The NHL offseason got started less than 48 hours after the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, with the Philadelphia Flyers swapping defensemen Radko Gudas to Washington for veteran blueliner Matt Niskanen. This will likely be the first of many transactions this weekend prior to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and the 2019 Draft in Vancouver next Friday.
The league’s buyout window begins on Saturday, which will enable teams to clear salary to gain some flexibility on the salary cap in advance of the start of free agency on July 1, and teams will be looking to re-sign their own restricted and unrestricted free agents before June 23 (as the NY Islanders did with Jordan Eberle on Friday), when all NHL clubs are free to speak with them.
The Leafs are talking with Vancouver and Edmonton regarding defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, according to TSN’s
Darren Dreger and reports are that the 27-year-old blueliner is drawing enough interest that it will not require throwing in a prospect or draft pick in a potential deal.
GM Kyle Dubas is undoubtedly discussing other trade possibilities and the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that one involves finding a new home for Leafs goalie Garret Sparks.
The 25-year-old was given the backup duties out of training camp over veterans Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard and that decision resulted in the Leafs finishing third in the Atlantic Division and not getting home ice advantage in the first round against Boston. Sparks never provided Toronto with any consistency, losing eight of his last 10 games and finishing with an 8-9-1 record, 3.15 GAA and .902 save percentage.
In spite of being signed to a one-year, $750,000 extension in March, Sparks future with the club took a turn on the eve of the playoffs, when head coach Mike Babcock chose veteran Michael Hutchinson to backup Frederik Andersen.
With the unlikely prospect of regaining Babcock’s trust, Sparks might suffer the same fate as McElhinney and Pickard and get claimed by a team looking for an inexpensive backup. The Leafs signed prospects Joseph Woll and Ian Scott to entry-level deals, and have Kasimir Kaskisuo under contract for another season, which means that they would not be able to give Sparks playing time if he were demoted after training camp.
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