The Biggest Question Surrounding Each NHL Team This Offseason
Captains and cap space are a recurring motif in many NHL team offices this offseason. Some teams need filling in the former, others need freeing in the latter.
Then there are the perennial summer staples of free agency and everything that comes with it, such as a multitude of those going to arbitration and any resulting degree of uncertainty.
With the NHL on the cusp of releasing its 2013-14 game schedule, the approach of the coming season is raising its decibels. In turn, the adhesive question marks on each team’s offseason priorities are picking up a bolder font.
Here is one question for each of the 30 member clubs as the time to prepare for training camp starts to elapse more emphatically.
Unless otherwise indicated, all player statistics, salary and team payroll information for this report were found via capgeek.com
Anaheim: Is The Post-Selanne Era Approaching?
The freshest reports on the status of ageless forward Teemu Selanne indicate that he is still contemplating whether to return or retire. If he opts for the latter, then the Anaheim Ducks will be down two established scorers in Selanne and Bobby Ryan, whom they traded to Ottawa in exchange for Jakob Silfverberg.
In turn, a host of far less-seasoned Anaheim strikers, all age 25 or younger, can anticipate instantly elevated roles. These could include the newly acquired Silfverberg, Matt Beleskey, Emerson Etem, Peter Holland and Devante Smith-Pelley.
Even if the 43-year-old Selanne does return, he might not have much left to offer from a practical, productive standpoint, which would require new blood to step up regardless. But if he leaves, that will mean the youth movement will need to be ready to carry on while down one inspirational veteran in the dressing room.
Boston: How Will They Get Under The Cap?
Buffalo: Are Miller, Vanek Staying Or Going?
This question could carry over into the stages of the 2013-14 season where the landscape starts to take shape. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier hinted as much when he recently spoke to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News.
Still, the longer the question of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek's stay in Buffalo goes unresolved this summer, the more rigidly it appends another question. That is, will the Sabres be ready to declare their new identity, whether it includes these players or not, by opening night?
Calgary: Who Is The New Leader In The Locker Room?
Upon trading the aforementioned Iginla with roughly a month left in the 2012-13 season, the Flames had a de facto captaincy split between their four alternates in Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Cammalleri, Mark Giordano and Curtis Glencross.
Of course, Bouwmeester was not a Flame much longer himself afterward. The other three, though, are all under contract for at least one more year.
Calgary has not made the postseason since 2009, a continuous struggle that doubtlessly factored into Iginla’s exit. But 2013-14, the first 82-game campaign under head coach Bob Hartley, emphatically signals an opportunity to start fresh with someone else wearing the “C” over his heart.
Carolina: Will Their Defensive Overhaul Be Sufficient?
In a discussion with John Manasso of FS Carolinas in late June, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said that, in terms of offseason acquisitions, “Our main priority is a top-four defenseman, whether it’s free agency or trade…Hopefully, we’re going to be able to fill that hole.”
Earlier, in the Raleigh News and Observer, Chip Alexander relayed a remark from Rutherford that he wants to make his team “tougher to play against.”
Since then, the Hurricanes have swapped out Jamie McBain for Buffalo’s Andrej Sekera and picked up a free agent in Mike Komisarek. They also have Ryan Murphy, their first-round choice in the 2011 draft, on the rise.
In terms of meeting Rutherford’s pledge to make the team more difficult to beat at their end, Komisarek is the best bet out of those three from a natural defensive standpoint. But he is coming off a limited season split between the NHL and AHL, so his ability to make a substantial impact is possible, but not securely assured.
Chicago: How Long Can They Extend Quenneville’s Contract?
Because their core group has been through it before, post-championship hangover and residual wear and tear need not be as great a concern for the Blackhawks as usual. If the NHL allows its players to compete in the 2014 Olympics, the resultant midseason break could be a boon for the bulk of the roster come the homestretch and playoffs.
In terms of ensuring its elite status for years to come, though, Chicago’s front office is spending this summer looking for an agreeable contract extension with head coach Joel Quenneville. In essentially five full seasons with the franchise, Quenneville has directed three trips beyond the halfway mark of the postseason, including two titles in four years.
