APril 7, 2019 | 3:20pm ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
BUSY OFF-SEASON AHEAD FOR MANY TEAMS
TORONTO, ON – The NHL regular-season has come to an end and 15 teams won’t be playing an 83rd game this spring. As the 16 other clubs battle for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, those who missed the playoffs begin planning for what’s expected to be a fairly active summer.
Some teams, like the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks, are content with the progress made this season, while others, like the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres, are faced with harsh realities.
Since it’s a little more fun to focus on the negatives, let’s start with that.
Clearly, a lot of work has to be done in Edmonton, and most of that will fall on the shoulders of their next General Manager. Unless the organization’s mindset has changed in the last few weeks, Keith Gretzky will not become the Oilers’ full-time GM. That’s the word on the street, anyway. The search for a new GM picks up starting today, and the team will seek permission to chat with personnel from other clubs about the vacancy.
Once a new GM is hired in Edmonton, the search for a new head coach will begin. Sure, Ken Hitchcock will be given due consideration, but I suspect the new GM will look to bring in another bench boss to give his players a fresh start.
Then the real fun begins.
Connor McDavid’s message was heard loud and clear. It wasn’t a ‘get me out of here’ request, it was a ‘fix this freakin’ mess’ demand. The Oilers lack quality depth up front and between the pipes. Contrary to popular opinion, their defensive corps isn’t bad – Darnell Nurse, Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson make up a good top-four; add Evan Bouchard to the mix next season and either Kris Russell or Matt Benning (or an outside addition) in the sixth slot and you’re solid.
But the Oilers have three top-six forwards, a couple third-liners and a bunch of fourth-line guys/AHLers. You hope, as many in the organization believe, Jesse Puljujarvi is a top-six/top-line winger. But his future with the club is still up in the air and it’ll be the new GM’s decision whether to move him or not.
It’s going to take a lot of creativity to add quality to this roster, especially on the trade front, but the Oilers could speed up the process by packaging this summer’s first-round pick (depending where the balls drop on April 9) for some immediate help in the form of a late-20s winger. Add a top-six forward via trade and lure at least one more via free agency, along with a responsible two-way center for the third line, and things could look a lot better next season.
Similar decisions are going to have to be made in Buffalo, as well. The Sabres were supposed to compete for a playoff spot this season, like Edmonton, but fell flat. Yes, the team didn’t respond to Phil Housley, which is part of the reason he was relieved of his duties today, but their lack of secondary scoring is a problem, as is their goaltending. The blueline doesn’t need a major adjustment and the trade deadline acquisition of Brandon Montour should pay off nicely.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill will up his efforts to re-sign Jeff Skinner, while Jason Pominville’s second tour of duty in Buffalo appears to be over. The Sabres will have around $26 million in available salary cap space once the cap goes up and Skinner is their only key pending free agent (UFA or RFA). Assuming he eats up about $10 million of that, the Sabres are positioned well to be players in the free agent market this summer, and you suspect owner Terry Pegula will insist on adding to his team’s chances of making the playoffs next season.
Goaltending is another question mark for Buffalo, as Carter Hutton couldn’t handle the load this season and Linus Ullmark isn’t there yet.
Botterill could get creative on the trade front and move one of his many defencemen for help up front. Rasmus Ristolainen’s name popped up in trade speculation around the Feb. 25 deadline, but team sources denied being close to moving him. We’ll see if that tune changes in June.
In Los Angeles, the Kings officially kicked their search for a new head coach into high-gear. Willie Desjardins has been told he will not be brought back and while many, including us, have reported Todd McLellan as the team’s next likely bench boss, though Alain Vigneault was a strong candidate for the position, as Dennis Bernstein reported this past week.
The Kings want an experienced head coach to lead them through their retool/rebuild, one who can handle another difficult season, should it come to that in 2019-20.
Kings GM Rob Blake will be just as busy as Botterill and Edmonton’s next GM, as many roster moves are expected in Los Angeles.
Centre Jeff Carter may have scored his last goal as a member of the Kings on Saturday. The team tried to move him to a playoff contender for a good portion of the season, but his sub-par performance made things so tough, sources have told us the Kings didn’t generate one legit phone call about Carter’s services in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Blake will look to move him this summer, perhaps around the NHL Draft.
But Carter isn’t the only King likely on the move. It’s possible goalie Jonathan Quick started his final game as a King, as well, as the Kings explored various trade scenarios involving the star netminder this season. Trade talks are expected this off-season, as a few teams look to bolster their goaltending position – Columbus, Buffalo and Philadelphia, who had calls about Quick around the deadline, could be in the mix.
Tyler Toffoli may not be on the move, but if the Kings receive an offer that includes a first-round pick for him, the asking price this season, they may bite. And Dion Phaneuf’s future is also murky, as the Kings will weigh out the possibility of a buyout if the trade market is nonexistent.
L.A.’s mindset is to get younger and remain competitive. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty will get mulligans and aren’t going anywhere, while Dustin Brown, the team’s MVP this season, is unlikely to move, though his trade value is high. Depending on where they land in the draft lottery, they are expected to make a push for the first-overall selection, if they don’t win the thing. Adding in whomever they draft in the first-round this summer to the team that has youngsters like Adrian Kempe, Carl Grundstrom, Matt Luff, Blake Lizotte, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari and (they pray) a healthy Gabe Vilardi, and the Kings could turn things around a bit quicker than they may have originally thought.
It would shock pretty much the entire League if Anaheim’s next head coach isn’t Dallas Eakins, so assuming nobody pulls a 180, their focus is positioned towards the roster.
