NHL trade, free agency buzz: What we’re hearing ahead of the draft

NHL News

MONTREAL — The NHL’s general managers met on the eve of the 2022 NHL draft. What their meeting lacked in rules changes or policy news, it made up for with post-meeting news and buzz on trades, free agents and other league matters.

Here’s a glimpse at what was said, and heard, in Montreal on Wednesday, including the latest buzz on pick trades, progress on deals for Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, and what comes next for Evander Kane:

Prepare for players — and picks — in motion

The lead up to any draft includes some degree of trade talks.

This year, general managers sound braced for even more potential movement than usual. And that could start early in Thursday’s first round.

“I do think there’ll be quite a few trades this week,” Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher said. “And [then] what that means with draft slots. We’re open to moving [pick] No. 5 and yet No. 5 hasn’t been moved once in 20 years. Teams typically don’t move back or move out of a high pick. It happens infrequently, but I think everyone’s exploring, and maybe by virtue of the fact that it is a flatter draft, the other teams are more willing to consider moving back.”

There were only three picks swapped in the opening round of last year’s draft, but that was preceded by one blockbuster trade (Seth Jones going from Columbus to Chicago for Adam Boqvist — who’s three-year, $7.8 million extension with the Blue Jackets was announced on Wednesday — and three picks) plus a couple other significant moves as well.

How might this year be different? For starters, it’s the first draft since 2019 where general managers are congregating in the same building, with the opportunity to once again conduct business in person.

“The unpredictability of all of this certainly does get enhanced when we’re in close quarters like that,” Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “I think there could be a chance that those things happen.”

The NHL also remains, for the most part, a flat salary cap world. There will be a $1 million bump for next season — up to $82.5 million — but that’s hardly much reprieve for those teams already up against the ceiling. Cutting deals is a good way to create breathing room, and those clubs that require it are going into Thursday with strategy in hand, and some prior knowledge of what the competition is thinking, too.

“In your mind you want to imagine that everyone’s gonna get together in there and you’re gonna sit until you strike [something],” Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. “But I think there’s a lot of communication that goes on well before. Everyone, by this time, knows what all the other teams are trying to achieve. Now is more about executing it and plans being put into place and there being some activity. With the large majority of teams very close to the cap, there’s always jockeying and different things that are happening and cap space is very scarce throughout the league.”

Will it stretch all the way to Montreal and the No. 1 pick in the draft? The Canadiens have first crack at this season’s pool of prospects and GM Kent Hughes said on Wednesday if the draft were on that night, he’d be using his first overall selection on a player. Could that change by Thursday?

We’ll be watching to find out.

“I think there’s always a lot of [trade talk] leading into a draft,” Hughes said. “Some years, it translates into a lot of movement and other years it doesn’t. But I would imagine by the end of tomorrow night the draft order will be different than what it is today.”

Penguins close with Kris Letang, not Evgeni Malkin

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said he expects to get something done “real soon” with defenseman Letang, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.

“We have a few details we’re still working through,” Hextall said, adding that he would be surprised if Letang didn’t return to the Penguins on a new deal. There have been rumblings that Letang, 35, would sign a three-year extension, but late word is that it could go longer. He’s spent all 16 seasons of his NHL career with the Penguins.

Hextall was less optimistic about talks with pending free-agent center Evgeni Malkin. The general manager said he couldn’t say if the Penguins would get Malkin signed before the start of free agency on July 13.

“They’re at a different stage right now. We’re just going to continue to work with his representatives and hopefully get Geno under contract,” Hextall said of Malkin, who has also played 16 seasons with Pittsburgh.

Malkin made $9.5 million in salary last season. Letang made $7.25 million.

Canucks won’t ink J.T. Miller before draft

Vancouver Canucks GM Patrik Allvin had to laugh when asked if he could get a contract extension done with the star forward before the NHL draft.

“I guess it’s about 24 hours? So I’m not super optimistic,” he said.

The 29-year-old forward sits one year away from unrestricted free agency. That status has led to widespread speculation that Miller could be moved this offseason, potentially this week.

Allvin said the team hadn’t indicated that the draft was a deadline to get a new contract done. “We haven’t said anything like that. We’re open,” the general manager said, adding that he had “good talks” with Miller’s agents.

“I guess anything can happen. We’ll wait and see here,” he said.

