The NHL off-season? Pfffft…what off-season?
The Stanley Cup was hoisted 2 weeks ago, but as the book closed on 2013-14, another one opened as teams prepare for the 2014-15 NHL season. It all begins tonight in Philadelphia as the NHL Entry Draft gets underway and a new flock of talent are welcomed to the greatest league in the world. While teams will be looking at adding new prospects at the draft, some teams are looking at their current rosters to see what moves could be made. Let’s take a team-by-team look at issues each club faces, and what moves they could possibly make as the Draft begins Friday, and Free Agency begins on July1. We’ll begin with the Western Conference:
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks landed Ryan Kesler on Friday afternoon in a trade with the Canucks. That fills their hole at center on the 2nd line and gives them another star forward. With the team choosing not to re-sign Saku Koivu, this leaves a hole the Ducks need filled. Teemu Selanne retired, and the team announced F Daniel Winnik will not be back. G Jonas Hiller will also not return, leaving the goaltending up to the duo of John Gibson and Fredrik Andersen.
Arizona Coyotes: Yes, the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona seems to always be taking offers for defenseman Keith Yandle, yet they can never get a deal done. Yandle led the team in scoring last season, and his durability is one of his biggest assets. Somebody like the Red Wings would love to get their hands on Yandle, but at what price? The Coyotes will want a boatload in return and Detroit isn’t likely to shell out their top prospects. Arizona is likely to let D Derek Morris walk as a UFA, and the same can be said about F Radim Vrbata. The Coyotes would love to see one of their top prospects, such as Max Domi, come in to camp and earn a spot on the team. They are debating on buying out F Mike Ribeiro, who had a brutal 1st year in the desert.
Calgary Flames: The Flames rebuilding phase continues. Veteran forward Mike Cammalleri has likely seen his last days as a member of the Flames. They’ll have plenty of space under the cap, so they could add a veteran forward such as Matt Moulson. They’ll also be in the market for someone to backup Karri Ramo in net. Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau could add some scoring touch in his 1st season in the NHL.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks were possibly 1 goal away from another Stanley Cup, so GM Stan Bowman doesn’t need to tweek his lineup all that much. That said, they will need to find ways to keep pace with the other strong Western Conference teams. Trade rumors have blown in and out of the Windy City all week, with speculation that Jason Spezza or Ryan Kesler could fill the 2nd line center role the Hawks have been lacking. Again, it will come down to what Chicago is willing to give up. Ottawa or Vancouver would command either Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, or Patrick Sharp. The Blackhawks aren’t likely to give up either, so it will be interesting to see what they do to fill that hole. In other news, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are due for contract extensions, and many analysts believe they could get matching deals upwards of $10 million per year. They each have 1 year left on their remaining contracts and are likely to stay in Chicago for the long haul.
Colorado Avalanche: Arguably the most surprising team in the league last year, they will have sky high expectations heading into next year with a core that isn’t even in its prime yet. Colorado has roughly $23 million in cap space, and they’d like to use some of that to keep F Paul Stastny. Stastny is an unrestricted free agent beginning July 1st and is not likely to take less than the $6.6 million he made last season. On defense, Tyson Barrie is a restricted free-agent and will command a big time raise.
Dallas Stars: The Stars aren’t likely to be big players in free agency, but never count out GM Jim Nill to get a deal done. Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel and Dustin Jeffrey are all restricted free agents and could all be re-signed fairly cheap. They’ll also need to look into getting a backup goalie for Kari Lehtonen, as Tim Thomas is most likely not returning.
Edmonton Oilers: Another draft comes, and another year with a top 5 pick for the Oilers. This year they pick 3rd, and are using that pick as trade bait. Their most desperate need is on the blue line, where only Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin are signed for next year. Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry are restricted free agents likely to be re-signed. They also need a 2nd line center. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still very young and they’d like a veteran forward to come in and do the job while RNH develops. Look for that #3 pick to be on the move if Edmonton gets a good enough deal.
Los Angeles Kings: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is the motto the LA Kings should be using after hoisting their 2nd Cup in 3 years. They re-signed Marian Gaborik to a long-term deal earlier in the week which means almost all of their forwards will return next year. On the blue line, Willie Mitchell is not expected to be offered a contract. The Kings have all the makings of a great team that very well could win another Stanley Cup next season.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild are expected to be front-runners for the services of Tomas Vanek. The catch? The club wants a short term deal (3-4 years), while the player would like a longer one. If they can find common ground, he’d be a good fit on a team that historically has had trouble scoring. Matt Moulson was a trade deadline bust last season, and veteran Dany Heatley isn’t likely to return either. They could look for another goalie in free agency with Ilya Bryzgalov hitting the market. Josh Harding’s MS can cause him to be out for lengthy amounts of time and they’d like some insurance in net behind Nicklas Backstrom and Darcey Kuemper.
Nashville Predators: Before you ask, no….Shea Weber is not on the trade block. They’re also not likely to be big players on July 1st. Their free agents include Michael Del Zotto (RFA), Patrick Eaves (UFA) and Nick Spalding (RFA). Eaves is unlikely to be back, while MDZ and Spalding could return. They’ll look to get a rebound season from Pekka Rinne after he missed most of last year with a hip infection.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks were 1 win away from sending the eventual Cup Champions to the golf course, but for some reason they feel the need to blow everything up and start over. Joe Thornton is rumored to be on the trade block, but he’d have to agree to any deal since he has a no-trade clause. The same goes with Patrick Marleau. Both have stated their desire to remain with the organization. I don’t see much that GM Doug Wilson can/will do to make significant changes to this team, but if changes are made it’s likely to be done at the draft rather than July 1st. Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller could be targets for San Jose. Keep an eye on the Sharks.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues ran into some injury trouble and were bounced in the 1st round in a rough 6-game series against Chicago that could have easily been the Conference Final. They traded a lot to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade, and all they got was about a month’s worth of work and an early playoff exit. Miller won’t return, so Brian Elliot and Jake Allen will tend the net in STL. Steve Ott and Derek Roy are expected to hit the market, while Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz are RFA’s likely to return.
Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver traded away Ryan Kesler on Friday afternoon, avoiding another Luongo-type situation. They picked up a 1st round pick, F Nick Bonino and D Luca Sbisa. Goaltending will be a huge issue for the Canucks next year if not resolved in free agency. Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller could be trade targets for VAN. There are also rumors of the Canucks trying to acquire the #1 pick from Florida if the Panthers decide to deal it away.
Winnipeg Jets: The Evander Kane saga continues in Winnipeg, as the talented forward has made it clear he’d like a fresh start somewhere else. The problem is finding a team willing to give the Jets what they want in return. He’s likely to be moved this summer, but at what price to the other team? He has the potential to be a 40-goal scorer so finding something to replace that will be a big challenge for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. They also have work to do signing RFA’s Michael Frolik, Matt Halischuk, and Keaton Ellerby. There’s much work to do in the ‘Peg.
Let’s shift gears to the Eastern Conference
Boston Bruins: It’s no secret…the Bruins have salary cap issues. They need to re-sign defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, and forwards such as Reilly Smith, while finding space for Jarome Iginla. Both the Bruins and Iginla have expressed desires to have the veteran forward return to Beantown, but if they can’t fit him under the cap he’ll have to find another option (Detroit?).
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are one of the few teams that will have to do some work just to get to the salary cap floor. They are in full re-build mode, having traded away almost all of their assets at the trade deadline last season. They hold the 2nd pick in the draft and will likely take a forward. Tyler Myers could be dealt, further hurting the Sabres in the short term. It’s going to be a long winter in western New York.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have a good core made up of Alex Semin, The Staal brothers, and Jeff Skinner, now they need to surround them with talent. Cam Ward has been rumored to be on the move, but nothing is imminent.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus made a big jump last season, making the playoffs and almost taking out the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their entire core is returning, and a healthy Nathan Horton will be huge for the Jackets. The recent trade with the Flyers for Scott Hartnell gave them depth up front and a veteran leader in the locker room. The Blue Jackets will be in great shape heading into camp.
