The Stanley Cup may have been handed out, but that just means it’s time to start working towards next year’s championship.
The NHL off-season is here and there is no rest for the weary. The buyout window opens Saturday, the draft takes place in a week, the free agent negotiating window opens up right after and as of July 1 any UFA can sign with any team in the league. At that point, we’ll be on the lookout for offer sheets, too. Trades big and small should start happening at any moment.
We’re already looking towards the 2019-20 season.
With that in mind, we’re focusing on one question each team is facing this summer, whether it’s about a player with an expiring contract, trade options, cap problems or anything else. Here is the primary question facing all 31 teams in the coming weeks:
Anaheim Ducks: What will the break up with Corey Perry look like?
There’s a number of things to consider in Anaheim this summer. Finding a new coach tops the list. It used to seem Dallas Eakins was a lock for that, but not anymore. GM Bob Murray was frustrated with his roster after his team was swept in the first round of the playoffs last summer and acknowledged they needed to make some changes. He ended up not changing too much of that team and they missed the 2019 playoffs, so there have to be more options on the table. How do you get younger and faster from here?
Ryan Kesler is taking a year off, that much we know. It could even be the end of his career. So that contract could go on long term injury reserve if needed. It’s hard to imagine Ryan Getzlaf being moved and he’s got a no-trade clause anyway. There are eight players on this team with some level of trade protection so there’s no easy way out from under the less productive ones. Here’s where Corey Perry comes in.
He hasn’t reached 20 goals in three years, but is the team’s highest-paid player at $8.625 million. You can’t trade him without permission, but you could buy him out and save $6 million of cap space this season. There are longer term ramifications of a buy out in that they’d have a percentage of Perry’s cap hit on the books for an extra two seasons, but if you can’t trade him even with retained salary, is all that outweighed by just having a chance to move on and start anew?
Arizona Coyotes: How will they find a locked-in goal scorer?
In failing to have a 30-goal scorer this season, the Coyotes join the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks as the only teams that haven’t had a player hit that mark in either of the past two seasons. Arizona didn’t even have anyone score 20 times in 2018-19. The Coyotes haven’t had a 30-goal man since they were known as Phoenix and Radim Vrbata notched 35 in 2011-12. Two years ago the Canucks and Senators had multiple 20-goal scorers, whereas the Coyotes only had one — rookie Clayton Keller registered 23.
Arizona’s defence and goaltending was strong this season, but their offence was third-worst in the league. In many ways they really look like a team ready to take a leap towards the playoffs, but if they fail to have one 20-goal scorer again in 2019-20, it’s hard to see that happening. Alex Galchenyuk and Clayton Keller are candidates on the roster to hit 30, but GM John Chayka needs to be proactive and find someone from outside the organization with a sniper’s track record. That’s easier said than done, but Chayka has options on the free agent market or perhaps through trade.
Boston Bruins: What kind of padding will they put on the press box walls?
We’re going to assume Cam Neely left a big hole in the wall after he threw a water bottle at it in high-velocity frustration. They’ll need to replace that but also, in preparing for the future, maybe upgrade the walls with more resilient material?
In all seriousness, look at the Bruins’ contract situation on CapFriendly and there’s no real pressing issue here. Sure, Charlie McAvoy needs a new contract, but lots of defencemen get bridge deals off their entry-level contract and that won’t hurt the outlook. Torey Krug has one year left and could sign an extension this summer, but he likely won’t come in too far over his current $5.25 million. There’s just no glaring area of need. Even if UFA Marcus Johansson walks, GM Don Sweeney handled the trade deadline exceptionally well this season and could do the same thing to address a need next February.
So we’re left with that wall. What material should they use?!?
Buffalo Sabres: They can’t come back with the same roster and expect a different result, so how will they push this thing forward?
It really looked like the Sabres had finally turned a corner when they went on a 10-game winning streak in November, but from the end of that run to the conclusion of the regular season Buffalo went 16-33-8 and were the worst team in the league. So much for that.
