Five storylines to keep an eye on this 2016 offseason that could impact the upcoming season.
And now, we enter the doldrums of the NHL off-season, where activity grinds to a near halt. There'll be a steady trickle of low-level restricted free agent signings (hey, the Hurricanes inked Brody Sutter and Keegan Lowe!) and the occasional entry-level deal, but for the most part we're left to count down the days until the start of training camps.
While nothing's on the front burner, there are several situations that could develop quickly. And if they do, they could have a dramatic effect on the 2016-17 season. Here are five that we're monitoring for developments.
Jamie Benn contract extension
Benn, the 2015 Art Ross winner and a finalist for the Hart in 2016, has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $5.25 million. The next deal, which he's eligible to negotiate now, will pay him a whole lot more.
The question is, what kind of deal does he want?
It's all but certain that Benn will re-up with the Stars rather than pursue free agency next July 1. At 26, he wears the C for a club that is well managed, financially stable and has the talent in place to contend for the next decade. It's an ideal situation.
Based on his achievements, he could command a deal similar to the eight-year, $84 million contracts given to the Chicago duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But to ensure that general manager Jim Nill has some flexibility to nurture the Stars from contenders to champions, Benn will almost certainly be asked to take a hometown discount.
Nill will look to sell him on an extension similar to the one Steven Stamkos just signed in Tampa. That deal offers the player the security of an eight-year guarantee, but buys the team some breathing room by limiting the AAV to around $8.5 million.
Seems reasonable, but will Benn bite?
Brent Burns contract extension
There's no denying the importance of Burns to San Jose's success. He's coming off one of the finest campaigns in franchise history, one that saw him set a team record for most points by a defender in a single season and finish as a finalist for the Norris Trophy. He's a rare talent and keeping him on board is imperative. But unlike the situation in Dallas, the Sharks can't simply open the vault and invite him to help himself.
Burns will turn 32 in March. History suggests he might be able to maintain this pace for another couple years, but time will take a toll before this deal is up. The trick then is to find a balance between rewarding him and ensuring he's not a drain in the long run.
From San Jose's perspective, that might mean an offer with a higher AAV but fewer years, something along the lines of five years and $37.5 million (an AAV of $7.5 million). Burns will likely push for a similar AAV, but longer term.
There's no sense of urgency here. In fact, it's possible that an extension might not get done until after the season starts. But locking Burns up sooner should be a priority for GM Doug Wilson. He's not going to get any cheaper.
Tyson Barrie situation
Barrie is the ideal modern defenseman. He's young (24), productive (49 points), mobile and right-handed. Listening to GM Joe Sakic, you'd think the Avalanche are determined to keep him in blue and maroon for years to come. But there's a large gap between what Barrie and the Avs think he's worth, and that could lead to a trade.
The team and the RFA couldn't come to terms on a new deal, leading Barrie to file for arbitration. If it gets to that point, the Avs might have to deal with an award that's outside their comfort zone. Colorado needs defense as much as any team in the league, so they'll push to find common ground before it gets to a third-party. But if it's not there, Barrie could be on the move.
Edmonton is seen as the most likely trade partner. They need an offensive-minded, top-pairing defender who can boost their power play and they have some compelling bait in the water (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, for example). The Bruins would also be in on the bidding.
Barrie's case is set to be heard on July 29. A resolution—either a new contract or a trade—is likely to come before then.
Anaheim's defense glut
Talk about 1% problems: Once the Ducks get top defender Hampus Lindholm signed, they'll have nine NHL blueliners under contract. They also have two excellent prospects, Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour, pushing for playing time. Blessed with an abundant supply, and facing clear demand, they're expected to shop at least one of their veterans in an effort to acquire a top-six left wing and enhance their offense.
Cam Fowler is the favorite to move on. The 24-year-old is a Olympian and an All-Star, but his style makes him redundant in Anaheim. Again, Boston and Edmonton will come knocking, but the favorite might be Buffalo. The Sabres could dangle Evander Kane, a skilled, speedy winger with the ability to score 25-30 goals—a perfect fit if he can get his off-ice issues under control.
The rights to the reigning Hobey Baker winner were acquired last month by the Sabres, but it appears that calculated risk won't pay off...at least not yet. Vesey appears determined to explore all his options when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15. At that point, he's likely to decide between Toronto (where his father is a scout), Boston (where he played his college hockey), Buffalo (where his good buddy Jack Eichel skates) and Chicago and Dallas (where he'd be in immediate contention for a Stanley Cup).
The smart money says Vesey lands in Boston or Toronto. Whoever he signs with gains a young, bargain-priced forward (he'll sign at the entry-level max of $925,000) who could step immediately into their top six and make an offensive impact. There might not be a more effective signing made all summer.