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New York Islanders center John Tavares recently completed meetings with five NHL clubs in addition to the Islanders during the NHL’s free-agent interview period. It’s expected he’ll take the next couple of days to evaluate their proposals.
Tavares met with the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. He also continued discussions with the Islanders. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes his decision could come as early as Saturday.
As the biggest potential name in the upcoming unrestricted free agent market, Tavares’ decision will have a significant effect upon fellow UFA centers Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak. Their stock could rise once Tavares is off the market.
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It’s expected Tavares will receive a long-term deal worth over $10 million annually. Some of the clubs courting him could be forced to ship out a player or two to make room for his contract within their salary-cap constraints.
If the Lightning win the Tavares sweepstakes, The Athletic’s Joe Smith suggests center Tyler Johnson ($5-million annual cap hit) or recently re-signed J.T. Miller ($5.25 million) could become trade candidates. Should the Bruins win the bidding, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont wonders if they’ll attempt attempt to peddle center David Krejci ($7.5 million) and/or winger David Backes ($6 million).
As for the Islanders, The Athletic’s Arthur Staple observes they’ll have over $32 million in cap space and just 13 players under contract if Tavares signs elsewhere. That’s plenty of money to invest in a replacement. Possible targets could include Stastny via free agency or Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres in the trade market.
O’Reilly Rumors Heating Up Again
Speaking of O’Reilly, it was expected he could be moved during the recent NHL draft. The weekend passed, however, with the 27-year-old center still with the Sabres.
One reason is some of the clubs looking at O’Reilly could also be pursuing Tavares. Another is he’s due a $7.5-million signing bonus on July 1. It’s believed Sabres management prefers moving O’Reilly before then but some of the interested parties are understandably reluctant.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues remain interested in O’Reilly. His colleague Darren Dreger thinks the Carolina Hurricanes could also be involved.
LeBrun thinks the Canadiens could have an edge as they’re apparently willing to acquire O’Reilly before July 1. He’s heard the Sabres’ asking price is a first-round pick, a second rounder and a top prospect.
Bear in mind the Sabres aren’t under pressure to move O’Reilly this summer like they were with Evander Kane leading up to the trade deadline. Unlike Kane, O’Reilly is under contract through 2022-23. If they don’t find a suitable offer this summer, they can afford to be patient through next season if possible.
Penguins Preparing For More Moves?
In recent weeks, there was growing media chatter indicating Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford could be active in this summer’s trade market. He’s frequently mentioned his wish to achieve a more balanced roster before next season.
On Wednesday, Rutherford shipped left wing Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional fourth-round selection in the 2019 NHL draft. It was a straightforward salary dump, shedding over $5.2 million in salary-cap space.
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Later in the day, reports emerged indicating the Penguins could have a five-year deal in principle with Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. The 31-year-old could receive an annual average value between $3 million to $3.5 million, though he can’t officially accept the agreement until he becomes a free agent on July 1. The Montreal Canadiens also had previously reported interest in signing Johnson come July 1.
After re-signing forwards Riley Sheahan, Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong, Cap Friendly indicates the Penguins have roughly $8.1 million in salary-cap space. That leave sufficient room to add Johnson and perhaps a winger via trade or free agency.
Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner is considered a potential trade target for Pittsburgh. There’s also talk of bringing back Chris Kunitz but the 38-year-old winger might not be a suitable fit. Former Chicago Blackhawks winger Anthony Duclair could be an affordable option on a one-year “show-me” contract. He also hinted at a possible move to Pittsburgh.
Blackhawks, Red Wings, Sabres Target Goaltenders
The Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings are seeking experienced backup goaltenders. They appear to have specific free-agent targets in mind as July 1 approaches.
With starter Corey Crawford’s health still in question for next season, the Blackhawks are looking for a reliable No. 2 netminder. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun suggests former Carolina Hurricanes starter Cam Ward as a good fit. It’s believed he’s among several goalies the Blackhawks reached out to this week.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, are giving consideration to Robin Lehner. The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports the former Buffalo Sabres netminder had an in-person meeting with Wings management in Detroit this week.
Having cut ties with Lehner, the Sabres need a mentor for promising Linus Ullmark. The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports they met Wednesday with Carter Hutton, formerly of the St. Louis Blues.
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