Although Rasmus Dahlin can be expected to get better and perhaps new coach Ralph Krueger can get more out of Casey Mittelstadt or even Alex Nylander, there’s reason to believe some key pieces of the roster could slow from this season’s pace. Jeff Skinner just got huge term and a high salary that rewarded a 14.9 shooting percentage that was well over his career average. Sam Reinhart had a career year, but he slowed in the final two months. GM Jason Botterill can’t just assume a positive, natural progression. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011 or won a round since 2007 — it’s time to accelerate this thing.
That, of course, is easier said than done. Getting Krueger is an intriguing start. Once again Rasmus Ristolainen is in the rumour mill, but he and Dahlin are the only blueliners signed beyond next season. There’s more untradeable contracts (or at least ones that won’t return much of significance) than not up front. The goaltending underperformed so efforts have to be made to find an upgrade there. The Sabres hold two first-round picks, but their GM is signalling that he’s more likely to keep both of them. Maybe patience is the best way forward here, but Sabres fans have been patient over the years only to end up in more or less the same place they started.
“We’re looking long term here,” Botterill told reporters at Krueger’s hiring announcement. “We can understand a fan’s perspective, but it can’t impact our decisions, our vision of how our team needs to eventually look.”
Calgary Flames: Who will be in net next season?
David Rittich? Mike Smith? Someone else? It seemed as though the former had won the job, but when he faded, the latter became the go-to option in the playoffs and performed rather well. The problem is that Smith is 37 years old and, overall, he didn’t have a good season. If your window to win is now, it’s hard to see how starting a year with Smith as your best bet in net optimizes that.
But it’s also hard to predict which UFA goalie other than Sergei Bobrovsky would be an automatic upgrade. Both Peter Mrazek and Robin Lehner were cast-offs who found success in a new home this past season, but is that worth investing multiple years on in the UFA market? Is it better to dip into the trade market and, perhaps, target the proven yet injury-plagued history of a Jonathan Quick? The only thing for certain is that there’s nothing certain on the goalie market, but it’s the last big need for the West’s top regular season team.
Carolina Hurricanes: Will they trade a defenceman again?
Trading a blueliner for scoring help up front is a perpetual part of Carolina’s rumour mill and that will continue this summer. Sure, the offence turned a bit of a corner in the second half and became among the league’s most lethal attacks, but Nino Niederreiter slowed in the playoffs, Micheal Ferland may leave via free agency and Justin Williams could retire. Meanwhile, the defence remains as strong as ever and now has Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean knocking on the door.
The two primary defenders that could be used in a deal are Justin Faulk and Dougie Hamilton. Faulk is a year away from unrestricted free agency and has a partial no-move clause, while Hamilton has two years left on his deal, no trade protection and led Carolina blueliners in scoring this season. He could be a sell-high candidate. The Hurricanes made a blockbuster deal at last year’s draft, but probably didn’t satisfy their need to upgrade the forwards for the long-term in that trade. Perhaps this summer Don Waddell can find that partner.
Chicago Blackhawks: Who will they pick third overall?
The Hawks have cap space for the first time in a while, with $20.3 million to work with and no expensive re-signs of their own. It could be an interesting summer in that GM Stan Bowman can get creative to put his team back on the playoff track and it all starts with the NHL Draft in June.
Holding the third overall pick, this is the earliest Chicago has selected since taking Patrick Kane first overall in 2007. It’s a big moment and a chance to add a player who will be a prominent figure in the next generation, but it’s not clear who the third-best prospect is in 2019.
In Sam Cosentino’s latest rankings defenceman Bowen Byram slots in at No. 3. He just became the first defenceman to ever lead the WHL in playoff scoring and as long-time stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook age out, Byram would be a good player to start with again alongside Henri Jokiharju and Adam Boqvist already in the system. But those two blueliners were Chicago’s first pick in the past two drafts, so this time they could opt to go with a forward instead.
Alex Turcotte doesn’t get the same hype as some other USNTDP talents this year, but his offensive totals (96 points in 53 games) are nothing to sneeze at. Turcotte’s a centre, as is Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach and Trevor Zegras, who also could be in consideration at three. Cole Caufield is often compared to Alex DeBrincat and he just set a USNTDP goals record, so we can dream of the two coming together, though Chicago could trade down a little and still get him.
