Another Thursday means another article’s worth of NHL Rumours curated by the Last Word on Hockey team. As the NHL season has been paused for more than six weeks now due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, teams are still looking forward to next season. Three teams that have their eye on the future right now are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils, and we’ll break down what rumours are coming from them.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Rumour: In a Maple-Leafs-themed Q&A session on The Athletic website, both Jonas Siegel and James Mirtle corroborate the idea that Travis Dermott may move over to play right-side defence next season.
Analysis: After the Leafs signed left-shot defenceman Mikko Lehtonen to a one-year contract earlier this week, many fans were left excited but confused. Lehtonen was one of the best European free agents available and was expected to play a big role with an NHL club. Many were left puzzled, as the left side was never Toronto’s problem on defence. Stacked with Dermott, Morgan Rielly, and Jake Muzzin, Lehtonen would be playing a limited role. Further analysis and investigation prove otherwise.
If Dermott does move over to the right side to accommodate for Lehtonen, it provides an immediate boost. Toronto’s current right side of a disappointing Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Justin Holl needed some love. Barrie won’t be back with the team next season, as he’s a pending free agent and Toronto can’t afford to retain him. Ceci’s poor play likely means he’s gone too. That leaves Holl, who’s a nice piece but can’t play big minutes. Dermott comes in as internal reinforcements.
It wouldn’t be Dermott’s first time playing righty, either. In the past, he’d stepped to a pairing with former Leaf defenceman Jake Gardiner where he’d play the right side. He’d also played the right side in the minor leagues while logging big minutes. It’s not a stark adjustment for Dermott, who’s looking to break out. It could be what he needs, and it could pay off in a big way for the Leafs.
Rumour: In a deep dive done by The Athletic’s Joe Yerdon, he notes that based on pending cap overage penalties, the Sabres may have to let go of centre Johan Larsson this offseason.
The Sabres May have as much as $30 million in cap space next year. That’s good… right?
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) April 28, 2020
Analysis: Sabres fans have never been one to root against Rasmus Dahlin, but now they might have to.
As mentioned in Yerdon’s article, if Dahlin finishes the season top-10 among defensemen in terms of assists, he receives a $2 million performance bonus. Great, right? Not so fast. The Sabres were already facing a cap overage penalty of $1.275 million next season. That bonus would add to the overage, giving the Sabres $3.275 million in dead cap space next year. That would certainly inhibit their ability to retain players, and Larsson is mentioned as the odd one out.
In 62 games with the Sabres this year, Larsson had 18 points. It’s not spectacular, but he also plays a strong defensive game and is invaluable on the penalty kill. It puts in a high free-agent demand situation, and someone will likely overpay for him. This will quickly outprice the Sabres, and they’ll lose one of their best, if not their best, defensive forward.
So, the Swedish-born forward likely finds a new home in free agency.
New Jersey Devils
Rumour: In a piece on NHL.com by staff writer Mike Morreale, young goalie MacKenzie Blackwood expresses his desire to stay in New Jersey for the long-term.
Analysis: This might be the best news Devils fans have heard in quite a while.
Blackwood has shown nothing but promise since cracking the NHL. Originally a second-round pick of the team in 2015, the 23-year-old goalie has turned into New Jersey’s starter awfully quick. Due to the failings of Cory Schneider, Blackwood’s been forced to step in and he’s passed with flying colours. On a bottom-five team this year, Blackwood’s actually led his team to more success than failure when he’s in the net. A 22-14-8 record should be a good sign, along with a .915 save percentage on a rather porous defensive team. He’s started 64 games so far in his young NHL career, enough to see that he could definitely be a starter for this team that gets them back into the playoff conversation.
Blackwood wants to see that dream come to fruition, as do the organization and fans. He’ll likely get nothing more than a bridge deal due to his inexperience, but a big payday should come sometime down the road.
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