With the NHL Entry Draft and free agency on the horizon, things are about to get quite crazy on the trade front. The Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory over the Boston Bruins is still fresh in the minds of most fans, but the time has already come to move on to the offseason.
This offseason will be particularly interesting due to the addition of the compliance buy-out clause. Every team is able to buy out two players' contracts if they so choose, so it stands to reason that teams will have cap space to spare and will be willing to make some deals.
Here are the latest rumors circulating around the NHL as teams prepare to draft, sign and trade for players in order to mold their respective futures.
Sam Gagner to Maple Leafs?
After making the playoffs for the first time in eight years this past season, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear ready to wheel and deal in order to take the next step. The Leafs were dangerously close to eliminating the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs as they held a three-goal advantage with less than 11 minutes remaining in regulation. The Bruins scored three late goals and netted the overtime winner. They went on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Leafs were sent packing.
The moral of the story is that Toronto isn't too far off from becoming a contender. Adding a couple significant pieces could go a long way and there is no question that the Leafs have a need up the middle. Nazem Kadri took a huge step forward, as he scored 44 points in 48 games, but Toronto didn't get consistent production from its other centers. That may be why the Maple Leafs are enquiring about Edmonton Oilers center Sam Gagner, according to Josh Rimer of Sportsnet.
Hearing Leafs have had discussions with Oilers about Sam Gagner. Leafs are looking for a young centre and he certainly fits the bill.— Josh Rimer (@JoshRimerHockey) June 23, 2013
After settling in as a 40-point guy over the past few seasons, Gagner began to realize his immense potential during the lockout-shortened campaign. He put up 38 points in 48 games and was Edmonton's second-leading scorer ahead of players like Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Since Gagner is a restricted free agent and the Oilers will need to sign their other young forwards at some point, he could be expendable and the Leafs may benefit.
Dave Bolland on the Block?
Chicago Blackhawks center Dave Bolland has been known as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL since the Hawks won the Stanley Cup back in 2009-10. Bolland took a step back this season, however, as he had a combined minus-nine rating in the regular season and playoffs. Because of that, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN is reporting that Chicago is shopping Bolland around and exploring possible offers.
Heard from another team that the Blackhawks are shopping center Dave Bolland...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 27, 2013
There is no doubt that Bolland had a tough year, as he missed 13 games due to injury and ended the regular season with just 14 points, but he is the type of role player that winning teams need. This past season was easily the worst of his career as a full-time player; however, he constantly made subtle, cagey plays during the postseason. Bolland's hard work ultimately paid off too as he netted the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Blackhawks late in Game 6 against the Bruins.
Bolland is a clutch player, and that is something that doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Aside from this season, Bolland has two 19-goal campaigns to his credit and has served as both a second- and third-line center for Chicago. His versatility and two-way ability would definitely be appreciated elsewhere. While Bolland has been a big part of the Blackhawks' success, he has a $3.375 million cap hit and enters free agency after next season, so Chicago might be wise to get some assets in return for him.
Leafs Possibly in on Kris Letang?
Not only are the Maple Leafs searching for a top center, but they may be looking to solidify their blue line as well. One possibility is Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. While he isn't the best defensive rearguard in the league by any means, Letang is an elite puck mover who would provide an immediate spark to the Toronto power play.
Which is most likely to happen?
According to Bob Rossi of TribLive.com, if the Pens don't re-sign Letang, who is an unrestricted free agent after next season, his preference would be to play in Toronto. The Leafs already have an impressive stable of offensively-minded defensemen including Cody Franson, Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner, but Letang is entirely different than any of them.
Letang is essentially a forward playing defense, as he racked up 38 points in 35 regular-season games and added 16 more in 15 playoff contests. Despite his offensive production, Letang was maligned during the playoffs as he made some defensive gaffes that led to opposing teams finding the back of the net. When it comes to Letang, though, teams have to take the good with the bad. Perhaps the Penguins are tired of doing that, but Toronto's attack would be extremely dangerous with Letang in the fold, so he seems like a logical fit.
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