NHL free agency officially begins on Wednesday at noon ET, but it’s already been an absolutely wild offseason in hockey.
With the salary cap rising by only $1 million from last season, teams have been forced into difficult decisions, such as:
The offseason chaos is just getting started. Here’s a guide to all 32 NHL teams, their free agents and what they should be doing as free agency officially begins.
Note: Advanced statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Cap and contract information from CapFriendly. Kristen Shilton covered the Atlantic and Central teams, while Greg Wyshynski previewed the Metro and Pacific clubs.
What they should do: The Bruins don’t want to rebuild. Therefore, they should be active buyers in free agency. But it’s not so cut and dried for the Bruins.
The first issue is Boston’s tough situation with injuries. Brad Marchand (hips), Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) and Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) all had offseason surgeries with recoveries that will last into at least the first couple months of next season. General manager Don Sweeney has to address those gaps, or Boston risks falling irretrievably behind early. That’s easier said than done, given the second issue of only $2.3 million in cap space with which to work and a key free agent — captain Patrice Bergeron — who’s reportedly ready to re-sign on a one-year deal. Plus there’s Studnicka — one of the club’s top prospects — to retain and potentially use more regularly in the lineup.
Sweeney needs to create some cap flexibility, whether via trades or buying out a contract or two. Then it comes down to targeting the right players. Even with Bergeron back, Boston needs better play down the middle and in its bottom six. Can the Bruins swing that on a budget? It’s possible. Unless Sweeney clears a bunch of space, Boston won’t be in the mix on top-end free-agent forwards like Nazem Kadri, but someone like Max Domi or Victor Rask could be realistic.
Beyond that, it’s hard to say what the Bruins will manage. There’s a lot hanging on how active Sweeney is in freeing up some flexibility.
Key players hitting UFA: None
Key players hitting RFA: F Victor Olofsson
Cap space: $32,204,166
What they should do: General manager Kevyn Adams said at last week’s draft that his first priority is a new contract for Olofsson. He was also busy negotiating with Jacob Bryson‘s camp to get a deal done, which did come to fruition in a two-year pact (worth $1.85 million per season) announced on Sunday. Even after Adams gets things settled with Olofsson, there will be decent cap space to wield come July 13.
Adams has to invest some of that in goaltending. Craig Anderson recently re-signed on a one-year deal, but the 41-year-old is Buffalo’s lone NHL goalie under contract and can’t reasonably be expected to carry the load. Pickings are slim — and expensive — when it comes to free-agent netminders, so Adams would have to work his magic early, and fast. If he comes up empty there, Adams can also go the trade route.
Buffalo has some exciting young talents up front, including Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and Tage Thompson. Adams likely doesn’t need to add much to the forward group. The Sabres’ defense does need a boost. Buffalo has three veteran blueliners reaching unrestricted free agency, and at least one or two of those roles will need to be addressed. Could Adams target Josh Manson or Nick Leddy there? Or would he take a bigger swing and try for Ben Chiarot?
Adams has to be strategic in his spending to some degree, because those top-six forwards will need new contracts soon. But bolstering Buffalo in net and on the back end is what Adams must do in free agency to put this team in position to take the next step in 2022-23.
What they should do: General manager Steve Yzerman already checked a big box by trading for the rights to pending unrestricted-free-agent goaltender Ville Husso and subsequently signing him to a three-year, $14.25 million contract. That gives the Red Wings an excellent goalie tandem of Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic for the next few seasons.
Detroit’s primary area of need now is on defense. Veterans Danny DeKeyser and Marc Staal are both pending UFAs, and should they move on elsewhere, Yzerman will be eyeing different depth players for the back end, with a potentially larger role also going to Jake Walman if he remains in the fold. You could see Yzerman going for someone like Will Butcher or Olli Maatta, or perhaps Ian Cole. Those are capable second- or third-pairing defenders who can support and provide stability for the team’s top defensive talents like Moritz Seider. And they could be signed to relatively inexpensive, short-term contracts for the rebuilding Red Wings.
Similarly, there’s room for Detroit to boost its forward depth with some seasoned names like Bryan Rust or Calle Jarnkrok. They’re strong two-way players who can set an example for some of Detroit’s young players with enough offensive upside to be consistent contributors.
While the Red Wings are still charting their new course — under new head coach Derek Lalonde to boot — it’s all about staying low-flash in free agency.