That is not only a peerless accomplishment for the NHL’s here and now, but also makes for arguably the most prosperous era in the team’s lengthy history. In turn, getting an extension done a year before Quenneville’s current contract evaporates is a logical priority.
Colorado: Is It Opening Night Yet?
Since May 10, roughly two weeks into their offseason, the Avalanche have put Joe Sakic in their front office and Patrick Roy behind their bench. Those two developments intensified the anticipation of the team’s first overall draft pick, which turned out to be Nathan MacKinnon.
MacKinnon has since signed his entry-level deal, which was little more than a necessary formality amidst an ever-growing eagerness among the Colorado faithful to get going on the organization’s future.
The Avs’ recent playoff drought is unlikely to give way to immediate championship contention, but their latest addition of young elite talent and new executives promise progression without much further delay.
Columbus: Who Will Fill In For Horton Until He Is Healthy?
Assuming he stays smooth on the health front once he recovers from this week’s shoulder surgery, prized free agent Nathan Horton will be a formidable power forward for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With that said, they need to make sure they have a reliable substitute to spell Horton while he is out of the lineup to start 2013-14. They need somebody who is skilled, versatile and flexible enough to fill in and then subsequently take a somewhat “lesser role” when Horton is back in full form.
Dallas: Who Is The New Leader For A New Era?
Like the Flames with Iginla, the Dallas Stars parted with their longtime captain, Brenden Morrow, before the 2013 trading deadline.
Since then, they have also started from scratch in the general manager’s office and coaching staff. The new front office will oversee a vast group of new padded personnel that includes Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin.
The player who succeeds Morrow and steps up as the principal leader of this group as it gels, though, remains to be seen. When he offered his two cents on the matter, analyst Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News checked a lengthy list of candidates off and concluded that he believes the Stars will “Go with three A’s and wait for a year to make a decision.”
With that being said, whether they are sporting a letter of leadership or not, somebody needs to be ready to hit the ice sprinting and inspire his allies to do the same.
Detroit: How Will They Make Room For Nyquist And Andersson?
At first glance, based on the look of their current NHL payroll, the Red Wings overloaded for the immediate future at the expense of the long-term future. By signing Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to a combined cap hit of $10.4 million, they sculpted a surplus of forwards with 14 and have all of $1,044,621 in spare room.
All of this, and all the while, two promising specimens of homegrown talent remain restricted free agents in Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist.
Yet earlier this week in an Oakland Press story, Detroit general manager Ken Holland insisted that the two younger forwards will “be done by camp.” That implicitly means that they will still be Red Wings when the time comes to start what figures to be their first full NHL campaign after a couple of solid seasons split between Detroit and Grand Rapids.
Hard to imagine this would mean anything other than clearing both roster space and cap space to fit the youngsters back in. How Holland goes about that by determining who is expendable and finding a buyer for his sacrifices will be the storyline of the summer.
Edmonton: Is Sam Gagner A Keeper?
As the Edmonton Journal reported last week, Sam Gagner has filed for salary arbitration. Adam Gretz of CBS Sports reported that he will be the first player to have his arbitration hearing on July 22, which is this coming Monday.
The Oilers currently boast 12 NHL-caliber forwards on their payroll, meaning one more is ideal from a sheer numerical perspective. Beyond that, though, the six-year veteran, soon-to-be 24-year-old Gagner is the most seasoned part of the team’s offensive youth movement, ahead of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
That beyond-his-years seasoning and familiarity with the Edmonton environs, along with his playmaking proficiency and positional versatility, make Gagner a potentially vital component in the Oilers’ growth as a competitive team. The front office must have a plan to lock him back up as well as an alternative plan to pursue a suitable replacement if they cannot retain Gagner.
Florida: Is There Enough Seasoning?
The Panthers wasted little time inking second overall draft pick Aleksander Barkov to his entry-level deal. The move prompted Miami Herald reporter George Richards to observe that “the Panthers will be younger than they were at the start of last season.”