Detroit Red Wings: We FINALLY get to the Wings. Detroit said good-bye to many familiar faces this summer, with Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Quincey parting ways with the team. David Legwand is also not likely to return. Dan Cleary is a question mark. He’s not worthy of an NHL contract so the only way I see him returning is if he signs a 2-way deal. There’s nothing that Cleary does well that somebody currently in Grand Rapids can’t already do at a cheaper price. Daniel Alfredsson would like to return and the Wings want him back, but he’s been dealing with back trouble and is a “toss-up” to return. Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar are the only RFA’s Detroit will look to sign. Detroit needs help on defense, and they’ll look to add somebody at the July 1st free agent season. Dan Boyle and Matt Niskanen are Red Wing targets, but many teams are also in on them. Up front, Detroit lacks scoring depth. A player like Jarome Iginla would be a good fit if he’s not able to work things out in Boston. Once again, the Red Wings will rely on their youth to carry them. With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg getting older, Detroit is in “win now” mode. 2013 1st round pick Anthony Mantha will get a good shot to make the team out of camp, but he’ll have to outplay a veteran to earn a spot. Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson will anchor the crease in Motown, with Petr Mrazek a comfortable call-up should an injury arise.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers own the #1 pick in Friday’s draft, and some analysts are expecting the team to trade it. They’re a team full of young stars that is looking for veteran players to help them grow. It will be interesting to see if GM Dale Tallon trades the pick, or takes OHL star defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the 1st pick.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are in good position to be the best Canadian team in the NHL again next season after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals this past year. They’ll look for their young prospects to fill slots on defense, including Greg Pateryn. Captain Brian Gionta will seek a new contract with the team, while deadline acquisition Tomas Vanek will look for employment elsewhere. PK Subban is a restricted free agent who could be looking for top d-man money, but he’ll stay in Montreal.
New Jersey Devils: The biggest question for the Devils this offseason is if they will bring back Hall of Fame bound goalie Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is a UFA who is looking for a starting job. Cory Schneider is deserving of a starting job and Marty’s time in NJ could be coming to an end.
New York Islanders: The toughest part of being an Islander is convincing other people to come be Islanders. They boast one of the games best kept secrets in star John Tavares, yet still fail to draw in top free agent talent. Dan Boyle is unlikely to sign with them after having his rights traded there from San Jose.
New York Rangers: After making it to the Stanley Cup Final this past year, the Rangers look like a team on the upswing. They do have plenty of work to do regarding signing their unrestricted free agents Brian Boyle, Dan Carcillo, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, and Dominic Moore. Add that to their list of restricted free agents in John Moore, Justin Falk, Derek Brassard, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello and you have a busy summer of decision making for GM Glen Sather. They did buy out Brad Richards so at least his contract is off the books.
Ottawa Senators: A summer after losing the face of his franchise, Daniel Alfredsson, to the Red Wings in free agency, GM Bryan Murray is close to losing yet another cornerstone of the team in star center Jason Spezza. Spezza has 1 year left on his deal and is looking to head to either Chicago or Anaheim. But, Murray has made it clear that a trade won’t be made unless the package is acceptable. Notable free agents for the Sens include Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers would love to get Vinny Lecavalier’s contract off their books, but moving a 34-year old player with a $4.5 million cap hit for the next 4 years will be tough to do. The Flyers are also in the market for a goaltender if they choose not to bring back Ray Emery.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins continue to listen to offers on James Neal, although they continue to say he’s not on the trade block. The Penguins have a ton of UFA forwards (Jokinen, Stempniak, Glass, Pyatt, Vitale, Gibbons) and UFA defenseman in Brooks Orpik and Deryk Engelland. Matt Niskanen will not be returning. Brandon Sutter will also be looking for a raise this summer as an RFA. Neal could very well be moved to make room for all the free agents new GM Jim Rutherford needs to sign. Even though they have a lot of work to do, building your team around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is still a positive.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Steve Yzerman’s Lightning are filled with young talent and won’t be looking to make major changes this summer. Steven Stamkos has healed from his broken leg and they still boast a defense corps that are all over 6′ 3″. Tampa will be in good shape in the Metro division.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are another interesting team heading into Draft weekend. F Dave Bolland is searching for a contract but he may not get one of equal value to his last one in Toronto. GM Dave Nonis could ask him to take a hometown discount, but will he take it? Other Maple Leaf free agents include Mason Raymond, Cody Franson (RFA), Jake Gardiner (RFA), Jay McClement, and Nikolai Kulemin. They might need to decide between either Franson or Gardiner. James Reimer is a restricted free agent who isn’t likely to return either, leaving Toronto needing a backup goalie for Jonathan Bernier. The Leafs are in the mix to move up from the 8 spot in the draft.
Washington Capitals: Mikael Grabovski and Dustin Penner are their only UFA’s and while their core will be back, the Caps would love to get some help on D. They’re also in need of goaltending help after Braden Holtby had a subpar season last year and Javoslav Halak went to Long Island.