There hasn’t been any action on the ice in more than two weeks, but the NHL has not slowed down in the offseason.
With free agency set to open at noon ET on July 1, there has already been quite a bit of movement throughout the league as teams set themselves up to make some major signings. The top free agents have been chatting with possible suitors all week and it shouldn’t take long for the biggest pieces to fall into place on Monday afternoon. Both in the short term and in a broader sense, there are questions each team needs to address before the first puck drops in October.
So before the free agency frenzy has its annual takeover of Canada Day, here’s one major question each team will need to answer this offseason:
Anaheim Ducks: How do the Ducks improve their scoring?
Anaheim has locked up Ryan Miller for another year, and has another great goalie in John Gibson and in front of those two is a moderate defensive corps. But beyond that, the Ducks need to figure out how to score. Their 2.39 goals per game average last season was dead last. After buying out Corey Perry’s contract, Bob Murray has a bit of cap space to invest in some young, prolific scorers that can usher in a new generation for this transitional crew.
Arizona Coyotes: Could Darcy Kuemper be the new starting goalie?
The Coyotes also need some scoring help (they didn’t have a single 20-goal scorer last season). And they certainly landed that Saturday night in a blockbuster trade with the Penguins that brings Phil Kessel to the desert. But one of the more interesting questions for this team is who will lead them in net. Arizona had a pretty fun and surprising end to the season, suddenly battling for a playoff spot until the very end, and a lot of that was because of goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who filled in for an injured Antti Raanta. Now Rick Tocchet needs to decide if Kuemper proved his worth enough to get the starting nod at the beginning of next season.
Boston Bruins: Will they keep Marcus Johansson?
Don Sweeney won General Manager of the Year for several reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was for his deadline pickups in Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle, who both proved rather valuable in the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Coyle still has another season left on his contract, but Johansson will be a UFA this summer. Sweeney must now decide if MoJo’s impressive postseason performance is worth shelling out some decent money for (he’s coming off a three-year, $13.75 million contract), or if he should prioritize locking up some of the younger guys (Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen).
Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner finally got paid, now what?
Things were looking great for the Sabres when they put together an incredible winning streak last season, but that resulted in literally nothing by the end of the year. Skinner is locked up for eight years, but Buffalo needs to bolster up its offense more if it wants to find consistent wins and truly contend. New coach Ralph Krueger is a start, but the Sabres haven’t been in the playoffs since 2011 and they need to do more to ensure next season is more prolific. There are plenty of depth scorers on the market (Johansson, Anders Lee, Brett Connolly, etc.) they should be targeting.
Calgary Flames: Who will take the reins in net?
The Flames’ disappointing postseason performances leaves a few lingering questions, but a priority in the offseason will be deciding on what to do with the goaltenders. Mike Smith will be a UFA and though he was their starter at the beginning of last season, he’s 37 years old and wouldn’t be much of a long-term investment. David Rittich, who is an RFA, came in pretty clutch last season to step in when Smith went through a shaky period. Smith has been linked to talks with the Oilers, but so has Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek...
Carolina Hurricanes: Will either piece of the goalie tandem return?
The Hurricanes have some questions in net as well. Mrazek gave them the ol’ Mrazzle Dazzle down the stretch, but an injury in the postseason gave Curtis McElhinney a chance to remind everyone how Rod Brind’Amour had such a great tandem on his hands. Both goaltenders are set to become UFAs and the Hurricanes have a bit of cap space available, but it sounds like they are shopping around before free agency. “It has been daily conversations with Mrazek and not so much with Curtis,” general manager Don Waddell said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Chicago Blackhawks: How aggressive will they be in free agency?
The Jonathan Toews–Patrick Kane duo provides enough optimism to never truly escape from the win-now mentality. That’s part of the problem: Saddled to the past by Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith’s contracts, the Blackhawks are stuck in franchise purgatory and haven’t won a playoff series since 2015. Chicago has a burgeoning crop of young talent—heralded by Alex DeBrincat—and has to eventually pay them, too. Stan Bowman & Co. might decide to make a splash and capitalize on the team’s small window, but at what cost? DeBrincat needs an extension and the Blackhawks don’t have long-term cap flexibility.
Colorado Avalanche: How do the Avs boost scoring depth?
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog ranked as the NHL’s third-most productive line last season (via Left Wing Lock) and almost willed the Avalanche into the Western Conference finals. There’s not a ton of offensive firepower elsewhere and Colorado remains top heavy. Enter Andre Burakovsky. A pending RFA, the winger was traded to the Avalanche on Friday in a move that certainly boosts Colorado’s offense. GM Joe Sakic will walk into free agency with more than $27 million in cap space and a ton of options to add even more. He could still go for the big splash possibility in Artemi Panarin, the responsible choice in Anders Lee or the fantasy scenario of going after RFA’s Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. With Cale Makar’s arrival on a deep blueline and MacKinnon’s ridiculously low cap number, no team is in a better position forfeit the draft capital necessary to acquire a high-priced restricted free agent.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Who stays and who goes?