Oilers GM: Nothing imminent with Evander Kane

After getting his contract terminated with the San Jose Sharks for violation of the team’s COVID-19 policy, Evander Kane found a home with the Edmonton Oilers. Specifically, he found a home next to Connor McDavid, scoring 22 goals in 43 regular-season games and then 13 more in 15 playoff games.

At a time when Kane’s stock was lowest, GM Ken Holland threw Kane a lifeline with a $2,108,696 contract for the rest of the 2021-22 season. But securing his services beyond that will be difficult.

“We’re a week away. And at this stage of the game, anything is a possibility,” Holland said. “I’m not here telling you I’m close to any kind of a deal. You can wake up tomorrow and things [have] changed. But is there a possibility that he’s on the market July 13? Absolutely.”

The Oilers GM said he had “lots of talks” with Kane’s agent Dan Milstein. Multiple reports have indicated Kane is seeking a long-term contract that could rival the $7 million average annual value of his deal with San Jose.

Holland’s wager: That with the salary cap rising by only $1 million and other competitive teams facing cap crunches with their own players, the market for Kane might not be as robust as his camp hopes.

“Obviously we’re tight on the cap,” the GM said. “Many, many teams are tight on the cap. So I think we all have to get to a certain place, maybe the 13th of July, and figure out what’s going on.”

Then there’s the San Jose question. Kane and the NHLPA filed a grievance against the Sharks after the termination of Kane’s deal for “a breach of his NHL Standard Player Contract and for violation of the AHL COVID-19 protocols.” There is still no date set for a second hearing between Kane and the Sharks, and it’s not expected before free agency starts.

Holland said that complicates things as far as Kane and free agency.

“It is what it is. It’s unique. I don’t really know,” Holland said. “We’re really sort of winging it.”

The New Jersey Devils have made a significant offer in term and dollars to restricted free-agent winger Bratt. Sources tell ESPN that the club is waiting for a counteroffer from Bratt’s camp to get negotiations rolling.

“Bratt’s a tremendous player that we want to hold onto,” GM Tom Fitzgerald said. “We’ve made Jesper an offer that shows the commitment that the [owners] have in him. You don’t make the offers that we’ve made with the intentions of not having the player.”

There is speculation that Bratt’s representatives could be in search of an offer sheet for the restricted free agent, rather than negotiating terms with the Devils. New Jersey has ample cap space to match any offer sheet.

One thing is clear: The Devils aren’t seeking to move Bratt at this time despite the difficulties in the talks.

“I have never had Jesper Bratt on the trading block,” Fitzgerald said.

Toronto lacking in cap space — and a No. 1 goalie

Toronto doesn’t have a clear-cut starting goaltender signed for next season. And they have limited room available in order to get that done.

CapFriendly projects the Leafs with about $6.4 million in space for 2022-23. A large portion of that will need to be invested in a goaltender. It just may not be with the team’s incumbent starter — and pending unrestricted free agent — Jack Campbell.

Despite ongoing discussions between the sides, Toronto has failed to settle on an extension with Campbell. The 30-year-old is coming off the first season of his career as a full-time starter, posting a 31-9-6 record, with a .914 save percentage and 2.64 goals-against average.

After years of being a perennial backup, Campbell has played his way into a No. 1 job — and salary. The Leafs are aware that comes at a steep cost.

“Obviously it’s getting close to decision time for everybody,” Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. “And especially for Jack, because it’s a life-altering event. It’s no secret goaltending is a priority for us. And so we’ll continue to speak with them here this week, through the weekend and be well prepared going into next week for where we want to go.”

The Leafs have Petr Mrazek under contract for the next two seasons after Dubas inked the veteran last summer to a three-year, $11.4 million pact. Mrazek was injured for much of last season and was streaky when he did appear, going 12-6-0 with an .888 SV% and 3.34 GAA.

Mrazek missed the end of the Leafs regular season and first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay with a groin injury. Dubas has remained impressed by Mrazek’s resiliency and doesn’t doubt he can rebound.

“Many times during the year, [Mrazek] steps out in front of everyone [in the media] and accepts when he hasn’t played to the level that he feels he’s capable of,” Dubas said. “If I’m forecasting and betting on him, do I bet that he was the goalie he was last year in the 20 games? Or do I bet he was the goalie he was for the 270 [games] before, which was a .910 save percentage guy that gave his team a chance to win? I’d probably bet on the larger sample, and that’s where Petr fits into it at this time.”

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