Well, we’ve sailed past the halfway point of the 2017-18 NHL season, and despite some surprises that have played out both on the ice and in the standings (read: Vegas Golden Knights), it’s been pretty quiet as far as any earth-shattering developments coming to pass around the league.
But that doesn’t mean the rumor mill hasn’t been working overtime churning out some absolute whoppers of late. With the trade deadline looming, contract negotiations heating up, arena deals to be considered and both expansion and relocation residing prominently in the back of everybody’s mind, the rumor season has cranked into full swing, and there seems to be an entire herd of elephants in the room that needs to be addressed.
Of course, as in every year, most of the more sensational rumors flying about will eventually be exposed as nothing more than a crock of unsubstantiated hearsay meant only to stir the pot. But to be fair, there are a handful of plausible scenarios cropping up that could have significant implications on the rest of the league.
So whether you buy into the hype or not, here are 15 major NHL rumors you need to know about as we forge ahead into the second half of the season.
15. Senators Could Relocate Before 2020
As far back as last spring, the “R” word has been bandied about around Ottawa as the Senators’ ticket-sales struggles have continued to mount. It seemed preposterous that the still relatively young franchise based in the capital city of hockey-crazed Canada could face relocation due to financial difficulties. But late last December, team owner Eugene Melnyk stated bluntly to the media that he’d consider moving the team if the situation “became a disaster.”
That, of course, launched a tidal wave of rumors about exactly how dire the franchise’s lot had become and what city or cities Melnyk might be eyeing if it actually came to that. The most credible rumor is that Melnyk could move the team to Quebec if it has another bad season ticket-wise in 2018-19. And it makes sense, considering the brand-new arena and enthusiastic fanbase already installed in the NHL-experienced city.
14. Jagr Out At Calgary
Maybe age isn’t just a number after all, because despite his high-intensity workout regimen and seemingly endless flow of youthful energy, Jaromir Jagr’s 45 years on this earth – and 24 seasons in the toughest pro hockey league in the world – seem to finally be catching up with him.
After signing a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames late last offseason, Jagr seems to be having trouble keeping up with his younger counterparts, and his offensive numbers are worse than dreadful.
Now, just past the halfway point of the 2017-18 season, it looks like Jagr’s days in Calgary – and possibly the league itself – are numbered. Rumor has it the two sides are working on an “exit,” and with little to no interest from other NHL teams at the moment, Europe might be the only suitable landing place.
13. NHL Global Series Heading To Finland In 2018-19
After a successful NHL Global Series between the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden earlier this season, word is that the league will return to Scandinavia as early as next year and will bring the Winnipeg Jets and one other team with them for a couple of regular-season games in Finland.
With European players making up a larger and larger portion of the NHL’s workforce each year, the NHL Global Series is a great way to promote the league internationally. But beyond that, it also turns the players whose home countries host the games into instant ambassadors who can help bridge the gap for potential talent from across the pond.
The Jets are a likely candidate since one of their best skaters, Patrik Laine, is a Finnish national, and so is third-year Winnipeg skater Joel Armia.
12. Fire Sale Coming For Buffalo
It’s been seven years and countless experiments with both young stars and proven veterans since the woeful Buffalo Sabres sniffed the NHL playoffs, and in the midst of another season relegated to the Atlantic Division cellar, it looks like new GM Jason Botterill is preparing to clean house with a massive fire sale and start basically from scratch in 2018-19.
As far as who won’t be a Sabre’ by the time the Feb. 26 trade deadline comes goes, anybody but young Superstar Jack Eichel is apparently on the table. The biggest name out there, though, is the oft troubled Evander Kane. He’s on the last year of his current contract and has been linked to trade rumors involving both the Kings and the Blues.
Others likely on their way out of Buffalo include forwards Benoit Pouliot, Johan Larsson and even the prized Ryan O’Reilly.
11. Islanders Could Return To Nassau Coliseum… Temporarily
The New York Islanders are dropping the Barclays Center like it’s hot and hightailing it back to Long Island as soon as the final horn sounds on the 2018-19 season. The Brooklyn arena – while all new and shiny – was never meant for hockey, and the attendance of late has reflected that fact.
So instead of forcing the issue, the Islanders have decided to vacate the premises as soon as legally possible and will build a brand-new arena near Belmont Race Track, along the Queens-Nassau border on the Island.
But, since the arena won’t be built in time for the 2019-2020 season, it’s looking like the team will briefly return to the rink where it played 43 seasons, while their new permanent home is being completed. Because Lord knows they won’t stay in NYC any longer than they have to.
10. Erik Karlsson Won’t End The Season With Ottawa
Sure, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson walked back his statement about not re-signing in Ottawa for a hometown discount when his contract expires in the summer of 2019, but you don’t say things like that in the first place if you don’t mean them.
Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and a rare bright spot in Ottawa this season, probably deserves better than the Senators. And with their cap space shrinking and only one season left on Karlsson’s contract after 2017-18, he’s not long for the Canadian capital and will make for a perfect long-term rental for a serious playoff contender through the rest of this season and all of the next.
The rumors have been swirling about Karlsson ever since he said what he said about re-signing there, and it could all come to a head before the trade deadline at the end of February.
9. Seattle Franchise A Done Deal And Will Begin Play In 2020-21
Among the worst-kept secrets around the NHL is how badly the league wants (needs) a franchise in Seattle, like, yesterday. They had a perfect plan back in 2015. They would accept expansion applications from Quebec, Seattle and Las Vegas, award teams to the latter two and balance the conferences at 16 apiece while injecting some much-needed rivalries back into the West.
Well, they got half their wish with Vegas, but when Seattle couldn’t get their you-know-what together on an arena deal and failed to submit an expansion application, the league had egg on its face when it accepted Vegas’ but not Quebec’s.
Now, with the planned renovation of Key Arena in downtown Seattle and an expansion application forthcoming, the rumor is that Gary Bettman and his cronies in the league office have basically already given them the green light and are planning their inaugural season for 2020-2021 – if not sooner.
8. Jack Johnson Staying Put For Now
Veteran Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson reportedly asked for a trade sometime around the first of the year, citing his diminished role on the team and his desire to set himself up well in free agency this summer. That makes sense for him, of course, but not so much for anyone else. And for that reason, sources are saying that Johnson won’t be going anywhere – just yet.
For any team potentially interested in a trade, the fact that Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year means that they would likely have to give up a valuable pick or prospect to acquire Johnson’s brief rental services, while running the risk that he signs somewhere else come summertime.
And for the Blue Jackets, losing your most experienced player just before a potential playoff run wouldn’t much make sense.
7. Dustin Byfuglien Trade In The Works
Over the past seven seasons, Dustin Byfuglien has been by far his team’s highest-scoring defenseman. That’s not the case in 2017-18. Currently, Byfuglien is wavering between the third or fourth most offensively productive blueliner for the Winnipeg Jets. And to add to that, his average time on ice is down from his previous two seasons, including almost four minutes to the bad this year over last.
In several recent games, Byfuglien’s playing time has dipped well below 20 minutes as other D-men like Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba have seen more action. The signs suggest the Jets are looking to offload the slumping 13-year veteran in order to clear some cap space as they begin to focus on the future and on retaining some of their younger talent. A trade now might prove tough, though, considering the three years and $7.6 million average cap-hit per year left on Byfuglien’s deal.
6. NHL Back To The Olympics In 2022
It caused quite an uproar when the NHL elected to bar its players from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. After all, the Games are great way for players to wax patriotic by representing their home countries and a huge opportunity to highlight the league on a global stage.
