With the Stanley Cup final on the verge of wrapping up, the attention of most NHL fans will shift to the off-season, if it hasn’t already. Which storylines will dominate the summer? That’s the focus of this week’s THN.com Top 10:
10. Life Without Lidstrom In Detroit
There’s no way the Red Wings can replace everything surefire Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom brought to the organization, but Detroit GM Ken Holland has more than $26 million in available salary cap space with which to work – and if he can snag Predators unrestricted defenseman Ryan Suter and/or Devils winger Zach Parise, the pain of losing Lidstrom won’t be nearly so acute.
9. Teams At A Crossroads
For different reasons, the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks have major decisions to make this off-season regarding their blueprints for success. San Jose suffered another playoff disappointment and questions will linger whether longtime GM Doug Wilson should look at trading someone like longtime veteran Patrick Marleau. Meanwhile, the Flames failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season, giving fans and media more ammunition to suggest their core should be blown up and veteran stars Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff moved for draft picks and prospects. The presence of new coach Bob Hartley suggests Calgary management is doubling down for another run with this group – and if that’s the case, it will be interesting to see what additional pieces GM Jay Feaster acquires to help out and whether it hamstrings their future.
8. New Coaches For The Oilers and Capitals
Expectations of what it means to contend differ in Washington and Edmonton, but there is a huge push in both cities for significant improvement over disappointing 2011-12 campaigns. So whether it’s Brent Sutter who gets the Oilers job and is expected to get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, or Marc Crawford who is chosen to push the Caps into the upper tier of bona fide Cup contenders, there’s no doubt the guys who do get the jobs will be under extraordinary pressure to produce right away.
7. The Last Of The Old Generation Decides Their Future
We’ve already seen Lidstrom hang up his skates, but he could be joined in retirement by fellow longtime stars Martin Brodeur, Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Alfredsson. Jagr and Brodeur already have hinted at continuing to play, but Alfredsson and Selanne have kept their cards close to the vest.
6. Teams In Financial Trouble
It seems almost every off-season now features some element of monetary doom-and-gloom affecting one or two franchises and this year is no different. Although there has been recent news of a deal to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, we’ve heard that before and shouldn’t put too much stock in it until all the contractual paperwork is completed. The New Jersey Devils almost certainly will declare bankruptcy this summer, a move that could affect their ability to re-sign Parise. And the New York Islanders continue to look for a solution to their crumbling arena.
5. Rick Nash’s New Home
It is widely known the Blue Jackets will be trading their captain and franchise cornerstone in the next couple months. But there still isn’t a frontrunner to meet the trade demands Columbus GM Scott Howson has. Will the Rangers step up (especially now that star winger Marian Gaborik is out of the lineup until December)? Could Leafs GM Brian Burke put together a package that doesn’t drain Toronto of its young players and prospects? Might the L.A. Kings jump in and add another big piece to their already-formidable puzzle? Nobody knows – and that’s the fun of following this situation.
4. Will The Oilers Trade The Top Pick?
Edmonton has built up a strong collection of young stars and have the chance to add another all-world talent when they go to Pittsburgh for the NHL Entry Draft and select first overall. But there’s no guarantee they’ll do that – they could trade down a couple spots while adding veteran help – or even that they’ll select consensus No. 1 prospect Nail Yakupov. For that reason, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will be one of the most watched hockey people around this summer.
3. Star Goalie Sagas
It was only one year ago that Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas were starring in the Stanley Cup final and looked like locks to remain with the Canucks and Bruins for a while. But times have changed quickly for both men: Luongo wants out of Vancouver after the Nucks ostensibly chose understudy Cory Schneider, while Thomas has announced he will sit out the 2012-13 campaign (a decision that could be just a strategy to decide which team Boston trades him to). Given that there are few veteran options for teams in need of a netminder, many will be watching to see (a) where they wind up; and (b) what return they bring.
2. The Free Agency Frenzy
As always, there will be a mad rush on July 1 as teams jockey to acquire the top talents available for nothing other than a new contract. Parise and Suter will be the top prizes this season, but there will be another wrinkle added with a new collective bargaining agreement needing to be negotiated. To that end, many want to see whether GMs and teams push hard to sign players to short-term contracts, or whether they throw money around with as little regard as they usually have for long-term repercussions.
1. Looming Labor War
Like it or not, the business of the NHL will overshadow most off-season news. And while there’s no sense of full-on collective bargaining Armageddon as there was in 2004-05, there’s also no confidence the 2012-13 season will begin on time. In any case, get used to hearing the names of Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr a lot more in the coming weeks and months.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.