Will Marner don a Blue Jacket?
Every summer usually sees a top NHL restricted free agent become a hot topic in the rumor mill, especially if it takes a while to re-sign with his new club.
Last summer, it was Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, whose negotiations dragged on well into the regular season before he finally inked a new contract. This year, it’s Nylander’s teammate Mitch Marner.
With no progress in sight between Leafs management and the Marner camp, talk of the 22-year-old right winger signing an offer sheet with a rival club fills the Toronto airwaves. A report earlier this month claimed the New York Islanders or Montreal Canadiens could pitch an offer sheet to the Leafs winger, though both lack sufficient cap space to pry him out of Toronto.
On Friday, The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline tweeted the Columbus Blue Jackets were among “many teams” with interest in signing Marner to an offer sheet. Still, Portzline believes Marner doesn’t want to leave Toronto. He also feels the Leafs would match any offer, even if it meant trading Nylander to free up the cap room to do so.
With over $15 million in salary-cap space (stick tap to Cap Friendly), the Jackets can afford a big offer for Marner. He would help the Jackets replace some of their depleted offense after losing Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency.
Doing so, however, would leave very little to re-sign RFA Zach Werenski. The 21-year-old defenseman is in line for a big raise following his second 40-plus point campaign in three seasons. Don’t expect to see Marner donning a Blue Jackets jersey anytime soon.
More moves in store for Sabres?
The Buffalo Sabres continue to load up with right-shot defensemen. Last week, they shipped winger Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju.
That’s the third blueliner Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has brought in this year. In February, he acquired Brandon Montour from the Anaheim Ducks. In late-June, he landed Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights.
Jokiharju, 23, made his NHL debut last season, playing 33 games with the Blackhawks. He showed potential as a mobile top-four rearguard.
This latest move has some observers believing Botterill could be planning a bigger one. The Buffalo New’s Mike Harrington suggested it could involve d-man Rasmus Ristolainen, perhaps in a multi-player trade.
Noting the Sabres blueline depth and need for more scoring punch, NBC Sports’ James O’Brien thinks Ristolainen, 25, could be peddled for a top-six forward. O’Brien pointed out winger Nikolaj Ehlers surfaced in recent Winnipeg Jets trade chatter. He also wondered if the Edmonton Oilers would be open to swapping Ristolainen for forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Ristolainen would make a solid replacement for Jacob Trouba, who was dealt last month to the New York Rangers. However, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has more pressing matters as he tries to get restricted free agent wingers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor under contract.
Nugent-Hopkins was a frequent subject of trade conjecture over the past three seasons. Still, new Oilers GM Ken Holland could be reluctant to move him and risk weakening his secondary scoring.
Botterill seems to be setting the table for a Ristolainen deal but he can afford to take his time. That move could come this summer, during training camp/preseason or before next year’s trade deadline.
Latest Rangers speculation
The New York Rangers made the biggest UFA signing splash by inking left winger Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract on July 1. The move leaves them with just over $7 million in salary-cap space.
That won’t leave enough to re-sign RFAs Jacob Trouba, Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux and Anthony DeAngelo. Trouba’s salary alone will eat up all of that cap room. He and Buchnevich both filed for salary arbitration and their hearings are slated for later this month.
The Rangers can spend over the $81.5 million cap by 10 percent during the off-season; however, they must be cap compliant when the season opens in October.
New York could cut costs by buying out a player. Defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith frequently surfaced in recent weeks as buyout candidates. They could also make a trade or two. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton must decide the future of winger Chris Kreider, who’s a year away from UFA eligibility. He also thinks Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov could be on the trade block.
Gorton likely prefers sorting out Trouba’s contract before deciding on who could become a cost-cutting trade candidate. The blueliner’s hearing is slated for July 25 but the two sides could work out a new deal before then. Once that’s been addressed, Gorton will know how much he needs to shed and what method will best address that issue.
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