There's plenty of buzz around the NHL this week including speculation the Penguins are shopping Phil Kessel and the Leafs signing Jake Gardiner.
Will the Maple Leafs be able to keep all their top free agents? Will the Los Angeles Kings move goaltender Jonathan Quick? Will the Vegas Golden Knights throw a wrench into the expansion draft that includes the new team out of Seattle?
Here the biggest rumors in the NHL for the week of December 8, 2018.
Phil Kessel Being Shopped Or Not?
Multiple sources are reporting the Pittsburgh Penguins have “tested the market” for winger Phil Kessel. That lasted only a couple hours before those reports were retracted. At this point, it doesn’t appear there is a trade in the works but this is a story worth keeping an eye on. The Penguins are not having the season they expected so far and they've made smaller trades that have marginally helped the organization. If more moves need to be made, it will have to include bigger-ticket items like Kessel.
GM Jim Rutherford is one of the more active GM's but it's not certain why he would trade a player who has a reasonable cap hit for the value and production he provides. Kessel has a partial no-trade clause and would have some control over where he goes but that doesn't mean the Pens won't try to shop him if things get out of hand.
Maple Leafs Want To Sign Three Big Free Agents
With William Nylander signed, the focus has shifted to Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Jake Gardiner in Toronto. Matthews and Marner are restricted free agents and Gardiner is a UFA. While most expect the RFA's to get new deals, many believe Gardiner will walk in free agency because the Maple Leafs can't afford to keep him. Things may not be as they appear.
First off, the Maple Leafs are expected to get creative in their offer to Gardiner on a new contract. They want to keep him and their hope is that creative bonuses and structuring his contract in a unique way will help him overlook the fact that he's making less money over the long-term. Meanwhile, signing Matthews and Marner won't be a slam dunk.
Bob McKenzie of TSN believes that Maple Leafs would like to get those negotiations going right away but neither player wants to be the first to sign their deal. Both want to see what the other player gets first to make sure they're not taking too large a deal before the other settle on an amount. There is speculation the team will wait for players like Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, and Patrik Laine to sign first with their respective teams, but that's also a risk. Any one of those players could set a new market norm that Toronto can't afford.
Vegas To Shake Up Expansion Draft
On TSN Insider Trading, Pierre LeBrun noted that the Vegas Golden Knights could play the role of disturber in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft. Vegas is not going to lose a player in the draft because they were the most recent expansion club. That could allow them to make side deals with other NHL clubs to trade for and potentially protect players other NHL franchises don't want to lose.
The idea here is that Vegas will take lesser players for other reasons beyond just the typical "hockey trade." Vegas general manager George McPhee already proved he could work the system when his team went through the expansion process. He's not afraid to do so again.
Jonathan Quick a Trade Asset?
Lisa Dillman of The Athletic writes that Jonathan Quick could be a trade piece out of Los Angeles if the season gets away from the team. She writes, "If the Kings are far enough outside a playoff spot at the trading deadline, is Quick a chip they could conceivably deal? The better he plays, the greater return would be in a possible trade." She notes that the Kings might need Quick but also like what they have coming in the goalie pipeline in Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen.