All eyes in and around the NHL are on the Stanley Cup Final these days, as two heavyweights duke it out for the prize every team is chasing.
Once the curtain drops on the series, though, we'll be heading head first into what should be a crazy off-season.
The draft often brings an opportunity for trades, and now that the teams are back sharing the same draft floor for the first time in a couple years, the likelihood of a doozy of a move or two is heightened. Free agency is set to have a number of interesting names at all positions, and a variety of teams have an itch to shake it up and try a new approach.
On an off-day in the Final, we take a look at a couple of recent rumours, and what they could mean for the off-season ahead.
Jack Campbell and the Maple Leafs remain in contact
The question in the crease remains the most pressing issue for the Maple Leafs, with Jack Campbell 26 days away from unrestricted free agency, and Petr Mrazek's $3.8 million overpay on the books for another two years a target to try and move out.
Campbell is an interesting case. A very late bloomer at the position, he had a strong start to the season and then faded in the second half. The 49 games he played in this season were a career-high and though he's one of the top names mentioned in the off-season starting goalie UFA market (with Marc-Andre Fleury and Darcy Kuemper) it's actually still not really clear if he's better as a No. 1, or as a 1A or 1B player.
Ballpark AAVs for an average UFA starter are somewhere around $4.5-5 million. Is that a plunge the Leafs are willing to take, with term, on this player as the pressure to win grows stronger?
“We’ve had a couple of conversations,” Campbell's agent, Kurt Overhardt, told The Athletic last week. “I think it’s been reported that we haven’t exchanged numbers or anything like that. But we continue to have a good dialogue.”
While goaltending is the area of greatest need for Toronto to address this summer, it's also the position that may be the hardest to address. The free-agent market is thin on proven starters, and if it's value you're after then more risk gets opened up to signing someone like Ville Husso, who took over in St. Louis' net this regular season, but has never been a No. 1 for any great length of time.
Maybe the trade route is an option.
Lately, John Gibson's name has appeared in trade rumours after Nick Alberga reported the goalie was "open" to being dealt. Gibson has five years left on a contract that pays $6.4 million against the cap, he owns a 10-team no-trade list, and the Ducks took calls on him prior to this season's deadline. He'll turn 29 in July and there's reason to question if his career timeline aligns with Anaheim's rebuild.
"I do think that Gibson knows the Ducks have decisions to make about the direction of their team and he knows that there's teams out there looking for goaltenders," Elliotte Friedman told NHL Network. "My sense of what it is, is if the Ducks want to do something and it takes Gibson's permission they'll just eventually go to him. I'm just not convinced yet that Pat Verbeek sees trading John Gibson as the right move for the team."
And it's not as though Gibson is necessarily an automatic home run pick up.
With .903, 904 and .903 save percentages the past three seasons, Gibson has posted below-average numbers for a while now, with a GAA around 3.00 in each of those years. Of course, he's also been playing behind a porous defensive and young team throughout and has therefore faced one of the heaviest workloads around the league. Perhaps if he's surrounded by a better team he could bounce back to what his reputation is, but that's no longer a guarantee.
For what it's worth, Gibson told The Athletic he had not asked for a trade.
It will be fascinating to see what solution the Leafs are able to come up with. And it may end up just being to run back with Campbell as the leader again. Though negotiations do appear to be moving slowly without many updates, Overhardt also said there was no drop dead date that an extension with the Leafs would need to be done by before he commits to going to the open market.
“No, I don’t think so,” Overhardt said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. The one luxury that I think everyone has right now, as you know, is time. And it’s important just to communicate.”
Is it wise for the Blackhawks to trade Alex DeBrincat?
In one of Stan Bowman's last moves as GM of the Blackhawks, he traded a haul of futures to Columbus for Seth Jones, and then signed the defenceman to a long-term contract with a $9.5 million AAV. Naturally, it was seen as a move to expedite a "re-tooling" process to try and get the Hawks pointed in the right direction on the ice again.
The consequences so far have been disastrous. The Blue Jackets hold Chicago's first-round pick this season from that deal, and it lands at sixth overall.
Since then, Kyle Davidson has stepped into the GM chair and made it clear that he would be taking this thing in a different direction.
"We’re going to look at more of a rebuild here," Davidson said at his introductory press conference on March 1 before the trade deadline. "There are some things that we really need to fix that are going to take time. We're not going to put a timeline on it, whether it's three, five (years), I don’t have that answer right now. That will be determined as we proceed.
"But we really need to do this the right way and we're going to stick to the plan and take our time with it and make sure that when we get to where we want to go, then it was the result of a plan that was stuck to and not deviated from."
While this certainly makes the conversation interesting around Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the two long-time stars who both have one season left on their contracts, the real and immediate trade intrigue involves Alex DeBrincat. The 24-year-old scored 41 goals this season — the second 40-goal campaign of his young career — and he has one more year remaining on his contract before becoming RFA eligible. At that point, he'll also be one year away from UFA status, and could walk there via arbitration.
The debate in Chicago right now is to trade or not to trade DeBrincat — the exact type of young scorer you'd want to have within a rebuild, but also someone who should return some tantalizing assets to rebuild with if dealt.
The Chicago Sun-Times indicated the New Jersey Devils are "presumed leading contenders" for DeBrincat, and that their No. 2 overall pick could be the key piece coming back. It's certainly a piece the Devils seem open to dealing. Prior to the draft lottery, GM Tom Fitzgerald said he was "open to whatever to help our team improve."
"If that is using a pick like that, wherever it may be, to help bring in a player that we know and feel will help impact the results that we are looking for, absolutely," he added.
That would allow the Hawks to nab one of Shane Wright, Logan Cooley or Juraj Slafkovsky.
The Sun-Times also mentions the Philadelphia Flyers (No. 5 overall), Ottawa Senators (No. 7 overall), NY Islanders (No. 13 overall) and Los Angeles Kings (No. 19 overall) as possible suitors.
The interesting thing about a DeBrincat move is what it could mean for Kane and Toews as their contracts come to an end. When Toews was asked about playing through a rebuild in March, he said that while he never planned on leaving Chicago, this development could change the equation.
"In this case, you can't help but picture yourself and what it'd be like to play for another team and what that experience would bring," he told NBC Chicago. "That pops into your mind obviously, but again, Chicago's my home, I love the Blackhawks, I love the organization, it's been my family for a long time and I'm not putting the cart before the horse or getting ahead of myself in any way."
When Kane was asked about playing through a rebuild as he enters his mid-30s, he specifically cited playing with DeBrincat as a reason to stick it out.
“I’ve developed some chemistry with DeBrincat over the years, so if he’s here and he’s a big piece, that makes it easier for me too, right, because I’m playing with him every day and he’s such a good player, and it makes it fun to be out there with him. We’ll see how it shakes out, though.”
Both Kane and Toews will be eligible for extensions as of July and have full no-move clauses in their current deals. Still, if the rebuild goes ahead as planned and DeBrincat does get moved out this summer, will either of these two be close behind, if the prospect of losing them for nothing is the alternative?