What they should do: Florida went all-in at the trade deadline this past season, acquiring Giroux and Chiarot. Will either of them remain with the team after that gamble didn’t pay off with the intended playoff success? It doesn’t feel likely given what either player could fetch elsewhere and the Panthers’ comparatively limited cap space.
Bringing Marchment back would be a win for Florida. He’s coming off a career-best season (47 points in 54 games) and was among the Panthers’ most reliable forwards throughout the campaign.
General manager Bill Zito will want to target some more depth up front for the Panthers after how that failed the team during the playoffs. When Florida’s big guns weren’t firing, the Presidents’ Trophy winners couldn’t muster anything. That can’t happen again. Pending UFAs like Andre Burakovsky and Max Domi have scoring ability and some edge, another factor Florida has been lacking.
Given the Panthers’ cap constraints, a player like Kasperi Kapanen might make sense as a reclamation project of sorts, perhaps a short-term contract for a player with great potential to rebound from a poor season.
Florida has had too much time to think about how a terrific regular season got it nowhere in the spring. Zito’s best bet is building from a playoff perspective. That is, acquiring free agents who will prevent past roadblocks to success from cropping up again.
What they should do: Montreal can’t do a whole lot without finessing its cap situation. Then again, general manager Kent Hughes has already made some moves in trading for Dach (who needs a new contract) and Evgenii Dadonov.
The Canadiens have more pending RFAs to seriously consider keeping than most teams. That will limit what Montreal is capable of doing in the coming days. There’s always a chance Hughes orchestrates a trade that frees up some cap space, but in their present standing, the Canadiens’ focus will more likely go toward retaining their own talents.
If Hughes can do that, Montreal won’t have glaring holes to fill. There is some concern about its back end (the Jeff Petry trade rumors persist) and adding a player on a league-minimum, veteran contract wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Now, if Hughes does make a splashier trade of Petry or Josh Anderson, that would obviously change Montreal’s approach to the free-agent market. If the Canadiens believe first overall draft pick Juraj Slafkovsky can have an immediate impact, that gives Hughes more room to operate in terms of potential forward movement.
What Montreal should do is partially what it’s done already: be strategic in making early trades and bolster from within. What happens after that, at least at this stage, is gravy.
What they should do: General manager Pierre Dorion got his list out early at the NHL draft and added Alex DeBrincat, a true offensive dynamo, into the Senators’ lineup via trade with Chicago. It was quite a pre-free agency fleecing, and positions Ottawa well for what’s ahead.
Now, Dorion can turn his attention to signing Claude Giroux. Or so he should, if any of the rumors Giroux is interested in playing for the Senators are true. Adding Giroux would be the best free-agent signing Dorion could make. The former Flyers captain is still a strong offensive talent who would immediately make Ottawa’s top six better. He’s a leader with high character, and if he chose the Senators, it would do a lot for the overall confidence of a team that’s been struggling for any good mojo in recent years.
There’s some real excitement building around the Senators after the DeBrincat acquisition. And given DeBrincat is only signed through next season, Dorion shouldn’t hesitate to maximize what he’s got and play the field in free agency. It would be worth another splash or two to fill this team with enough good players to actually pull the Senators out of their rebuild.
What they should do: Tampa Bay’s cap situation isn’t so dire after general manager Julien BriseBois traded Ryan McDonagh (and his $4.2 million hit) to Nashville, and there’s Brent Seabrook‘s $6.875 million contract that will provide LTIR relief in the fall. The Lightning can play around on the open market; the question is whether they will.
BriseBois said at the draft last week he has been in talks with the agents for Palat and Rutta. Those potential deals seem to be Tampa Bay’s priority, and rightly so — especially in Palat’s case. He just had an incredible playoff run as the Lightning’s second-leading scorer (11 goals and 21 points in 23 games) and savior (that overtime winner in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to keep Tampa Bay alive? Clutch!). Should Palat reach free agency, he’ll have no shortage of suitors. The Lightning shouldn’t let that happen.
Rutta’s résumé isn’t quite so eye-popping, but he’s a solid member of Tampa Bay’s back end who could be re-signed on a reasonable deal.
Otherwise, Tampa Bay is in good shape — for this season, anyway. There are several key players set to become RFAs in 2022-23 (including Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak) so BriseBois won’t be in any hurry to spend cap space now that he’ll need for later. Look for the Lightning to take care of their own and maybe add around the edges. There’s not much else they need to compete.
