Nearly a month into this summer's NHL unrestricted free agent market, most of the best players are already signed. A notable exception, however, is Jake Gardiner.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman remains the best player still available on the open market. His status continues to be a topic of discussion among pundits during the dog days of summer.
Last week, TSN's Brian Hayes and Mike Johnston examined reasons why Gardiner is still unsigned. Hayes believes the 28-year-old would fill a top-four role on most teams. While Gardiner was hampered by a back injury last season, Hayes doubts it's affecting his efforts to get a new contract.
Johnston cites rumors claiming Gardiner hopes to return to the Leafs once they get restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner under contract. He also suggested the Montreal Canadiens as a good destination. Hayes wondered if the rearguard might accept a one-year contract in hopes of bolstering his stock for next summer's UFA market.
If Jake Gardiner's time with the Toronto Maple Leafs is really over, then he will be deeply missed. I will always remember his playoff goal against the Boston Bruins back in 2013. pic.twitter.com/ZSV8pKz4wq
— The Leafs IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) April 25, 2019
Gardiner has his defensive issues but there's no denying his offensive skills. Despite last season's injury he still managed 30 points in 62 contests. He's also only a year removed from a career-high 52-point performance in 2017-18. If he's fully recovered he could exceed 40 points again this season.
Teams in need of skilled left-side blueline depth, like the Canadiens, have likely made inquiries. NJ.com's Chris Ryan thinks Gardiner would be a fine addition to the New Jersey Devils' blueline corps.
Gardiner could be holding out in hopes of returning to the Leafs. Their limited salary-cap space, however, makes that difficult to pull off. Still, Toronto's GM Kyle Dubas has done a fine job juggling his limited cap space this summer. Once Marner's re-signed, perhaps Dubas will find a way to bring Gardiner back on an affordable one-year deal.
Could the Wild move Parise?
The last several seasons were difficult for Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise. Various injuries, including back surgery in 2017, sidelined him for various periods. The Wild, meanwhile, earned a reputation as postseason underachievers. Undergoing a roster rebuild under now-former GM Paul Fenton, they missed the playoffs last season.
In a recent in-depth piece on Parise, The Athletic's Michael Russo reported he still loves Minnesota but admitted, “the hockey part has been difficult.” Russo also cited sources saying Fenton looked into trading the 35-year-old left wing before the GM was fired on Tuesday.
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Given the Wild's ongoing roster overhaul, it's understandable Fenton considered all options. However, it remains to be seen if his predecessor will follow-up on moving the alternate captain.
It's unlikely Parise will attract much interest at this stage in his career. His contract is the biggest stumbling block. He's got six years remaining on his 13-year deal with an annual average value of $7.53 million and a full no-movement clause. The Wild would have to absorb a healthy chunk of that cap hit plus toss in a promising youngster or a quality draft pick to facilitate a trade.
We've seen several examples this summer of teams moving players with supposedly untradeable contracts. Those deals, however, involved players with four years or less remaining on their respective deals. Drumming up interest in a 35-year-old winger with six years left on his contract is another matter.
Will Puljujarvi stick with the Oilers?
A month ago, it seemed Jesse Puljujarvi's days with the Edmonton Oilers were over.
Selected fourth overall in the 2016 NHL draft, the 21-year-old winger struggled to play up to expectations. Unhappy over the Oilers' handling of his development, Puljujarvi requested a trade through his agent prior to last month's draft. If they didn't acquiesce, the youngster indicated he could play in Europe this season.
A restricted free agent coming off his entry-level contract, Puljujarvi doesn't have much leverage. Threatening to stay in Europe was his only viable option to force a trade.
Puljujarvi's demand made him a fixture in this summer's trade-rumor mill. Last week, the Edmonton Journal's David Staples believed addressing the winger's request was GM Ken Holland's last major off-season challenge. Holland indicated he's open to anything that will improve the Oilers.
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Staples, however, no longer feels a Puljujarvi trade is a certainty. It appears the “trade me or I'll stay in Europe” tactic has backfired as Holland refused to bow to pressure. That's led to the young forward's agent suggesting his client could be amenable to returning to the Oilers.
Holland could still trade Puljujarvi before the season opens in October. According to Staples, however, the Oilers GM isn't impressed with the offers he's received. That could ensure Puljujarvi returns for another season in Edmonton.