two Stanley Cup rings in only five seasons. As Rossi notes, it may be time for the Penguins to sell-high on the struggling 25-year-old.
Doing so would open the door for Tristan Jarry to shine even more. Jarry leads the league with the lowest goals-against-average (1.94) and highest save percentage (.936) this season. Removing Murray’s dead weight from Jarry, and acquiring a top-six forward in the process, seems to be a win-win for a Pittsburgh team that hasn’t had much luck as of late.
Rumour: In a recent appearance on Midday 180, Predators general manager David Poile noted that he has no intention of firing head coach Peter Laviolette.
— Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) January 2, 2020
Analysis: The Predators have notably struggled this year. They came into the year with high hopes, despite dealing away star defenceman P.K. Subban this summer. Nonetheless, the depth of their lineup was admired. Their defence looked remarkably strong and their offence had proven its potency last year.
Now, just past the halfway mark of the season, Nashville is in disarray. They currently sit at sixth in the Central Division, behind the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. Playoffs seem to be a large-ask at this point, with Nashville six points out of a Wild Card. This all comes with an overall record of 18-15-6.
While this is a winning record, it goes a long way in explaining the Predators to this point in the year. They’ve simply been mediocre. In their last 10 games, they’ve set a record of 4-5-1. This is not a terrible tally but their play has certainly not been up to par. This was put on full display in the 2020 Winter Classic. After taking an early 2-0 lead over the Dallas Stars, Nashville crumbled. Dallas would end up winning 4-2, scoring all four goals in the span of only seven minutes. This was an emphatic comeback and, despite their strong start, would end up highlighting every issue present in Nashville.
This recent front-stage embarrassment has brought on a lot of criticism but it seems Poile is making the right decision and sticking with head coach Laviolette through the rough patch. Laviolette has served as a head coach in the NHL since 2001. In that span, he has won one Stanley Cup, with the Carolina Hurricanes, and made two other appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s a tried-and-true coach with the track record to back his worth. His performance isn’t to blame for Nashville’s crippling mediocrity this year. That blame falls on the shoulders of the players. Luckily for Laviolette, Poile sees this.