NHL Rumors: Blues, Islanders, RFAs, More

In today’s NHL rumors rundown, what are the St. Louis Blues’ plans regarding Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo? Both are unrestricted free agents (UFAs) after the 2019-20 season. Will the New York Islanders trade a defenseman to make space for top prospect Noah Dobson? And, is Ryan Strome in the New York Rangers’ long-term plans? Finally, with Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, and Mikko Rantanen signed, what’s the status of the restricted free agency (RFA) market?

Related: NHL Rumors: Crosby, Rantanen, Flames, More

Will the Blues Be Able to Sign Schenn, Pietrangelo?

The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues have two big-name UFAs to deal with in Schenn and Pietrangelo. Both players’ contracts expire after the 2019-20 season. Schenn, a center, has been excellent for the Blues since they acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers in June 2017 with 124 points in 154 regular-season games. He also added 12 points in 26 playoff games in 2019. Meanwhile, Pietrangelo, a defenseman and team captain, has been with the Blues since they drafted him fourth overall in 2008. He has 398 points in 688 regular-season games and has two top-five Norris Trophy finishes to his name. He posted 19 points in 26 playoff games in 2019. Both are key contributors for the Blues and could be due sizable raises; Schenn currently has a $5.125 million cap hit and Pietrangelo a $6.5 million hit. The problem is that the Blues are a cap team with not much salary coming off the books after this season.

Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup
Captain Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with the Stanley Cup (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In a recent chat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jim Thomas commented on the status of the two UFAs and the Blues’ chances of extending them. (from ‘Quick Hits: Jim Thomas on the Blues,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 09/25/2019) He pointed out that the team currently has $15.1 million in cap space for next season based on the current salary cap and need to sign eight free agents who are currently on their NHL roster. As Thomas rightly points out, that’s not enough to re-sign Schenn and Pietrangelo, plus be able to retain their other free agents. As a result, Thomas pointed out two players who could be moved to free up cap space: goaltender Jake Allen ($4.35 million) and winger Alexander Steen ($5.75 million).

Yes, the Blues could remove Allen’s $4.35 million or Steen’s $5.75 million. But as Doug Armstrong said yesterday, the Blues are going to have to be creative in order to bring both Pietrangelo and Schenn back.

Jim Thomas

Both players have two more seasons left on their contracts and have had their values decrease in recent years, but it’s still likely the Blues could rid themselves of one or both. Assuming that’s possible, there’s a clear path to them being able to re-sign both Schenn and Pietrangelo, if that’s their goal. There’s also always the possibility that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong gets in front of the negotiations and trades one or both players. However, as the Blues are still a contending team, that seems unlikely to happen.

Does Dobson Have a Spot with Islanders?

Noah Dobson is one of the game’s better defense prospects and is the Islanders’ top prospect. He’s likely ready for NHL duty after winning back-to-back Memorial Cups and nearly having consecutive seasons averaging at least a point-per-game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). However, considering that the Islanders allowed the fewest goals in the NHL last season, they already have a quality blue line and may not have room for Dobson.

Noah Dobson Islanders
Noah Dobson, New York Islanders, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The usual plan in this situation would be for him to play in the American Hockey League (AHL), but because he’s still junior eligible he can’t play in the AHL this season and would have to return to his QMJHL team if he’s not in the NHL. So that leaves the Islanders with a choice: do they return Dobson to the QMJHL where he can over-ripen, potentially win a third straight Memorial Cup, and represent Canada at the World Junior Championships? Or, do the Islanders make room for him on the NHL blue line?

Related: Islanders Have Decisions to Make on Dobson

According to The Athletic’s Arthur Staple, it could be the latter. (from ‘
What we know, what we think we know and what we don’t know about the Islanders,’ The Athletic, 09/23/2019) The Islanders currently have three veteran defensemen who still have value but could still be parted with: Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Thomas Hickey. While Boychuk is the oldest (35), he also has the highest cap hit ($6 million) and has a modified no-trade clause, making him potentially difficult to trade. Meanwhile, Leddy also as a large cap hit ($5.5 million) but still has a lot of value, so the team may want to hold onto him.

Nick Leddy Islanders
Nick Leddy – November 24, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That leaves Hickey as the most likely of the three to be dealt. At 30, he’s not too old while his contract ($2.5 million through 2021-22) is certainly movable. At least that’s what Staple thinks. But, at the moment, it’s still unknown if Dobson will be on the NHL roster all season or if he’ll be returned to the QMJHL, which would make these speculations moot.

Is Strome in the Rangers’ Plans?

Given all the excitement surrounding the Rangers this offseason, one player lost in it all is forward Ryan Strome. After the Rangers acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers last season, he had 18 goals and 33 points. He’s also an RFA this offseason and, according to The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis, he is looking to cement himself as a part of the Rangers’ long-term plans. It’s easy to see why as he’s on his third team in six NHL seasons after the Islanders drafted him fifth overall in 2011.

A lot of guys talking about the young guys fighting for spots, but I want to prove that I can be a part of the core here

Ryan Strome

A strong performance could help him earn a multi-year contract from the Rangers, but it could also increase his trade value, which could be key. This is a team that’s dealt players on expiring deals in recent years, including Kevin Hayes last season. Regardless of what happens with Strome, it appears as though the Rangers will be getting the best version of him.

Ryan Strome New York Rangers
Ryan Strome, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Status of RFA Market

Now that Connor, Laine, and Rantanen have been signed, the RFA market has calmed down. In fact, it’s almost completely silent as only Dallas Stars defenseman Julius Honka remains unsigned. With this year’s crop of RFAs largely out of the way, we can begin looking to the 2020 class of free agents. Leading the way will be Alex Debrincat, Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nico Hischier, and Mikhail Sergachev, all who will be coming off their entry-level contracts, just like Connor, Laine, and Rantanen. Stay tuned for the latest rumors regarding the 2020 RFA class.