What they should do: Toronto’s first task was to settle on a starting goaltender for next season. Talks with Jack Campbell appeared increasingly unproductive. The Leafs finally agreed to a deal on Monday night with Ottawa for Matt Murray, who projects to fill that No. 1 slot. He’s going to need a partner in the crease though, so Toronto likely isn’t done adding goalies.
The Senators did retain 25% of Murray’s salary in the deal, and general manager Kyle Dubas still has some cap room to spare after he freed up a bunch moving Petr Mrazek to Chicago at the draft last week. That will allow Toronto to bring in a seasoned No. 2 netminder for Murray to play with and help address what should be Dubas’ other main priority in extending Rasmus Sandin.
The 22-year-old made good strides last season in his 200-foot game and is a budding star on Toronto’s back end. Sandin knows that too, since contract negotiations have been more difficult than Toronto expected. There’s always the possibility Sandin receives an offer sheet if he remains unsigned too long. That would be a shame for Toronto, after a season in which its blue line was finally not the liability it has been in seasons past. There’s a solid group there, and Sandin is a big part of it.
A new deal for Engvall seems likely. Dubas said the team planned to give him a qualifying offer, and that’ll require some cash as well. Much like other contending clubs, Toronto will invest in its own players, and whatever splashy signing (or trade) the Leafs do make should be on the goaltending front.
What they should do: After trading Tony DeAngelo to the Flyers, the Hurricanes need a puck-moving defenseman on the right side that can quarterback a power play. UFA John Klingberg would seem to fit that bill, although like DeAngelo, his 5-on-5 defense is not his forte.
Trocheck and Niederreiter are two valuable forwards to the Hurricanes — their fourth- and sixth-leading scorers, respectively. Keeping both will add well over $10 million to their cap. Both are expected to hit the market. Frankly, they could use Niederreiter’s space ($5.25 million) to find a similar player who doesn’t ghost them in the playoffs. There’s been talk about the Hurricanes not being enamored with the 23-year-old Necas, but GM Don Waddell indicated at the draft they want to hang on to him.
There’s a belief from some in the NHL that the Hurricanes are the next Stanley Cup bridesmaid that’s ready to take the leap — if they can find the right veterans in their supporting cast to get them over the hump. To that end, a pure goal-scorer on the wing would seem like an imperative, given their offensive deficiencies (2.64 goals per game) in the playoffs.
Key players hitting UFA: None
Key players hitting RFA: F Patrik Laine
Cap space: $16,916,667
What they should do: The Jackets and Laine have discussed the possibility of a long-term deal. He found his game again in a post-Tortorella Columbus, scoring 56 points in 56 games, with 26 goals. The 24-year-old winger does have arbitration rights this offseason.
Other than Laine, the Blue Jackets are in an interesting spot. Many assumed GM Jarmo Kekalainen was going to be aggressive in moving players off his roster at the draft. That didn’t happen, but one assumes it will: They have 13 forward under contract not counting Laine, and young players like Kent Johnson and Yegor Chinakhov deserve increased roles.
They played competitive hockey last season, at times better than expected. There’s still a chance that Kekalainen gets more aggressive than expected this summer: The Blue Jackets were in on Ryan McDonagh before the Tampa Bay Lightning traded him to the Nashville Predators. Are there other veteran options they’d consider?
What they should do: The Devils have made a long-term offer with significant dollars attached to Bratt, but there hadn’t been much negotiation between the sides leading up to the draft. The team views him as a significant part of what they’re building in Jersey. Their last negotiation wasn’t all that sunny either, but they should find some common ground.
Vanecek was acquired to pair with Mackenzie Blackwood, which might be surprising given how Blackwood has played for the last two seasons. But there’s a lot of organizational belief in Blackwood, so he’s their guy in tandem with Vanecek.
The Devils are seeing what’s out there for Zacha on the trade market, who is coming off his strongest NHL season on the defensive side. They’d like to bring Wood back as a feisty depth winger.
The biggest need for New Jersey is on the wing. Ideally, they’d love someone who has size to pair with Jack Hughes, but a player that can also score goals. Finding that player might mean exploring the trade market more than the UFA one. If only there was a way to pry Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames …
What they should do: We won’t know what the Islanders will do until they’ve done it, given the clandestine ways of GM Lou Lamoriello, who has been known to shut down negotiations if they go public.
That may or may not have been the reason the widely reported talks between the Vancouver Canucks and the Islanders about forward J.T. Miller hit a snag — more likely, it was the initial inability for the Islanders to talk contract extension with Miller. But those talks should reignite, as Miller is a great fit for a Lamoriello team and would give the Islanders a much-needed point producer at forward.
