Rumblings on the Devils’ goalie search, Zegras, Marner, Necas, Saros and more from the NHL combine

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New Jersey Devils made a splash with the Sheldon Keefe hire as head coach. Now it’s time to address roster needs.

The search for a No. 1 goalie tops the list. That work continues here this week at the NHL scouting combine.

“It’s talking to the market and getting the pulse of where people are at with their goaltenders and what they want to do,” Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald told The Athletic on Tuesday. “When you have good goaltending, it’s tough to let go, and it’s tough to pry out of people.

“But there are situations … I’ve got the pulse of what’s going on. There are a few guys that I’m in on.”

While Fitzgerald wouldn’t get into names, other league sources said he continues to show interest in Jacob Markstrom from the Calgary Flames, whom he tried hard to acquire before the March 8 trade deadline, as well as Linus Ullmark from the Boston Bruins. There are other possibilities, too, but those two names would top New Jersey’s list.

My understanding is that Markstrom would waive his full no-move clause to go to New Jersey. But there are a few other teams with interest in Markstrom, as well.

The Devils have other roster needs, too, so depending on the sequence of events this offseason, a goalie acquisition could be affected by other moves.

“At the end of the day, it’s a big part of what we want to do elsewhere,” Fitzgerald said. “All of a sudden, (the No. 10 draft pick, owned by the Devils) comes into play, and we’re moving it for Player X, who is a forward, and that guy costs X, and there’s a domino effect on the goaltender.”

So, yes, the Devils are indeed willing to listen on No. 10.

“Yeah, for sure,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m more than willing to move the pick for the right asset. One that we control, one that’s probably in the same demographic as our team — maybe not 23, 24 years old but somebody we control for a few years.

“Nothing’s come my way yet, though.”

The Devils would like to add a little more size, edge and physicality at forward.

“We’re a little too vanilla up front,” Fitzgerald said.

And perhaps another piece on the blue line.

“I’m looking on the back end, as well, for something,” he added.

I wonder if pending unrestricted free agent Brenden Dillon wouldn’t be a fit for the Devils.

Regardless, a busy offseason lies ahead for New Jersey.

Predators in no rush on Saros

Speaking of goalies, Nashville Predators GM Barry Trotz hopes to take Juuse Saros’ name out of the trade rumors by signing him to an extension this summer. He can do that as of July 1, and the plan is to meet with Saros’ agent, Kevin Epp, this week in Buffalo. Saros will be a UFA in July 2025.

“Yeah, we’re talking to ‘Juice’ and talking to his representative,” Trotz told The Athletic. “I think they want to get something done. I would like to get something done. So we’re going to work toward that. I haven’t been in any hurry because I don’t think there’s any reason why I won’t get it done.”

Of course, until it gets done, trade rumors will persist.

In the meantime, Trotz has roster additions he’s looking to make. For one, he would like to upgrade the blue line after trading Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

UFA defenseman Brett Pesce is likely among Nashville’s targets come July 1, but of course there are other options.

Up front, the Predators hope to add an offensive piece, too.

“I’m going to look at all options,” Trotz said. “I thought we got really good production out of the bottom end of our roster last year. I’d like to continue to build the top nine so we can get multiple threats on every line. You see that depth is everything in the playoffs.

“We relied heavily on one line last year, the Ryan O’Reilly line. They all had career years on that line. But I’m looking for more scoring. I’m looking at the trade market. I’m looking at free agency. And some options internally.”

I don’t think you’ll see Nashville enter the sweepstakes for a UFA like Jake Guentzel, but perhaps more of a second-layer type UFA forward.

Ducks listening on Gibson, Zegras

The Anaheim Ducks hold the No. 3 pick in this month’s draft. If all goes to plan, they won’t be picking that high for a while after this year.

The hope is the team takes a tangible step next season.

“I think if you look at last year, it was a learning curve not only for our younger players but our older players, just kind of coming in for a different coaching style and accountability standard,” Ducks GM Pat Verbeek told The Athletic, referring to first-year coach Greg Cronin. “I think that was a huge culture shock for the majority of the players. But looking into next season, I think they got through it and now they understand.

“So I think there’s going to be a different mindset, a different approach and a lot better understanding of what’s expected. So it’ll be different from that aspect. The learning curve is going (to) be lesser.

