NHL Rumors: Jets, Senators, Maple Leafs, More

For the Oct. 8 edition of NHL Rumors, what’s the latest regarding the Winnipeg Jets defense? Are the Ottawa Senators poised to make another trade? Is Michael Hutchinson the solution for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ backup goaltender role? Plus, the latest on the Alex Pietrangelo extension negotiations.

Related: NHL Rumors: 2020 RFA Class, Goligoski, Strome, More

Solving the Jets’ Defensive Woes

The problem that keeps on going. To recap, the Jets hemorrhaged defensemen this offseason when they traded Jacob Trouba and lost Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot to free agency. Despite getting Neal Pionk back in the Trouba trade, the Jets were going to be forced to rely on unproven defensemen even if everyone was present and available. But then Dustin Byfuglien, their minutes-eating, top-pair blueliner announced that he was taking a leave of absence and it’s been reported that he’s considering retirement. Add to that Josh Morrissey’s one-game absence due to injury and the Jets’ blue line is in shambles. It’s a unit that allowed 14 goals through three games as the team went 1-2-0.

According to Winnipeg Free Press writer Mike McIntyre, the Jets have to find a solution as the team’s only led for 143 seconds thus far in 2019-20. (from ‘Jets’ blue line a going concern,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 10/07/2019) Their issue is that unless Byfuglien retires they find themselves in a cap crunch and quality reinforcements on the blue line will only occur if they can move money out.

A money in, money out trade seems to be the only tangible option at this point.

Mike McIntyre

However, that kind of trade would also strip the team of forward depth with someone like Bryan Little or Matthieu Perreault having to go the other way. According to The Athletic’s Murat Ates, one possible way for the Jets to address their defensive woes is by pursuing Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. (from ‘Sorting through possible solutions to improve the Jets’ suddenly unrecognizable defence,’ The Athletic, 10/07/2019) The right-shot blueliner appears to be nearing the end of his tenure in Buffalo and could be a solution for the Jets. But, because his contract has three years left on it with a $5.4-million cap hit, the Jets would have to either part with a large contract or wait for Byfuglien to announce his retirement. Ristolainen also won’t be cheap asset-wise given his skillset and talent level.

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien
Winnipeg Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Jeff Roberson)

Until the Jets can add another blueliner, it’s not going to get any easier anytime soon. This morning the Jets announced that they have granted defenseman Dmitry Kulikov a leave of absence for a personal matter. Additionally, they’re taking preventative measures with Morrissey and not playing him in tonight’s game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Will the Senators Make Another Trade?

Yesterday, Oct. 7, the Senators acquired forward Vladislav Namestnikov from the New York Rangers. What position he plays with Ottawa is up in the air at the moment. With the Rangers he primarily played on the wing but has experience playing down the middle. However, if he does play center, how does head coach D.J. Smith handle the surplus of pivots and what kind of shuffling will take place? The Senators also have Colin White, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Chris Tierney, and Artem Anisimov as centers.

Vladislav Namestnikov New York Rangers
New Senator Vladislav Namestnikov (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Ottawa Sun’s Ken Warren wonders if the Senators may make another trade to shed some of their excess at the position. (from ‘Warrenspiece: Taking centre stage, White hot about faceoffs and Shark watch is on,’ Ottawa Sun, 10/07/2019) This comes after the team was abysmal in the faceoff circle in their most recent game, which happened to be against the Rangers.

The trade comes after the Senators went a woeful 20-for-60 in faceoffs against the Rangers, including only five of 25 in their own zone.

Ken Warren

As Warren rightly points out, it’s difficult to possess the puck when you don’t win faceoffs. Due to the team’s struggles at winning faceoffs, perhaps Smith gives Namestnikov an opportunity to play center. If so, will this result in a simple reshuffling or is there another move coming, as Warren asks?

Do the Maple Leafs Still Have a Backup Goaltending Problem?

One of the storylines out of Toronto in recent seasons has surrounded the Maple Leafs backup goaltending role. Last season they attempted to address it by trading for Michael Hutchinson. He is the team’s backup netminder for the 2019-20 season and played in his first game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 5, allowing six goals in a shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. With the Maple Leafs having Stanley Cup aspirations in 2019-20, they need strong goaltending from both starter and backup. According to The Star’s Dave Feschuk, perhaps the Maple Leafs still haven’t solved their backup role. (from ‘It’s early, but the Leafs might not have the backup goaltending they need to reach their goal,’ The Star, 10/05/2019)

Toronto Maple Leafs Michael Hutchinson New Jersey Devils Miles Wood
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Michael Hutchinson (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Feschuk points out that the Maple Leafs’ loss on Saturday wasn’t entirely on Hutchinson. He played very well through two periods and entered the third with a 4-1 lead. Still, blowing a three-goal lead in the third period is a tough pill to swallow. Head coach Mike Babcock was quick to point out that the blame for the loss can’t be placed exclusively on Hutchinson:

I felt bad for Hutch,” Babcock said. “In the end, we hung him out to dry … It’s unfortunate

But, as Feschuk points out, the Maple Leafs have 13 more sets of back-to-backs this season and need to be able to trust in their backup to give them a chance in each of them. If Hutchinson can’t give them that chance on a consistent basis, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Maple Leafs look elsewhere to address the issue.

Rutherford’s Thoughts on Pietrangelo

The last rumor is brief but comes from The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford on Twitter. Rutherford, who covers the St. Louis Blues, recently tweeted out what captain Alex Pietrangelo’s extension may look like. With recent rumors pointing to a progress being made on an extension, he wonders how term and cap hit intersect on Pietrangelo’s next contract.

With Brayden Schenn signing an eight-year extension and Justin Faulk signing one for seven years, both with lower than market rate average annual values (AAV), Rutherford asks if the Blues will offer Pietrangelo an eight-year contract with an AAV lower than one might expect. With Pietrangelo turning 30 in January, going eight years will be risky for the team, however, it would ensure the team’s ability to stay competitive for the foreseeable future. With the Blues in Toronto last night to play the Maple Leafs, it’s believed that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong met with Pietrangelo’s representatives, which are based in Toronto.