In today’s links, the insiders provide the latest on Zach Hyman’s future, the Leafs’ plans this offseason, Toronto’s interest in Dougie Hamilton, and the looming Jack Eichel blockbuster trade in Buffalo.
On the Lead Off, Elliotte Friedman discussed the latest intel on Zach Hyman’s future and the Leafs‘ level of interest in pending UFA defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
Friedman on the latest talk around Zach Hyman’s future:
It is pretty clear to me that this is going to be an enormous challenge to bring him back. This is a year where he is a valued player. There is going to be a lot of interest. I just think it is going to force everybody to make a decision. I never like to say any outcome is certain because we still have time, and you never know what will happen. At the very least, what I can say is that Hyman and the Maple Leafs are preparing for the eventuality that this is not going to work out.
That is where we are today. You never know what can happen. You never know what can change. I have said situations are over before and they haven’t been, making me look like a huge doofus. I refuse to get into that as much as I possibly can. The best thing I can say [today] is that everybody is preparing for the possibility that it might not work out, and what is that going to mean?
I think there is a lot of interest in him.
Friedman on the Leafs‘ interest level in Dougie Hamilton:
I find it hard to believe that they are not on some level considering Hamilton. They have permission to talk to him. They can find out what he wants.
The other thing here: Does Hamilton wants to come here? It depends on who you talk to. Some people will tell you, “Yes, he would be interested in playing in Toronto because he has the hometown-area connection to here.” I have had people say to me who know Hamilton or who have been around Hamilton that they are not convinced this is the best place for him.
The interesting thing about that is that if Hamilton were to hear that, he has the personality — which I kind of admire, personally — to say, “Screw that. I am going to prove you wrong.” Maybe that would be a good thing for Toronto.
I’ve had some people who played with him say they are not convinced it is the best place for him, but maybe we find out.
I find it hard to believe that Toronto, on some level, isn’t figuring out exactly how to do this. With everyone talking about how the Leafs get past the first round, one of the things we have to realize: Looking at the division they’re going to be in, it’s going to be a battle to make the playoffs.
On Writers Bloc, Chris Johnston provided his latest sense of the Zach Hyman situation and what the Leafs could do with their cap space this summer.
CJ on the Zach Hyman situation and the likelihood of a return:
He is probably going to sign a six-year contract at a minimum. It could be seven somewhere else — I can’t say that won’t happen. I think it’s going to come in at $5.5-6 million on that deal as a free agent. You are looking at somewhere — with my rough math — between $30-36 million on a secure deal somewhere else. I think Leafs, for a whole host of reasons — predominantly the cap; it’s not about undervaluing or misvaluing or not appreciating what Zach Hyman has done — it sets up a tough spot for them.
They would probably want to pay him somewhere around $4.5 million if they can make that work. Let’s say they’ll give him the same six-year term for the purposes of the exercise. It takes you to $28 million. For Zach Hyman, the math could be anywhere between $8-10 million more on the contract as the difference between what the Leafs might pay him and what he can get in free agency on the open market.
At this stage of his career, after not cashing in prior to this — on relative terms, compared to what NHL players are paid — I think it is going to be too difficult to bridge that gap. Something could happen between now and the opening of free agency — maybe the Leafs make another trade, or things open up in their cap picture, but without that, I just think you are at a weird spot.
In a pre-cap world, probably Zach Hyman’s contract extension in Toronto is long since signed. You have to make these difficult decisions in a cap environment. Where it is trending right now, of course, is that he won’t be back with the Leafs.
CJ on how the team could use its cap space if Hyman is not back:
It sets up some interesting philosophical questions for them in the offseason. I don’t think it is a matter of trying to sign one player that can do everything Zach Hyman did. What was so valuable about him is that he played so many minutes at 5v5, was a top penalty-killing forward, and got some time on the second power-play unit. He played with some of their best players. If you are going to find exactly that type of guy, you are probably paying him somewhere in the neighbourhood of what you would have to pay Zach Hyman to stay.
What it does is allows them to move towards a different kind of balance in their lineup. Maybe it is a somewhat weaker third player on the top line if you keep Matthews and Marner together — and cheaper in terms of your cap allocation there. It might allow them to sign two players and achieve maybe a little better balance throughout the lineup.
What it does is give them more flexibility heading into this offseason than if they were to sign him to, say, a $5 million contract. Their hands would be tied pretty good when you consider they still have to find another goaltender to play with Jack Campbell and some other depth forwards depending on the decisions they make with veterans there.
It is entirely plausible to me that Alex Kerfoot is a player they lose in expansion to Seattle. I don’t think that’s decided by any means, but if you look at their protection issues, that is a logical outcome. If you lose the money Zach Hyman is paid, you have to find a bunch of forwards, but you are going to have $14 or 15 million to do your shopping. They have six NHL defensemen signed already for next year.
