With the NHL's offseason officially upon us, the focus has suddenly shifted from Lord Stanley's Cup to the spending spree known as the free-agency period.
The free-agent frenzy will begin on July 1 as top teams look for pieces to put them over the top and rising teams attempt to develop into contenders. This year's crop of free agents may not be the deepest hockey fans have ever seen, but there are plenty of intriguing players who organizations would love to get their hands on.
There is already plenty of buzz surrounding some of the most coveted free agents set to hit the market, so here are the latest rumors that could offer a glimpse into the chaos that will ensue on July 1.
Perhaps the biggest name on the market come July 1 will be winger Thomas Vanek. The longtime Buffalo Sabres star was traded to the New York Islanders early in the season before being flipped to the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline. The Austrian icon was productive at each of his three stops this past season, but he was widely criticized for his subpar performance with the Habs during the playoffs.
There is a belief that his failure to come through during the postseason will lessen the demand for him in free agency, but teams are always in search of a proven 30-goal scorer, and Vanek fits the bill. One team who may not be interested in him, though, is Montreal, according to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports:
As usual Marc Bergevin refuse to talk about contracts. But sources told me that Thomas Vanek, Douglas Murray and George Parros won't return.— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 11, 2014
Vanek may not have been the right fit with the Canadiens, and Vanek has made it clear that he has every intention of exploring all his options in free agency, per Arpon Basu of NHL.com.
"A year ago I made a decision that it will likely be my only time to pick my own team, and hopefully pick a team where I have a chance to win," Vanek said. "So once I made the decision, you can't look back."
If Vanek opts against returning to Montreal, one team that makes a lot of sense as a potential suitor is the Minnesota Wild. Vanek played his collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota, and he would have immediate synergy with forward Jason Pominville, who Vanek played alongside for many years with the Sabres.
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According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, however, Minnesota's interest in Vanek may be waning after some of its young forwards enjoyed a successful playoff run. That doesn't mean that the Wild won't pursue Vanek, but they may be looking to offer much less in both term and money than they would have previously.
It may seem like Vanek's options are waning on the surface, but there are so many teams looking for goal scorers that he'll have all the leverage regardless. Although there hasn't yet been any public indication that they are interested, don't be surprised if the Edmonton Oilers make a run at Vanek.
They are among the teams with the most available cap room and signed Vanek to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent in 2007. They missed out then as the Sabres matched, but now is Edmonton's chance to strike.
The emergence of young players such as forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog as well as goaltender Semyon Varlamov was key in the Colorado Avalanche's ascent this past season, but veteran center Paul Stastny's contributions shouldn't be forgotten.
His 25 goals were his most since his rookie season in 2006-07, and his 60 points were his most since 2009-10. Add in his defensive acumen, faceoff ability and overall leadership skills, and it can be argued that there was no better all-around player for the Avs in 2013-14.
It is entirely possible, though, that Stastny will be playing elsewhere next season and for the foreseeable future. According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the two parties have yet to come to a contract agreement:
COL gave pending UFA C Paul Stastny multi-year contract offer couple of weeks ago. No dialogue since but it's expected to get going soon.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 16, 2014
This is despite the fact that Stastny's preference is to remain in Colorado:
Stastny has made no secret of his desire to stay in COL. Question is what's an acceptable hometown discount?— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 16, 2014
Even so, the Avalanche may not be willing to match or increase the yearly earnings that Stastny pulled in throughout his previous contract:
Stastny wrapping up a 5 x $6.6M deal in COL. Guessing Avs looking for a pay cut. Stastny may fetch his salary or more on open market.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 16, 2014
Although contract squabbles are nothing new in hockey, it would be hugely disappointing if the Avs and Stastny failed to strike a deal. Stastny has been synonymous with the organization since breaking into the league and is firmly in his prime at 28 years of age.
The Avalanche have the assets and ability to make sure that Stastny stays, but it comes down to whether or not they actually want to make it happen. Losing Stastny would be a major blow to a team that is very much on the ascent, so Colorado will find a way to keep its heart and soul in the fold.
Despite the fact that he is coming off a pretty disappointing season, winger Milan Michalek promises to be a hot commodity in free agency. The 29-year-old Czech speedster has a history of scoring goals and has plenty of playoff experience, so his name is one that will be talked about plenty leading up to July 1.
Michalek put up just 39 points and was an awful minus-25 for the Ottawa Senators in 2013-14. With that in mind, David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period doesn't anticipate the Sens bringing him back:
I expect some interesting movement out of Ottawa. Outside of trading Spezza, it's unlikely Hemsky and Michalek are re-signed.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) June 13, 2014
With that said, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports that there is still some interest on the Senators' end in terms of negotiating a deal:
Bryan Murray says the only UFA he wants to keep is Milan Michalek. They have had discussions with agent Allan Walsh. #Sens— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) June 11, 2014
Michalek is just two years removed from a 35-goal season, so there is no question that he knows how to find the back of the net. Perhaps that campaign was an outlier, as his previous high was 26 goals in a single season, but the ability is there.
After such a disappointing year, it is easy to envision the Sens going in a different direction and letting Michalek walk. If that happens, then one team to watch in the Michalek sweepstakes is the New York Islanders. The Isles have already shown a willingness to spend in order to atone for a miserable season.
New York needs to find a running mate for superstar center John Tavares, and Michalek could prove to be an affordable and productive choice.
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