Although the Stanley Cup Final is still unfolding, we can see the off-season on the horizon.
The NHL Awards and Draft will quickly follow the conclusion of the Cup Final and right after that, on July 1, the free agent market will open and there are all sorts of interesting names on the market.
It’s worth noting that as of midnight on June 23, teams can begin talking with those pending UFAs in the negotiation window. No contracts can officially be signed until July 1, but any team still hoping to re-sign one of their own players will want to know before then where they sit so they can start making other plans, if necessary.
If there is no contract extension to be had, a team can still trade a player’s rights prior to June 23 to give another team an exclusive opportunity to talk to the player. We saw that Monday night when the Winnipeg Jets dealt Kevin Hayes’s rights to Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick.
On the most recent 31 Thoughts Podcast, Jeff Marek asked Elliotte Friedman for the latest on a variety of UFAs. Here’s what we learned.
Elliotte Friedman: “I think there’s a chance he’s going to be a Senator again next year. They are looking into it. They’ve got a lot of young players. I think Spezza would be happy to go back. I think he feels he’s got a lot to give. As we know, he’s one of the smartest hockey guys around. I think there’s a possibility.”
EF: “I don’t know what to make of it to be perfectly honest. I’ve had some people tell me the Islanders aren’t bringing him back, I’ve had other people tell me don’t assume that, conversations are still going on. I really like the way Eberle played in the playoffs. I thought he played really hard, some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play. But as with most things Islanders, you don’t know what to predict when it comes to his future.”
EF: “I think the most likely destinations are Nashville and Montreal. Not to say that something else can’t happen here and there. But when I look at Duchene, I think those are the two. He’s always wanted to play for Nashville, we all know that. And on the other side, I think Montreal’s got cap room and I think they’re interested. But I’ve said this many times: Until Nashville’s out of the picture, I always assume they’re very much in the picture when it comes to him.”
EF: “So they’re obviously grinding away, Buffalo and Jeff Skinner. And there is something on the table for eight years, somewhere between $8 and 9 million. And I think at some point in time this week, Jeff Skinner’s going to have to decide if he wants Buffalo’s offer or he wants to see what else is out there. Unless his rights get traded, he obviously can’t sign for eight years anywhere else so it’s hard to see how there would be an offer out there that would be higher than what is available in Buffalo. The two sides are really trying and I think they’re close, but until it’s done, it’s not done.”
EF: “I’ll tell ya this: I think there’s going to be a better market for goalies than some of us realize. You look at the playoffs now, everybody’s talking about the two-person tandem. There’s 62 goalies in the league, you need to make that work for everybody. Mike Smith is an older guy whose body dictates he can’t play 60 games a year, but he can be a good goalie in a tandem and I thought he played pretty hard in the playoffs even though Calgary was outmatched against Colorado. So I think if it’s not on a deal with the Flames, I think he’s going to find employment if he wants it.”
EF: “Tough year. Started skating again this week. I think he is anxious to prove people wrong who write him off. And the guy’s played a lot of playoff games – I think he’s played 100 playoff games the last few years. Teams are always looking for centres. I don’t know where it’s going to be. I think he understands he might have to take a one-year deal, but I think this is a guy who is saying, ‘If you give me a chance I’m going to make it worth your while.'”
EF: “I’ve heard some really interesting things about this whole situation. There is definitely a feeling this has gone off the rails. But one thing that people have always warned me about is the real deadline is coming up. If it’s not July 1 itself or June 23, when you can first start talking to players, this week is a big week for a lot of teams. They want to know where their guys are going, if they’re staying or going. I have heard San Jose if they lose some of their D. I still think there’s a chance that maybe Vancouver and him sort it out, but this is definitely more difficult than anybody expected it would be. And there are people convinced he will not be going back to Vancouver, but again, look, if he really wants to go back and they really want him there’s a path there. I hesitate to say 100 per cent yes or no, but there’s no question this has been a lot harder than everyone thought it would be.
“The issue is 1) Term, and 2) Expansion draft availability. They want him eligible for the expansion draft, he doesn’t want to be.”
EF: “I’ve heard some interesting things about Jake Gardiner. One of the interesting things that’s happening in Toronto right now is the whole Marleau/Zaitsev thing. And one of the reasons he was going to be out in Toronto was they just didn’t have the cap room to keep him. All of a sudden there’s some interesting stuff happening in Toronto. If they move Marleau and if they move Zaitsev, depending on what they do, they could have some cap room. I think they want to bring Gardiner back. I think in a perfect world he wants to stay. But I think I’d have to see what would happen with all these other moves to see if it would be possible.
“Some guys have said they think Montreal might be in on Gardiner. I don’t know about that one, I’m not as sure about that. But I think there’s always time for puck-moving defencemen in this league.
“Chicago at the combine, people said they were downplaying their interest in UFA D. I don’t know if everybody’s buying that as much.”
EF: “Wayne Simmonds is a really interesting case. He’s a guy who really had a tough year and it looked really bad for him at the start of the playoffs. But what one guy told me was Pat Maroon and what he’s done in the playoffs is going to help a lot of guys like Wayne Simmonds because teams are going to look at this and say there’s room for these guys especially in the post-season. So I don’t think Wayne Simmonds is necessarily going to get the kind of term he hoped for, but I think the market for him is going to be better than some of us maybe thought at the end of the year. If he’s healthy enough to go, and he does take pretty good care of himself, I think that there’s going to be interest because of what Maroon did.”
“I wonder if he’ll be done. He got to 1,000 games, which is a great accomplishment. He didn’t want to be traded. I don’t know. Do you think maybe depending on what happens out there, this is it?
“I’m curious to see where it all goes, but I don’t know where the fit is.”