The Top NHL Storylines to Watch in the Rest of the 2015 Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2015

The Top NHL Storylines to Watch in the Rest of the 2015 Offseason

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    With the NHL offseason in full swing, there's been a decline in notable hockey news. Still, there are several storylines worth following over the course of the summer.

    Be it the Chicago Blackhawks' efforts to shed salary or contract negotiations for Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos, there's plenty to keep NHL fans riveted before training camps open in September.

    Here's a look at the top NHL storylines to watch this offseason, explaining why they matter and examining the possible outcomes. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section below.

Coyotes' Arena Saga

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The story: The seemingly never-ending uncertainty over the Arizona Coyotes' future in Glendale is entering yet another chapter. SI.com's Allan Muir reported the city council is attempting to break its lease agreement on the Gila River Arena with the Coyotes, forcing the club to take legal action to stop it.

    Why it matters: If the City of Glendale succeeds in breaking the lease, it could attempt to get better terms with the Coyotes on a new agreement. This could also set the stage for the club's departure to another city.

    Possible outcome: On June 12, Muir reported a judge granted the Coyotes a temporary restraining order preventing the city council from voiding the lease agreement. It's apparent the club's ownership, with the league's blessing, intends to stay put. Regardless of the outcome, this creates yet another offseason of uneasiness over the Coyotes' future in Arizona. 

NHL Expansion

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The story: On June 24, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reported the NHL Board of Governors gave its approval for the league to receive applications for expansion. 

    Why it matters: This could mark the first addition of new franchises since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild received approval to join the league in 1997. League commissioner Gary Bettman told Rosen the expansion fee is $500 million. The Hockey News' Ken Campbell reported expansion bids were received from Las Vegas, Quebec City, the greater Toronto area and Seattle. 

    Possible outcome: Las Vegas is the front-runner for an expansion franchise. On June 2, the website Vegas Wants Hockey reported prospective owner Bill Foley claimed his group had 13,200 season-ticket requests. A 20,000-seat arena is slated to open next year. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Rosen the earliest an expansion team could begin playing was 2017-18.

Possible Retirements

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The story: Several unrestricted free agents could announce their retirements this summer, following the lead of longtime NHL stars Martin St. Louis and Kimmo Timonen.

    Why it matters: It will mark the end of long careers for several notable players who enjoyed varying degrees of NHL success. Among them are forwards Daniel Briere, Olli Jokinen and Brenden Morrow, along with defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Lubomir Visnovsky.

    Possible outcome: A few of these aging stars could hold out hope for one more NHL contract, but it's doubtful they'll get one. Their NHL careers are likely over. 

Pressure on McDavid and Eichel

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The story: Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (selected first overall in the 2015 NHL draft) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (second overall) are already making headlines. McDavid recently created a stir by scoring five goals in an Oilers rookie scrimmage, while over 17,000 fans turned out at First Niagara Center to watch Eichel scrimmage with other Sabres rookies. 

    Why it matters: The 18-year-old centers are considered the next generation of NHL superstars. Even their offseason activity is cause for excitement in Edmonton and Buffalo, where there's been little to cheer for in recent years. The inevitable comparisons between the two could generate an interesting rivalry.

    Possible outcome: How well McDavid and Eichel cope with the growing scrutiny will be as important as how they adjust to playing at the NHL level. If they can handle it well, it won't adversely affect their anticipated development into superstars. 

Salary Arbitration

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    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    The story: The NHL's salary arbitration period is from July 20 to Aug. 4. Twenty players who filed for arbitration remain eligible. On June 18, TSN reported the Toronto Maple Leafs elected to take goalie Jonathan Bernier to arbitration. The Edmonton Journal's Joanne Ireland reported the Oilers are doing the same with defenseman Justin Schultz.

    Why it matters: Salary arbitration is a means to resolve stalemated contract negotiations, rather than have them drag on into next season. It's rare, however, that these cases end up before an arbiter. Players usually agree to terms on new contracts before their arbitration hearings.