Richards elaborated that, besides having a rostered teenager in Barkov, the Florida strike force also features Nick Bjugstad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Petrovic. All four of those are either 20 or 21 years of age and three of them are forwards, as are Quinton Howden and Drew Shore.
As the roster reads on their official website, the Panthers’ eldest forward is the 31-year-old Tomas Kopecky, followed by 30-year-old journeyman Joey Crabb. In terms of reckonable scoring threats, the most seasoned strikers are 29-year-old Tomas Fleischmann and 27-year-old Kris Versteeg.
Depending on how patient they are with their rising young core, higher-ups in the Florida front office may want to spring for another layer of leadership to put in the top half of the depth chart.
Los Angeles: How Do They Get A Quorum Of Forwards?
They imported Daniel Carcillo from Chicago, but with Dustin Penner going back to the regional rival Ducks, the L.A. Kings are still down one NHL-caliber forward. Their payroll now lists 11 forwards who are under contract through at least 2013-14 as well as three RFAs in Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan.
Beneath that, there are a few minor leaguers who might be able to take a crack at filling in the vacancy for the 12th forward or the spare position. Tanner Pearson, in particular, had a sound first professional season in Manchester, though he was naturally overshadowed by teammate and freshman of the year Tyler Toffoli.
Another option might be to try dangling one or more of their spare defensemen, of which there are nine on the payroll, to acquire a more established forward via trade.
Minnesota: What Is Josh Harding’s Outlook?
Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently weighed in on the prospect of the Wild returning its incumbent goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. In Graff’s own words:
“That should be a better situation than it was last season, if only because Harding has said several times since the season ended that he feels as good as he has since being diagnosed last fall with multiple sclerosis. He showed in the playoffs he still can play. If he can take more of the load off Backstrom than he was able to in 2013, they should figure an improvement in net compared with last season.”
Graff’s prophecy could, by all means, come to fruition. Nonetheless, Minnesota management need not eschew any precautionary planning in light of Harding’s condition.
At a bare minimum, staying up to speed on the backup backstop’s offseason training and determining whether his confident words accurately reflect his health is a must. They need to ensure that they go into camp on a trek to do what is in Harding’s best interest as well as their own.
Montreal: Will/Should They Keep Every Defenseman?
The Canadiens have a surplus on their salary chart with eight rostered NHL defenseman. Extraordinarily, Nathan Beaulieu is not among them, but rather the very first name listed among their 23 “non-roster” players.
The resultant question revolves around whether or not any of the eight players ahead of him are expendable, assuming the Habs want him to have a better shot at a greater challenge. Beaulieu had a decent two-way rookie campaign in the AHL on a wretched 29-41-6 Hamilton Bulldogs team, whom he led with 24 assists.
Nashville: Who Backs Up Pekka Rinne?
Shortly before free agency began, Josh Cooper of The Tennessean indicated that the aging Chris Mason will not be back as starting netminder Pekka Rinne’s backup. According to Cooper, Predators general manager David Poile has some unspecified candidates in mind to come to Nashville via the free agent market, but nothing further has developed since then.
As their payroll stands right now, the Preds have three goaltenders in their system in Magnus Hellberg, Carter Hutton and Marak Mazanec.
The 27-year-old Hutton is a three-year journeyman already entering his fourth professional organization. The 22-year-old Hellberg has one season of North American competition, split between the AHL and ECHL, under his belt. Mazanec has been playing at various amateur levels in his native Czech Republic.
If Mason is not to return, then a temporary upgrade over the other three options is in order for at least a year while somebody earns his stripes in Milwaukee.
New Jersey: Can They Re-stock on High-end Offense?
A year ago, the Devils lost team captain Zach Parise to free agency within a month of reaching the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. They subsequently missed the 2013 playoffs altogether.
Since then, David Clarkson―he of 30 goals in 2011-12 and 15 during this past season’s 48-game ride―has likewise signed a new contract somewhere else. To compound the crisis, Ilya Kovalchuk has relinquished the remainder of his New Jersey tenure to go back home to the KHL.