Now, rumblings that the NHL Players Association will go to bat for its members – and that the league will acquiesce and send its players to Beijing in 2022 – have already begun to surface.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel has spoken up in support of the NHL returning to the Games, and NHLPA chief Don Fehr said he’d like to reopen talks on the matter. With a collective bargaining negotiation window looming in 2020 – and obvious interest on the players’ part – indications are that hockey’s top stars will return to the prestigious international competition in four years’ time.
5. Max Pacioretty Trade Imminent
As much as both parties wish it weren’t true, things just aren’t working out between the Montreal Canadiens and their captain, Max Pacioretty, anymore. With uncharacteristically low offensive numbers so far this season, a dearth of teammates that compliment his style of play and just one year left on his contract after this season, the time is now for a deal to be made to ship the 10-year veteran out of town, and according to the rumors floating around, he could be out of the Canadiens’ burgundy and blue and into an entirely different uniform before the approaching trade deadline.
Teams allegedly interested in Pacioretty’s historically prominent goal-scoring prowess include the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks. Notice none of those teams are in the same division as the Canadiens. That’s no accident.
4. Further Expansion To Quebec AND Houston By 2023-24 Season
Oh, you thought the league would be done widening its borders after the Seattle deal eventually goes through? Think again, because everybody knows Quebec City isn’t going away. They’ve got a brand-new hockey-ready arena, a willing ownership group and a rabid fanbase foaming at the mouth for another shot at the NHL.
So great, the league expands to Quebec. But then you’re faced once again with unbalanced conferences. The solution? Add yet another team in the west, of course.
The rumors are out there. Houston is the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without an NHL team, and the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets has reportedly already met with NHL officials about bringing NHL to his city. Plus, with the ever-increasing expansion fee, it’s going to be hard for the league to turn down close to $1 billion. Yup, we’re looking at a 34-team NHL by 2023, folks.
3. Vegas Won’t Re-Sign James Neal
When the Vegas Golden Knights selected All-Star forward James Neal in the expansion draft, they didn’t expect to be contending for a playoff spot, let alone the President’s trophy, in their inaugural season. Neal was likely to be dealt at the trade deadline in order to bolster their draft lineup for future success.
But Vegas is successful now, and it’s thanks in large part to Neal’s leadership. He won’t be going anywhere come February as the team begins its playoff push, but the question is whether he’ll be back in Vegas in 2018-19 or if he tests the free-agent waters.
With big re-signings already for Jonathan Marchessault and Brayden McNabb and other key contracts expiring soon, it’s unlikely Vegas GM George McPhee will be able to justify the sizable cap-hit Neal will deservedly command when he signs his next deal. Of course, that’s assuming he won’t take a “hometown” discount.
2. Penguins Secretly Shopping Kris Letang
All the NHL “analysts” who are supposedly “in the know” about all things trade-related will tell you that talented Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is decidedly NOT on the trading block. That may be true for the moment, but let’s consider a few things.
For one, the Penguins have some contracts coming up in the next couple of years that they’ll want to renew, and they’re going to be out of cap space soon if they don’t make some room. Add to it that Letang has had issues staying healthy, is having a down season this year and that the Pens will likely need to bring in some offensive help if they want to make the playoffs, and it’s a perfect recipe for an 11th hour trade at the deadline.
It may not be public knowledge yet, but Pittsburgh is definitely looking to offload Letang.
1. Calgary Relocation
The other side of the expansion argument – and a possible solution to the Quebec City itch that the NHL will eventually have to scratch – is relocation. Assuming the expansion Seattle franchise is in place in the next couple of years and that Quebec (or Houston, for that matter) is still seriously interested in landing a team of its own, relocation of a current franchise would eliminate the need for expanding to 34 teams, and would also protect the league from further diluting its talent pool.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you are), that solution is a real possibility. With an impasse between the Flames and the city of Calgary on a new arena deal and the fact that the team is hemorrhaging money, its majority owner, Murray Edwards, is entertaining the idea of moving out of Alberta for greener pastures or selling altogether.
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