Buying or Selling the Latest NHL Trade and Free-Agency Rumors
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The 2021-22 NHL season is underway, and there's already plenty of trade and free-agent speculation. A rumor mill that had slowed throughout August is returning to life following several weeks of training camp and preseason play through September into early October.
Some of the conjecture focused on the standoff between the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel over which medical procedure the 24-year-old center should undergo for a herniated disk in his neck. Meanwhile, the futures of players slated for unrestricted free-agent status next summer, such as San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl, became hot-button topics.
Does any of this media chatter mean we should expect some big moves in the near future? That's what we'll attempt to sort out as we determine which rumors are worth buying or selling. Feel free to drop a line into the comments section below if you have an opinion about this subject matter.
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On Tuesday, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported there are several teams "kicking tires" on Dylan Strome. He believes there's a good chance the Chicago Blackhawks will trade the 24-year-old center "over the next week or two."
The Blackhawks acquired Strome in November 2018 in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He wasted little time making a positive impression, tallying 51 points in 58 games in Chicago to finish with a career-high 57 points, including his Coyotes stats. Strome appeared to have a bright future in the Windy City.
Inconsistent play, plus a concussion and a right ankle injury, limited Strome to 38 points in 58 games in 2019-20. His production dropped last season to 17 points in 40 games, in part because another concussion took him out of the lineup for 11 games. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton was talking about using Strome on the fourth line to start this season.
The return of Jonathan Toews, the offseason addition of Tyler Johnson and the improvement of promising Kirby Dach pushed Strome down the Blackhawks depth chart. While moving players under a flattened salary cap could be difficult early in the season, Strome carries an affordable $3 million salary-cap hit. He's proved in the past he can thrive when surrounded by talented wingers and could benefit from a change of scenery.
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Goaltender John Gibson is entering the third season of his eight-year, $51.2 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks. The Athletic's Eric Stephens felt it could be Gibson's last with the club depending on how things play out.
In his Oct. 5 mailbag, Stephens was asked about the chances of the Ducks trading the 28-year-old in the near future. He suggested they investigate trade options if this season turns into a long one for the rebuilding club. Stephens once believed the netminder was certain to remain the Ducks starter in 2022-23, but he's not so sure now.
Gibson joined the Ducks when they were among the top teams in the Western Conference. They have declined in recent years, forcing general manager Bob Murray to rebuild with young talent. He could be reluctant to stick around if the rebuild takes longer than anticipated.
The Ducks could consider shopping Gibson before the trade deadline if they fail to make any notable improvement. Moving his contract, however, could be difficult. He carries an annual average value of $6.4 million, as well as a 10-team no-trade list. That could prove easier to peddle in the offseason when teams have more cap space and a willingness to wheel and deal.
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It appears this season could be Phil Kessel's last with the Arizona Coyotes. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, the 34-year-old right winger could be playing elsewhere before the March 21 trade deadline.
On Oct. 5, TSN's Darren Dreger said he believes Kessel will be on the trade-bait board this season. He felt the veteran doesn't fit into management's long-term plans for the rebuilding roster. Kessel, meanwhile, apparently wants a fresh start elsewhere and an opportunity to earn a new contract with another club.
Kessel's contract won't be easy to move. The Coyotes carry $6.8 million of his $8 million annual cap hit, plus he has an eight-team list of preferred trade destinations. However, Dreger pointed out all but $1 million of his $6 million salary was paid by the Coyotes as a signing bonus. He suggested the veteran winger could be a worthwhile pickup for a club seeking scoring later in the season.
Kessel is past his prime but remains an effective scorer. He led the low-scoring Coyotes last season with 20 goals and 43 points in 56 games. A durable winger with two Stanley Cup rings on his resume, Kessel would bring invaluable playoff experience and offense to a contender. Expect him to be moved at some point before the trade deadline.
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An unrestricted free agent next July, Tomas Hertl's future with the San Jose Sharks has generated plenty of speculation since midsummer. The Boston Bruins are among the clubs frequently linked to the 27-year-old center in the rumor mill.
The Bruins are in need of a reliable second-line center following the offseason departure of David Krejci to finish his playing career in the Czech Republic. They are starting the season with Charlie Coyle filling that role, though in the past he usually saw duty as a third-line winger.
On Sept. 12, Boston Hockey Now's Joe Haggerty raised the possibility of the Bruins pursuing Hertl to fill that spot at some point this season. In an Oct. 2 mailbag segment, The Athletic's Fluto Shinzawa suggested it could take a minimum of a first-round pick and a prospect to pry Hertl from the Sharks.
Hertl isn't going anywhere for now. His fate could be tied to the Sharks' performance and whether he feels they can return to contender status. They could shop him later in the season if they are out of contention and he remains uncommitted to signing an extension.
The Bruins could be among the suitors, but they will face plenty of competition for Hertl's services. He has a list of just three preferred trade destinations and could choose to move to a Western Conference team. Sitting 26th in Dobber Hockey's 2021 NHL Prospect Pool Rankings, the Bruins could lose out in a bidding war to clubs with better prospect depth.
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The Buffalo Sabres' standoff with Jack Eichel over which procedure he should have to fix a herniated disk in his neck stalled efforts to trade the 24-year-old center. The club wants him to undergo neck fusion, while he prefers a disk replacement. A fresh development in this situation suggests there could be an end in sight.
On Oct. 6, TSN's Darren Dreger reported trade discussions between Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams and clubs interested in Eichel recently became more serious. Those teams now have access to the center's medical records specific to his condition. Meanwhile, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said there's a push to resolve this issue, as Eichel's ailment cannot be left untreated much longer.
Friedman also said there are some clubs willing to let Eichel undergo the disk replacement but that he would have to be traded to them first. On Oct. 8, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported those teams are telling Adams they want a conditional component (such as games played) to get a trade done, which the Sabres GM acknowledged might have to be part of any deal for Eichel.
Dreger mentioned the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings as suitors, although their sources downplayed the speculation. On Oct. 4, Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show that the Calgary Flames "really tried" to get Eichel, while the Vegas Golden Knights weren't willing to part with promising center Peyton Krebs.
On Oct. 7, LeBrun said this was another step in the process but that nothing was imminent. There are other factors that must be taken into account before Eichel is finally traded. It could take time to get those sorted out.
Besides determining what conditions would be applied to any deal, there's also Eichel's hefty contract to consider. He's signed through 2025-26 with a $10 million annual salary-cap hit. Then there's the Sabres' asking price, which could consist of one or two first-round draft picks, a couple of top prospects and at least one good young NHL player.
Finally, there's the period Eichel would be absent while recovering from disk replacement surgery. That could sideline him for a big chunk of this season.