The Islanders should secure Dobson long term and sign Romanov, the defenseman they acquired from Montreal at the draft.
Two players the Islanders could look to move are 25-year-old forward Anthony Beauvillier, who makes $4.15 million per season, and is two years away from UFA status; and goalie Semyon Varlamov, who is one year away (and at $5 million AAV). Lamoriello has stated that he wants to keep Varlamov around to solidify their goaltending core and as a mentor to Ilya Sorokin. But if someone absolutely desperate for a goalie in this shallow market comes knocking with a can’t-say-no offer, would Lamoriello listen?
What they should do: The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals this past season, which is great news for the NHL offseason. They think they’re close. They have some clear organizational needs. As seemingly methodical as their building back to contention has been, there’s always the chance they do something audacious in an attempt to get over the top.
To that end, two names really stand out on the UFA market: Avalanche center Nazem Kadri and Lightning forward Ondrej Palat. In the case of Palat, he’s just the type of win-at-all-costs playoff performer that a contender like the Rangers would love to have on their roster for the big moments. His versatility at the forward spot could see him fill any role in which they them need him. In the case of Kadri, he’s a tenacious forward who has broken 30 goals in a season twice, and could slot next to Artemi Panarin. With Mika Zibanejad and Filip Chytil with him on the depth chart, that could be a formidable group of pivots.
But that’s fantasy-casting. More likely, the Rangers bring back Copp after letting Strome walk. The money they’d need to land Kadri is money they’ll need for restricted free agents Alexis Lafrenière, K’Andre Miller and Chytil next summer.
One other piece of business: With Alexandar Georgiev now in Colorado, the Rangers will need a backup for Igor Shesterkin. The good news is that the goalie market has plenty of good backups — Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak, Martin Jones among others — rather than solutions at starter.
What they should do: Johnny Gaudreau would like to become a Flyer. So the Flyers would be smart to find a way to bring the pride of South Jersey to play in Philadelphia, especially since generating offense was something at which they were worse than every NHL team not named the Arizona Coyotes last season.
Any move for Gaudreau begins with the Flyers finding someone to take on James van Riemsdyk and his $7 million cap hit next season. JVR had 38 points in 82 games last season. But even that won’t get it done. Do the Flyers seek to move on from forward Travis Konecny ($5.5 million through 2024-25) in order to create the space they need for Gaudreau now and in the future?
GM Chuck Fletcher and Comcast Spectacor chairman Dave Scott said the Flyers are going to have an “aggressive retool” rather than a rebuild. It doesn’t get more aggressive than reshaping one’s roster for the sake of the market’s top free agent. Let the age of Johnny Hockey begin (while hoping that Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis are healthy, Carter Hart finds his franchise form and John Tortorella manages to squeeze something out of this otherwise middling roster)!
What they should do: Not re-sign Malkin, who has indicated he will test the free-agent waters this week.
I know, I know … loyalty, friends, the band stays together, Sidney Crosby remains happy that his friend is there. There is absolutely no question that Malkin still shows flashes of Hall of Fame-level offensive brilliance and that he’s an asset on the power play. But the flashes are becoming less frequent, his body has gained too many miles and it’s not a stretch to say he’s entering his “latter day Joe Thornton” years.
But the Penguins could take that $6 million cap hit — the suggested AAV on a Malkin extension, which could run three to four years — and apply to two other players. Or to a younger, healthier option than Malkin at center.
All that said, I think the Penguins and Malkin get something done, which means Pittsburgh will do what they always do: Surround a core of five players accounting for 39% of their salary cap space with the best supporting cast they can muster. That will include Rickard Rakell, who signed a five-year extension worth $5 million annually. It should also include Rodrigues, an underrated gem.
What they should do: There seems to be an eerie consensus that the Capitals are going to end up with Darcy Kuemper as their new starting goaltender — eerie in the sense that mass assumption of a free-agent signing in the NHL doesn’t always work out that way. But their trade of Vitek Vanecek to the Devils clears up potential salary space (he was an RFA) and a roster spot for the Stanley Cup-winning goalie, who will cost a bit, but will certainly be an upgrade over last season’s tandem. An interesting wrinkle on Monday, however: The Capitals didn’t qualify RFA Ilya Samsonov, making him a UFA.
As for other housekeeping, getting Schultz back at a contract under his current $4 million cap hit would be a positive step. So would retaining trade deadline pickup Larsson, who is an elite defensive player.
