NHL Rumors: Latest on Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton and More Early Offseason Buzz

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NHL Rumors: Latest on Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton and More Early Offseason Buzz
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Some teams around the NHL have been focused on the offseason for months. Every front office is now moving into that mode, as the Los Angeles Kings brought the season to an end with a win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night.

With several notable free agents, a seemingly active trade market and the last opportunity for teams to use compliance buyouts, all signs point to a summer featuring plenty of player movement. That's good news for contenders looking for that final missing piece or two.

As you'd expect, the rumor mill is already starting to heat up, and things are surely only going to pick up moving forward. So let's check out some of the talk making its way around the league and examine what it could mean for the teams and players involved.

 

Jason Spezza

Spezza has spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators after being drafted with the second overall pick in the 2001 draft. The long stay could very well be coming to an end, though. Ottawa is working to retool its roster, and Spezza is slated to become a free agent after next season.

Rather than keep him on a team highly unlikely to contend for a Cup and lose him for nothing, the Senators have a chance to get some valuable pieces in return this summer. Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen reports at least four teams are interested, with two ahead of the pack so far:

If you're handicapping the Spezza horse race, the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks are now the clear favourites. There’s a secondary group, believed to include the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, which can be considered dark horses.

The 31-year-old center has averaged a point per game for his career. He scored 23 goals and chipped in 43 assists this past season. He's right on the borderline between a No. 1 or No. 2 center, both of which are valuable commodities given the lack of depth up the middle in the NHL.

Of the teams mentioned, the Predators seem like the best fit. They have plenty of scoring depth but lack a true go-to player to lead the offense in crunch time. Spezza would fill that role nicely while playing alongside Patric Hornqvist.

 

Joe Thornton

Thornton is a very interesting case. Even as he prepares to enter his age-35 season, the star center is still playing at a very high level. He ranked second in the league with 65 assists during the regular sesaon and finished with a plus-20 rating, his best since the 2006-07 campaign.

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Yet history would suggest his level of production is due to drop off some time soon. Certainly before his contract expires, which has three more years with a cap hit near $7 million. It could make him an interesting sell-high candidate for general manager Doug Wilson.

Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun reports the Toronto Maple Leafs are among at least a half dozen teams keeping tabs on the Thornton situation. He suggests Thornton would be an ideal target for Toronto, which has lacked a player of his caliber in the middle for quite some time:

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Leafs are among at least six NHL teams who have kicked tires concerning Thornton's availability.

And why wouldn't they? With centre being a position of need for the Leafs ever since Mats Sundin left, why not make an inquiry if someone of Thornton’s ilk might possibly come on the market?

A line with Thornton, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk would likely be among the best offensive trios in the league. Both wingers scored 30 goals without a true top center in 2013-14. The sky's the limit if Toronto is able to add one of the top distributors in the game.

 

Vincent Lecavalier

The Flyers signed Lecavalier last summer with the hope that he could rediscover the scoring touch he put on display for so long with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was serviceable with 20 goals in 69 games but rarely cracked the top-six for Philadelphia.

Capable of playing center or on the wing and an asset on the power play, he could be or more use to another team. Darren Dreger of TSN reports the early talk suggests a deal may be on the horizon, but the veteran does have a say in the matter:

"He's a fourth-line forward making $4.5 million and I can't believe that Ron Hextall is going to want to pay him that. So the word on the street is yes, Lecavalier most definitely is in play. But keep in mind that he has a no-move clause."

Dreger goes on to say a list of potential landing spots hasn't emerged yet. That said, it's safe to assume the only teams that would be interested are those on the brink of contention since his $4.5 million cap hit is pretty high for a player who's no longer at his peak.

One team that always comes to mind in regard to Lecavalier is the Montreal Canadiens. He's a Quebec native, so it would be a homecoming. And he would take on a bigger offensive role with Montreal, which ranked 21st in scoring, than he did in Philadelphia.

 

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