With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, we’re now less than 10 days away from the start of NHL training camps. While most teams and players know what to expect heading into that annual pruning process, there are several questions still waiting to be answered. Here’s our stab at predicting what will, and won’t, happen during the next 10 days.
1. Patrick Kane's fate will go down to the wire.
The grand jury proceedings that were scheduled to begin today (9/8) in the rape case against the Blackhawks superstar were suddenly postponed, leading to speculation that a settlement is being negotiated. We could know in a matter of days whether he will or won’t face criminal charges. Or, if the grand jury proceeds, it could be weeks before a decision is reached. The process isn’t predictable. It takes as long as it takes.
That carefully measured approach is appropriate for seeing that justice is done, but it could put the NHL and the Hawks in the tough spot of having to make a call on Kane’s status ahead of the start of training camp on Sept. 18. Brandon Faber, the Blackhawks’ senior communications and community relations director, told The Buffalo News on Friday that the team couldn’t yet answer whether Kane will be on hand when camp opens. Given what’s at stake, it makes sense for all parties to wait until the absolute last minute to ensure that the best and most current information can be factored into the decision.
But if the grand jury process is still ongoing, or if a settlement is negotiated out of court, then there’s only one way this can go. And it will involve Kane missing time this season.
2. Cody Franson will sign a new deal ... eventually.
Back on July 1, it would have seemed unimaginable that a right-shooting defenseman who is capable of working the power play would still be available after Labor Day. But Franson (or more likely, his agent) overestimated the market, leaving him without a deal just days away from the start of training camp.
He’ll eventually find a fit, but as one agent told SI.com last week, “Franson has lost all bargaining power at this point. He signs now, he probably settles for a one-year deal. If he waits it out ... a team might realize that their defense isn’t as sound as they hoped and maybe they’re more inclined to give him a deal he can be happy with.”
So unless a team like Buffalo or Boston comes calling with a multi-year offer during the next few days, Franson is most likely to be airlifted in as reinforcement after camp begins.
UPDATE: Franson has signed a two-year deal worth a reported $6.6 million with the Buffalo Sabres, who will likely slot him into their top four along with Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Josh Gorges.
3. The Blackhawks will find a way to re-sign Marcus Kruger.
It’s pretty clear at this point that the veteran forward wants to remain a part of the Blackhawks organization and, given his value to the team—he led Chicago’s forwards in penalty-kill ice time last season—and their issues at center ice, they’d like him to return.
The hold-up is the lack of cap space. The Hawks have about $231,000 worth of wiggle room, which won’t get the job done. It’s possible that a Kane suspension could clear the necessary space, although that could be a very temporary solution. It’s also possible that the team could simply re-sign Kruger now and deal with the cap problem via a trade sometime between now and opening night (Oct. 7) when they must be in compliance.
UPDATE: And that's exactly what happened on Sept. 11 when the Hawks shipped Kris Versteeg, forward Joakim Nordstrom, and a 2017 third round pick to Carolina for defensemen Dennis Robertson and Jake Massie plus a 2017 fifth-rounder. The Hawks got limited value in return for a pair of NHL players, but the move freed up $2.4 million in cap space, allowing Chicago to hand Kruger a one-year deal, the terms of which were not immediately released. They'll be in a better position to offer the 25-year-old penalty-kill ace a longer extension next summer.
4. The World Cup announcement will be intriguing.
A press conference set for Toronto on Wednesday afternoon should reveal a number of key elements for the best-on-best tournament that will be played next September. Among them: the management and coaching staffs for the Euro-Stars and the U-23 team, the birthday cut-off for the U-23 side, sponsors, and the schedule. We might also see a jersey reveal. Should be interesting.
UPDATE: We got plenty of details, including roster rules, management staffs and one coaching announcement. Now the league and PA just have to convinced all those non-aligned Euros that this event is worth their time. No jerseys, though.
5. The Panthers will re-sign Jonathan Huberdeau.
Look for news to break of an extension for the 2013 Calder Trophy winner at any time. It’s been reported that the two sides have already agreed on term for the new deal. The sticking point now is dollars. So, what to expect? The Panthers went the long-term route with Nick Bjugstad on his deal in 2014, signing him to a six-year extension that kicks in this season with a very team-friendly $4.1 million cap hit. It’s a safe bet the Panthers are looking for something similar for Huberdeau, but the betting here is that he doesn’t want to limit his earning potential down the road. Look for a bridge-type deal in the $3 million range that will set him up for a bigger score in the not too distant future.
6. The Islanders will re-sign Brock Nelson.
These negotiations have become the summer’s ultimate game of chicken. Either Nelson, a restricted free agent, signs with the Isles before a team-imposed deadline of Sept. 16, or an organizational policy will kick in that will force him to sit out the 2015-16 season.
That seems like an unlikely result given how important Nelson is to the team’s offensive depth. The 23-year-old chipped in a career-best 20 goals last season, third-most on the Isles. Shunning a player who can make a contribution like that not only hurts the team’s potential, it could damage chemistry in the room as well.
There’s reportedly been an offer on the table from the team for several weeks now, which suggests that they’re looking to get something done. As the clock winds down, look for the Isles to move a bit closer to the middle ground that will get this deal locked up.
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