Offer sheets coming for Marner and Laine?
The Montreal Canadiens’ failed attempt to sign Sebastian Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes sparked speculation over whether another notable restricted free agent will get an offer sheet.
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner and Winnipeg Jets left wing Patrik Laine appear the likely candidates. Last week, Sammi Silber cited reports out of Toronto claiming at least one club was “seriously considering” an offer sheet for Marner worth around $12.5 million. It’s unclear if that figure is the annual average value for a one-year or multi-year offer.
The NHL Network’s Mike Kelly believes the New York Islanders could target Marner; however, that seems unlikely. The Isles only have just over $8.6 million remaining and RFA Anthony Beauvillier to re-sign.
Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period thinks the Canadiens, having failed to land Aho, could be in on Marner and Laine. TVA Sports’ Yvon Pedneault, however, doubts the Habs will go the offer-sheet route again. With around $7.4 million in cap room, they lack sufficient dollars to make a competitive bid for either guy.
The Leafs limited cap space makes Marner the more tempting target. According to Cap Friendly, the Leafs have only around $3.7 million available. The Jets have over $22 million in cap room but winger Kyle Connor is also due for a substantial raise. While a big offer sheet for Laine could complicate things, they’re in a better position to match than the Leafs with Marner.
Toronto can get more wiggle room by placing Nathan Horton, Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott on long-term injury reserve. They’re also allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the off-season. Those machinations, however, will create serious cap difficulties for Toronto going into the season. While they can exceed the $81.5 million ceiling this summer they must become cap compliant when the season opens in October.
Horton is permanently sidelined but Hyman and Dermott are expected to return later in the year. To make room for them, the Leafs would have to slash salary. Meanwhile, they would have trouble calling up players from the minors if necessary.
The Leafs are vulnerable if someone pitches a big offer sheet to Marner. Whether anyone tries it remains to be seen.
Ristolainen rumors rising
Since the spring, trade rumors have dogged Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
Despite the recent additions of Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey, it’s assumed they’ll shop the 24-year-old blueliner for a scoring forward. Last month’s acquisition of rearguard Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights only stoked the conjecture.
The Athletic’s John Vogl suggested Ristolainen would be a good trade chip to bring in a center or a good right wing. The Buffalo News’ Lance Lysowski felt the Johansson signing provided financial flexibility to move the young defenseman for scoring help.
With Ristolainen signed through 2021-22 at an affordable $5.4 million annual average value, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill can take his time finding the right deal. If he doesn’t get an offer to his liking, he’ll start 2019-20 with Ristolainen in the lineup and see how the season unfolds.
NHL free agency tracker 2019: Full list of signings, best available players
Penguins face more cost cutting
Having shed Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta in salary-dumping trades, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford used the cap space to sign checking-line forward Brandon Tanev. Cap Friendly indicates Tanev’s $3.5 million AAV leaves the Penguins with around $1.5 million.
Restricted free agents Zach Aston-Reese, Marcus Pettersson, and Teddy Blueger require new contracts before the start of the regular season. That leaves Rutherford facing another cost-cutting trade scenario. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matt Vensel believes Nick Bjugstad or Bryan Rust could become the next Penguins cap casualty.
Bjugstad is a 26-year-old forward acquired last season from the Florida Panthers. He carries a $4.1 million AAV through 2020-21. Rust. 27, is signed through 2021-22 with a $3.5 million cap hit. Both lack no-trade protection and could be affordable options for clubs seeking skilled forward depth.
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