Complicating matters for the Capitals is the health of star center Nicklas Backstrom. GM Brian MacLellan expects him to return at some point this coming season after the 34-year-old had his hip resurfaced. His $9.2 million cap hit will be off the books and on long-term injured reserve, but MacLellan said “it’s not like we go out and sign a $9 million player. We’re anticipating Nick comes back at some point.” The Capitals could certainly use a center to fill that void until he returns, but at what level of cap hit?
What they should do: Let’s assume Arizona won’t be resigning its own UFAs (particularly Phil Kessel, who will almost certainly hit the market). The Coyotes’ energy should be on its list of pending RFAs, with Crouse’s contract a top priority. He’s coming off a career season (20 goals and 34 points in 65 games) and will be due for a raise from his previous $1.5 million salary. Crouse would undoubtedly be an appealing player for other teams if Arizona can’t bring him back. The Coyotes don’t have many dynamic pieces, and letting Crouse slip away would be bad for business.
Fischer was a pending RFA and signed a one-year deal on Monday. Hayton is another pending RFA who received a qualifying offer.
Now, if the Coyotes decide to go shopping this week, how will their living situation affect negotiations? There are several unknowns surrounding the Coyotes’ temporary digs at Arizona State University and their progress on building a new rink in Tempe. Will free agents be hesitant in committing to Arizona? Or, if the dollars are there, do location and amenities not really matter? We’ll find out soon enough.
Until then, the Coyotes should be targeting deals for their own skaters and keeping that consistency in place during what could be a tumultuous time ahead.
What they should do: Chicago’s recent activity suggests they’re determined to freefall. Trading Alex DeBrincat for draft picks was a choice. Acquiring Petr Mrazek — when everyone knew Toronto was looking to unload his contract — in exchange for basically nothing was another choice. What will the Blackhawks do for an encore in free agency?
In theory, Chicago should have extended qualifying offers — and new deals — to pending RFAs Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik. But, Chicago isn’t keeping either player so they will become UFAs instead. That’s a shame. True, Kubalik had a down year in 2021-22, but he’s 26 and scored 30 goals two seasons ago. And Strome had a terrific second half in 2022-23, finishing with 22 goals and 48 points in 69 games. Why would general manager Kyle Davidson not want them around? Good question.
Defenseman Jones and forward Kurashev received qualifying offers, and appear to be in Chicago’s future plans.
The Blackhawks should also be looking at signing another goaltender to slot in with Mrazek. Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen are both pending UFAs, with Lankinen perhaps the better option of the two to keep if Davidson decides to go that route. Given that Chicago is in a clear rebuilding stage that might turn off some UFA goalies, but targeting someone (David Rittich, Calvin Pickard) on a one-year deal who’s maybe looking to rebound in a low-pressure situation could work.
What they should do: This is already a fascinating offseason for the Stanley Cup champions. General manager Joe Sakic did an excellent job building this franchise into a winner; keeping it that way will be trickier. Nathan MacKinnon — now entering the final year of his deal — will command a massive extension soon, and their list of pending UFAs includes key playoff contributors.
Colorado has to be strategic about who they can afford now. In the choice between pending UFAs Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin, Sakic stuck with the latter. Nichushkin never even hit the open market, signing an eight-year, $49 million extension on Monday.
Kadri’s career year has probably priced Colorado out of retaining his services. Nichushkin is also coming off his best season ever (52 points in 62 games), but the winger’s price point — $6.125 million per season — was lower than what Kadri will likely command elsewhere.
After Nichushkin, Colorado should prioritize Burakovsky. He was a big-time player late in the postseason and fits the Avalanche mold. Lehkonen is another player worth keeping; there aren’t many 200-foot players like him available to sign.
Sakic addressed Colorado’s goaltending by trading for the rights to Alexandar Georgiev, which effectively signaled the end for Kuemper’s Avalanche tenure. Georgiev subsequently signed a three-year deal worth $10.2 million.
Where Colorado might add an external UFA is on defense. The Avalanche have a strong core group there, but if Manson doesn’t re-sign, Sakic could look towards Nick Leddy or even John Klingberg (depending on the dollars).
What they should do: Dallas’ road map should be simple: Get long-term deals done with pending RFAs Robertson and Oettinger — they will be franchise cornerstones for seasons to come. And let Klingberg walk.