Colorado Avalanche: How will they add another scoring forward (or two)?
Everything is looking rosy for the Avalanche today. Nathan MacKinnon’s contract is a steal. Cale Makar will be one of next year’s Calder favourites. Philipp Grubauer looked like a starter by the end of the year. They have gobs of cap space and two first-round picks, including No. 4. But GM Joe Sakic still has work to do if Colorado is to firmly take a step into the elite category. One line basically carried their scoring through the season and even after MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen were split up, there was a depth issue.
The GM has said that you can expect him to be aggressive this off-season to take care of some of those weaknesses.
“Already have target players in mind, if they become available, that we’re going to want to talk to about joining our club. We see some positions of need…we’ll be more aggressive this year with that,” Sakic said about this summer’s free agent market.
Columbus Blue Jackets: What does post all-in look like?
GM Jarmo Kekalainen was the talk of the trade deadline when he boldly added four pending UFAs at a moment his team was just outside of a playoff spot. You could say it was a success since they swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners in Round 1, but they dropped three in a row to Boston in Round 2 and the story ended there.
President of hockey operations John Davidson is gone to New York and now Kekalainen is left to chart a path forward from here. The Blue Jackets only have third- and seventh-rounders at the draft next week and could lose not only mid-season pickups Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, but Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are all but done as well.
If that all happens, it’s not as though the Blue Jackets would suddenly become the Sabres, but things get harder for sure. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois should continue to connect on a dangerous top line, while Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are the kinds of blueliners teams hope to build around. But it’s unclear what’s going on in net, where the support scoring would come from, and how much any rookies could contribute right away. The Metro Division is tough enough already and could get harder is the Flyers and Rangers rapidly upgrade.
Dallas Stars: Can they re-sign Mats Zuccarello, and is that the right thing to do?
Had Jim Montgomery’s team been able to score on one of their Game 7 overtime chances against St. Louis and moved into the conference final, Zuccarello may have gotten more attention as the best trade deadline acquisition. He was amazing for the Stars, even after coming back from a broken arm, and helped turn Dallas from a one-line team into a two-line attack.
But re-signing Zuccarello means coming to terms with two important factors.
1. If he stays with Dallas, one of the conditional picks sent to the Rangers in the trade becomes a 2020 first rounder instead of a third. So right away there has to be an honest conversation on where the Stars are as a team right now. Are they a playoff lock? Could a non-playoff team from the Central like Chicago unseat them, or could the Pacific send five teams to the playoffs next season? The Ottawa Senators believed they were a playoff team when they sent a first-rounder to Colorado but misjudged their place and now have to watch the Avs choose fourth overall next week. Dallas probably won’t be at the bottom of the league next year, but they’re risking giving up a lottery choice.
2. What cap cost are you comfortable committing to Zuccarello? He made $4.5 million on his last deal, but is one of the better (if under-appreciated) set-up men in the game today. He’s also 31 years old, so this could be his last best chance to score big on a contract. What’s too much to commit? $6 million? $6.5 million? Maybe even $7 million?
Detroit Red Wings: How active will Steve Yzerman be in his first summer back with the Winged Wheel?
When Yzerman first took over the Lightning in 2010, the team improved by 23 points and went from missing the playoffs to the East final. That team didn’t change too drastically though. Simon Gagne was Yzerman’s biggest trade pick up in that first summer and he was their fifth-highest scorer. Dwayne Roloson was added at Yzerman’s first trade deadline and that was key for the playoff run. But the biggest pieces were pretty much already in place.
So what does that mean for these Red Wings? They’re not exactly in the same spot as the 2010 Lightning; these Wings still feel sort of in the middle of their rebuild. Don’t expect Yzerman to try and expedite it either. Detroit has the sixth-overall pick and the most likely way this plays out over the summer is Yzerman stays quiet and keeps building up the young assets Holland left behind.
“The Draft is so important,” Yzerman told NHL.com. “You have to acquire your talent some way. To do it through unrestricted free agency, you’re not going to build a team that way. At least I don’t think you can build a team that way. How you do it is acquire the young talent and try to develop them.”
