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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    With August fast approaching, there’s little activity in the NHL trade and free-agent markets. That hasn’t stopped some hockey pundits from speculating over moves involving such stars as New York Islanders center John Tavares and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel.

    Tavares’ eligibility for free agency next summer is the reason he’s popping up in the rumor mill. Questions over Kessel’s performance were among the reasons for conjecture over his future in Pittsburgh.

    Is there any substance to this chatter? Find out as we examine the latest notable NHL speculation to determine its basis in fact or fiction. Feel free to post your views on this topic in the comments section below. 

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The speculation

    The Detroit Red Wings’ recent re-signing of winger Tomas Tatar put them above the $75 million cap ceiling by just over $3 million. General manager Ken Holland lacks sufficient salary-cap space to re-sign winger Andreas Athanasiou. On Saturday, The Athletic’s Craig Custance wondered if the Wings might free up space via trade. 

           

    Analysis

    Custance observed they’ll eventually place sidelined forward Johan Franzen on long-term injured reserve. That would put them under the cap by around $900,000 but won’t leave enough to re-sign Athanasiou. Defenseman Ryan Sproul ($625,000) could also be put on LTIR but that still doesn’t leave much wiggle room. 

    Custance suggested goaltender Petr Mrazek ($4 million annual average value) and forwards Gustav Nyquist ($4.75 million) and Riley Sheahan ($2.075 million) as possible trade candidates. With four straight 40-plus point seasons, Nyquist would have the most value. However, he also has a no-trade clause.

          

    Fact or fiction?

    It’s certainly a fact the Wings must clear some cap space to re-sign Athanasiou and leave sufficient space for other possible moves in 2017-18. If a trade is coming, it will likely happen during training camp or preseason in September. Whether it involves Nyquist remains to be seen. 

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The speculation

    On July 8, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks took note of the Toronto Maple Leafs signing forward Patrick Marleau. He wondered if that might force the Leafs to put Tyler Bozak on the trade block. If so, Brooks expected the New York Rangers could be interested in the 31-year-old center. 

           

    Analysis

    Brooks felt the addition of Marleau could make it difficult for the Leafs to pursue New York Islanders center John Tavares if he’s shopped before next year’s trade deadline. But with 2017 Calder Memorial Trophy winner Auston Matthews as their first-line center, there’s no reason for the Leafs to chase Tavares, let alone move Bozak to clear cap.

    Bozak carries a salary-cap hit of $4.2 million and is eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. On July 10, the Toronto Star‘s Kevin McGran reported the Leafs might have to shed salary in order to re-sign right wing Connor Brown. However, TSN’s Kristen Shilton followed up on July 12 reporting the Leafs will use an offseason LTIR designation, giving them sufficient room for Brown. 

          

    Fact or fiction

    Fiction. If the Leafs fail to re-sign Bozak by next year’s trade deadline, maybe they’ll try to move him if they’re out of the playoff chase by that point. As things stand, however, there’s no sense in peddling him now. 

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The speculation

    On July 13, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman cited an NHL executive noting the lack of impact players in free agency. He reported several NHL executives suggested that offer sheets could be coming.

          

    Analysis

    Offer sheets to restricted free agents seldom take place. However, Friedman noted one executive suggesting the lack of depth in the UFA market could be the best option for a club to quickly improve.  

    This summer’s class of restricted free agents includes Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl, Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen and Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak. All would be worthy of an offer sheet target. 

           

    Fact or fiction?

    Fiction. Offer sheets are as rare as unicorns now. Over the past decade, only one RFA (Dustin Penner in 2007) was successfully signed away by a rival club. If Draisaitl, Johansen or Pastrnak sign an offer sheet, expect it to be quickly matched by their current club. 

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The speculation

    On July 18, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post speculated over the trade status of Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene. Replying to a reader’s question on the subject, Chambers believes “the marriage is over between No. 9 and the Avs.” But with the forward still on the trade block, he doesn’t rule out Duchene starting the season in Colorado. 

           

    Analysis

    Chambers felt Duchene could fetch a top-four defenseman in a trade. On July 1, BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater reported Avs general manager Joe Sakic wasn’t backing down from his asking price. Part of that return would include a young, established top-four blueliner. 

    Several teams could be interested in Duchene. On July 2, the Columbus Dispatch‘s Aaron Portzline listed the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins among the possible suitors. The previous day, the New York Post‘s Brett Cyrgalis observed the New York Islanders has the depth in draft picks to make a pitch. 

           

    Fact or fiction?

    If a team is willing to pay what Sakic’s asking for Duchene, it’s a fact the veteran center will be traded. The problem, however, is finding a club willing to do so. That he’s still on the market suggests interested parties are hoping Sakic will be forced to lower his price. 

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The speculation

    On July 11, Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette speculated the Pittsburgh Penguins could trade Kessel. Among Cook’s reasons was the departure of assistant coach Rick Tocchet to the Arizona Coyotes and a decline in Kessel’s goal production last season. 

           

    Analysis

    Kessel can be a streaky scorer but he was their 2016 playoff points leader and finished third this year. He was also among their regular-season scoring leaders. While his goal production was down last season (23 goals), he logged a career-best 47 assists. He was unquestionably a key part of the Penguins’ march to consecutive Stanley Cup titles. 

    Kessel shouldn’t have any difficulty adjusting to Mark Recchi, who replaced Tocchet on the coaching staff. On July 11, Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cited Pens coach Mike Sullivan saying Recchi had worked with Kessel over the last two seasons. 

           

    Fact or fiction

    Fiction. On July 13, Bombulie cited Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford dismissing the speculation during an interview segment with Cook on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan. 

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The speculation

    The New York Islanders haven’t yet re-signed Tavares, who’s eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. On July 15, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks envisioned the Tampa Bay Lightning offering forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in a package deal for the Isles center. If Tavares reaches free agency, Brooks feels the Lightning will pursue him.

           

    Analysis

    Tavares would be the biggest prize in next summer’s free-agent market. However, he could command over $10 million annually on a long-term contract. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman obviously considers Johnson and Palat to be core players, recently re-signing them to lengthy new deals for just over $10 million in combined salary. 

    The Lightning has over $61 million invested in 15 players for 2018-19. Shedding Johnson and Palat would clear room for Tavares but could hurt their overall depth. Adding such a high-salaried player could complicate efforts to re-sign sniper Nikita Kucherov in 2019. 

           

    Fact or fiction?

    Fiction. Tavares could end up re-signing with the Islanders. But if he doesn’t, he’ll be far too expensive for the Lightning in either the trade or free-agent markets. With captain Steven Stamkos earning $8.5 million annually and Kucherov due for a big raise in two years’ time, Tavares is a luxury the Bolts cannot afford. 

          

    Player info via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly.



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