When NHL teams will be able to spring into off-season action remains a mystery. What you can bet on, though, is front office members on every club living a Zoom-heavy existence right now as they hatch plans for the most critical time of year in terms of roster construction.
Whether you’re aiming to get over the top or trying to crawl up from the bottom, the summer season affords an opportunity to make big moves and set things in motion for the coming year. With that in mind, we’re looking at a burning off-season question for all 31 squads in the league. On Monday, we looked at the Eastern Conference, and today we explore the West.
Anaheim Ducks: Are they actually trading a good defenceman?
The Ducks are still on the downslope of a re-tool, not yet ready to bounce back toward brighter days. There have long been rumours the team could part with one of its solid defencemen, but GM Bob Murray has clearly never been in a rush to trade away the likes of Cam Fowler or Josh Manson.
The latter’s name churned pretty heavily through trade talk leading up to the deadline in February, but any move involving Manson was always more likely to happen in the summer. Manson still has two years remaining on his contract and won’t turn 30 until the 2021-22 season (as is the case with Fowler). Is there an appetite in Anaheim to move one of these guys when the return would be very sweet? Or — given their relatively young age and how quickly teams hope to rebound in today’s youth-driven league — does it make more sense to keep them around for the next half-decade?
Arizona Coyotes: No, seriously, where are the goals coming from?
General manager John Chayka has certainly tried to solve the Coyotes long-standing scoring issues, first acquiring Phil Kessel in the summer of 2019, then got way out ahead of the trade deadline action by snagging Taylor Hall just before Christmas.
Arizona ranked 24th in the league with 2.63 goals-per-game before getting Hall and were 21st after he landed, netting 2.80 per contest the past few months. That’s not exactly the spike the squad was looking for. Kessel was also a major disappointment, scoring just 14 goals in 70 outings. Chayka isn’t going to stop taking swings, so what’s the next solution?
Calgary Flames: Is trading Johnny Gaudreau a real possibility?
There’s no better point-producer more often mentioned in trade rumours than Gaudreau. Sometimes, it just feels inevitable that he’ll be the one to bear the brunt of Calgary’s disappointing playoff showings in 2017 and ’19. Gaudreau is a wonderful player, but when you do the math — Sean Monahan has left people wanting, too, but he’s a big centre and Matthew Tkachuk feels like the next captain of the team — the New Jersey native emerges as the most sensible trade chip.
‘Johnny Hockey’ is 26, has two years left on a team-friendly $6.75-million cap hit and finished fourth in MVP voting one season ago. If Calgary puts him on the market, something tasty would be coming back to Southern Alberta.
Chicago Blackhawks: How do they keep pucks out of the net?
Only two teams — the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings — have allowed more goals against per game in the past two seasons combined than Chicago. Those other clubs act with the future in mind, while the Hawks continue to flap around in search of some way to recreate past glory and make the most of the final prime years for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Since a rebuild is apparently unacceptable, Chicago has to either find more defensively responsible players, move to a less-risky system than the one employed by coach Jeremy Colliton, or find a goalie who will top the save percentage charts.
Corey Crawford will be a 35-year-old UFA this summer. Even if he comes back, the Blackhawks will need to find another quality stopper who can play 40 games.
Colorado Avalanche: What’s Taylor Hall’s phone number?
There’s so much to like about this team, including the fact it has some space under the salary cap. The Avs took a big run at UFA Artemi Panarin last year before the Russian signed with the Rangers. Hall — who’s made no secret of the fact he desperately wants to skate for a competitive club — would add another layer of danger to a squad with perennial MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon leading the way. Toss Hall on the second line with Nazem Kadri and you’ve got something special.
Dallas Stars: Where can they find some young forwards?
Last summer, Dallas’s search for scoring led them to take calculated risks on veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, two once-great players who combined for a measly 19 goals this season. Though I’m convinced Pavelski can still play an important role on a playoff team, the Stars clearly need to look in new directions to solve their problems up front. While Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov offer legit hope for a new generation of forwards, the built-for-now squad should be willing to get creative and sacrifice futures if it puts an in-his-prime scorer on the team.
Edmonton Oilers: What does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins want on his next deal?
Having established his ability to line up at LW, RNH is a valuable member of an Edmonton team that has an all-time 1-2 up the middle of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Nugent-Hopkins — who was on pace for a career-best season — can become a UFA in 2021 and surely the Oilers would like to hammer out an extension before the first overall pick from 2011 even sniffs the open market. With his versatility, ‘The Nuge’ would be a much-valued commodity.
Also, expect Edmonton to make some calls on goalies. Mike Smith, as always, has played his guts out for this squad, but it’s hard to bank on a repeat performance from a guy who just turned 38.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 14, 2020
Los Angeles Kings: Can they trade Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown?
The Kings are compiling a nice cache of young players and prospects. Unlike cornerstones Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, Carter and Brown don’t figure to be on the scene when L.A. turns a corner.