Detroit has $13.67 million in projected cap space this summer and though a number of RFAs will be up for raises in 2020 some expensive UFAs could come off the books as well. So along the lines of acquiring young talent, Yzerman could take on an expensive contract if it means acquiring a prospect. Maybe he turns to his former team and helps them out by taking Ryan Callahan?
Edmonton Oilers: How will Ken Holland find cap room?
It’s again an exciting new era with GM Holland and head coach Dave Tippett steering the ship from the front office and behind the bench. But this time there’s far more skepticism than when Peter Chiarelli arrived in 2015 as a high profile addition. Holland is the most successful GM of his era, but his old team hasn’t made the playoffs in three years. Tippett has been out of the NHL for two years and hasn’t coached a Stanley Cup Playoff game since 2012.
Edmonton has to take care of a few things. They need to add scoring wingers. They need to find another goalie to play with Mikko Koskinen. They need to figure out what the best course of action is to take with Jesse Puljujarvi. But to get any of this done effectively, the first order of business has to be to clear some cap room.
The Oilers have roughly $9.8 million in space with four RFAs to sign and that goalie to find. Plus they’d prefer to make an upgrade or two. They’d love to shed Milan Lucic’s $6 million AAV, but no one is taking that deal on its own, so what would Holland be open to adding as a sweetener? Their blue line could be better than expected, so would anyone else take two more years and the $4 million cap hit of Kris Russell? How about Adam Larsson at $4.16 million? Or do you consider trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his $6 million AAV, knowing he’s two seasons away from UFA and that there would actually be a trade market for the player? There’s no obvious way out of this, but gaining cap space and shedding at least one overly expensive contract is a must-have for the Oilers this summer.
Florida Panthers: Can they really get both Panarin and Bobrovsky?
This could be the most exciting summer for Panthers faithful ever, but if all the rumoured pick ups fall through, it would end up as one of the more disappointing.
At least we know Joel Quenneville will be the team’s head coach next season, and after three Stanley Cups in Chicago, the NHL’s second all-time winningest coach brings stability and accountability to a position that has been a revolving door for too long. He alone should be enough to give the Panthers roster as currently constructed a stern kick in the pants, but if GM Dale Tallon somehow lands both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, then Florida will be on a highway to contending.
Bobrovsky would bring an elite level of netminding to a team that finished with the 30th-ranked save percentage this past season. Panarin would add more star-level scoring to the forwards, which is a section of the depth chart that is already so strong plus has some high-level prospects on the way. So getting Panarin may even bring on a trade to upgrade the defence. Acquiring both Columbus UFAs would be a game-changer.
Los Angeles Kings: Would they trade Jonathan Quick?
All the focus right now is on getting younger, quicker and creating an environment where roster spots and ice time are challenged for and not given for reputation or lack of organizational depth. None of that will come easily or quickly, but we’re clearly moving into a new phase of Kings hockey. They should be all about accumulating young assets this summer, so any underperforming, overpaid, or replaceable players have to be considered for trade.
That means Ilya Kovalchuk is out there. Jeff Carter could be available too. But the piece that may bring back the most in return is Quick. He’s not tied to any trade protection and there will be many teams searching for goaltending upgrades this summer. Quick’s injury history is concerning and he didn’t exactly have a good 2018-19 season, but his playoff history will be tempting to buy into. He doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be used as a workhorse anymore, so an acquiring team could split his regular season starts and make sure he’s healthy and rested for the post-season.
Jack Campbell’s solid season and Cal Petersen’s strong numbers in 11 NHL games means the Kings have two goalies in their mid-20s to move forward with if Quick is dealt. The glory days are gone, and it’s time to cut ties with the parts of the old guard who don’t figure into the long-term plans anymore.
Minnesota Wild: What’s the plan?
