The 2023 NHL playoffs are down to the final four teams with the conference finals in full swing. While most of the focus is on postseason play, the rumor mill is gaining steam involving teams eliminated from the playoffs.
Clubs that failed to qualify for the playoffs and those eliminated from postseason competition can make trades with each other. They will most likely wait until the playoffs have ended in June when all 32 teams can make deals with each other.
Toward the end of June, they should have clarity on what the salary cap will be for 2023-24. Current projections have it rising by only $1 million to $83.5 million. However, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks reported the league and the NHL Players Association will meet this week to discuss increasing the cap beyond $1 million.
A bigger-than-expected increase in the cap could spark more activity in the offseason trade market, possibly during the NHL draft in Nashville, Tennessee on June 28-29. With the general managers of all 32 teams in one place, there’s a greater likelihood for major moves to take place.
Some of those trades could see teams lacking a first-round pick, such as the New Jersey Devils, attempt to move in the draft order. Others could see a possible blockbuster by clubs like the Toronto Maple Leafs that were eliminated early from the playoffs.
NHL fans could be uncertain which rumors are worth believing or rejecting. We’ll attempt to clear things up with our take on the latest notable speculation. Feel free to express your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
For the first time in a decade, the New Jersey Devils lack a first-round pick in the NHL draft. They traded their 2023 first-rounder to the San Jose Sharks as part of the return in the Feb. 26 move for winger Timo Meier.
In his end-of-season interview on May 17, Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald noted his club’s lack of a first-round pick in this year’s draft. “That doesn’t mean we won’t get one,” he said.
The Hockey News‘ Kristy Flannery observed that the Devils have a pick in every round of this year’s draft except the first and third. Taking note of Fitzgerald’s comments, she anticipates that he’ll conduct his due diligence and explore all his options, including perhaps trading up into Round 1.
Fitzgerald’s desire to acquire a first-rounder is understandable. Flannery observed that this year’s draft is expected to be deep in promising talent, drawing comparisons to the 2015 draft class that included Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Mitch Marner.
Fitzgerald has a history of offseason wheeling and dealing, acquiring Pavel Zacha and Vitek Vanecek last summer and Ryan Graves in 2021. We can’t rule out the possibility that he’ll find a way to move up into the first round, perhaps by bundling his second-round pick with a prospect or another pick.
The Boston Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy with a league record of 65 wins and 135 points. However, that regular-season success failed to translate into a Stanley Cup run as they were eliminated from the opening round in seven games by the Florida Panthers.
Faced with limited salary-cap space for 2023-24, the Bruins face some difficult decisions regarding their potential unrestricted free agents. Boston Hockey Now’s Joe Haggerty believes they should make signing Tyler Bertuzzi a priority.
Acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline, the 28-year-old’s physical style fits well with his new club. He finished the regular season with 16 points in 21 games with the Bruins and was their leading scorer in the postseason with five goals and 10 points in seven games.
Bertuzzi is completing a two-year contract with an average annual value of $4.8 million. This is his best opportunity to land a lucrative long-term contract. The Bruins, however, possess just $6.1 million in projected cap space for 2023-24 with 14 active roster players under contract.
Haggerty also noted that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said he currently can’t afford to re-sign pending UFAs such as Bertuzzi. It will take some considerable salary-cap juggling to pull it off. While both sides could prefer working something out, Bertuzzi will likely be too expensive for the Bruins to sign.
In our previous edition of buying or selling the latest NHL trade and free-agent rumors, we took note of ongoing speculation linking Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Montreal Canadiens. While that conjecture persists, there’s talk that other clubs could become landing spots for the 24-year-old Winnipeg Jets center.
In his May 11 mailbag, Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe acknowledged the rumors tying Dubois to the Canadiens. However, he suggested that an Eastern Conference club “in the vicinity of New York is the most likely outcome”. He also didn’t rule out Dubois landing with the Colorado Avalanche or Los Angeles Kings.
Dubois is a restricted free agent coming off a one-year, $6 million contract with arbitration rights. He’s also a year away from unrestricted free-agent status. He could prefer a one-year deal for next season after which he could seek a long-term contract as a UFA.
The Rangers need depth at right wing while the Islanders have talented centers in Bo Horvat, Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson. Meanwhile, the Kings must improve their goaltending and re-sign or replace pending UFA defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. The Avs, on the other hand, need a second-line center if J.T. Compher hits the open market on July 1.
Verdict: Sell on New York and Los Angeles, Buy on Colorado
It still seems like the Canadiens could be the front-runners for Dubois. If that doesn’t work out, however, the Avalanche could be a fit. They’ll get $7 million in projected cap relief with Gabriel Landeskog out for next season to add to their $13.3 million in cap space for next season. They could offer up defenseman Samuel Girard as part of the return.
A lack of reliable goaltending
contributed to the Buffalo Sabres missing the playoffs for the 12th
straight season. Their 3.62 goals-against per game was the league’s
seventh-highest. They have two promising netminders in Devon
Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen but need a reliable starter who can
buy those two youngsters more time to develop and improve.
On May 15, The Athletic’s Michael Russo
and Eric Duhatschek reported hearing speculation that the Sabres
could be interested in Connor Hellebuyck. The 29-year-old Winnipeg
Jets goalie won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 and is a finalist for the
award this season.
Hellebuyck carries an average annual
value of $6.2 million and is slated to become an unrestricted free
agent next July. The Jets could attempt to trade him this summer if
unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension rather than risk
him walking away as a free agent following next season.
Three days later, The Athletic’s
Matthew Fairburn indicated that he felt Hellebuyck would be
worthwhile for the Sabres to pursue if the goaltender becomes
available. Provided the Jets’ asking price isn’t too steep, Fairburn
believed that Hellebuyck would be the best option given the lack of
quality goalie depth in this summer’s trade and free-agent markets.
Hellebuck would be
a terrific addition to the Sabres provided he’s willing to sign a
contract extension with them. However, there’s no certainty he’ll do
that with the riches of free agency beckoning next summer. The Sabres
would risk the same problem the Jets currently face with him, only
they’ll have compounded the problem by giving up assets to get him for just one season.
It’s shaping up to be an interesting summer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A week following their May 12 second-round elimination by the Florida Panthers, general manager Kyle Dubas was relieved of his duties. That move fueled ongoing speculation over the fate of the Leafs’ “core four” of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
Tavares isn’t going anywhere. He has two seasons remaining on his contract with an average annual value of $11 million and a full no-movement clause. During his end-of-season press conference, he indicated his intent to complete his seven-year commitment with the Leafs.
Matthews, 25, is a year away from unrestricted free-agent eligibility. However, he told the Toronto media that he intends to re-sign with the Leafs, preferably before training camp opens in September. That leaves Marner and Nylander, who also want to stay in Toronto.
Nylander, 26, is also a year away from UFA status with a cap hit of $6.9 million. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek believes he would draw plenty of interest in the trade market. Marner has two years left on his deal. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun believes the extra year on his contract could make the 25-year-old winger easier to move despite his $10.9 million annual cap hit.
Verdict: Sell on Matthews, Buy on Marner and Nylander
Matthews’ status as a superstar center means the Leafs will do all they can to re-sign him. He also has a no-movement clause that kicks in on July1. That makes Marner and Nylander the more likely of the core four to be dealt. The Leafs could move one or the other but not both.
Marner also has an NMC going into effect on July 1 as does Nylander’s 10-team no-trade clause. If Dubas’ replacement intends to move one of them, it’ll have to be before the end of June. Either guy should fetch a return that addresses their need for a power forward or a top defenseman.
Stats via NHL.com with salary info and line combinations via Cap Friendly.