The latest on Paul Stastny, Matt Niskanen,  Radim Vrbata and Martin Erat, plus my take on the Nashville Predators early scoring woes.

Is this Paul Stastny's last season with the Avalanche?

Is this Paul Stastny’s final season with the Avalanche?

DENVER POST: Adrian Dater reports Paul Stastny could be the odd center out with the Colorado Avalanche by season’s end. Dater points out the Avs currently have Matt Duchene under a long-term contract, rookie Nathan MacKinnon could blossom into a superstar and fourth-liner John Mitchell “probably deserves to be moved up another level”. He believes if the Avs re-sign Stastny (who’s slated to become a UFA this summer), it could cut into the minutes of Duchene and MacKinnon, or he could end up playing fewer minutes.  Dater feels Stastny is too talented to be slated to a third-line role. He suggests Stastny could be shopped by the trade deadline if the Avs are out of playoff contention, but also suggested if the club is in playoff contention the center could be shopped for depth elsewhere, like defense.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Don’t forget they also moved Ryan O’Reilly from center to left wing this season. I’ll be surprised if the Avs re-sign Stastny, simply because there’s too many good young centers on the club who’re likely to outplay him over the long run. His cap hit this season ($6.6 million) likely means the Avs can’t move him until later in the season, when over half that salary has been paid out, unless they agree to pick up part of his salary as part of a trade. During this summer, Stastny was linked to the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Oilers, but the only fit I see out of those three is the Leafs if they feel they need a first-line center for Phil Kessel. That, however, isn’t a given.

TRIBLIVE.COM: Rob Rossi reports Matt Niskanen, who was considered by some observers to be off-season trade bait to help the Pittsburgh Penguins get cap compliant, has assumed a top-four role with Kris Letang currently sidelined.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: With Tomas Vokoun on LTIR, the Penguins have no reason to dump salary now. They also wanted to keep Niskanen for his skills and experience, particularly for instances like this when injuries take a bite out of the defense corps. I don’t see the Penguins shopping him any time soon, if at all, this season.

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Sarah McLellan recently reported the Phoenix Coyotes and the agent for Radim Vrbata have decided to shelve contract extension talks until season’s end. Vrbata is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s in the final year of a three-year, $9 million contract. Agent Rich Evans claims his client wants to focus upon his performance this season.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s mutual desire by Vrbata and Coyotes management to get a deal done, but it’s apparent the latter would like to first gauge his performance this season.  New ownership could also be waiting to see how well the club performs before committing bigger bucks for Vrbata. Barring a massive overhaul of the roster, I can see the two sides reaching an agreement before next July. 

NBC SPORTS PRO HOCKEY TALK: Ryan Dadoun recently observed Washington Capitals winger Martin Erat was frustrated over his lack of playing time in the club’s first two games, and was largely restricted to fourth line duty. “For his part, Erat’s willing to “do what’s best for the team.” He still has two seasons left on his contract with a $4.5 million annual cap hit. That should be plenty of motivation for a Capitals team up against the salary cap to come with a solution to this problem.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Erat saw only 8.27 of ice time during the Capitals 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday. Even if the Capitals wanted to shop him, his contract (two years remaining at an annual cap ht of $4.5 million, with $5.5 million this season in actual salary) will prove very difficult to move unless they agreed to pick up half of it. Even then, his limited performance won’t help his trade value.  Unless his playing time and performance improves throughout the season, Erat could be a compliance buyout candidate next summer. 

THE TENNESSEAN: There’s concern over the Nashville Predators scoring following their 0-2 start to the season. One reason for their offensive struggles is early season injuries to Viktor Stalberg and Filip Forsberg.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: No word yet that the Predators are shopping for offensive help, but if they continue to struggle this month, they could hit the trade market.  Keep an eye on this club throughout October. Perhaps they’ll have some interest in Paul Stastny? They could draw from their blueline depth. And no, they won’t part with Shea Weber or Seth Jones for Stastny.