The 2015 NHL draft will take place from Friday, June 26, through Saturday, June 27, which means the rumor mill is churning on that front in addition to the speculation free agency tends to spark.
Both pivotal personnel processes help shape a team's identity for the upcoming season and beyond. Not much is often expected of even the highest draft picks unless they're truly transcendent talents, but the marquee free agents are proven commodities who command attention.
Below is a breakdown of some of the most notable rumors to surface in the days leading up to draft night at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and free agency opening on July 1.
Patrick Sharp Reportedly on Trade Block
The Chicago Blackhawks recently won the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years, and Patrick Sharp has been in the Windy City for all three championships.
ESPN insider Pierre LeBrun reports the 33-year-old veteran may be on his way out, while adding that trade talks haven't been too serious:
This falls in line with what Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports is a long list of suitors for Sharp:
Following the latest seizing of Lord Stanley's Cup, Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane alluded to Sharp as a mentor figure, indicating he and Sharp had a "big brother-little brother dynamic," per Lazerus. Having a leader like Sharp in the locker room is vital to a championship nucleus and not easily replaceable.
General manager Stan Bowman acknowledged how difficult it is to operate within cap constrictions, per LeBrun:
It's a system we all play under. You got to find a way to make it work. It's a credit to the leadership group on the team and also my staff has done a fantastic job drafting and developing players. The only way you make it work in this system is if you not only draft but you develop; or you find them as free agents and you develop them. We’ve got a lot of people that have put in countless hours. They can certainly make you look good. This is by no means all my doing. I have to credit them.
With Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago for the foreseeable future under huge contracts, and other burgeoning youngsters who could also benefit from Sharp's experience but will command paydays down the road, the Blackhawks have a big decision to make.
Since Sharp only has two years left on his contract at a total cost of $11.8 million, per Spotrac.com, he's not too much of a cap burden to bear. That ought to be the perfect amount of time for Sharp to still contribute in a positive way to Chicago's hopes of keeping its Cup-contending run going.
Kyle Okposo to Be Traded By Islanders Before Draft?
Two league sources tell Newsday's Arthur Staple that New York could shop Okposo, but acknowledged that negotiations haven't gained any substantial traction as of yet.
The 27-year-old right winger is entering a contract year and could therefore be an attractive one-year rental if the Islanders don't see Okposo in their long-term plans. New York general manager Garth Snow may even continue shopping Okposo during the season because of his expiring contract.
Daniel Friedman of CBS New York points out how the Islanders will likely have to give Okposo a considerable raise from the end of his five-year, $14 million deal to keep him:
Staple refers to the fact that the Islanders don't have a first-round draft pick as a reason for using any trade chips they can to move up. Okposo sat out for 22 games of the 2014-15 season to recover from a detached retina, but did return in time for the postseason.
Having established himself as an assistant captain and a gritty player who's produced on offense with 120 points in 131 games over the past two seasons, it seems Okposo is just coming into his own.
The Islanders could be ridding themselves of a player in Okposo who may just be realizing his full potential in exchange for a less proven draft commodity. It's a precarious balance Snow and the front office need to strike when deciding on Okposo, who could conceivably leave without New York getting any compensation in return if and when he hits free agency next offseason.
Kings, Justin Williams Struggling to Strike Agreement
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet doesn't have the best of news for Los Angeles Kings fans hoping to hold onto Williams this offseason as he prepares to hit the open market.
"It doesn't seem like there is much common ground at this point between Los Angeles and Justin Williams," Friedman writes.
Not much specificity there, but with Friedman's clout, it's safe to say Williams and the Kings are pretty far apart with regard to uniting for the long haul. Losing someone of Williams' caliber would be a devastating blow as the Kings try to recover from missing the playoffs in their defense of the Stanley Cup this past season.
Andy Strickland of Fox Sports Midwest weighed in on Williams entering free agency:
Nicknamed "Mr. Game 7" for his frequent postseason heroics, Williams is a franchise cornerstone in L.A. who is ready to cash in on what will likely be his final big contract at age 33. Given what he's done for the Kings franchise, the club ought to reward him handsomely.
Before L.A. had a down year, it had appeared in the conference final in each of the past three playoffs, winning two Stanley Cups in that span. Williams scored 25 points in 26 games in the Kings' most recent run to the NHL's pinnacle following the 2013-14 campaign.
The salary cap is barely budging ahead of the next NHL season, increasing by five percent to approximately $71 million. This means it's going to be tough for L.A. to meet Williams' demands if the two sides have a lot of separation at this stage.
Williams ought to test the free-agent waters and mull his options anyway, though. Agreeing to a deal with L.A. without seeing what else is out there wouldn't be in his best interests.