NHL Rumors: Latest on Dustin Byfuglien's Future, Blue Jackets Goaltenders Buzz

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2020

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 17: Joonas Korpisalo #70 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on December 17, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With the 2019-20 NHL season on an indefinite hiatus, the rumor mill has largely slowed to a crawl.

Still, front offices have to plan for the offseason—whenever it arrives.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, for example, have a pair of talented goaltenders headed for restricted free agency, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen might have to choose between Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins.

The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, may want to reach a resolution with Dustin Byfuglien sooner rather than later to have a clear picture as to their salary-cap situation.

Here's a look at the rumors swirling around both teams.

                                    

Dustin Byfuglien

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - APRIL 10: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets chats to a referee during a break in action with the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on A
Jason Halstead/Getty Images

The Jets didn't trade Byfuglien by the Feb. 24 deadline, and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was forthright about why the 35-year-old didn't get shipped out, per NHL.com's Tim Campbell:

"There's obviously some different things behind the scenes. There's still a work in progress there. Interestingly enough, Dustin essentially made the decision not to play this year and that essentially kind of squashed anything that might've happened for maybe someone to put him in their lineup this year. We can still trade him at any point in time, you know, with respect to the future as well, it's still a work in progress."

Byfuglien is signed through next season, but an outright release is probably the only way Winnipeg can move on from the veteran defenseman. The team won't suddenly have a ton of trade leverage when the avenue opens back up in the summer.

According to TSN's Darren Dreger, finalizing Byfuglien's release isn't the top piece of business for the involved parties. He reported, however, the NHL, NHL Players' Association, the Jets and Byfuglien are "all aligned on the termination agreement." Dreger expects everything to be finalized and made official in the "near future."

                        

Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 24:  Elvis Merzlikins #90 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the Ottawa Senators on February 24, 2020 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Watching Sergei Bobrovsky leave in free agency last summer appears to have been a blessing in disguise for the Blue Jackets.

After signing his seven-year, $70 million deal with the Florida Panthers, Bobrovsky is allowing a career-high 3.23 goals-against average, and his .900 percent save percentage is his second-worst record.

Columbus, meanwhile, has watched Korpisalo (2.60 GAA) and Merzlikins (2.35 GAA) shine between the pipes in his absence.

The Athletic's Aaron Portzline wrote recently that "the assumption has been that the Blue Jackets will trade either Korpisalo or Merzlikins this summer."

Portzline questioned whether the Blue Jackets could get a strong return for either player since a number of veteran goaltenders are expected to be available. He also spoke to an executive who remained somewhat unsure as to Korpisalo and Merzlikins' true value.

"[Korpisalo and Merzlikins] are headed in the right direction," the executive said. "But I'd feel better about them, especially Merzlikins, if I could see them do it again."

For the Jackets, playing the waiting game would be the best approach. And barring a trade offer that's too good to pass up or an outright trade demand, Kekalainen should keep both players through the summer.

Given the state of flux around the NHL, receiving a worthwhile package for Korpisalo or Merzlikins might be difficult, and this route would buy Columbus more time to see whether one clearly outshines the other.

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