While one group of NHL teams gets ready for a playoff run that will end with one club raising the Stanley Cup, the rest of the franchises have already turned their attention to the offseason. Some front offices have more work to do than others, but missing the postseason is a sign change is needed.
A lot of those changes come leading up to and at the draft. That's when the flurry of activity really begins as teams swap assets with the hope of building toward a brighter future with draft picks or finding the one key piece they think it will take to put them in a better position to win right now.
With that in mind, let's check out some of the latest offseason buzz making its way around the league as teams begin to plot their strategies. The early signs point toward a very active summer for the NHL.
Kesler emerged as one of the top young centers in the NHL after back-to-back 70-point seasons starting with the 2009-10 campaign. He wasn't able to build off that success, however, and has actually taken a step back in recent years. The center tallied just 43 points in 77 games this season.
His name originally popped up in trade rumors around the deadline, but nothing came of that talk. Jason Botchford of The Province reports the main reason for the Vancouver Canucks holding onto the 29-year-old center was the belief that better offers would be on the table at the draft:
The old management team eventually warmed to the idea of dealing Kesler heading into the deadline but determined—or prayed—then offers would be better at the draft.
It was around this time that ownership expressed concern about the whole idea of losing their minute-chewing, do-everything—or too much—centreman.
After a couple extra months to determine the best course of action, it will be interesting to see if Kesler becomes a top trade target on draft day. Based on his past success, the Canucks should be able to demand a big haul. His production drop could scare teams away from paying that hefty price, though.
Bennett battled with Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart for the top spot among prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL draft. In the end, it was a competition he won, as NHL Central Scouting listed him as its No. 1 player in the final set of draft rankings.
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reports executives around the league are in awe not only due to his talent but also his compete level. Despite that high praise, he notes the Buffalo Sabres could go in another direction if they win the lottery, allowing Bennett to slide.
As for the Kingston Frontenacs star, he doesn't sound overly concerned about where he lands but called getting ranked as the top player in the draft special, per Doug Graham of the Kingston Whig-Standard:
"It's definitely pretty special. I was definitely excited when it was announced. There are a lot of great players in the draft. To be named No. 1 is special."
If the Sabres do win the lottery and go in another direction, as Matheson suggests, whether it be Ekblad or Reinhart, it wouldn't be a surprise to see teams trying to trade up. While he's not the most hyped top prospect, he has all the tools to become a star at the NHL level.
Sabres' Fire Sale Continues?
Speaking of the Sabres, the team currently finds itself in the middle of a massive rebuilding effort. It finished with the worst record in the league by 14 points, which illustrates exactly how much work is left before they are back in the mix.
Along with continuing to stockpile young talent through the draft, the Sabres are still in the process of moving other assets. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports general manager Tim Murray still has a lot of players on the trade block:
Sources say Murray has been shopping RW Chris Stewart, D Christian Erhoff, C Luke Adam and RW Drew Stafford.
It doesn’t stop there, either. The Sabres will also listen to see what they can get for LW Marcus Foligno, LW Johan Larsson and D Chad Ruhwedel.
Buffalo sports an impressive combination of prospects and draft picks. It sounds like Murray wants to keep adding to that future depth by moving a couple more veterans before shifting the focus to potentially adding some pieces around their rising stars a few years down the line.
The future is bright, but patience will remain necessary for Sabres fans.