Hours after signing Norris Trophy finalist defenseman Cale Makar to a long-term contract, Joe Sakic still is not sure the Colorado Avalanche will be able to bring back captain Gabriel Landeskog and starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
“I don’t know,” Colorado’s general manager said. “We’re hopeful we can come to terms, as well, and have them signed and to be part of us.”
Now that the NHL draft is over, the Avalanche situation is one of many with more questions than answers with free agency looming. The spotlight is also bright on the Carolina Hurricanes in their talks with defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Washington Capitals finalizing a deal with captain Alex Ovechkin and Stanley Cup champion Blake Coleman’s landing spot because he likely won’t return to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Many of these situations need to be resolved one way or the other before free agency opens Wednesday.
“If free agency starts and we know we need a defenseman, we can’t be patient and wait for Dougie to make a decision,” Carolina GM Don Waddell said Wednesday. “We want Dougie back, and we’re hoping we can do that this week.”
Hamilton would be among the most coveted free agents, along with Landeskog and Grubauer. He’s a 28-year-old right-shooting defenseman who can produce offensively, so of course the Hurricanes would rather sign him than let him walk for nothing.
“Our still No. 1 objective is to get him signed — that hasn’t changed at all,” Waddell said. “We’ve let Dougie know. We’ve been very open about what we think the value is and his value might be higher someplace else. But we’re talking about a team that’s trying to win a championship.”
So is Colorado, and Sakic acknowledged the roster last season is the deepest during this Cup-contending window. Makar at $9 million annually gives the Avalanche some certainty, but that’s still 11% of the salary cap and there’s only so much room to go around.
That makes the situations with Landeskog and Grubauer all the more intriguing. Landeskog has been captain since 2012 and Grubauer their No. 1 goalie the past three years and the Avalanche are built to win now.
“Obviously we want all of us back, especially Landy and Grubi,” Makar said. “They’re such key pieces to our team, and those are definitely guys that I’d love to see back and hopefully the club can work out something with them.”
The Capitals will almost certainly work something out with Ovechkin, whose $124 million, 13-year contract is expiring. General manager Brian MacLellan told reporters Saturday the team is “making progress” with the goal of getting a deal done before the market opens Wednesday.
A different question is Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was rumored to be in available in a trade. But the Capitals are not hellbent on moving him.
“He’s a good player,” MacLellan said. “We like the player. I don’t know. We’ve never said we’re trading Kuznetsov. I said we were open to discussions on most of our players on the trade market and if it comes up, it comes up and if it doesn’t make sense, same as always.”
The Lightning could try to recoup a late draft pick by trading Coleman’s rights like they did Barclay Goodrow to the Rangers, or he’ll just leave in free agency. Toronto is having that internal debate now about forward Zach Hyman, who they gave permission to talk to other teams and agreed to the framework of a contract with Edmonton.
For the Oilers to sign Hyman for eight years as a way to spread out his cap hit, it would take the Maple Leafs signing the contract and trading him. Otherwise, he could only get seven years — at a higher cap hit — if he signs with Edmonton on Wednesday, and Toronto wants a real asset to facilitate it.
“There’s a big benefit to me of adding the eighth year on in terms of the cap savings to the team that’s going to sign him,” GM Kyle Dubas said. I know that there’s a narrative that we should just get something, but when you’re saving a team significant dollars on the salary cap that comes with a cost and we’re not going to bend on that.”