It's NHL trade rumor season. Each week before the Feb. 26 trade deadline, Lyle Richardson's Rumor Roundup column serves as a one-stop guide to the latest rumblings around the league.
With the NHL's Feb. 26 trade deadline less than six weeks away, the Blue Jackets could be parting ways with their most experienced defenseman.
On Saturday, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline reported Jack Johnson requested a trade.
Once the Jacket's top blueliner, the 31-year-old Johnson's playing time has declined over the course of this season. He's an unrestricted free agent in July, but there haven't been substantive contract discussions between the two sides since August.
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Portzline added Johnson asked to be dealt several weeks ago in hopes of getting something done by the trade deadline. He apparently wants to put himself in a position to improve his chances of landing a lucrative new contract this summer.
Johnson is making this request with an eye toward his financial future. Though he's completing a seven-year, $30.5 million contract, most of his earnings were lost because of poor investment decisions by his parents. In 2016, Johnson reached a bankruptcy settlement in which much of his remaining salary went toward several creditors.
Neither Johnson nor his agent, Pat Brisson, have publicly commented about his request. Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said his club will make a trade “if and when we have something that makes sense for the Blue Jackets," per the Columbus Dispatch.
Despite Johnson's reduced role with the Jackets, he could still attract interest from clubs seeking a experienced big-minute blueliner with a left-handed shot.
During Saturday's “Headlines” intermission segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos wondered if Johnson might be a fit with the Canadiens. With Shea Weber sidelined indefinitely by a foot injury, the Habs' blueline could use a minute-munching, puck-moving rearguard. However, Montreal's playoff hopes are fading, potentially turning them into sellers by the trade deadline.
Another suitor could be the Bruins. On Dec. 23, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe reported a left-side defenseman was on Boston's post-holiday wish list. Having moved this season into the Stanley Cup contender class, the Bruins could consider Johnson an enticing playoff-rental addition.
The Jackets' asking price for Johnson could be a top-nine forward. Rumors linked them to center Matt Duchene prior to the Avalanche shipping him to the Senators.
Could Phaneuf hit the trade block?
On Feb. 9, 2016, the Senators surprised the hockey world by acquiring Dion Phaneuf from the Maple Leafs in a nine-player deal. Nearly two years later, there's talk the 32-year-old defenseman could be on the move again.
During a recent appearance on NHL Network, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman speculated the Senators could explore the market for Phaneuf. He said he wouldn't be surprised if they checked with each of the 12 teams on the blueliner's list of preferred trade destinations.
Phaneuf's annual average value ($7 million per season through 2020-21) could be a sticking point. However, it didn't prevent his trade to the Senators two years ago.
By all accounts, the Senators aren't in tear-down mode but want to add younger NHL talent. Phaneuf could attract interest from postseason contenders in need of an experienced top-four defender.
The Islanders could be a suitor. They're loaded with promising young players and in desperate need of blueline help.
Ekman-Larsson speculation not going away
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson continues to surface in this season's trade rumor mill. His eligibility for unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2019, will only stoke speculation that he might leave the moribund Coyotes for a playoff contender.
Arizona GM John Chayka continues to deny any suggestion he might put Ekman-Larsson on the trade block. However, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch thinks Chayka could get calls leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline from clubs interested in adding the skilled blueliner for two playoff runs. Garrioch claimed the Maple Leafs, Devils and Flyers are among those with “more than a passing interest.”
Per recent reports the Coyotes have made D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson & Jason Demers available, or they've set the market on those players, my understanding is the reports are baseless. I wouldn't call Demers untouchable, but I don't think there's anything to this.
— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) January 16, 2018
Unless Ekman-Larsson forces the issue by requesting a trade, Chayka faces no pressure to trade him this season. That could change this summer, however, if the two sides are unable to reach agreement on a contract extension.
If the Coyotes trade a defenseman by the deadline, it could be Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Garrioch reported the Coyotes have been shopping the 30-year-old blueliner, who's signed through 2018-19 with a $4.1 million annual salary cap hit. He carries a 10-team no-trade list and Garrioch said there's talk he'd prefer not being dealt to a Canadian team.