Insider Trading: Leafs interested in trading Zaitsev; Will Kessel stay or go?
TSN Hockey Insiders Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun discuss rule changes coming to the NHL, possible suitors for Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel's status with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and more.
Some new faces on the competition committee this year. The likes of Connor McDavid and John Tavares. This is a big one. Hockey fans have been frustrated for some time now. Pierre, what is our sense of what decisions might have been made today?
LeBrun: It's a pretty important step. Because whenever you get the players and the league in the room, you don't always get the consensus, but they got it today. What we're told is that there will be formal recommendations from both sides in agreement for the NHL GMs, for the Board of Governors and the NHLPA's executive board, to expand video review. Now, the NHL didn't come here empty-handed. As we reported before on Insider Trading, the league (between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final) held a meeting in New York where they hashed out what they believe is a good start to a plan that they would then bring to the competition committee meeting today. They did. And now it's up to the GMs to have their input on June 20th in Vancouver and go from there.
Dreger: I think that the NHL and NHLPA are going to generalize in terms of the information that gets leaked out in the days ahead, because of the process they have to observe. They have to go to the GMs. They have to go to the board for full approval. But some of the recommendations that we believe are going to be considered are and likely recommended and approved are specific to added video review. What we don't know are the specifics of the video review that they will consider. Will the on-ice officials get an extra look, if you will, at certain plays like the hand pass or puck off the mesh. Or have another look at a major penalty that they may want to consider reducing. Will there be additional coach's challenges and how involved will the situation room in Toronto be? That stuff will come out eventually, but it might take a little bit of work.
Jake Gardiner's off-season is important. His health was a question mark toward the end of the season. Do we have more information on his status?
LeBrun: His off-season started early because he struggled in that Game 7 against the Boston Bruins because he wasn't healthy. He played through that back problem in the first round. What we're told is he avoided surgery. An MRI came back clean. He's healed and feeling 100 per cent and that's huge news for him in an off-season where he's either going to re-sign with the Leafs or venture elsewhere. Certainly, I expect that even if he stays in Toronto, it can only happen after Mitch Marner's re-signing and that's holding up the Jake Gardiner process. Because they need a decision and a solution on Mitch Marner first.
Dreger: And there will be ongoing discussions between Pat Brisson, who represents Gardiner, and the Maple Leafs to see whether or not there is a potential fit there. Meanwhile, the Leafs are still considering the option of trading Nikita Zaitsev. That's been out there for the better part of a week. There's been some tire-kicking, I'm told. There's been some interest from the Vancouver Canucks, but general manager Jim Benning has a priority list. He has a lot of work to do and he wants to get it done between now and the draft. Nikita Zaitsev is on his interests list, but he might be option three or four.
Phil Kessel, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford says a week ago says he's likely on the move and maybe we get the sense now that's not the case. What do we know about this player's availability?
LeBrun: Well this is what has happened. Because Kessel would not waive his no-trade to go to the Minnesota Wild in a deal that was pretty well worked out between the teams, Rutherford is not going out there to force a trade with a team that's on the eight-team trade list of Kessel's. Because he's not getting maximum return in that scenario, Rutherford made it public to The Athletic in Pittsburgh that we're happy keeping Phil Kessel. We're not just trying to dump this guy. They were ready to make a real trade, but if that's not there and he's not waiving to go to Minnesota, they will keep Phil Kessel. We'll see. This may be Kessel's decision at the end of the summer if he'd be willing to waive.
Dreger: Well if it's not Phil Kessel, it will be someone else. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not starting next season with the same look and the same roster that they finished this season with. There's some speculation that veteran defenceman Kris Letang may potentially be in play. He's got the modified no-trade clause, he's got the no-move clause. He's got three years remaining (in his contract) and a big cap hit of $7.25 million. So there could be interest in Letang. I would say this, with the exception of Sidney Crosby, Rutherford is willing to listen on just about everyone.