NHL: Busy off-season ahead!
With the great parity in the NHL today, teams are always looking for ways to get over the hump. Whether that means some quick additions, a re-tool or a full on rebuild, General Managers and their staff need to be on queue more than ever. We just witnessed what a great trade deadline addition could mean in regards to the Marian Gaborik to Los Angeles Kings deal. This took great pro-scouting to identify that the 32-year-old Slovak would be able to fit and of course he ended up doing far more than that.
Now that the off-season has officially arrived, contenders will look to keep pace with the Champs, teams on the playoff bubble need to decide whether to make some quick fixes or perhaps go the smarter route and rebuild as well as teams in the middle of their rebuild continue to stockpile young prospects and draft picks, relying greatly on player development to take that next step.
This is the final year of compliance buyouts, and that buyout window opened this past Monday and will end on June 30th. When compliance buyouts began with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) after the lockout, each team was allowed up to 2 total. Some teams have already used both, others have one left and some haven’t used any (and likely won’t). The importance of the compliance buyout of course, is if you have a player who signed his current contract during the last CBA and they are not injured, you can buy them out and not have anything count against your teams Salary Cap. Thus far in the last 24 hours, the Vancouver Canucks have waived forward David Booth and the Buffalo Sabers have done the same with forward Ville Leino, both for purposes of using a compliance buyout.
While free agency officially begins July 1st, players set to become free agents can begin speaking with teams on June 25th. What can make this even more interesting is if a team has interest in for example, Paul Stastny. If the interested team speaks with Stastny on the 25th-26th and believes there won’t be a fit, this could end up allowing that team to increase their trade efforts to acquire a similar player during the 2014 Entry Draft on June 27-28, where there is always lots of active trade discussion and at times significant trade activity. An example is a team like the Dallas Stars or Anaheim Ducks looking for an upgraded #2 center, may look at Stastny versus trading assets for the likes of Jason Spezza or Ryan Kesler. If these teams speak with Stastny and determine it seems unlikely the fit would work with the player, these teams can then explore the trade route at the draft where again, trade discussion is in high volume.
Free agency of course is always risky business. This year’s list of potential Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA), will leave a lot to be desired, but again the best teams don’t build through free agency. The most successful franchises build through the draft, through timely trades and of course as they are contenders, perhaps dipping into free agency to add that missing piece. Teams far to often use free agency to fill holes or to try and get better quick. Normally it doesn’t work, although for teams that are building the right way and have an abundance of solid prospects in the pipeline, sometimes free agency is an effective way to add some veteran leadership and fill some holes until those prospects are ready.
While many teams will be looking to make a splash, with the draft a little over a week away, here are some teams to perhaps keep a closer eye on.
1) Nashville Predators – Looking to add a significant offensive piece or 2, to their top 6 forwards.
2) Vancouver Canucks – Perhaps Ryan Kesler is on the outs. The Canucks also seem to be really exploring the possibility of trading for the #1 pick with the Florida Panthers. A new Head Coach is also on the horizon.
3) Anaheim Ducks – To keep pace with the Kings and others out west, the Ducks seem determined to add a very good #2 center. Perhaps, as mentioned early, a trade for Jason Spezza or Ryan Kesler (division rival, but still possible) might be in the cards at the draft.
4) Florida Panthers – With the #1 overall pick as well as new ownership willing to spend, the Panthers will be in the rumor mill throughout the summer. General Manger Dale Tallon is willing to move the #1 pick either by trading down in the 1st round (perhaps to the 5-10 range) to get a prospect he wants and additional assets/picks as well or perhaps for more established young/veteran talent. While again this might not be the most preferred route to take, the Panthers seem to be a very likely player in free agency. As mentioned with the Canucks, the Panthers will be naming a new Head Coach shortly.
5) San Jose Sharks – Whether the Sharks are re-tooling on the fly or as General Manger Doug Wilson mentioned recently using the word “Rebuild,” the Sharks are sure to be active on the trade front. Despite having No Movement Clauses in their new contracts that are kicking in this season, both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could be on their way out of San Jose. In fact I would say it’s very likely at least one of those two will be moved at some point during the off-season, perhaps at the draft. The New York Rangers can use a big #1 center like Thornton, but do they have and are willing to move the necessary assets to obtain him?
Join myself and Sebastian Norén for Real Hockey Talk, Wednesday at 2 PST right here on sportsbreakthrough.com, for more off-season outlook.