With the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs underway, the remaining casualties from the opening round are taking stock. For the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, considered by some to be Cup contenders, their early exit raises questions about off-season changes.
A lack of skilled defensive depth proved the Blackhawks' undoing against the St. Louis Blues. Chicago Tribune pundits Chris Kuc and David Haugh, along with USA Today's Kevin Allen, believe addressing this issue should be GM Stan Bowman's priority this summer.
The trio agree that Bowman's limited salary-cap space for 2016-17 presents a considerable hindrance to his offseason plans. The Blackhawks currently have almost $67 million tied up in 17 players. Assuming a cap ceiling of $74 million, that leaves around $7 million to bolster the defense, re-sign restricted free agent center Andrew Shaw and unrestricted free agent left winger Andrew Ladd.
Kuc believes Shaw's future in Chicago isn't bright, given both his RFA status and his one-game suspension for uttering a homophobic slur in Game 4 against the Blues. Haugh, however, thinks Bowman will do all he can to re-sign the 24-year-old. The reporters also have different views on which players should be shopped to bring in a defenseman. Kuc suggests Teuvo Teravainen could be in play while Haugh feels dealing center Artem Anisimov is a better option than giving up on the promising Teravainen.
Allen, along with ESPN.com's Craig Custance, believes that Bowman should shop Shaw to get an affordable asset. Allen is of the opinion Shaw could be used to bring in a defenseman. Custance thinks a team with affordable young talent (Edmonton or Buffalo) could use Shaw's gritty, energetic style of play.
All agree Bowman will once again attempt to move left winger Bryan Bickell, who spent most of this season buried in the minors. Bickell, 30, has a one year remaining on his contract at $4 million. Should trading him prove as impossible as it was last summer, Bowman could decide to buy him out.
Barring a significant salary dump by the Hawks, Ladd won't be back. He was seeking a five- or six-year deal worth around $6 million annually from the Winnipeg Jets. If that remains his asking price, he won't get it in Chicago.
For the Ducks, their loss to the Nashville Predators was a disappointing end to a roller coaster season. After bottoming out in the Western Conference standings by mid-December, they roared back after Christmas to clinch a top-four playoff berth. They overcame a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 series lead against the Predators before falling in seven games.
That bitter defeat marks the fourth consecutive season the Ducks dropped a Game 7 on home ice. GM Bob Murray resisted wholesale changes last summer and during the club's first-half struggles in the regular season. However, significant changes have already begun.
On Friday, the Ducks fired coach Bruce Boudreau.
Roster changes could also be in the offing, too. The Ducks have over $53 million invested in 15 players for 2016-17. It remains to be seen if unrestricted free agent wingers David Perron and Jamie McGinn still have a future in Anaheim. The status of restricted free agents Frederik Andersen, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri will attract considerable interest.
All but Lindholm have arbitration rights this summer. Andersen and Vatanen were frequently mentioned as possible trade candidates during the season. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes could express interest in the 26-year-old Andersen, while Vatanen could be pursued by the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
If the Tampa Bay Lightning are still shopping young left winger Jonathan Drouin, Custance suggests he'd make an affordable addition alongside Ducks superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He also advocates trading Andersen, especially if there's an expansion draft next year, and re-signing Lindholm to a long-term extension.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.