The NHL offseason may be coming later than usual this year, but there's still likely to be some notable movement and storylines to follow after the 2019-20 season is concluded. And because of that, there's already plenty of buzz about potential free-agent signings and trades that could take place.
For the seven teams that won't be part of the NHL's expanded playoffs upon its return, they are able to focus more on the offseason, although they likely won't be making many moves until later in the year. And while the other 24 teams still have games to play, it's not too early to start looking ahead to 2020-21.
Here's some of the latest buzz about potential moves that could take place in the upcoming offseason.
Will Canadiens Have Advantage in Free Agency?
With so much uncertainty surrounding the NHL offseason (including what the salary cap for the 2020-21 season will be), some teams may be unsure whether the wi'll be able to make any major moves via free agency.
Regardless, Eric Engels of Sportsnet believes the Montreal Canadiens should be in a position to use the situation to their advantage.
"Montreal's advantage in the marketplace—considering how well-positioned they are with the salary cap—[is] to make the kind of offer many teams can't necessarily make right now without shifting significant pieces out of place," he wrote.
So what will Montreal do with this financial flexibility? One potential target could be left winger Taylor Hall, a Hart Trophy winner who was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Arizona Coyotes in December who is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Engels believes the Canadiens have "much incentive" to try to sign the 28-year-old, noting he's the "type of high-end offensive player they so desperately covet."
But he added that Hall is likely going to want to sign with a franchise set up to be successful, and whether he feels the Canadiens are at that level could decide any deal with Montreal. The Canadiens haven't won a playoff series since 2015, but that could change soon, as they are one of the 24 teams set to play in the NHL's expanded postseason when it returns.
Which Restricted Free Agents Will Return to Toronto?
The Toronto Maple Leafs have four players on their roster who are set to become restricted free agents after the season. And while the team has the power to bring back all of them, it's possible they will decide to let them sign elsewhere.
Luke Fox of Sportsnet noted Denis Malgin and Frederik Gauthier are "bubble players" for Toronto when all its forwards are healthy. And even though both are affordable, he isn't sure either will necessarily be back with the Maple Leafs next season.
"I can't see Malgin re-signing unless he's willing to take a two-way deal for the minimum," Fox wrote. "... If [Gauthier] is amenable to a modest raise and a one-year extension, we can see him sticking around for depth."
Malgin, 23, had 12 points in 36 games for the Florida Panthers this season, but he went scoreless in eight games after getting traded to the Maple Leafs. Gauthier, who is 25, had 12 points in 61 games for Toronto.
So if the Maple Leafs feel they have players who could put up the same (or better) production on their bottom lines, it would make sense that they might cut ties with the pair of forwards if the team can't work out the types of deals Fox mentioned.
Will Maple Leafs Look to Trade for Defensemen?
In a recent mailbag for Sportsnet, Fox was asked whether right-handed defensemen David Savard and Rasmus Ristolainen were potential trade targets for the Maple Leafs this offseason.
Not only does Fox think they could be, but he also noted the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres are teams that need offense, meaning Toronto could trade from an area of depth to improve on defense. It could be tough, however, for the Maple Leafs to get the Blue Jackets to part with the 29-year-old Savard, who has spent his entire nine-year NHL career in Columbus.
"There is no sense that Savard—a member of Columbus's leadership group—and the team are at odds, however," Fox wrote. "Their loyalty goes back a decade."
Ristolainen could be another good defenseman for Toronto to target, though, as the 25-year-old has been a solid contributor for most of his seven seasons in Buffalo. However, as Fox noted, he would come at a higher price ($5.4 million cap hit through 2022) than Savard ($4.25 million through 2021).
Regardless, it will come down to whether the Sabres or Blue Jackets are willing to listen to offers.