Though a large chunk of the NHL and their fans are immersed in the race for the 2021 Stanley Cup, the offseason is already underway for a bunch of organizations. That means free-agency and trade rumors are being bandied about the hockey sphere. So, you better believe we've pored over the latest news and speculation and singled out the most notable chatter to analyze.
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Much like the NFL and NBA, the NHL offseason has become an event unto itself. Fans and analysts obsess over which marquee players could switch teams in free agency. Hypothetical trades are drooled over. News breaks flood social media timelines and digital publications almost hourly. Naturally, in this world of NHL Rumors, we're inclined to analyze the latest on trades and free agency for the 2021 offseason.
NHL Rumor Breakdown
Don't make the mistake of thinking there will be limited chatter prior to a Stanley Cup champion is crowned. The league is already buzzing.
Let's take a look at what they're talking about the most.
Has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Played His Last Game With Edmonton Oilers?
After a disappointing sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers are expected to make major changes throughout their roster. Aside from top MVP candidates Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, nobody is considered safe.
Not even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
As The Edmonton Journal first reported, the 27-year-old forward-center isn't a sure thing to re-sign with the Oilers in free agency. The notion makes sense. He prefers to play center, and the Oilers have two of the top centers in the game, in McDavid and Draisaitl.
Giving him more time at forward and allowing him to play on the same lines as both stars have been a preference of Edmonton thus far. But futzing with his position limits the amount of puck-handling and scoring he gets to do. He should be able to find a more prominent role with a different team—one that might also be willing to pay him much more than the Oilers.
For our money, you should bank on Nugent-Hopkins starting next year on another team.
Columbus Blue Jackets To Trade One Of Their Goaltenders?
It's apparently trading season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and according to The Athletic, they're expected to move on from one of their goalies: Joonis Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins.
Some have speculated they might keep both. But general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pretty much-confirmed one will be on the move while noting that the market will determine which gets relocated.
Good luck choosing between the two. They are of similar skill and value and essentially split time between the posts this year. Both also just finished up their age-26 seasons, so youth won't be playing a factor, either.
Merzilikins has a slight edge in our estimation. He posted a 91.6 save percentage on the year and a quality start percentage over 60, noticeably outstripping the marks notched by Korpisalo.
Whether this makes Merzilikins more likely to stay or go is anyone's guess. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Blue Jackets keep the superior goalie, but they will weigh the cost of each's next contract. That could compel them to roll with the cheaper option, which in this case should be Korpisalo.
Washington Capitals Willing To Trade Evgeny Kuznetsov?
Almost everything is apparently on the table for the Washington Capitals this offseason.
After getting blasted by the Boston Bruins in the first round, losing 4-1 in unconvincing fashion, team general manager Brian MacLellan flat-out said he'd trade nearly anyone, per The Hockey Writers—including center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
These comments took some by surprise. Kuznetsov is coming off a solid season. He didn't tally as many points, but he improved his defensive intensity and posted the fifth-highest plus-minus mark on the Capitals roster. Washington has Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the docket, but they're both on the older side.
Then again, the Capitals did just finish fifth in offense. They have talent to spare overall on that end. We'd bet against Kuznetsov getting dealt unless they're blown away by a package that beefs up their defensive line, but we also don't think MacLellan is blowing smoke here, either.
Chicago Blackhawks Plan To Be Aggressive In Free Agency?
The Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly prepared to spend on the open market this summer. According to The Chicago Tribune, they have zeroed in on a number of impactful targets—including Zach Hyman of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers' Alexander Wennberg.
Both players would be huge gets for the Blackhawks, who ranked a middling 16th in offense this year and were 25th in defense. Hyman managed to stand out for his scoring and passing on a team that had Auston Matthews. That's huge. Wennberg, meanwhile, is a master of offensive efficiency. His 20.7 shot percentage led the Panthers this year.
Since both play center, Chicago is only likely to go heavily after one. We'd recommend Hyman over Wennberg. He's not going to get as many blocks or takeaways on defense, and his face-off percentage is spotty. But he'll give the Blackhawks more shot and passing volume.
That he's slightly older, at 28, helps as well. He brings leadership intangibles, which is why we also expect him to command more money than Wennberg. Hyman's impact is always in the details. He was a plus-19 on the ice season and remains one of the most relied upon players for a true Stanley Cup contender. Chicago would be lucky to have him.