“So yeah, I’m expecting us to take a step.”

To help in that process, Verbeek is eyeing some roster upgrades.

“I’d like to add a couple more veteran pieces to the group,” he said. “I’d like to find a top-six winger, and I’d like to find a top-four defenseman. You know, 31 other teams could say the same thing, right?”

He smiled as he said that. But those are nevertheless the hopeful additions.

“I’m trying to make our lineup deeper while having the younger kids gain more experience, learn from veteran players and not have to bear the burden of producing offensively,” Verbeek said.

The idea is to better insulate his younger core, which could come via the trade market or free agency.

“I’m exploring all of it,” Verbeek said.

Speaking of the trade market, I did ask the Ducks GM about John Gibson’s future. Gibson, who turns 31 next month, has three years left on his contract at a $6.4 million average annual value.

“John’s still a really good goalie,” Verbeek said. “Obviously there’s a market for goalies out there.”

The Ducks GM didn’t want to comment further, but my sense is that Anaheim still values Gibson and would be fine keeping him but will continue to take calls, too.

And finally, Trevor Zegras trade chatter has resurfaced. Verbeek would not comment on that, but other league sources suggest the Ducks are listening on him and would consider moving him in the right deal. They’re obviously deeper up front, which is why they could afford to move him.

Listening to trade offers and deciding to pull the trigger are two different things. I would say TBD on that one …

Canadiens looking to take another swing

The playoffs are most likely still out of reach for the retooling Montreal Canadiens next season, but a tangible step up the standings — perhaps playing meaningful hockey into March — is a legitimate target for the franchise.

“I think so, yeah,” Habs GM Kent Hughes told The Athletic. “We’ve acknowledged that it’s important we take a step. I guess the size of that step is something that plays out over the course of the year and is to a certain degree predicated on whether we do more this summer. We will try. We’ll explore our opportunities to improve our team.

“But with the continued condition that it has to be improving our team without compromising what we’re trying to do here.”

Hughes since becoming GM has taken swings around draft week, trading for the likes of Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook. That’s the kind of thing he’s looking at again.

“I think so. If we can get a player, if we can trade up in the draft, we have to look at any way that we can improve this team,” Hughes said. “We won’t be limited to something that has to make us better next season. But if it does, call that icing on the cake.”

Hughes obviously can’t comment on players from other teams as per the NHL’s tampering rules, but other league sources suggest Montreal has inquired with the Carolina Hurricanes on Martin Necas, as have half the teams in the NHL. I also believe Anaheim and Montreal have re-connected on Zegras, however, I’m not convinced that’s a path the Habs will ultimately pursue aggressively.

The Canadiens hold the No. 5 pick. Whether they would consider moving it depends on what happens at Picks 2, 3 and 4 before them — which means probably a decision right there in the moment in Vegas on June 28.

“I suspect it’s more an in-the-moment (decision) this year,” Hughes said. “Because I think the draft is less predictable. Whereas I think last year we got a lot of inquiries (ahead of time) at No. 5 because everybody kind of felt they knew what the first four picks were going to be — maybe not the order but who the first four were going to be was assumed. I don’t think that’s the case this year.”

Hughes wouldn’t spell it out, but an obvious scenario in which Montreal would consider trading down is if there’s a run of forwards ahead of them, given how deep the organization is on defense.

As it stands at the moment, though, Hughes said it’s more likely than not they keep the pick and draft at No. 5.

Flyers ‘don’t expect much movement’

The Philadelphia Flyers aren’t expecting to make big waves this offseason.

“It’s a little bit of a weird offseason for us,” Flyers GM Daniel Briere told The Athletic. “We have a lot of dead money going into next year. Part of it is our fault. We did that to position ourselves better for the future. But it’s kind of tied our hands this summer as far as free agency goes.”

The dead money on the Flyers’ cap next season includes a $1.66 million buyout cap charge for Tony DeAngelo, $3.57 million in retained salary on Kevin Hayes, $6.25 million on LTIR for Ryan Ellis plus one final year of Cal Petersen at $5 million.

So, yeah.

“I would say don’t expect much movement from us, as far as free agency,” Briere added. “But you know, we’re always open to hockey trades if there’s something that makes sense to help our team, both in the future but also in the short term if it fits our timeline.”