We knew the Wild were a great candidate to make a trade splash from the moment Paul Fenton was hired as GM last summer. But after only a few minor adjustments early on, the bigger moves he made in 2019 left people scratching their heads. Getting Victor Rask for Nino Niederreiter was the worst of the bunch as the latter went on a scoring spree in Carolina and that was followed by sending Charlie Coyle to Boston for Ryan Donato and Mikael Granlund to Nashville for Kevin Fiala. The Wild got younger and while there’s certainly potential in both Donato and Fiala, there’s also risk and uncertainty as to what kind of impact they’ll eventually have.
We can assume Jason Zucker is going to be moved this summer after two deals involving him already fell through. Jared Spurgeon is a year away from free agency and there would be all kinds of suitors for the right shot defenceman. Maybe Jonas Brodin could be had? At Fenton’s 2018 introductory press conference, owner Craig Leipold made it clear the expectation was still to make the playoffs and challenge for the Stanley Cup. But the Wild haven’t won a round since 2015 and seem a little stuck in the mud with their current core and no clear path out of it.
“I think anything can happen, but realistically, you’re trying to get a younger roster,” Fenton told Michael Russo. “We were the oldest team in the National Hockey League when it started and part of the process here was to get some younger players that are going to be able to help our lineup going forward.
Montreal Canadiens: Erik Karlsson? Matt Duchene? How active will Marc Bergevin be in free agency?
The Habs are in a quietly interesting spot this summer. With Carey Price and Shea Weber already on big, long-term contracts heading into their mid-30s Bergevin has a reason to get aggressive. But with youngsters like Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi pushing, the future is bright. They have $11.7 million in cap room, but some moveable contracts if need be.
So how will Bergevin proceed? Does he remain patient and let the long-term game play out, or does he see his ageing goalie as a reason to push and chase after a centre like Duchene or the kind of stud defenceman who never becomes available on July 1 like Karlsson? The Habs have 10 draft picks this month and can use some of those in trade if they so choose.
Nashville Predators: How will the power play improve?
By now you know how dreadful the power play was for the Predators this past season. In the playoffs, it was shut out completely in a Round 1 loss. Names such as Kyle Turris, Ryan Ellis and even P.K. Subban have already appeared in the off-season trade rumour mill and maybe that kind of move would bring back a difference maker for the man advantage. But whatever GM David Poile does this summer, he has to make sure the power play is better. This team won’t win a Stanley Cup doing the same thing again.
The process has already started with the hiring of assistant coach Dan Lambert to take over the man advantage. As head coach of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs in 2018-19, his team finished with the league’s best power play and in the playoffs it converted 36.1 per cent of the time. He has one year of NHL assistant coaching experience, which came in 2015-16 with the Buffalo Sabres, who had the 12th-best power play in the NHL. The Preds are only a year removed from having a man advantage that finished in the top half of the league, so maybe it is more about coaching adjustments than personnel. But Poile does have a long history of big-splash trades and he clearly wasn’t happy about Nashville’s finish this season.
“Last year I pretty well said we weren’t going to make any changes. I’m not saying that this year,” Poile told The Athletic.
New Jersey Devils: What to do with Taylor Hall?
Ray Shero’s team should be big winners coming out of draft weekend when they likely walk away with Jack Hughes (and if not, Kaapo Kakko). Between him and 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier, there’s a great base to start from. And remember, this team is just one year removed from a surprise playoff appearance. But to keep this thing moving forward, it’s important to keep Taylor Hall. He won the Hart Trophy in 2017-18 and his 1.19 points per game is fifth-best league-wide over the past two years. He’s one year away from becoming a UFA and there doesn’t appear to be any rush from either side to strike an extension. Maybe it’s too early to be concerned about what that means, but the Devils cannot lose him for nothing, so until a new contract is signed this is a huge question mark hanging over the team.
“This is one of the most important decisions of his career, some players only get here once,” Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, told The Athletic. “There’s no reason to rush into it.”
New York Islanders: How many of their big UFAs will stay?
Brock Nelson got done earlier, signing a six-year extension with a $6 million cap hit in May. Jordan Eberle locked in on June 14. It was important to keep both, but there’s still more players whose negotiations are taking longer than expected.