It’s not that the Stars wouldn’t want to keep one of their top defenseman. It’s just that Klingberg is 30 years old and wants to get paid. Even if he would probably be a great fit for Peter DeBoer’s system, it doesn’t seem feasible given Dallas’ cap constraints to invest in Klingberg given what his market will be elsewhere.
Dallas has to address the right side of its defense. If Klingberg exits, then Jani Hakanpaa is the Stars only real option at RHD. Josh Manson and Ethan Bear would be top targets on the market to provide some help.
In a perfect world, Dallas would add more scoring to the mix too, but that would depend on how rich the contracts are for Robertson and Oettinger. The Stars might just have to hope for internal improvements to factor in there, like from Denis Gurianov (who popped in just 11 goals in 73 games last season after a 20-goal campaign in 64 games in 2019-20).
What they should do: Well, general manager Bill Guerin already did The Thing when he signed UFA goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a two-year contract last week. There’s not much cap space left to do much else.
Now, one completed trade like the one Guerin already made moving Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles — could change things in a hurry. Minnesota would probably want to add another top-six center and really solidify down the middle, but they wouldn’t be in a position to do that without completing another trade.
Does Guerin try to move Matt Dumba or Dmitry Kulikov — both of whom are entering the final year of their deals — to invest up front? It’s possible Guerin moves Cam Talbot (and his $3.6 million contract) now that Fleury is back, and targets a free-agent backup on a less expensive deal.
If Guerin does stand pat, then extending pending UFAs Nick Bjugstad and/or Nicolas Deslauriers could become appealing. Bjugstad is a consistent bottom-six piece and Deslauriers has some bite to his game.
Barring another trade that frees up some cap room, it feels as if the Wild are pretty set.
What they should do: The offseason priority for Nashville was extend pending UFA Filip Forsberg. General manager David Poile did just that last week when he inked Forsberg to an eight-year, $68 million contract. Check.
The Predators’ blue line looks to be in good shape after Poile acquired Ryan McDonagh from Tampa Bay earlier this month, too.
The internal decisions remaining for Nashville now involve Cousins and Trenin. Cousins has produced only 14 goals in his last two seasons, but provides a certain physical edge that the Predators like. Is that enough to earn him another contract? Or does Nashville go outside itself to find some more grit?
Trenin had 17 goals last season, and at 25, is still coming into his own. He’d be a good depth piece for Nashville to retain, and should be a priority for Poile to resign before free agency begins.
Come July 13, the Predators should be targeting some help at right wing. And they’ve got a decent amount of cap space to wield on the open market. Phil Kessel or Rickard Rakell are both attractive players in this vein, and might pair nicely in top-six (or even top-nine) roles. Adding there would give Nashville more depth and flexibility than it had a season ago, when their scoring petered out late in the campaign.
What they should do: This one is easy enough: St. Louis should absolutely, unequivocally re-sign David Perron.
The 34-year-old had a tremendous season (57 points in 67 games), an even better playoffs (nine goals in 12 games) and wants to stick with the Blues. So how is a deal not already done? Money, of course. St. Louis doesn’t have a ton of space, and there are other holes to fill.
The Blues need a new netminder behind Jordan Binnington after trading the rights to pending RFA Ville Husso last week. St. Louis also has decisions to make on the blue line, whether in re-signing Leddy (or replacing those contributions with someone else) and extending (or not) pending RFAs Niko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich.
It’s a lot to get done, and may not leave enough cap space to get a deal done with Perron. How will general manager Doug Armstrong prioritize? The goaltending is non-negotiable; St. Louis knows, especially after how last season went, that the right backup can save a season. It’s not an area to ignore. But losing Perron would leave a massive void.
What the Blues should do first is find out Perron’s bottom line and negotiate from there. There should be a middle ground that can keep both sides happy. If not, then the open market looms, and they’ll have more space to play with when the bell rings on July 13.
What they should do: The Jets’ priority should be on Pierre-Luc Dubois, a pending RFA with arbitration rights. Winnipeg would love to get him signed long term, but Dubois will be a UFA in 2024 and has indicated an interest in testing the market then. That’s not great news for the Jets. Mark Scheifele will also be a UFA in 2024, and both players leaving would be a crushing blow for Winnipeg’s center depth.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff still has to get Dubois’ deal done for at least this season. Next up would be potentially re-signing Appleton and figuring out whether Stastny should stay in the mix. Because where the Jets really need to improve their depth is on the wing.