New arrivals Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder may help to a degree, but only Ryder is a certifiable top-six forward, let alone first-liner. Unless the Devils can make one or two more major acquisitions, their best hope for an offensive refill and return to the postseason is a booming breakout year for Adam Henrique and a return to the 60-point range for Travis Zajac.
NY Islanders: Are Rising Rookies Crowding The Offense?
In the midst of covering Ryan Strome’s performance at the Islanders’ summer prospect camp, Newsday reporter Arthur Staple predicted that, come September, the 2011 first-round draftee will “be fighting for a roster spot with fellow campers Anders Lee and Brock Nelson.”
As it happens, the team’s salary chart lists Lee among a total of 14 forwards, one more than the ideal distribution of four full lines and a spare. Meanwhile, Strome is coming off a prolific major junior career and Nelson made a sound impression as a professional rookie last year by topping the Bridgeport Sound Tigers scoring chart.
Picking up additional regular game experience in the AHL would not be the worst possible scenario for any of these three. Should the Isles keep everyone who is currently under contract and should everyone stay healthy, that could be what each of these three NHL newbies are looking at.
Even so, it might be better to improve the odds of Lee, Nelson and/or Strome mixing in a decent quantity of practice and game action with the big club at various points in 2013-14.
NY Rangers: Can They Keep Derek Stepan?
The longer it takes for center Derek Stepan and the New York Rangers to reach a new deal, the longer the specter of a possible parting persists. Larry Brooks of the New York Post recently speculated that “negotiations with Stepan could well go into September and possibly bleed into training camp.”
Even if this all turns out to be nothing to really worry about, sort of like it was with PK Subban and the Canadiens, the intervening suspense is nothing the Blueshirt faithful want to go through. Based on the way his game has evolved over the first three seasons of his career, Stepan is on the cusp of becoming a Selke Trophy candidate and is pivotal to the team sustaining its label as a contender.
Ottawa: Who Is The New Leader?
Barely within a day of Alfredsson, the longtime face, heart and captain of the Senators, leaving the team, Ottawa Sun columnist Don Brennan advocated handing the “C” to Jason Spezza. In the process, he mentioned Chris Phillips as another viable candidate.
Regardless, the implications of what it will take to fill Alfredsson’s skates on a leadership front are accentuated by the fact that he garnered the Mark Messier Award this past season. He was an exemplary inspiration for an Ottawa team that defied an ostensibly overwhelming rash of injuries en route to a berth in the second round of the playoffs.
With that to build on and a host of promising specimens for the future, such as defenseman Cody Ceci and goalie Robin Lehner, the Senators cannot afford to choose anyone short of the best contender for their captaincy.
Philadelphia: How Will They Get Under The Cap?
Even after buying out the hefty contracts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers are a little more than $2 million above the cap with two goaltenders, 10 defensemen and 13 forwards on their NHL payroll.
The three lowest-grossing defensemen―those being Marc-Andre Bourdon, Bruno Gervais and Erik Gustafsson―combine for a cap hit of $2,437,500. In turn, trading away those spare parts would make Philadelphia cap compliant again.
Whether they would want to rid themselves of each of those specific players, let alone be able to find a taker for each, is another issue, though.
Phoenix: Who Fills Out The Forward Lines?
A question of whether or not a franchise is sticking around for the coming campaign is hard to match in magnitude, but the Coyotes have resolved that.
Now, the main focus of the Phoenix faithful should be on a current shortage of NHL-worthy forwards. The Coyotes have 10 under contract plus a yet-to-be-signed restricted free agent in Mikkel Boedker.
With a little more than $7.5 million in cap space, they could conceivably afford to sign or re-sign two established players to give them the minimum requirement of a dozen on their roster. Or they can leave the door partway or entirely open to minor league or amateur prospects.
The former would be more advisable. Even if one of them does prove himself ready to make the jump, it would not be in anyone’s best interest to rush both Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson simultaneously.
Pittsburgh: How Will They Prepare For A Roster Emergency?
A dozen forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders have consumed so much cap space that the Penguins are down to an infinitesimal $126,667 worth of wiggle room.
Or, at least, they were until Thursday, when they re-signed Dustin Jeffrey. Now they have an extra forward, but are almost half a million ($498,333) above the limit.
That situation is only barely better than what the likes of the Bruins and Flyers are facing with their spending already beyond the coming season’s limit by a full million or more.
Unless they can somehow free up more space and/or amass a slightly more comfortable quantity of players for less of a cap hit, the Pens will be tied in double knots if and when they feel compelled to make an in-season tweak.
St. Louis: Who Stays As Their Goaltending Tandem?
In a recent online notes column for The Hockey News, Lyle Richardson called the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending situation a potential “three-man circus.”
They have had Brian Elliott and Jaraslav Halak together for two years at the top level, but Jake Allen is fast outgrowing the AHL. The remainder of the offseason is the ideal time for the Blues to decide which two of those three will be their NHL netminding duo going forward.
San Jose: How Will They Get Under the Cap?
As their salary scroll stands this week, the Sharks have a perfectly ideal distribution of personnel on their NHL roster with 13 forwards, seven blueliner and two netminders.
But, of course, the other skate has to drop in that they are $406,667 above the cap.
In other words, see Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay: Connolly, Johnson or Other?
Now, as their NHL payroll stands, the Lightning have approximately $2.6 million of cap space to work with and a vacancy for their spare, 13th forward.
They can easily tackle that by standing back and letting prolific AHLers Brett Connolly and Tyler Johnson battle for the opening. Or, if they choose, they can be a little more active and seek a relatively cheap acquisition from elsewhere.
Toronto: How Much To Keep Kadri?
In light of the way he smoothly translated his AHL scoring rate to the NHL and helped the Maple Leafs to their first playoff berth in recent memory, Nazem Kadri is a natural priority as he continues to sit among the restricted free agents.
Even if Toronto’s ability to retain him is not a pressing concern, how much they are willing to spend on him is. They have less than $10 million in cap space to work with and, in addition to Kadri, still need to lock in a couple of defensemen.
Vancouver: Are Key Players Ready To Embrace Change?
The last major development in the Roberto Luongo saga involved Canucks general manager Mike Gillis telling the local press of his plans to talk to the netminder in person. This, of course, concerns the aftermath of Vancouver trading Luongo’s former colleague, Cory Schneider, when it originally appeared that Luongo would be the one taking the egress, as he had implicitly desired.
The draft day deal with the New Jersey Devils means Luongo has a little more than two months to let the new reality sink in and prepare to make his future with the Canucks as smooth as possible. Meanwhile, although finesse captain Henrik Sedin has already spoken favorably of inevitable change under new defensive-minded coach John Tortorella, only authentic game action will give an accurate reading.
Washington: How Much To Keep Marcus Johansson?
That is, how big of a raise does Marcus Johansson warrant now that his entry-level deal has expired?
Gormley estimates that the young striker will be looking somewhere “in the range between $2.2 and $2.5 million.” Greenberg concludes that Johansson’s best-case reward sits in “the $2.5 to $3 million range for the 2013-14 season.”
With about $5.6 million in spare cap space, the Capitals could certainly accommodate that and make Johansson their 12th forward with a contract for this season. It would work all the more if rising rookie Tom Wilson, who is just starting his own entry-level pact with a $1,294,167 cap hit, is ready to jump in and be the 13th forward.
Winnipeg: How Many Will Return After Arbitration?
A Tuesday report from the Globe and Mail has four Jets players set to hold salary arbitration hearings between July 24 and August 2. Those four include ice-time leading center Bryan Little, prolific producer Blake Wheeler and middle-tier defenseman Zach Bogosian.
With realignment and a resultant restoration of geographic sense, the Jets have a chance to let their foundation translate to a better outcome in the standings. But the validity of that opportunity could depend on keeping their key cogs.