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The 2018-19 NHL season is only a week old, but the rumor mill is already beginning to take center stage. There are several buzzworthy stories making headlines in the early going, which amplifies the chances of an eventual blockbuster trade.
No situation has generated more attention than the continued absence of Toronto Maple Leafs winger William Nylander, a restricted free agent who remains unsigned. He’s a key part of the team’s budding core, but his future with the organization becomes more uncertain with each passing game missed.
So let’s take a look at some of the latest rumors and speculation about Nylander and the Leafs, as well as some other stories from around the league.
Leafs Getting Calls on Nylander
Nylander is coming off back-to-back 61-point seasons for Toronto. His performance last year was made more impressive by the fact he tallied just 12 power-play points, meaning most of his production came during five-on-five action, when it’s tougher to score. By comparison, he had 26 PPP in 2016-17.
Last week, the 22-year-old Sweden national team standout told Swedish outlet Aftonbladet (via Chris Johnston of Sportsnet) he had to remain focused on his future despite his desire to play.
“In the end, I have to take care of myself and do what I and my agent thinks is right,” Nylander said. “Especially if it’s about several years to come. I need to think long term. It’s my own future it’s about.”
The sides must come to an agreement by Dec. 1 or he’ll be ineligible to play this season.
Although that’s still seven weeks away, the closer the deadline gets, the more incentive the Leafs have to seriously consider the trade route—and there’s interest if the forward is made available.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported “teams have been calling, no doubt” about Nylander’s availability. They have been turned away so far, but Dreger noted the Leafs are “at least going to have to think about it” if the contract impasse carries into November.
Nylander still carries immense trade value since he’s a restricted free agent under team control, but interested teams are going to need to invest in a lucrative long-term contract. That would decrease Toronto’s return a bit. The front office must weigh that against the possibility of future salary-cap trouble.
All told, there isn’t any immediate sense of urgency with the Leafs off to a 3-1-0 start and having scored 20 goals in those four games. But the situation will linger over the team until a solution is found.
Artemi Panarin Seeks Big Market If Traded
Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. His status as one of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ most valuable assets will force the team to decide between keeping him with the potential of losing him for nothing in the offseason or trying to trade him before February’s deadline.
The 26-year-old Russian has averaged nearly a point per game in his career (236 points in 246 appearances), including two goals and one assist through three contests this season. It’s his second year with the Jackets after two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.
After leaving the bright lights of Chicago, it appears the only way Panarin would entertain the idea of re-signing with a team he’s traded to is if it’s another big market.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN said during an appearance on Vancouver’s TSN 1040 (via Nichols On Hockey) the winger’s preference could “hurt the Blue Jackets’ return” since smaller-market teams would only be acquiring a couple months of the offensive playmaker:
“Now, I will leave the door open a crack in terms of a signing through a trade if it happens to be one or two of the teams that’s on this so-called list of five teams that I think he would be interested in next summer. He wants to go to a big-market team, and whether that’s one of the New York area teams or a Tampa Bay because of where they are in their arc, or in L.A.—whatever it is I think it’s obvious some of the markets that he’s looking at. If those teams step up before the trade deadline, could they entice him to forego July 1 ahead of time. It’s not out of the question.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team from that group that may consider Panarin even if he doesn’t want to re-sign because they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Los Angeles Kings are a fringe playoff team, while the New York Rangers and New York Islanders are rebuilding.
So the trade market so Panarin could be tame despite his high-end talent. The Jackets might be best off keeping the dynamic forward with hope he can help in their championship push than trading him for pennies on the dollar as a rental to another team.
Sam Bennett Asking Price Still High
Bennett has struggled to reach expectations since the Calgary Flames selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft.
The 22-year-old Canadian center has only racked up 89 points (42 goals and 47 assists) in 244 games, including no points in three appearances so far this season. He’s averaged less than 10 minutes of ice time in the early going this year.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reported on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960 (via Nichols On Hockey) the Flames aren’t ready to give up on his upside yet, however, noting the “price is pretty high” and they won’t risk losing him by placing him on waivers:
“It’s not a great situation for anybody. But it’s not one I see a really easy answer to because it’s one of those situations where you know another team is going to say, ‘Well, I’m not going to give you this because he’s not playing,’ and the Flames are saying, ‘Well, I’m not taking that’ because the kid is 22 years old, and he’s got a lot of potential.”
It’s even more of a catch-22 situation because Bennett needs to play top-six minutes to produce the type of offensive numbers the Flames expected when they drafted him, but he hasn’t proven worthy of those opportunities based on his play over the last three seasons.
Friedman added he thinks “it’s clear that maybe both the player and team need a chance of scenery,” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
The Flames will likely need to wait until Bennett enjoys at least a brief scoring surge to have any chance of getting back anywhere near their original investment in the former top prospect.