It would have to be the right situation in both cases, but if the Kings are willing to eat a little salary, they could likely return something for these two franchise icons. (Too strong? Nah, I don’t think so). Carter’s name has already been loosely floated, though it’s unclear how much fire accompanied that smoke. Like Brown, he’s 35 and has two more years left on his contract. Put Carter in a new spot where he’s playing a support role on a good team and that 25-goal touch might return. As for Brown, he’s far more movable now than he was five years ago. His eight-year contract — which was signed in 2013 and counts for $5.875 million against the cap — looked like a complete albatross when he scored 11, 11 and 14 goals in the first three seasons of the pact. The former team captain, though, netted 28 goals two years ago, 22 in 72 contests last season and was on pace for 21 this year. Brown has limited trade protection and if L.A. swallowed a million bucks per year on his hit, somebody might be titillated by a playoff-tested vet with all kinds of edge and a little touch left.
Minnesota Wild: Does trading Matt Dumba really make sense?
This was GM Bill Guerin’s first season on the job and about all we know for sure is, he didn’t want Bruce Boudreau as his coach next season. Dean Evason replaced Boudreau in February and the Wild — widely thought to be embarking on a serious rebuild — were only one point out of a playoff spot when play was suspended.
Even if Guerin values long-term growth over playoff appearances right now, there’s a strong case to be made for hanging on to the 25-year-old Dumba, who is under contract through 2022-23. Heck, even an extension for Jonas Brodin — set to become a UFA in 2021 — could make sense given it probably wouldn’t break the bank and the steady Swede is only 26. Of course, it’s more fun for the rest of us if Guerin puts both defencemen in play and tries to get creative in terms of moving some of the clubs’ cumbersome contracts.
Another big issue: What happens with 37-year-old captain Mikko Koivu, who’s been hard hit by injuries the past two years and is on an expiring contract?
Nashville Predators: Is Juuse Saros the goalie now?
It was a frustrating season in Nashville, but the Preds showed signs of life during the final month of play and Saros was a big reason why. The small Finn would seem to be usurping the big Finn — Pekka Rinne — as the man in the crease. Both goalies have one year left on their contracts and combine to count for just $6.5 million against the cap. At that number, you wonder if the Preds just don’t bring Rinne back to play 35 games in his age-38 season and hope Saros establishes himself as the No. 1.
As has been the case the past handful of summers, the all-in Preds figure to be hot and heavy for any player — specifically forwards — who can move the needle. David Poile has been a GM in the league since 1982, turned 70 in February and still doesn’t have his Cup.
San Jose Sharks: Can they land a starting goalie?
Combine the past five NHL seasons and you’ll find no club has a worse five-on-five save percentage than the Sharks. Somehow, San Jose made the playoffs the past four years, but all that leaky goaltending finally caught up to the Sharks this season. Martin Jones has four seasons to go on a contract that counts for $5.75 million against the cap, while Aaron Dell’s time in Northern California will end this summer when his deal expires. Whatever the issue in life, there’s rarely a silver bullet solution. Still, the best hope for San Jose to get back in the mix would be to find a UFA goalie like Robin Lehner, Jacob Markstrom or Braden Holtby who can make some saves.
St. Louis Blues: Will the captain stick around?
It’s very hard to envision Alex Pietrangelo in any NHL uniform other than the only one he’s ever worn. The right-shot defenceman is 30 years old and was putting up the best offensive numbers of his career this season in advance of looming free agency. St. Louis waited a long time to win its first Cup and is acting like a team anxious to hang a second banner soon. The odds of doing that improve with Pietrangelo in the fold, so expect the two parties to find a way.
Vancouver Canucks: Can they keep Jacob Markstrom?
Before he went out with a knee injury in February, Markstrom was generating some Vezina Trophy buzz. He’s been a steadying presence in Vancouver for a couple seasons now and is eligible to head to the open market at 30 years old, just as he’s playing the best hockey of his career. Vancouver is up against the cap already, with both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes extension-eligible this summer. It’s been such a nice marriage between Markstrom and Vancouver, it would be great if they could find a way to make it work. The cold, hard numbers, though, might dictate otherwise.
Vegas Golden Knights: Is Robin Lehner their long-term guy?
I don’t know if everything that happens in Vegas stays there, but I can certainly confirm that everything happens fast when it comes to the city’s hockey team. The Golden Knights went from wet behind the ears to high-stakes contender in the time it takes to yank a slot machine arm. When the team scuffled a bit this year, coach Gerard Gallant was gone. Marc-Andre Fleury — the original franchise face — appeared destined to be the uncontested guy in goal for a couple more years, but Vegas traded for Lehner in February and — given the latter is seven years Fleury’s junior — it seems reasonable Vegas could at least explore giving the UFA-to-be a contract this summer that would see Lehner grab a big portion of the net immediately before taking it over completely when Fleury’s contract expires in two years.
Winnipeg Jets: Can they really re-tool the blue-line now?
The summer of 2019 saw Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and — eventually — Dustin Byfuglien depart the Winnipeg defence corps. Realistically, that’s not a development you recover from quickly. Neal Pionk was a great piece coming back in the Trouba trade and 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola will probably be a regular next year. Still, the Jets need at least one new body on the back end, preferably of the top-four calibre. It could be time to pull the trigger on a move that sees a forward leave town for a defenceman.