Canucks, Bruins key players in Oliver Ekman-Larsson market

Arizona Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and Vegas Golden Knights centre Jonathan Marchessault chase the puck. (David Becker/AP)

Henrik Lundqvist needed a few days to reflect after being notified by the New York Rangers that he was being bought out. He was said to be reviewing his options with family.

Then the King kicked off a week that’s expected to include a hurricane of NHL activity with a proclamation.

The message is clear: He’s not done yet.

Lundqvist will entertain offers in the free-agent market and take his pursuit of the Stanley Cup Off-Broadway. That possibility would have seemed unthinkable in almost any other year. The 38-year-old goaltender is in the Crosby/Ovechkin class of active players you simply can’t imagine in another sweater after having so much prolonged success with one organization.

But the NHL is in the middle of a giant market correction, or reset, and its effects will be widely felt.

Over the next 100 hours alone, the compressed off-season will see the first buyout window close, the deadline to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents pass and the free agent period open.

Oh, and they’ll also squeeze in a virtual entry draft with the first round conducted on Tuesday night and the remaining six held Wednesday. Brace yourself for action.

Lundqvist is one of several high-profile goaltenders available and he’s expected to draw interest from Washington and Carolina. Other intriguing possibilities include Colorado, St. Louis and maybe even Vegas.

With the caveat that things can and will change quickly, here’s some of what we’re hearing at the outset of a monumental week for the NHL:

OEL

This much we know: Oliver Ekman-Larsson has almost certainly played his last game for the Arizona Coyotes, and he’d like to play his next one for either the Vancouver Canucks or Boston Bruins.

Attempts to get the Coyotes captain to expand the list of destinations he’d waive a no-movement clause for have proven unsuccessful. Ekman-Larsson feels he signed with Arizona in good faith and if the Coyotes want to move on, he’s earned the right to use his NMC.

So, barring a last-minute change of heart, it’s either going to be Vancouver or Boston.

Neither of those teams owns its 2020 first-round pick, which means a potential return likely starts with a 2021 first and includes a prospect, plus another pick. This isn’t an easy deal for new Arizona general manager Bill Armstrong to maneuver because he’s dealing with a limited market.

The Coyotes like Boston’s prospects more than Vancouver’s, but, on the weekend, it seemed like the Canucks were the more motivated buyer, liking the idea of a long-time left side of Ekman-Larsson and Quinn Hughes. It is believed Arizona asked about Thatcher Demko, which would have been a non-starter.

Armstrong was in St. Louis when the Blues acquired Ryan O’Reilly in a package that included a first-rounder, a second-rounder and Tage Thompson. It would make sense if he tried to model this deal after that one.

Everyone’s grinding away here.

MARKSTROM WATCH

The Canadian team we’re watching the most is Vancouver. The Canucks have decided their top priorities are to see if they can close an Ekman-Larsson trade and re-sign Jacob Markstrom.

All of their energy is going into that.

The talks with Markstrom’s camp have been on-again, off-again throughout the last year. The moment of truth is approaching.

This is not just a negotiation of money and term, but also protection from next year’s Seattle expansion draft. That is something teams will have to actively consider when making any moves this off-season.

HALL SWEEPSTAKES

Taylor Hall is willing to consider everything the free-agent market has to offer. Given some of the unique forces at play right now, that could even include a short-term deal for the 2018 Hart Trophy winner.

Insisting on the kind of a long-term, big-money contract a free agent in his position typically commands would significantly limit the number of suitors, so Hall is taking an open mind to 12 p.m. ET on Friday -- the point where he’s able to start speaking with NHL teams.

Expect a weekend of Zoom calls for the free-agent winger.

All of the interested parties will be given an opportunity to submit a proposal that includes their contract offer. The term of that deal will be one of several factors weighed by Hall in determining his next home.

It’s the approach to free agency that 2020 basically demands.

Hall is hungry to play for a contender after a career that’s included just a handful of playoff games. With his 29th birthday looming next month, he has to consider his future, too.

Best to look at all options.

Several of the teams looking at Hall are also believed to be in on Mike Hoffman — a quieter name, but a dangerous scorer.

FLOWER POWER

After signing Robin Lehner to a $25-million, five-year extension over the weekend, Vegas Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon said he was considering multiple options when it came to incumbent starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

He noted that it included the possibility of a Lehner-Fleury tandem next season.

But that’s not the preferred outcome here, both because of Vegas’s cap situation and Fleury’s desire to play.

One option to keep an eye on is the possibility of a three-way trade involving Fleury. That could allow Vegas to unload his entire $7-million cap hit while sweetening the pot for the team in the middle, which would then retain salary on the veteran goaltender and flip him to his new destination.

The Golden Knights did something similar when acquiring Lehner at the trade deadline. He was first traded from Chicago to Toronto, with the Leafs retaining salary.

SABRES CENTRES

Speaking of Arizona, word is that Buffalo likes Coyotes centre Nick Schmaltz, who is signed for six more years at $5.85 million per.

Remember that the Sabres acquired Eric Staal last month to help shore themselves up down the middle.

There’s been a wild rumour that Buffalo asked the Rangers for the first overall pick and two young players for Jack Eichel, but we’re getting a lot of “things got nowhere near close to that” in response.

With Eichel’s 75 per cent bonus paid, it makes little sense for Buffalo to do it, and while I do believe the Rangers like the centre, I don’t believe they would do this.

BUSY JACKETS

Columbus is going to be one of the league’s more interesting teams over the next week. The Blue Jackets are looking to add more picks — they are not in the second or third rounds — and/or a scorer/centre.

They are trying to sign Josh Anderson, but the question is if he gets signed and traded.

Anderson has told teammates he would be happy to stay in Columbus, but there’s a lot of interest, pending what the contract would be. Calgary and Montreal are among the teams that like Anderson.

The Blue Jackets are also considering offers for David Savard, a tremendously under-appreciated right-shot defender with one year left on his contract.

DRAFT DEALS

A pseudo “trade deadline” arrives somewhere around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Teams holding picks in the top half of a draft that features multiple prospects with high-end potential aren’t making those selections available via trade, but there could be some movement in the bottom half.

Toronto (15), Montreal (16), New Jersey (18 or 20) and Ottawa (28, plus four more picks in Wednesday’s second round) are among those willing to parlay a pick into immediate help if it makes sense.

Those are valuable commodities in a league where cap space and controllable assets have become king. With a flat cap of $81.5-million for the foreseeable future, we’ve seen the likes of Olli Maatta and Nick Bjugstad basically given away in recent trades that freed up more operating room for Chicago and Pittsburgh, respectively.

Actually parting with an asset?

That should land you an even bigger name.

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