Winnipeg has the top-end talents up front, but their middle-six is weaker. Fortunately there are a number of options available to them. Dylan Strome could be a fit there for the Jets, and they should consider a long-term deal to get him in the mix. New coach Rick Bowness had Vladislav Namestnikov in Dallas and knows what he can bring to the lineup. Kasperi Kapanen has been a consistent scorer in the past, and needs a fresh start.
The Jets have the luxury of cap space. They should use it to invest in players committed for more than a season or two. Winnipeg can’t account for an exodus of key players down the road, but why not prioritize younger guys who want to stick around, just in case?
What they should do: The Ducks are obviously positioned well for the future. Center Mason McTavish will join Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale as the next wave of Anaheim stars takes over the roster. The trick for GM Pat Verbeek is to find ways to populate his roster with some veterans who can help make the Ducks more competitive without hindering the growth of that next wave. Ultimately, challenging for a playoff spot — or earning one — will help that young core exponentially.
Between Zegras, McTavish, Adam Henrique, Lundestrom and Derek Grant, the Ducks should have enough depth up the middle. They could use veteran support on the wings. On the free-agency front, I’d like to see someone like Tyler Motte get a look. On the trade front, I’m thinking an Anthony Beauvillier or Tanner Pearson type.
The Ducks could also use a veteran on defense after shipping out Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson at last season’s trade deadline. A homecoming for Manson as a free agent wouldn’t be out of the question — plug him right back in next to Cam Fowler. If not Manson, there could be trades with Vegas for Alec Martinez or Winnipeg for Brenden Dillon, two players very familiar with California hockey.
Not giving qualifying offers to Milano or Steel was a surprise. But that’s why you bring in a GM from outside the organization: to make tough calls on popular players.
Then there’s the John Gibson question. The netminder pushed back on the notion that he wanted out of Anaheim, with five years left on his deal at $6.4 million AAV. Verbeek knows that given the scarcity of true starting goalies and with that kind of contractual control, Gibson would bring back a windfall. But while it’s true Gibson hasn’t been dominant for about three seasons, trading him may end up creating a new problem for a growing contender rather than solving a current one. He will turn 29 this month.
Let’s face it: The Ducks have a ton of cap space. We know what they could be doing, but they also could surprise us.
Key players hitting UFA: LW Johnny Gaudreau, F Calle Jarnkrok, RW Trevor Lewis, RW Brett Ritchie, C Ryan Carpenter, D Erik Gudbranson, D Nikita Zadorov, D Michael Stone
Key players hitting RFA: F Andrew Mangiapane, F Matthew Tkachuk, D Oliver Kylington
Cap space: $26,012,500
What they should do: Sign Johnny Gaudreau. OK, moving on …
No, seriously, though: Gaudreau’s next contract is going to carry an average annual value anywhere from $9.5 million to over $10 million. That’s a lot money to commit to one player, especially when there’s another player — Matthew Tkachuk — who will seek to break the bank himself in the coming years. But Johnny Hockey is a franchise player. He’s got years of productivity left. If he leaves, the Flames’ cupboard isn’t bare. But their Stanley Cup aspirations are certainly altered.
The Tkachuk part of this is fascinating, too. His qualifying offer is $9 million, and he’s one year from unrestricted free agency. Like with Gaudreau, there’s a bottomless well of speculation about his monetary and geographic future in the NHL. Getting clarity on that is key as well.
The trick for Calgary is not only giving out new contracts to their star players and RFAs but also finding room for a player like Nikita Zadorov to fill out the blue line. There’s a path to accomplishing that, but it will likely take some salary shedding.
Key players hitting UFA: F Evander Kane, F Josh Archibald, F Derick Brassard, D Brett Kulak, D Kris Russell
Key players hitting RFA: F Kailer Yamamoto, F Jesse Puljujarvi, F Ryan McLeod
Cap space: $15,868,667
What they should do: The Oilers are expected to place goalie Mike Smith on long-term injured reserve and sign goalie Jack Campbell away from the Maple Leafs. We could very well see a Campbell/Stuart Skinner battery next season. That’s an improvement, if a little less chaotic fun.
GM Ken Holland is playing the Evander Kane game like this: He’s hoping the winger finds the grass isn’t all that greener elsewhere and comes back to the Oilers to score multitudes of goals next to Connor McDavid. It’s the only way Holland can afford him.
If Kane falls through, there was talk that Claude Giroux could be another option for the Oilers. But another interesting name is hitting the market: David Perron of the St. Louis Blues, who is both a top-six forward and a playoff hero. The guy did three tours of duty in St. Louis; one assumes he wouldn’t mind doing a second one in Edmonton to skate with Connor.