Robin Lehner is a Vezina Trophy finalist and will be looking to cash in after he wasn’t qualified by Buffalo last summer and took a one-year deal with the Islanders. If Anders Lee leaves, it would be the second summer in a row the Islanders’s captain left as a UFA, and he’s been the team’s top goal scorer three years running. The Islanders surprised many and made lots of headway this season, but for that to keep going it’s still important to keep these two players.
New York Rangers: How much do they want to speed up the rebuild?
It’s been a little more than a year since the Rangers’s front office distributed a letter to their fans ahead of the 2018 trade deadline to set a patient tone, saying they’d be sellers “focused on adding young, competitive players.” But now they’re in a great position to try and make some quick fixes, though should be wary of forcing the issue. They’ve had five first-round picks in the past two years, have another two first-rounders this year and, if Dallas re-signs Zuccarello, New York will have two more firsts in 2020. They’ve quickly accumulated a solid base of high-end young talent, and you can probably add Kakko to that next week.
Their contract situation is wide open. Brady Skjei, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox are the only Rangers with a contract that runs beyond 2020-21 and they have $19 million in cap room this summer without a bank-breaking free agent of their own. Brendan Smith is a buyout candidate to open up more space. Because of this, they are considered players for the biggest UFAs, including Artemi Panarin and Erik Karlsson. And with everyone wondering if this is finally the summer of the offer sheet, the Rangers are one of the teams best situated to send one out.
Ottawa Senators: Will they take on any “bad” contracts if it means acquiring some desirable assets?
If there’s one thing in Ottawa’s favour next season it’s the amount of cap space they have. The Senators will be around the cap floor after signing all their RFAs, but may need an extra small signing or two to get there. With all this room, it’s possible they could “help” out some other team by taking one of their overly expensive contracts if it means also picking up a prospect, draft pick, or young player with potential. Of course, that would depend on owner Eugene Melnyk’s willingness to pay the salary for these new players.
Or, they could focus on adding another injured player or two who will miss the season and, therefore, have a salary that will largely be covered by insurance. Marian Gaborik and Clarke MacArthur are two examples of these already in the Senators organization. GM Pierre Dorion could look to do this again and acquire, say, David Clarkson from the capped out Vegas Golden Knights. This would also help Ottawa get to the floor because you don’t put players on LTIR unless you’re capped out. All three of those deals could count for a combined $14.775 million.
Philadelphia Flyers: How big will potential changes be?
If it’s been said once it’s been said a thousand times: the best thing GM Chuck Fletcher did when he was hired mid-season was to slow the roll on trade talk and encourage patience. But now that the Flyers missed the playoffs again, all bets are off. You know ownership is pushing to get back to the post-season. That means just about anybody — probably outside of Claude Giroux — is a candidate to be moved.
“We are aggressively looking in the trade market now,” Fletcher told NHL.com. “At the right time, we’ll certainly speak to every agent for a lot of free agents and see if there’s a fit, see if there’s players that want to come to Philly and if there’s the right fit for our club. The good thing is we’ve got the assets and the cap space, and sometime in the near future, we’ll make some good things happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Philadelphia has $33.4 million in cap space with which to work and already traded for Kevin Hayes’s rights in the hopes they can sign him ahead of July 1. That’s opened up speculation around Nolan Patrick’s availability. Shayne Gostisbehere’s name is out there, as is Jakub Voracek’s and neither has trade protection.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Which of the big names will get traded, if any?
Phil Kessel has basically been traded once already, but turned down a move back to Minnesota. It seemed he was a pretty good bet to move this summer, but then GM Jim Rutherford said this week that Kessel would “probably play for Pittsburgh next season.” Evgeni Malkin’s name started the off-season rumour mill, but that talk has cooled and Mario Lemieux is one of his top supporters. Kris Letang is another name that’s floated out there, but losing a talent like him would seem to only further thin out the blue line.
“It will be difficult to keep all of our defencemen and keep them happy. I’m sure with the amount of teams who are looking for defencemen, we’ll have to move at least one,” GM Jim Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Most of these names have been on the summer trade block before, so maybe we look back at someone like Olli Maatta being moved instead. But Rutherford has never been afraid to shake things up, rock the boat and be bold in the summer months.
San Jose Sharks: Will Joe Pavelski stay with the team that drafted him?
