The Biggest NHL Storylines to Monitor This Offseason

Brad KurtzbergContributor IJuly 7, 2013

The Biggest NHL Storylines to Monitor This Offseason

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    So the Stanley Cup has been carried off, the draft has been concluded, and the NHL's general managers have gone on their big free-agent spending spree. But while the league may be settling down for the relative quiet of the offseason, there are still issues facing it.

    The NHL still has to put the finishing touches on realignment, the ownership situation in Phoenix, the possibility of Olympic participation and much more.

    Here is a look at the biggest issues facing the NHL this summer. Feel free to comment on these and to mention any issues you feel I omitted that are facing the league and must be addressed before teams report to training camp again in September.

Phoenix Coyotes' Ownership Situation

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    The Glendale City Council recently voted to approve a deal that will keep the Coyotes in the desert for at least the next five years.

    With the location of the club settled, the NHL's Board of Governors still needs to approve the sale of the Coyotes to new ownership, a group known as Renaissance Sports and Entertainment.

    The league has owned the team for the last four years, and that's far too long. Until all the ink is dry on the deal that sells the Coyotes to independent ownership, this issue will still be hanging over the head of the other 29 owners.

    Assuming the sale is approved, the league also needs to learn how the new ownership group will run the franchise. Hopefully, it will spend enough money to properly market and promote the club at the gate and to keep a competitive product on the ice.

    As if often the case when a new owner takes over a team, it is very possible there will be new personnel running the front office as well.

    The league needs to know exactly what will happen to hockey in the desert once the new ownership is in place.

What Will Realignment Mean for the League?

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    Last year, the NHL agreed to realign its divisions and alter the schedule and playoff format.

    There are still some details to be worked out before the season gets started. With the Coyotes now likely to stay in Phoenix, the league can release next year's schedule.

    The Jets will move to the Western Conference, while the Red Wings and Blue Jackets will join the Eastern Conference.

    The new playoff format means the top three teams in each of the four new divisions will qualify for the postseason and then the two teams in each conference with the next best records.

    The new system will increase rivalries and reduce travel expenses, but the divisions still need names, which are expected to be announced shortly.

    As if often the case when a new system is in place, tweaks are often needed, although a year under the new system will probably be needed before major changes take place.

How Will the Reduced Cap Affect the NHL

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    NHL clubs spent more than $300 million in the first six hours of free agency on July 5 despite the lower salary cap.

    The lower cap and permissible buyouts did result in some unusual transactions like the Canucks' decision to trade Cory Schneider and keep Roberto Luongo.

    Expect a few more moves during the offseason that will surprise many observers. Teams will add some more free agents and pull off some trades while releasing other players in an attempt to deal with the lower salary cap.

    The major free-agent signings may be done, but there are still helpful players out there to be signed, traded and released.

Resolving the Olympics Issue

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    The coming winter is an Olympic year with the games set for Sochi, Russia.

    The NHL has allowed its players to compete at the Olympics every year since 1998, but it has yet to finalize a deal with the players' union to allow them to compete this year.

    According to Jeff Z. Klein of The New York Times, the NHL is close to reaching an agreement with the players and the International Olympic Committee, but nothing has been finalized yet.

    The Olympics give the league a showcase for non-traditional hockey fans in the United States and around the world every four years. They also allow players to represent their country on the world stage.

    However, because the games are in Europe, they will not be broadcast live in prime time from Sochi because of the time difference. That means less exposure for the league than the games in Vancouver or Salt Lake City.

    The league also needs to take two weeks off during the regular season and condense the regular-season schedule in order to make Olympic participation possible.

    These issues need to be resolved soon, before the official 2013-14 schedule is released.

Preparing for Outdoor Games

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    The 2013 Winter Classic was canceled last year due to the NHL lockout.

    The league seems anxious to make up for the lost outdoor game and has scheduled six contests that will be played in the elements next season.

    Additional preparations for these games will be made over the summer.

    A breakdown of the games is as follows:

    • January 1, 2014: the Winter Classic, Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings at Ann Arbor, Michigan.
    • January 25, 2014: Ducks vs. Kings at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.
    • January 26, 2014: Devils vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York.
    • January 29, 2014: Islanders vs. Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York.
    • March 1, 2014: Penguins vs. Blackhawks, Soldier Field, Chicago.
    • March 2, 2014: Senators vs. Canucks, B.C. Place, Vancouver.

    Over the course of the summer, expect the league to hold press conferences in each of the locations for next year's outdoor games announcing additional events and activities that will be held at each outdoor game.

    We'll also see if this is overkill or whether the league can stage this many outdoor games in a season without destroying their novelty.