Down Goes Brown: Seven dropped NHL off-season storylines

Elliotte Friedman joins Prime Time Sports to discuss which team would be a perfect fit for Matt Duchene's and what it would take to pry him away from Colorado.

• Wait for Duchene deal continues
• What will Vegas do with D-man surplus?
• Still no bites for Jagr, Iginla, Doan

The writers in charge of the NHL’s off-season script are struggling.

They spent the last year opening up all sorts of interesting storylines and plot holes, with lots of fun ways they could go. But now the summer is here, the credits are about to roll, and there are still all sorts of loose ends to tie up.

They’ve wrapped up a few. The Dallas Stars finally got that goalie they’ve been hunting for years, the touching Kevin Shattenkirk homecoming played out pretty much like we all expected, and the Connor McDavid contract plotline came together nicely. Some of it feels kind of derivative – haven’t we seen this Blackhawks roster already? – but for the most part it’s been fine.

But as the off-season wears on and things start getting quiet, it’s hard not to notice that several key subplots seem to have been quietly dropped by the league’s writing staff. So today, let’s look at seven NHL offseason storylines that we’re still waiting on.

The Matt Duchene trade

The Duchene trade watch has been on in Colorado ever since his coach, Patrick Roy, ripped him at the end of the 2015–16 season for celebrating wrong. Roy’s surprise August resignation may have bought some time, but as last season wore on a trade started to feel inevitable, with even Duchene himself acknowledging he was open to a fresh start.

The only question was when it would happen. With the Avalanche flatlining, there was plenty of pressure on Joe Sakic to get the best possible deal for the former third-overall pick, and timing was important. The rumoured asking price was high, and as the season wore on, some began to wonder if it might not make more sense to wait until the off-season. When the deadline passed without the Avs doing much of anything at all, the focus shifted to what Sakic could do at the draft.

Well, the draft has come and gone. So has most of free agency. So has almost all of July. And not only is Duchene somehow still in Colorado, but the rumour mill seems to be falling silent.

Maybe that’s a good thing — the calm before the storm, and all that. But with August approaching and the number of teams that could plausibly put together a deal getting smaller, it’s starting to look like not getting a trade done during the season could end up as a costly miscalculation by Sakic and the Avs. Duchene finished the season ice cold, and with cap space disappearing around the league after nearly four weeks of free agency, it’s possible that there just isn’t anyone left out there willing to pay a fair price.

Could Duchene start the season in Colorado? It’s starting to look that way. And since early-season trades have become all but extinct, that would mean yet another year of Sakic waiting for the trade deadline. Or maybe the draft. Or maybe July. Or maybe… well, to be continued, apparently.

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The great Golden Knights blue line sell-off

When the expansion draft arrived and the Golden Knights finally filled out a roster, it quickly became apparent that George McPhee had a plan in mind. Between his picks and trades, the Vegas GM walked away from the draft with 15 defencemen in all.

It was all blue line, all the time, but there was a method to the madness. McPhee had corned the hottest market in the game, loading up on the very asset that every NHL team seems to be chasing. If you were an NHL GM who wanted help on the back end, you’d better know the Las Vegas area code. And since there was lots of demand and one team now controlled the supply, McPhee could get away with charging marked-up prices.

And in the days after the draft, the strategy worked… kind of. McPhee sent Marc Methot to Dallas and Trevor van Riemsdyk to Carolina, although in both cases the return wasn’t exactly overwhelming. David Schlemko barely brought back anything at all. A few days later, Alexei Emelin went to Nashville for a third, and Vegas had to retain salary just to get that.

And that was it. It’s been nearly a full month since the Knights’ last deal involving a blueliner, and today the Knights’ roster still has 10 defencemen on it, plus RFA Nate Schmidt. That’s too many, even for an expansion team, and McPhee will have to find a new home for at least a few.

He will, because somebody somewhere always needs a blueliner. But any thoughts of the Knights reaping a windfall have faded. Maybe McPhee picked the wrong guys, or misread the market. Or maybe it turns out that when one team tries to hoard all the trade chips, the league’s other GMs know that team will have to move somebody and decide to play it cool.

Either way, you have to give McPhee and the Knights credit for a creative approach. It just doesn’t really seem to have worked.

The John Tavares situation

Tavares and the Islanders presented one of the off-season’s most fascinating subplots. He’s the player the entire franchise is built around, but it had been a bumpy last few years for the team. Between their move to Brooklyn, ongoing arena questions and another missed post-season, there’s been speculation over whether Tavares would even want to stick around.

With just one year left on his deal before he’d hit unrestricted free agency, it seemed clear that things were going to come to a head one way or another. Either the Islanders would get him signed long-term, or they’d have to seriously consider trading him. And if he did decide that he wanted out, the repercussions would be felt all around the league.

The first domino tipped over near the draft, when the Jordan Eberle trade was seen as at least partly motivated by making Tavares happy. But since then, the situation has gone quiet, at least as far as the public knows. Presumably, the two sides are still talking, but it no longer seems like a sure thing that this all gets resolved over the summer.

There’s risk involved for both sides if this all drags on into training camp and beyond, but it’s starting to seem like that’s a strong possibility.