The fact we’re this late in June and the Sharks’s captain is still without a contract leaves us to wonder if the two sides would actually part. Picked in the seventh round of the 2003 draft, Pavelski matured into one of the most consistent scorers in the game and even now at 34 years old (soon to be 35), he still hit 38 goals and 64 points. His next contract would not count as a 35-plus deal since his birthday is July 11 and the age cut-off for those is June 30, so it’s not as though it would have to be a burden to the Sharks. So why is this not done yet?
San Jose has $24.7 million in cap room, but also have to figure out what’s going on with UFA Erik Karlsson. RFA Timo Meier will need a significant raise after his breakout season and it’s yet to be determined if Joe Thornton is back, and for how much. Plus, GM Doug Wilson has to do something about his goalies after Martin Jones and Aaron Dell finished with the league’s worst save percentage.
Losing Pavelski would be a huge surprise and a huge blow to the roster. But since the Sharks tend to lock in their own guys well in advance, the fact Pavelski is sitting here without a deal 17 days from free agency makes it seem less certain than ever this one will get done before July 1.
St. Louis Blues: How much will Craig Berube get paid?
It was funny to see Berube in the Stanley Cup Final after one of the best single-season turnarounds in league history, introduced as “interim head coach” of the St. Louis Blues. He has to get an extension from the team this summer and given how coach salaries have risen since Mike Babcock signed a big one with Toronto, Berube could be in line for between $3 to $4 million. Or more.
Had Barry Trotz not so suddenly turned the Islanders around in a full season, or if awards voting was done after the playoffs, then perhaps Berube would have been the Jack Adams shoe-in. Aside from the vacancy in Anaheim, there aren’t any other jobs Berube could leap to right now if he wanted, but it’s going to cost the Blues a pretty penny to keep him. Increasing coach costs has been a storyline in the NHL for a few years now, and Berube is the latest interesting case to see how much he ends up with after getting the job in November.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Is landing Erik Karlsson realistic?
The Lightning aren’t going to look at their first round sweep and decide they need to make an overhaul this summer. They remain one of the deepest, most-skilled teams in the league and are still rather young with a number of core players locked into contracts. There’s business to take care of this summer with RFA Brayden Point, while goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and defenceman Mikhail Sergachev will be up in 2020, but there are no identity-altering questions here.
But there are rumours Tampa Bay is a preferred destination of Erik Karlsson’s. The pending UFA is notably good friends with Victor Hedman and the AAV here perhaps doesn’t need to be as high as some other places because of the low state tax. But even if you assume Karlsson gets a cap hit somewhere around Hedman, it will be a challenge to fit him in. If they do sign Karlsson, only then will a more substantial change of the roster be reasonable to ponder, because the cap implications of that signing in future years could become troublesome for GM Julien BriseBois. Still, if one of the best defencemen in the world wants to play for you, the possibility has to be explored, right?
Toronto Maple Leafs: How and when will Mitch Marner’s contract be resolved?
It’s the story everyone in Toronto has been keeping an eye on ever since GM Kyle Dubas guaranteed he’d get contracts for Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner done. The first two are complete, although Nylander’s dispute bled into the season and that may have contributed to his off year. Marner is the last one to get done and given his entry-level contract expires in a summer full of high-end, high-impact RFAs, his value could be defined by other teams.
Will Marner sign early and help set the market? Will he sign an offer sheet with someone else? Will he wait like Nylander, and go into next season demanding north of $10 or even $11 million? Meantime, the Leafs have other areas to address on their roster, most notably adding to a blue line that looks like it may lose Jake Gardiner and has already lost Travis Dermott to injury for the start of next season. Cap space could open up if Dubas is able to trade both Nikita Zaitsev and Patrick Marleau, but even still, is it ideal to pay Marner more than any other winger in the game? There is no easy and obvious answer here.
Vancouver Canucks: What’s Plan B if Alex Edler leaves?
