Last week's Eric Staal trade to Buffalo gave us a move to talk about as we inch closer to what is expected to be a busy start to the off-season.
It's far from over, folks.
With the Stanley Cup Final on to Game 3, the draft just two weeks away and free agency opening three days after that, trade chatter is picking up steam as teams try and figure out how to handle a flat salary cap.
WHO ARE JACOB MARKSTROM'S SUITORS OUTSIDE OF VANCOUVER?
In any normal season, it's likely the Canucks and Jacob Markstrom would already have come to terms on a contract extension. But for a few reasons, this is not your average season.
Not only is the cap staying flat and pinching a team like the Canucks, who are forced into tough decisions, but next summer's Seattle expansion draft is also a consideration. Each team must keep at least one goalie unprotected, so that's complicating matters for a team like Vancouver, who would like to keep Markstrom, but also have 24-year-old Thatcher Demko in the fold.
Markstrom, 30, was widely regarded as the team's MVP this season. Now, 17 days away from the opening of free agency, he's still unsigned and there's no telling if a deal can be struck before then.
"All I've heard is it's been a really challenging negotiation," Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 960 The Fan's Big Show. "They've been working at this for months. I don't think that necessarily means they've been working on that straight. They've been on and off, but I think they know each others' positions. I don't think that's changed a lot. I would bet Markstrom's representatives have an idea of his market. I think there's a limit of what Vancouver's willing to do particularly in salary. I think Vancouver needs assurances that they'll have expansion draft flexibility, which I think Markstrom is willing to consider at a price."
As we've previously explored, term, salary and trade/expansion protection are all factors at play in this negotiation. If Markstrom stays, would he delay trade protection for a year in exchange for something else (money, term, structure) and possibly be available to Seattle? Or would he rather lock in somewhere that he wouldn't have to worry about switching teams again in a year.
If the Canucks and Markstrom can't agree on an extension by the opening of free agency on Oct. 9, here are some potential fits to consider:
Calgary Flames: Cam Talbot was the better second-half goalie and thus took the playoff job from David Rittich. Talbot himself is a pending UFA who doesn't have a great track record as a starter. As the Flames and their GM feel more pressure to come back better in 2020-21 following a second consecutive first-round exit, Markstrom could solidify them in net as Brad Treliving also tries to reconstruct a blue line that is likely to lose a few players to UFA. Calgary has just shy of $17 million in cap space, with 14 players on the roster.
Edmonton Oilers: The other Alberta team could use an upgrade in net as well, though the fact Mikko Koskinen is already there with a $4.5-million price tag complicates matters. The Oilers have to also upgrade their depth forwards, so how much can they realistically spend on Mike Smith's replacement? Markstrom may prove too costly for them in the end, but if he hits the market, GM Ken Holland will explore the possibility of getting the best UFA goalie available.
Detroit Red Wings: Over the weekend, Friedman reported that UFA goalie Jimmy Howard was "probably not" going to return to Detroit next season, so that young, rebuilding team will need a sturdy replacement. The Wings are building towards a promising future, and there's no telling how long that will take to come to fruition, so unlike many teams this off-season they have a bunch of cap room to work with. With a roster of just 11 players, the Wings have a projected $34.6 million in cap space. Jonathan Bernier remains, with a $3-million cap hit, but is one year away from that expiring.
Buffalo Sabres: Like Detroit, Buffalo is still building towards better days, but theoretically they should be further along. New Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has already made a trade to help his forwards, bringing in Eric Staal to play 2C behind Jack Eichel, and he could next look to solidify the situation in net in a deep goalie pool.
Carolina Hurricanes: There are rumours that the Canes could look to trade either member of their current tandem -- James Reimer and Petr Mrazek -- to upgrade in net. If either moves, it could make room for Markstrom. Carolina presently has just $7.7 million in projected cap space, but shedding either of those netminders would add an additional $3 million-plus in savings. Carolina's defence and forwards are in good shape and one significant add in net could be what launches them to the next level.
San Jose Sharks: They've finished with the league's worst 5-on-5 save percentage two years in a row now so it's obvious what the Sharks will be trying to improve upon this off-season. They have $14.1 million in projected cap space and must figure out what's next for RFA Kevin Labanc and UFA Joe Thornton. There's also the matter of Martin Jones, who's on the books at a $5.75-million value for another four years.
NIKLAS HJALMARSSON NOT WAIVING NO TRADE CLAUSE
In his AZ Coyotes Insider newsletter, Craig Morgan reported that at this time, 33-year-old defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson would not waive his no-trade clause.
