2018 NHL Off-Season Primer: Trade candidates and draft intrigue

Rasmus Dahlin joins Tim and Sid to talk about going through the NHL Combine and dealing with the massive about of hype around being the potential number one pick in the NHL Draft.

In the days following the Stanley Cup Final two years ago we witnessed a flurry of roster movement, highlighted by 23 minutes that shook the hockey world, during which P.K. Subban and Taylor Hall were traded and Steven Stamkos, who was just about to become a UFA, re-signed with Tampa Bay.

Last year the Montreal Canadiens were again active very early in the summer by trading Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin just four days after Pittsburgh was crowned champion.

Last summer also brought the added wrinkle of an expansion draft, which forced some teams into making difficult decisions. Rather than risk losing one player in particular, some GMs opted to trade Vegas assets (picks, prospects or a player) in order to steer George McPhee towards taking someone else off the roster, to varying degrees of success.

Chicago got in on the trade action at the draft. Arizona and Columbus got different looks through trades of their own and the St. Louis Blues hit a home run by acquiring Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers.

All of that happened before the NHL Draft had even finished.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

As far as free agency went, the biggest names in the 2017 class — Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Radulov, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau — all signed by July 3. The most impactful signing was actually Connor McDavid, who locked in an eight-year extension with Edmonton on July 5. His new deal, which kicks in next season, came with a $12.5 million cap hit that set a new bar for star players, totalling $2 million more than the previous highs set by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Even though McDavid was still a year way from even being an RFA, his contract set an interesting benchmark for other top stars, including Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson who can sign extensions with their current teams as early as July 1. If they don’t, both can become UFAs next summer.

All told, while the absence of the expansion draft removes some intrigue from this off-season, there are still lots of other major storylines to unfold that should leave a mark on the league next season, and no shortage of players who could potentially be moved.

Although the on-ice season is over, the off-ice season will be as busy as ever. Here are some important dates and events ahead, and some related storylines to keep an eye on.

BUYOUT WINDOW: OPENS JUNE 15

The first opportunity for GMs to get out from under a bad contract comes with the buyout window, which is set to open at 12:01 am ET on June 15 and run through June 30. Different from the compliance buyouts that were permitted in 2013 and 2014, these regular buyouts offer short-term cap relief, but come with a penalty on the back end.

The cost of a buyout is paid out over twice the number of remaining years on the contract and the rate is one-third of the remaining salary (not cap hit) for players younger than 26, and two-thirds for players 26 and older. Any player who is still recovering from a regular season injury, however, cannot be bought out, and players can only be bought out after clearing unconditional waivers.

So for instance, if a 27-year-old player is bought out of a contract that has two years left with a total salary of $6 million remaining to be paid out, the team would be on the hook for $4 million, to be paid out over four years. This means the cap hit would come out to $1 million for each of the next four seasons, which would save the team $2 million against the cap in the first two years, and then act as a $1 million cap penalty in the final two years when the player otherwise would have come off the books.

CapFriendly.com has a great explainer on how you calculate that cap hit and a buyout calculator lets you experiment with any player in the league and how buying them out would impact a team’s salary cap.

The exception is players who signed a contract at age 35 or older. If a team buys out a player in that age bracket, they receive no cap relief.

NHL AWARDS SHOW: JUNE 20

The NHL doesn’t have to go far from where the Stanley Cup was awarded this year to where the individual trophies will be doled out for regular season accomplishments.

Las Vegas will again host the NHL Awards Show at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which is roughly two miles from T-Mobile Arena. A celebration of the best performances from the 2017-18 season, the awards show will also give a final nod to the fantastic inaugural season put together by the Golden Knights, who have one player (William Karlsson) plus their coach and GM up for awards. The city will continue to host the show for at least another three years.

Award Races Of Note:
Hart Trophy: This was one of the more difficult years to choose a regular season MVP because of how many great performances there were. Connor McDavid won the league scoring title by a six-point margin and isn’t even a finalist, nor is the runner-up Claude Giroux or Nikita Kucherov, the only three players to reach 100 points. Instead, Nathan MacKinnon (97 points), Taylor Hall (93 points) and Anze Kopitar (92 points) are up for the award because of the important roles they played in getting their teams to the playoffs. Whoever comes away with the Hart will be a first-time winner. Meanwhile, Hall and MacKinnon are finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award, the best player as voted by the NHLPA, but are joined by McDavid.

Vezina Trophy: Pekka Rinne is 10 and 12 years older than the other two finalists for this award, and although this is the fourth time he’s cracked the top three the Finn has never won the Vezina. Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy join Rinne and a win for either could be a changing of the guard of sorts. Hellebuyck, 25, and Vasilevskiy, 23, are both first-time finalists and this was even the latter’s first year as an NHL starter. Hellebuyck, meantime, is up for the award one year after struggling with a .907 save percentage, which forced Winnipeg to sign Steve Mason in the summer — and he was the starter when the season opened.

Full List Of Award Finalists:
Hart Trophy: Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne

Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban

Selke Trophy: Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier, Patrice Bergeron

Jack Adams Award: Gerard Gallant, Bruce Cassidy, Jared Bednar

Ted Lindsay Award: Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid

Calder Trophy: Matt Barzal, Brock Boeser, Clayton Keller

Lady Byng Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly, William Karlsson, Aleksander Barkov

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, P.K. Subban, Jason Zucker

Mark Messier Leadership Award: Deryk Engelland, Wayne Simmonds, Blake Wheeler

Masterton Trophy: Brian Boyle, Roberto Luongo, Jordan Staal

GM Of The Year: George McPhee, Steve Yzerman, Kevin Cheveldayoff

NHL DRAFT: JUNE 22-23

This year the draft will take place at American Airlines Center in Dallas and this is where a ton of off-season movement could kick off.