Whatever your opinion of Alex Edler, if the 33-year-old walks as a free agent this summer, Vancouver will have to somehow replace all his minutes. Edler averaged a team-high 24:34 per game, which was 10th-most among all NHL defencemen, and he was either first or second among Canucks blueliners in even strength, power play and penalty kill time. Yes, Quinn Hughes is the hot rookie, but you wouldn’t want to have to count on him for that workload right away. This is where the value of a veteran comes into play.
Chris Tanev could fill some of the void, but the odds of him playing even 60 games seems low. Ben Hutton is a decent option to see his minutes step up, but this ideally isn’t a question you’re faced with in a season you’re expected to make a playoff push. Maybe Edler stays and the primary question facing the Canucks this summer has more to do with goaltending or what they do to improve depth around the young stars on the roster. Edler should have been signed by now and with the free agent negotiating window coming up in 10 days and term being a sticking point between the two sides, it looks more likely than ever Edler will at least explore his other options.
Vegas Golden Knights: How will GM Kelly McCrimmon navigate the salary cap?
Vegas’s core is locked in, but they’ll head into the summer just above the projected $83 million salary cap. Trading David Clarkson or putting his $5.25 million contract on LTIR would get them under, but that’s all before you consider what the next deals will be for RFAs William Karlsson, Nikita Gusev and Tomas Nosek.
The cap situation has some in Vegas thinking Karlsson is a great candidate to get an offer sheet this summer. If he signs for at least the same $5.25 million he accounted for on his last contract, then Vegas would have to consider other options to trade out. Defenceman Colin Miller’s name has been out there. A year from now Erik Haula and Cody Eakin will be UFA eligible and Paul Stastny is a candidate to walk in two years. Things are pretty stable as far as Vegas’s Cup window goes right now, but as is the case with most contenders, the salary cap is a big factor hanging over every off-season decision.
Washington Capitals: Will Braden Holtby get a new contract this summer and what will it look like?
With $10 million in cap space, five RFAs to consider keeping, four UFAs and only eight forwards under contract on the pro roster, the Caps have some cap navigation to do themselves. A year from now Nicklas Backstrom and Holtby will both be UFAs. Two years from now, Alex Ovechkin will be up. So GM Brian MacLellan has some tough decisions ahead.
The reason we’re focusing on Holtby and not Backstrom is it seems the latter is more straightforward. The centre market is more established and there’s not really a potential replacement for the Swedish pivot. Holtby is one of the top goalies in the world, so he’s not getting replaced in Washington, but there are more moving parts around him.
Over the past four seasons, Holtby has an identical save percentage to Carey Price, the NHL’s highest-paid goalie at $10.5 million. Holtby’s in the ballpark of Sergei Bobrovsky, who might set the market depending on where he goes and what he gets as a UFA this summer. Holtby already makes $6.1 million against the cap and for now, only two goalies (Price and Henrik Lundqvist) make more than $7 million against the cap. If Holtby pushes for top dollar, he could really make the cap situation tight in Washington.
Meanwhile, Ilya Samsonov, the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft, just finished his first season in North America and though his season-long numbers in the AHL were below average, he finished with a 15-3-1-1 record, 1.78 GAA and .930 SV% from mid-January on. He is still thought of as the goalie of the future and though he may not be ready next season he probably will be before the life of Holtby’s next contract expires.
Winnipeg Jets: What will happen with Jacob Trouba?
After a couple of short-term contracts, and with a trade request in his past, this is the summer when Trouba’s long-term future with the Jets needs to be decided. Another trip to arbitration and a one-year deal walks him to UFA a year from now and the Jets can’t go into next season risking losing him for nothing. Dustin Byfuglien has only two years left on his deal and he’s already 34 years old, so his place as the leader here is fading. Tucker Poolman is the only other Winnipeg blueliner signed beyond next season, so there’s a lot of uncertainty about what this Jets defence will look like by the time expansion Seattle arrives.
Should Trouba sign a multi-year deal to stay in Winnipeg, a lot of that would be secured. You’d have your biggest minute defender coming off a career-year locked down, and could do the same with Josh Morrissey by next summer. But if it so happens that Trouba has to be traded — and that’s the most likely outcome here — you should be able to get a very nice return for a 25-year-old, right shot blueliner.