    Possible outcome: Of the 23 players who filed for arbitration, three (Arizona's Mikkel Boedker, Detroit's Gustav Nyquist and St. Louis' Magnus Paajarvi) have already re-signed with their teams. Don't be surprised if the others follow suit. 

More Contract Buyouts?

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The story: As per section 11.18 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams with players filing for arbitration gain a 48-hour buyout window commencing the third day following an arbitration award or settlement. It doesn't apply for teams with one club-elected arbitration case. It is also limited to players with average salaries in excess of $2.75 million, though that limit can increase depending on the league's annual salary.

    Why it matters: This creates an opportunity for teams to shed players they're unable to trade. For example, the Edmonton Oilers are taking Justin Schultz to arbitration. The Edmonton Journal's David Staples cited Oilers broadcaster Bob Stauffer suggesting the club has an opportunity to buy out Nikita Nikitin and his $4 million cap hit.

    Possible outcome: Such buyouts following arbitration are rare. Still, it's possible the management of a cash-strapped team could avail itself of that option to free up some cap space.

Mike Richards, Slava Voynov and the Kings

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The story: On June 29, the Los Angeles Kings terminated the contract of center Mike Richards following what CBC.ca reported was an incident at the United States-Canada border. On July 2, Kings defenseman Slava Voynov pleaded no-contest to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

    Why it matters: By terminating Richards' contract, the Kings freed up most of his $5.75 million annual cap hit (they're charged $1.32 million in salary-cap recapture penalties). TSN's Frank Seravalli reported the NHLPA is investigating the situation. As for Voynov, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reported he was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

    Possible outcome: For now, their futures are uncertain. The NHLPA could file an appeal on Richards' behalf. Once Voynov completes his jail sentence, he could face additional discipline from the Kings or the league.

Stagnant Free-Agent Market

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    John Russell/Getty Images

    The story: After an initial frenzy of signings, activity has slowed considerably in the unrestricted free-agent market. Among the available notables are defensemen Cody Franson (pictured) and Johnny Oduya, along with forwards Alexander Semin, Chris Stewart, Eric Fehr and Brad Boyes. 

    Why it matters: Lack of quality depth in this summer's UFA pool plus a marginal increase in the salary-cap ceiling leaves too many teams unwilling to invest limited cap payrolls on expensive veterans. 19 NHL teams have less than $10 million in cap space. The rest could be unwilling or unable to spend toward the $71.4-million cap ceiling.

    Possible outcome: Most of those notable available UFAs will eventually be signed, but they'll probably get far less than they expected. Some could be waiting until the start of next season to get new contracts.

Blackhawks' Efforts to Shed Salary

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    The story: The Chicago Blackhawks have just over $981,000 in cap space for 2015-16. They must shed salary to create room for other moves. 

    Why it matters: They have 21 players under contract for next season. Restricted free-agent center Marcus Kruger must be re-signed. He'll cost more than $981,000. They also have only six defensemen under contract. 

    Possible outcome: General manager Stan Bowman traded Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million annual cap hit to Dallas, but he also added defenseman Trevor Daley ($3.3 million) and winger Ryan Garbutt ($900,000). To free up more room, Bowman could peddle forwards Bryan Bickell ($4 million) or Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million).

Steven Stamkos' Contract Status

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    The story: Agent Don Meehan, who represents Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, told TSN contract talks have yet to begin between his client and Lightning management. 

    Why it matters: Stamkos, 25, is a year away from unrestricted free agency. As of July 1, the Lightning can open contract-extension talks with him. Stamkos could seek a significant raise over his current $7.5 million annual cap hit. That will make it difficult for the Lightning to re-sign stars like Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov over the next two years

    Possible outcome: To avoid Stamkos' contract status becoming an unnecessary distraction, the Lightning could re-sign him to a seven- or eight-year deal worth over $10 million annually. They won't want to risk upsetting team chemistry next season as they push for another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all player and team news via NHL.com. Salary information via General Fanager

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