We know Rasmus Dahlin will go first overall to the Buffalo Sabres and it sounds like the Carolina Hurricanes are set on drafting Andrei Svechnikov at No. 2, though GM Don Waddell kept the door open just a crack for a possible trade. After that, just about anything could be on the table.

The Montreal Canadiens hold the third overall pick, where a scoring winger is likely the best player available, but the team has more of a need at defence and, especially, centre. Since this particular draft isn’t deep on centres at the top of the first round, the team could explore a trade to move down a few spots where they could target the likes of a rising Jesperi Kotkaniemi, or go a little further down and target Joe Veleno, who plays for the Drummondville Voltiguers team that was coached by Dominique Ducharme before the Habs brought him on board as an assistant coach.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has said he’s open to trading the sixth overall pick for the right price and you have to think the Edmonton Oilers, who need a speedy scoring winger or a puck-moving defenceman, will explore moving the 10th overall pick for more immediate help.

A few first-rounders were traded at last year’s draft — the Rangers acquired No. 7 from Arizona, the Flyers nabbed No. 27 from St. Louis who then acquired Pittsburgh’s first, and Chicago and Dallas swapped picks. There are teams looking to improve and there are teams, like Calgary, who don’t have a first-rounder and are looking to get in on the party.

While this won’t be a centre-heavy first-round, there are all kinds of defencemen available. Dahlin will go off the board first, but Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist could all go within the top 10, which reminds us of the 2008 draft when 10 of the first 20 picks were used on blue liners.

Players Of Note:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi: A late and fast riser up the rankings, Kotkaniemi is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound centre who could be the first player from his position off the board. He scored 29 points in 57 games for Assat in the Finnish League and was the second-highest under-19 scorer in the league, trailing only Kristian Vesalainen who was taken in the first round last year by Winnipeg. His late-season performance at the under-18 championship in April, where Finland won gold, gained Kotkaniemi a lot of admirers, finishing with nine points in seven games.

Joe Veleno: Another centre projected on most lists to go just outside the top 10, Veleno was the first player ever granted exceptional player status and admitted early entry into the QMJHL. But his first two seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs were spent in a support role on very good teams, which hurt his point totals from standing out off the page. Finally this season he moved up the depth chart and was running at a point per game pace before the Sea Dogs traded him to Drummondville, where he found his best individual success by scoring 48 points in 33 games. In a draft thin down the middle, Veleno could turn out to be a sneaky pick.

Ryan McLeod: In Sam Cosentino’s last draft rankings in April he called McLeod one of the most fascinating players in the draft. That’s because his tools are undeniable — McLeod has great size, speed, shot, vision and is on paper everything a team would want in a prospect. With the raw skills, he projects as a player who could have a big impact at the NHL level. However, there are some questions about his competitiveness and how that will translate at the highest level. He scored 70 points in 68 games for Mississauga this year and, interestingly, is another centre who ranks further down the draft board. The range of possibilities as to the kind of player he could turn into is wide. Of note is that his brother, Michael, was picked 12th overall by New Jersey in 2016 and they hold the 17th overall pick in this draft. McLeod, for now, is still projected to be available at that point.

And speaking of trades that could happen in the lead up to or at the draft, we’ve compiled a list of 24 players who could get traded this summer, which will be updated with the latest news and rumours.

FREE AGENCY: OPENS JULY 1

As is tradition on the NHL schedule, free agency opens on Canada Day, July 1 and this time we could see the most valuable UFA of the salary cap era go to market.

All eyes are on John Tavares, the superstar 27-year-old New York Islanders centre who would transform any new team he signs with. While he is the best centre available, there could be other intriguing pivots available, including Joe Thornton or Paul Stastny.

On defence, Stanley Cup champion John Carlson still doesn’t have a contract, though there’s time for him to re-up with the team that drafted him. The talent falls off quite a bit after Carlson, though.

And on the wing there are all sorts of scoring options potentially available, including James van Riemsdyk, James Neal and Ilya Kovalchuk who announced his intention to rejoin the NHL after spending the past five years in the KHL.

The San Jose Sharks still have roughly $7.5 million in cap space after re-signing Evander Kane and they are expected to be players for Tavares. The Carolina Hurricanes have a new owner who is motivated to win and $27.3 million in space with which to work, while the Stanley Cup finalist Vegas Golden Knights have a whopping $26.45 million in space before signing RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore and making decisions on UFAs Neal and David Perron. They could be big players on the summer stage once again.

And then of course there’s the salary cap itself, which we know will rise from the current limit of $75 million to between $78-82 million. When that change is announced in the coming days, it will shift the landscape and team outlooks once more.

TOP 10 FREE AGENTS BY POSITION: C | RW | LW | D | G

Unrestricted free agents who go to market won’t be the only guys to watch this summer. Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty are eligible to sign extensions with their teams on July 1 as they head into the final year of their contracts before becoming UFA eligible.

A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday.

Both of the star defencemen have discussed getting big money, with Doughty suggesting they’d have higher AAVs than P.K. Subban’s $9 million, the current high water mark for defencemen.

As far as RFAs go, Auston Matthews is in a similar spot that McDavid was in one year ago and could perhaps approach $12 million himself. Matthews recently changed the agency that represents him.

The Leafs also have Mitch Marner eligible to sign his first post-ELC extension and William Nylander heads into the summer without a contract. All three could sign new contracts this summer and set the tone for Toronto’s cap situation for years to come.

And though we haven’t seen an offer sheet in a while, those are always on the table. We explored how they work and what the compensation levels are, plus share a few names of players who might receive an offer sheet this summer, if there’s a bold GM out there willing to go against the grain.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.