According to league sources, the Flyers are among the multitude of teams who have inquired with Carolina on Martin Necas. But I’m not sure there’s a real fit there considering the apple-to-apple type trade the Hurricanes would require to make that deal.

Meanwhile, those cap limitations make it unlikely the Flyers could try to bring Sean Walker back in free agency.

“Yeah, because of the cap, because of the guys we have to try and re-sign, it makes it tough,” Briere said. “Obviously we think very highly of him.

“It hurt losing him down the stretch, there’s no doubt about that. But where we’re at — how we’re positioned with our cap situation — it kind of makes it tough where we realize he’s going to command probably more money than we have available this summer.”

Signing Travis Konecny to an extension will be important. He’s got one year left on his deal.

“One thing is, we’re not going to negotiate through the media, and we agreed with his group that we wouldn’t do that,” Briere said. “The one thing I can tell you is that we love him. We love him as a player. He knows that. His agency knows that. He’s an important part of our team.

“And we hope that we have Travis Konecny with the Flyers for a very long time. But we’ll see what happens in the future with that.”

And finally, is there any chance Matvei Michkov could leave Russia and play for the Flyers next season? There have been rumors and media reports out of Russia delivering mixed messages.

“We follow what’s going on through the media mostly,” Briere said. “There’s some ups and downs there, back and forth, it seems. It just seems to change on a daily basis. We’re hopeful. But at the same time, when we drafted him, we knew it would be three years.

“That’s kind of what I keep in the back of my mind. He’s going to be away for three years before he can come over. If things change, I’ll be ecstatic and we’d be really excited to welcome him. But I’m not trying to get caught up in the excitement of it for now. If it happens, it happens. We don’t have any news at this moment as far as how reliable the sources are that are popping over the internet.”

Leafs’ priorities and Marner

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving had a packed Tuesday, his first day at the combine. It was meeting after meeting after meeting — some with player agents, some with other GMs, and obviously some with draft hopefuls.

“You’ve been talking to teams since the season ended, so met a few of them here,” Treliving told The Athletic on Tuesday. “And we’ve got several unrestricted and restricted free agents, so you’re meeting with agents on them and seeing if there’s a path to a deal. In some cases, the path is smoother than others.

“It’s early in some of the processes. So you’re meeting on that. And obviously the bulk of your time here is meeting with the kids for the combine.”

Treliving reiterated he remains interested in re-signing pending UFAs Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi if possible.

“But it’s got to work for them and it’s got to work for us,” he said. “We’ve got, certainly, some issues that we have to address on the roster. There’s a pie and there’s only so much to go around.

“We’ve got a few guys who are up. And part of this is getting better, too. It’s not just being the same. You’re trying to get better in the process, as well. So we’ll see.”

Mitch Marner’s future has been the most-talked-about subject in the Toronto market. He’s got a year left on his deal and a full no-move clause. Treliving and Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris, as one would expect, met Tuesday.

“The thing I would say is, be very, very careful of what you read out there,” Treliving said when asked about Marner speculation. “Mitch is a hell of a player. He’s going into the last year of his contract. We’re not going to comment on any players. Any business that we conduct, we’ll do that between Darren Ferris and us. We’re not going to do play-by-play on it. We’ve got to look at every possible way for our team to be better.

“Mitch controls a lot of this whole thing (with the no-trade). If there’s a way to make our team better, we’re going to do it. But we’re certainly not going to make a trade just so we can pound our chest and say, ‘Look, we’re different.’”

But as Treliving reiterated, they will explore any meaningful way to make the team better. That’s his job as GM.

Reading between the lines, all options on Marner remain on the table:

1. He stays in Toronto and plays out his contract next season.

2. The Leafs look to extend him eventually.

3. Toronto gets a trade offer it feels makes too much sense and brings it to Marner’s camp (and no team would trade for Marner without an extension in place).

“We’re not scared to be bold and do things,” Treliving said. “But there’s got to be things to do out there.

“So we’ll see. But for me, we’ve got a really good player in Mitch Marner. That’s a good thing. We’ll just keep plugging away on it.”

(Photo of Trevor Zegras: Harry How / Getty Images)

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