Evander Kane‘s future in Buffalo

It’s fair to say that Kane’s career has had its up and downs since his breakout 30-goal season as a 20-year-old back in 2011–12. Many of the headlines have been negative, and he wore out his welcome in Winnipeg. He certainly seemed to be on the way to doing it again in Buffalo, with his name figuring prominently in trade rumours since at least last summer.

As the regular season ended, a move looked likely. Kane is headed into the final year of his contract, and with the Sabres’ rebuild struggling to find traction, losing a key piece for nothing would be disastrous. The Kings featured prominently in rumours, with the Canucks popping up as well, and Buffalo fans were busy trying to figure out what the return would look like. Many believed that Sabres GM Tim Murray would pull the trigger at some point over the summer.

But then, somewhat surprisingly, Murray wasn’t the GM anymore. At first, that shakeup didn’t seem to change much as far as Kane was concerned. But new GM Jason Botterill and new coach Phil Housley have seemed open to holding onto the goal-scoring winger. Whether that means he’s now part of the Sabres’ long-term plans remains to be seen, and a trade is still possible. But for now, a deal doesn’t seem to be a priority.

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The Leon Draisaitl contract

Once McDavid signed his monster extension, all eyes in Edmonton turned to Draisaitl. As a restricted free agent, his situation led to plenty of tough questions. Would he get the maximum eight years, or take a bridge deal? How high would the average value go? Would some other team swoop in with an offer sheet?

OK, so we knew the answer to that last one: No, nobody uses offer sheets anymore, because we wouldn’t want to make those GM golfing get-togethers awkward. But still, Draisaitl has launched plenty of debates over just how much a 21-year-old coming off a breakthrough season (and post-season) should be worth. A comparison to similar players suggested something in the $6.5-million range, while the rumour mill spat out some much higher numbers. Then there was the question of how McDavid’s deal might alter the landscape.

 
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A month later, the debate rages on, because Draisaitl has yet to sign. Unlike other items on this list, the Oilers can’t just kick this can down the road and into the season. Draisaitl doesn’t have a contract right now, and he’ll need a new deal before he can report for training camp.

It’s still far too early to start thinking about a scenario where that didn’t happen, and Draisaitl ended up missing time. But we’ll get there eventually if something doesn’t get done. The betting here is that it still will.

Young stars who need extensions and aren’t Connor McDavid

The McDavid deal was the most watched negotiation of the off-season, and it got done relatively quickly. But so far, that hasn’t cleared the way for much else getting done with young stars heading into the last year of their contracts. Cam Fowler got paid – maybe too much – but others are still waiting. That’s not a huge surprise, since it made sense to see whether McDavid would reset the market. But now that we’ve had time to digest that deal, the focus shifts to other names.

The biggest of those is Jack Eichel. Like with a possible Kane trade, the Sabres’ organizational shakeup may have delayed the process here, as Botterill and Housley come at the situation with fresh eyes. Those changes were viewed as being at least partially Eichel’s doing; even though his agent has denied that his client had any input on Murray and Dan Bylsma’s fates, plenty of Sabres fans have joked that the young star will be negotiating this deal with himself since he already runs the team. That’s not fair to the player or the front office, but perception is a tricky thing.

In Winnipeg, Jacob Trouba is eligible for a new deal. We all remember how things went last time, and so far there’s no sign that a long-term deal is coming. And in Toronto, William Nylander is entering the final year of his deal, and you’d think the Leafs would want to get him done now rather than wait until next summer, when Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will also be looking for extensions.

Other entry-level players who could sign new deals include Dylan Larkin, Noah Hanifin and Brady Skjei. Among older players who are still short of UFA status, the Senators have Mark Stone and Cody Ceci, the Blue Jackets have Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner, and the Red Wings needs to figure out what to do with Petr Mrazek.

None of these deals need to get done this summer; unlike Draisaitl, all these guys have contracts in place for the season, and their teams will still control their rights next summer. Some players may want to bet on themselves by playing out their deals in hopes of a big season pushing up their value. But teams and players tend to like to lock things up early when they can, so we could see at least a few of those young stars signed before camp.

Big-name veteran free agents

It’s not often that a team gets a chance to add a sure-fire Hall of Famer to the roster. In a league where many GMs still place an enormous value on leadership, experience and intangibles, you’d think there’d be a long lineup of suitors for a veteran star, even one whose skills had diminished. But a month into free agency, the market for big names at the tail end of their careers seems to have dried up completely.

The biggest of those names belongs to Jaromir Jagr. The league’s all-time second-leading scorer joked about a lack of interest as free agency neared, but many a true word is spoken in jest. Despite some teams that seem like they could be decent matches, the 45-year-old winger remains without a home.

At least Jagr’s name still comes up every few days in the rumour mill. Fellow future HHOFer Jarome Iginla seems to have been all but forgotten. He’s coming off a rough season with the Avalanche and Kings, and at 40 years old he’s clearly not the player he once was. But there may not be a more respected leader in the league, and you’d think somebody out there would be interested just for what Iginla could bring to a dressing room.

One of Iginla’s former junior teammates is in the same boat, as Shane Doan is another name that seems to have vanished off the radar after an awkward split from the Coyotes. His play cratered even more than Iginla’s in 2016–17, but he’s just one year removed from a 28-goal season. But so far, nothing.

There’s still time to get an off-season deal done, and there are always training-camp tryouts to be had. But as the summer wears on, it’s starting to seem likely that we’ve seen the last of some or even all of these three stars.

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