Hjalmarsson is a highly regarded "defensive defenceman" who led all Coyotes blueliners with an average of 2:40 of penalty-kill time per game. His contract has a full no-move clause attached to it, so he's in complete control of the situation, and if he ever decided to waive it, a number of teams would be interested in his services.
He has one year left on his deal at a $5-million cap hit, after which he'd be UFA eligible.
IS ALEX PIETRANGELO A REALISTIC TARGET FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS?
On the one hand, we know the Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to change their defence this off-season. With a few blueliners (Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci) unlikely to return when they hit free agency, the Leafs will need to fill those holes and, ideally, it's not all going to come from within the organization.
Naturally, all eyes are on what happens with Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues, whose negotiations aren't going very smoothly.
"I've just heard they're not close. And it's not only on the no-move clause and the structure. I even heard on the AAV they're not close," Friedman said on Big Show. "That one's been, I don't know if nasty is the right word, but it's been surprisingly poor.
I think they're far, far, far apart. I don't even think it's anywhere close."
Pietrangelo would be a target for many teams, and in Toronto he'd not only become the true No. 1 the team has been seeking for years, but he'd also be joining his hometown team.
The math to make that fit, though, is not so clear. Toronto presently has just $6.1 million in projected cap space, which is less than what Pietrangelo made on his expiring contract. The team would almost certainly have to move a few other players out to bring in Pietrangelo and still fill out the rest of the defence.
There's risk, too, in investing so much in so few players. The Leafs already have over $40 million invested in just four forwards (Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander), and adding another big-money deal under a flat cap would squeeze the depth areas of the roster even further.
If Pietrangelo leaves St. Louis and tests free agency on Oct. 9, the most term he could get on a new deal would be seven years as opposed to eight if he stayed with the Blues. That means compensation could be a major factor. No matter how hard it appears on the surface, if Pietrangelo hits UFA, you can bet the Leafs will be making a push to get him.
"I think there's two paths they can follow here if they want to do free agency," Friedman said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan's Lead Off last Friday. "They can go out and, if he's available, they can aggressively go after him which I think they would be interested in doing.
"Is Pietrangelo going to say, 'OK, I lose one year so you gotta make up for it in salary? I think there's a limit to what Toronto can and will be able to do. Or Toronto could say, 'OK, we really want this, but we can't make it work so in free agency do we go out and get two guys?'"
DOES ANTON KHUDOBIN'S PLAYOFF RUN OPEN THE DOOR FOR A BEN BISHOP TRADE?
As the Stars sit three wins from a Stanley Cup, 'backup goalie' Khudobin has been a major player in their success.
Khudobin has emerged as one of the best backups in the league. Over the past three years (two with Dallas, one with Boston) he's worked more as a tandem piece than a true light-workload backup, but still, the most games Khudobin has ever played in a regular season is 41 in 2018-19.
He had a .930 save percentage in the 2019-20 regular season and, with Ben Bishop under contract at $4.9 million for another three years, it was hard to see how Dallas would be able to keep Khudobin. They'll head into the off-season with roughly $15.4 million in cap space before re-signing RFAs Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz and Radek Faksa, each of whom have also played notable roles in this run.
But, boy, is it going to be hard to move on from Khudobin. Though Bishop has been a Vezina finalist, he's also got a history of injuries and that's continued in this playoff run, where he has been "unfit to play" through most of Dallas' time in the bubble. Khudobin's stellar effort in these playoffs has opened up questions about how the Stars may proceed from here in net.
"What do you do here if you're Dallas? Do you let this guy go?" Friedman wondered. "It's going to be really strange. Could there be any chance they try to move Bishop and keep Khudobin?
"I know he was looking for a decent raise and he's earned a decent raise, but now you gotta be wondering if they're sitting here saying, 'We gotta keep this guy.'"
PENGUINS WOULD HAVE INTEREST IN CHRIS TANEV IF HE HITS THE MARKET
Not only does Vancouver have a decision to make on Markstrom, but also two other UFAs: Tyler Toffoli and Chris Tanev. The latter is a long-standing member of the Canucks and a hugely important veteran presence on the blue line, leading the Canucks defence in shorthanded ice time per game and largely partnering with rookie Quinn Hughes.
If Tanev tests the market on Oct. 9, expect the Penguins to come calling.
Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe of The Athletic reported that adding a right shot defenceman was a "priority" for the Penguins this off-season and that Tanev's age (31 in December) wouldn't be much of an issue for the team as it tries to squeeze out a couple more Stanley Cup runs.
Tanev made $4.45 million on his expiring deal and the report indicated the Penguins would aim to keep him under a $5-million AAV on any offer. They could also offer him the opportunity to share a team with his brother, Brandon Tanev, who signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent last off-season.