NHL trade, free agency buzz

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

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

Prepare for players – and picks – on the move

Preparing for any draft involves some level of trade talks.

This year, GMs brace themselves for even more potential changes than usual. And that could start early in the first round on Thursday.

“I think there’s going to be some trades this week,” said Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. “And [then] what that means with draft slots. We are open to relocation [pick] No. 5 and yet No. 5 hasn’t been moved once in 20 years. Teams don’t typically move back or leave high picks. It rarely happens, but I think everyone is exploring it, and maybe given the fact that it’s a shallower draft, the other teams are more willing to consider a retreat.

Only three picks were traded in the opening round of last year’s draft, but that was preceded by a blockbuster trade (Seth Jones moves from Columbus to Chicago for Adam Boqvist – whose three-year, $7.8 million extension with the Blue Jackets was announced became). on Wednesday – and three picks) plus a few other key moves.

How could this year be different? For starters, it’s the first draft since 2019 that will see general managers congregate in the same building, with the ability to return to conducting business in person.

“The unpredictability of all of this is certainly amplified being in such close quarters,” said Kevin Cheveldayoff, GM of Winnipeg Jets. “I think there might be a chance for those things to happen.”

The NHL also remains largely a world with flat salary caps. There will be a $1 million increase for next season — up to $82.5 million — but that’s hardly any respite for teams already at the ceiling. Carving off deals is a good way to create some breathing room and the clubs that need it go into Thursday with a strategy in hand and some foreknowledge of what the competition is thinking.

“In your head you want to imagine that everyone is going to get in there and you’re going to sit until you strike [something]said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “But I think there’s a lot of communication that happens way before that. Everyone knows at this point what all the other teams are trying to achieve. Now it’s more about executing and implementing plans and there are some activities. With the vast majority of teams very close to cap, there’s always scramble and stuff going on and cap space is very tight across the league.”

Will it make it to Montreal and be the No. 1 draft? The Canadians cracked this season’s pool of candidates for the first time, and GM Kent Hughes said Wednesday that if the draft took place that night, he would use his first overall pick for a player. Can that change by Thursday?

We’ll be watching to find out.

“I think there are always many [trade talk] resulting in a draft,” Hughes said. “Some years that leads to too much exercise and other years it doesn’t. But I would imagine that by the end of tomorrow evening the draft regulation will be different than today.”

Penguins close with Kris Letang, not Evgeni Malkin

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

“We still have a few details that we’re still working on,” Hextall said, adding that he would be surprised if Letang didn’t return to the Penguins on a new contract. There were rumors that 35-year-old Letang would sign a three-year extension, but late it was revealed it could be longer. He has 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 sign Malkin before free agency begins July 13.

“You’re in a different phase right now. We’re just going to keep working with his reps and hopefully sign Geno,” Hextall said of Malkin, who also played 16 seasons for Pittsburgh.

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

Canucks won’t be inking JT Miller ahead of the draft

Vancouver Canucks GM Patrik Allvin laughed when asked if he could get the star forward extended before the NHL draft.

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

The 29-year-old forward sits a year away from an unrestricted free hand. That status has led to widespread speculation that Miller could be transferred this offseason, possibly this week.

Allvin said the team did not specify that the draft was a deadline for a new contract. “We didn’t say anything like that. We’re open,” the general manager said, adding that he’s had “good conversations” with Miller’s agents.

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

Oilers GM: Nothing is imminent for Evander Kane

After his contract with the San Jose Sharks was terminated for violating the team’s COVID-19 policy, Evander Kane found a home with the Edmonton Oilers. Notably, he found a home alongside 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 at its lowest, GM Ken Holland tossed Kane a lifeline with a $2,108,696 contract for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. But securing his services beyond that will be difficult.

“We still have a week to go and anything is possible at this stage of the game,” said Holland. “I’m not here to tell you I’m close to a deal. You can wake up tomorrow and stuff [have] changed. But is there a possibility that it will be launched on July 13th? Absolutely.”

The Oilers general manager said he had “a lot of conversations” with Kane’s agent Dan Milstein. Multiple reports have indicated that Kane is targeting a long-term deal that could match the $7 million average annual value of his deal with San Jose.

Holland’s Bet: With the salary cap up just $1 million and other competitive teams facing cap crunches with their own players, the market for Kane may not be as resilient as his camp is hoping.

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

Then there is the San Jose question. Kane and the NHLPA filed a complaint against the Sharks alleging “a breach of his standard NHL player contract and a violation of AHL COVID-19 protocols” following the termination of Kane’s deal. There is no date yet for a second hearing between Kane and the Sharks, and free agency is not expected to begin.

Holland said this complicates things for Kane and the free hand.

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

The New Jersey Devils have made a significant tenor-dollar offer for restricted free-agent winger Bratt. Sources tell ESPN the club are awaiting a counter-offer from Bratt’s camp to get negotiations rolling.

“Bratt is a great player that we want to hold on to,” said GM Tom Fitzgerald. “We made Jesper an offer that shows the commitment the [owners] have in him. They’re not making the offers we’ve made with the intention of not having the player.”

There is speculation that Bratt’s reps may be looking for a restricted free agent offer sheet rather than negotiating terms with the Devils. New Jersey has enough space for caps to fit any quote sheet.

One thing is clear: the Devils do not want to move Bratt at the moment, despite the difficulties in the talks.

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

Toronto lacks cap place — and a No. 1 goaltender

Toronto hasn’t signed a definite starting goaltender for next season. And they have limited space to do that.

CapFriendly projects the Leafs about $6.4 million in pitch for 2022-23. A large chunk of that has to be invested in a goalkeeper. It may not be with the team’s reigning starter — and upcoming unrestricted free agent — Jack Campbell.

Despite ongoing talks between the sides, Toronto couldn’t agree on an extension with Campbell. The 30-year-old finishes the first season of his career as a full-time starter with a 31-9-6 record, a .914 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average.

After years of being a consistent backup, Campbell has earned his way to a No. 1 job — and salary. The leaves are aware that this is associated with high costs.

“Obviously the decision is near for everyone,” said Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “And especially for Jack because it’s a life changing event. It’s no secret that goalkeepers are our priority. And that’s why we will continue to talk to them here this week until the weekend and be well prepared for the next week wherever we want to go.”

The Leafs have signed Petr Mrazek for the next two seasons after Dubas signed the veteran to a three-year, $11.4 million contract last summer. Injured for most of last season, Mrazek was a mixed bag when he showed up, with a 12-6-0 with .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 remains impressed with Mrazek’s resilience and has no doubts that he can recover.

“Many times a year [Mrazek] appears in front of everyone [in the media] and accepted when he didn’t play at the level he feels capable of,” Dubas said. Or I bet he was the goalie he was for the 270 [games] Before, who was a guy with 0.910 percent that gave his team a chance to win? I’d probably bet on the larger sample and that’s where Petr fits in at this point.”

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