Key players hitting UFA: F Andreas Athanasiou, F Brendan Lemieux, D Alexander Edler, D Olli Maatta, D Troy Stecher
Key players hitting RFA: D Mikey Anderson, D Sean Durzi, F Gabriel Vilardi
Cap space: $4,438,333
What they should do: The Kings already made their biggest swing of the postseason acquiring Kevin Fiala from the cap-strapped Minnesota Wild. Sure, they could go even more all-in to acquire defenseman Jakob Chychrun from the Arizona Coyotes, a player they’ve coveted. But it would likely cost them their first-rounder next season and a couple of blue-chip prospects whom they might be better off keeping. Still, the temptation will be there, because the fit is so good.
As it stands, the Kings will address their blue line in a more fiscally conservative way: bringing back Edler on an incentive-laden contract, as he was quite good for them last season; and seeking another veteran on the left side, preferably one who can bring some size.
Other than that, the Kings should keep doing what they’ve been doing: letting the veterans shine as the kids ripen and hope the whole thing adds up to becoming a contender. Last season’s playoff berth was just the start.
What they should do: The biggest offseason issue for the Sharks remains the $26.5 million in cap space they have tied up in defensemen Erik Karlsson (32), Brent Burns (37) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35).
Vlasic and Karlsson have full trade protection. Burns has a modified no-trade clause but makes $8 million against the cap through 2024-25. New GM Mike Grier didn’t exactly dismiss the idea that Burns could seek an exit for a team closer to Stanley Cup contention. If Grier found a way to ship out any of the three off his cap, it would be a boon for the Sharks.
As it stands, the Sharks barely have enough cap space to take care of their RFAs. But they should be able to open up a bit more by trading either James Reimer — who has a five-team no-trade list — or Adin Hill, with the other goalie sharing the crease with Kähkönen next season.
Whoever they add in free agency or via trade might not be as important as another signing: a head coach, who could end up being former Rangers bench boss David Quinn.
What they should do: Get their tentacles around one of the biggest free-agent forwards this summer.
Whether it’s Johnny Gaudreau skating with Matty Beniers and Shane Wright or Nazem Kadri giving those two young centers extra time to mature as he takes the No. 1 center spot, the Kraken have the means to throw a considerable contract their way. And before someone says “too soon” to ink an impact player, we will remind you that (a) they signed one before ever playing a game in goalie Philipp Grubauer and (b) critics said the same thing when Artemi Panarin signed with the Rangers during a rebuild.
It’s more likely they make a play for free-agent puck-moving defenseman John Klingberg from the Dallas Stars, filling a need on their blue line while being reunited with former Stars teammate Jamie Oleksiak.
Beyond free-agent chasing, the Kraken could also shed some salary from their original bounty of players. Defenseman Carson Soucy has value one year before UFA status. Ditto forward Joonas Donskoi, who could really use a change in scenery after a terrible first season in Seattle.
What they should do: Trade J.T. Miller. His value is sky-high. So is his asking price. Rather than the Canucks getting tethered to a contract for a player on the other side of 30 — and with Bo Horvat needing a new contract after next season, too — Vancouver should flip him for some players/picks who can help them now and down the line.
The problem with the Canucks under former GM Jim Benning was the pressure to push chips in every single season. I hope that GM Patrik Allvin and team president Jim Rutherford take a longer-term approach to this roster. Vancouver should be competitive, but taking a year to untangle some of Benning’s moves and shape the roster in their image wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, given the group of players they have signed beyond this season.
What they should do: Well, we know they’re going to do something. First, because they’re the Golden Knights, and offseason inactivity isn’t in their nature. Second, because the salary cap necessitates it, whether it’s for expected moves like re-signing Reilly Smith or other moves that could bolster the team.
They could have cleared $2.325 million by trading goalie Laurent Brossoit, but the uncertainty surrounding Robin Lehner‘s status clouds that. They could clear $5.25 million for the next two seasons if they trade defenseman Alec Martinez, which is plausible. They could take a big swing and deal Max Pacioretty and his $7 million cap hit one year before unrestricted free agency.
Or they could stand pat, knowing that the rash of injuries that hit them last season were the reason they missed the playoffs; and that with Bruce Cassidy behind the bench as their new head coach, a healthy roster top-lined by Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore doesn’t need radical reinvention. Well, unless they stumble next season.