The shift has begun in Anaheim. Finally! Sam Steel, Max Jones, Maxime Comtois and Isac Lundestrom should be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp in September, while Josh Mahura and Brendan Guhle will battle for regular spots on the blueline. The Ducks need to get faster and younger and it seems GM Bob Murray is ready to accept it.
The Ducks don’t have any major pending free agents to worry about – it’s unclear, for now, if Ryan Miller will be brought back for another season as the club’s backup – but they don’t have that much cap space to work with (roughly $6.7M as of now, per Cap Friendly).
Murray entertained various trade scenarios leading up to the deadline, as teams called about guys like Adam Henrique – his 10-team no-trade clause kicks in July 1 – but moving him doesn’t help their cause. The team did not approach Corey Perry about waiving his no-movement clause and it doesn’t seem like they’ll have that conversation this summer (but who knows), and Ryan Getzlaf isn’t going anywhere. A big question mark for Anaheim is the future and health of Ryan Kesler.
Kesler, 34, battled hip injuries all season, yet again, and tallied just eight points in 60 games as a result. He has three more seasons left on his contract at a cap hit of $6.875 million and has a full no-movement clause for the next two seasons. Murray may have a tough decision to make here – does he consider a buyout?
Of course, other teams have big decisions, too:
New Jersey needs to know if Taylor Hall will sign a long-term extension; if he declines or tells them he prefers to wait until the season, Devils GM Ray Shero will have to explore the market.
Ottawa needs a head coach, a President of Hockey Operations, a new No.1 goalie, a top line forward, and so on, and so on.
Philadelphia will have an active summer, as well. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher will likely continue to entertain trade calls on defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, while exploring the market for a veteran, top-four blueliner elsewhere. He must decide if Cam Talbot is the right guy to play alongside Carter Hart, or if an outside option, like Quick, is a better route to take. And he has to determine how active he wants to be in the free agent market when it comes to possibly adding a second-line winger to the mix.
Chicago was able to rebound thanks to the emergence of Alex DeBrincat and the acquisition of Dylan Strome – and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews getting back on track. They’ll look to strengthen their position next season, but how is a task Stan Bowman needs to figure out.
As for the teams that made progress...
Ryan Poehling’s debut hat trick will keep fans excited all summer in Montreal. The Canadiens had a lot of positives this season, well beyond the return-to-form of both Carey Price and Shea Weber. The acquisitions of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar (and Nick Suzuki) were vital to the team’s success this season and were two of the best trades made before the start of this season.
The Habs’ main pending free agents, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen, aren’t going to break the bank on their next deals and with more than $15 million in cap space (which will increase based on the cap rise), GM Marc Bergevin could add a solid piece or two via free agency.
Bergevin will try, once again, to trade Karl Alzner, but failing to do so could likely result in a buyout. As much as the Canadiens will try to add a top-six forward, they will look to add a top-four defenceman and could pursue the likes of pending UFAs Tyler Myers (RD), Anton Stralman (RD) or Jake Gardiner (LD) if a trade isn’t available – keep in mind, Mete should stick around full time next season, and a healthy Noah Juulsen could be the team’s third fulltime right-defenceman.
Poehling, Suzuki and defenceman Alexander Romanov will battle for a fulltime spot next season (can’t assume Poehling’s locked in, but sure seems that way), and if that’s the case, the Canadiens may have a surplus of centres, ironically, with Domi, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault already up the middle (Domi and Suzuki could move to the wing, of course). But they’ll take these problems any day of the week. And who knows what happens with their first-round pick, which could be a solid add in a trade for a young, NHL-proven player.
Long story short, the future is suddenly bright in Montreal.
As is the one in Vancouver. The Canucks are giving Jim Benning this off-season to fulfill his vision/plan. The higher-ups have contemplated a GM change, but as of now, Benning’s sticking around for at least one more season – he has one-year remaining on his deal.
With Elias Petterssen, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat leading the way, add Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson, Josh Leivo, Jake Virtanen and Co. to the fold and the Canucks are becoming an attractive place to play. Benning will be active in free agency and will try to add a top-six winger and a top-four defenceman, possibly someone to play alongside Hughes.
The Canucks want to re-sign Alex Edler, but the 32-year-old blueliner wants a no-movement clause added to a deal that is around three-to-four years and I don’t get the sense Benning has an appetite for that kind of deal. Two years? Sure. Three with the third-year just a NTC, not a NMC? Perhaps. Clearly, the June 2021 expansion draft is on Vancouver’s minds.
As for Loui Eriksson? I’d expect the Canucks to have a conversation with him and his agent about his future and find out if he’s truly willing to waive his full no-trade clause. If not, though not ideal, a buyout must be considered.
Arizona GM John Chayka continues to move ahead with his own plan and it’s been working, for the most part, in Glendale. The team has about $11 million in salary cap space, plus more to come, and the Coyotes will be an intriguing club to watch as they take aim for the playoffs next season.
There was a lot of growth made in Arizona this season, but unfortunately it’s not affected their ownership situation.
On that front, there’s nothing positive to report. Not now, anyway. A sale, once thought to be close earlier in the season, as I had been told and reported, is not imminent and there doesn’t seem to be much significant traction.
One positive: there are two legitimate groups interested in purchasing the Coyotes, with a third rumoured to be in the mix. The debt inquired by current owner Andrew Barroway, however, is one major obstacle. The other: A new building. But a new building won’t happen until a new owner/ownership group is on board.
At least the on-ice product continues, and will continue, to improve.