This will be part of a wider retool. It is not just filling that specific need. This is the challenge as long as you are keeping those four forwards paid what they are paid in a flat-cap environment. Almost every offseason, you are going to have to fill four or five spots as creatively, cheaply, and effectively as possible.
… Probably the belief is they have to shift around the mix. I would think we will see maybe a little less veteran element with their depth players. I am not sure you need a Simmonds, a Thornton, and a Spezza. We know Jason is back, but there is probably room there to try out some, say, 25- or 26-year-old free agents who have fallen through the cracks elsewhere and look to find players that can be as effective as Zach Hyman but just haven’t earned that reputation yet in the NHL.
It is a huge task — it is not a sure thing, and it is not about going and wooing the top free agent — but really, what they are going to be aiming to do is improve incrementally in small ways and have faith and trust that their top players are going to be difference makers for them next season.
On The Instigators, Darren Dreger provided his latest update on the Jack Eichel sweepstakes in Buffalo and the teams likely to be involved.
Dreger on the latest Jack Eichel news:
Talks around Eichel have increased in the past week to the point where I am pretty comfortable in saying Jack is going to be traded. There are a number of suitors. There are a number of teams interested in a healthy Jack Eichel… Any team that needs a center — Columbus, Anaheim to some degree. You also have to have the young assets, or why would Buffalo engage?
I think Los Angeles is going to get in the mix. When you are talking about a player of this magnitude, you are probably talking about a dozen or more clubs who have expressed interest. Who is going to offer the package that gets a deal done for Eichel, though? It might be a team we are not even talking about yet.
Dreger on whether an Eichel deal could happen in the next few weeks:
I would be surprised — not shocked, but surprised. The draft isn’t a whole lot unlike the trade deadline. You have a captive audience. Are teams really going to be present their best package unless it comes down to getting the player or not getting the player?
It goes both ways. Buffalo feels like there is more to come from one of those clubs. The best deals aren’t always the ones made with a deadline looming, but there is a sense of urgency that goes along with the deadline.
Is that an advantage to Buffalo or the club with the most interest? I would also wonder why Buffalo wouldn’t want the whole league involved in this process, and there are still four teams in the NHL playoffs. I’d be a little bit surprised if it happened that quickly, but if Buffalo gets the deal they need, who knows?
On Friday’s 31 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman discussed the latest buzz from around the league heading into rumour season.
Friedman on the buzz around Jack Eichel to Anaheim:
They are definitely talking. I am on record as saying Anaheim is going to try to do something big. I reported this week that I have heard that teams are saying Buffalo is potentially going to have a second pick in the top 10 or high in the draft. Anaheim is sitting there right at #3.
There are teams out there who do believe Buffalo does not want Eichel in the Eastern Conference. Anaheim is not in the Eastern Conference. I definitely think there is something going on there.
Anaheim wasn’t willing to include Trevor Zegras or Jamie Drysdale for Pierre-Luc Dubois. I am curious to see how this grinding goes for Eichel.
Friedman on the likelihood Eichel, Reinhart, and Ristolainen will all be moved:
I think it is likely. I think they want to start over and all of these guys need fresh starts. I have been told some of the teams that are in on Eichel might also be in on Reinhart. For example, say Anaheim Eichel doesn’t end up in Anaheim. It doesn’t mean Reinhart couldn’t end up there. I have Columbus and Reinhart a lot.
I think there are quite a few teams. These next couple of weeks for rumours is going to be bananas. With a team like Philly, they are in the middle of everything. They are going to go after a goalie. I am wondering if they are thinking of someone — a short-term veteran — who is going to challenge Carter Hart.
Friedman on the teams that are going to be really active this summer:
Columbus, Anaheim, Buffalo, Philly, and Florida is going to try to be aggressive.
Colorado is going to be really interesting. I wrote this week that the biggest question is what Cale Makar’s number is going to be. I had some people tell me this week they will do everything in their power to keep Landeskog. They feel they really need him. They feel he has been so loyal to the team and he is everything you want your franchise standard-bearer to be. They feel an enormous amount of loyalty and respect to him because of that. They feel he sets an attitude.
MacKinnon is such a competitive and driven guy that sometimes you need someone to say, “Ease up a little bit today,” or, “Stop killing everyone in practice today.” Landeskog is kind of that guy. Someone said to me that Colorado is going to do something to make sure they can keep him, too. They are disappointed they lost. They’re creative. They might be very interesting.
I am wondering about Edmonton, too. We think they are re-signing Larsson. I don’t know about RNH. Everyone is locked down on that one, and I think it is because they are really trying to get it done. They obviously believe in their top guys. I think they believe in some of their young guys who are coming. But I think they say, “What else do we need?”