The Blue Jackets decided to go all-in at the trade deadline and it made for some pretty exciting stuff (see: sweeping the Lighting in the first round and watching everyone light their brackets on fire). But now that the short-term period is over, Columbus is left with seeing if anyone actually sticks around. Deadline pickups Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel are both UFAs, as are stars Sergei Bobrovsky and Panarin, who have both been rumored to go to several different places, possibly even together. It’s impossible that all of these guys will stay so now Jarmo Kekäläinen must wait to see who’s left to re-sign and figure out how to fill the voids these players will leave.
Dallas Stars: Is Mats Zuccarello sticking around?
Speaking of top-heavy teams, the Stars were both overloaded and goal deprived in the regular season. Zuccarello became the answer to Dallas’s scoring woes with a combination of crafty playmaking and feisty forechecking. It’s a perfect fit, but Zuccarello is hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time with what’s likely his last chance at a lucrative contract. And, the conditional third-round pick the Stars sent to the Rangers for Zuccarello turns into a first-round pick if he re-signs. There’s mutual interest but no clear signal for what’s to come. It seems the Stars will have their eyes set on landing Joe Pavelski from instead.
Detroit Red Wings: What will Steve Yzerman do?
Back in Detroit, Yzerman has the keys to the team that Ken Holland built. Yzerman made his first mark on the rebuild at the draft, selecting German defenseman Moritz Seider earlier than anyone anticipated. The undertaking is similar to his time in Tampa Bay: Find the pieces to supplement the team’s core. Yzerman is stocked with nine picks in the first three rounds of the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Bonfide No. 1 center Dylan Larkin headlines a forward group flush with talent, including Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. The defense, though, is shaky at best and needs some attention.
Edmonton Oilers: Can Ken Holland right this ship?
Edmonton looked liked it took a step forward when it made it to the second round two years ago, but the franchise has tumbled back into mediocrity ever since. Surrounded by a lackluster supporting cast, the Oilers have three diamonds in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The task is to fill in the gaps and holes around them. Holland comes to his first year in Edmonton with a championship pedigree and little cap maneuverability, and this offseason presents the first chance to get back to where the team was two years ago.
Florida Panthers: Will Bobrovsky and Panarin actually both end up in Florida?
Here’s enough to keep Panthers fans dreaming: Panarin owns a condo in Miami, reportedly loves the beach (who doesn’t?) and could have a reunion with Joel Quenneville, who originated the Breadman nickname. Panthers owner Vinnie Viola authorized GM Dave Tallon to spend to the salary cap, and that was before Roberto Luongo’s retirement gave Florida $23 million in cap space. Now, with a need in net and room to wrangle the market’s top two free agents, there are enough incentives to make it work. Acquiring both would instantly vault Florida into the playoff conversation—a move that aligns with Quenneville’s hiring.
Los Angeles Kings: What to do with Jonathan Quick?
Returning from a torn meniscus, Quick finished the season a sub-.900 save percentage for the first time as a starter and had the worst year of his career. The Kings have few options for the 33-year-old goaltender, who carries a $5.8 million cap hit through 2023. A buyout provides minimal cap relief and there’s no market for an aging, expensive goalie. L.A. is stuck in a weird spot—not quite rebuilding but not quite contending—and lessening Quick’s workload should benefit everyone involved.
Minnesota Wild: Will they go through with a big trade?
Minnesota had a couple of head-scratching moves last season—seeing off Nino Neiderreiter, followed by trading away Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund—and its kind of unclear what direction it might be heading in. Whatever it is, the Wild need to find a scorer or two after being the fifth-worst offensive team last season. It seems as though Jason Zucker will be traded this summer, who should offer a decent return for this team.
Montreal Canadiens: Will the Canadiens stock up on defense?
The Habs spent all of last season quietly in the middle of the pack, and the same goes for the summer. Carey Price isn’t getting any younger and strengthening the defense around him wouldn’t be a bad idea. They could easily go for a decent defenseman (Jake Gardiner comes to mind), but going after a top-six scorer isn’t a terrible idea either.
Nashville Predators: Who will they go for after trading P.K. Subban?
For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, the Predators offense was inexplicably hopeless. Nashville had the second-worst power play (12.9%) in the last 13 years and doubled down in the postseason, scoring zero extra-strength goals in its first-round exit. Shedding Subban’s $9 million cap hit generates more than enough space to fix that in free agency. Priority No. 1: Duchene. Duchene is one of the league’s best shooters, brings consistent production on offense and adds a scoring punch to the power play. Pavelski isn’t a bad backup option.
New Jersey Devils: Will Taylor Hall finally sign an extension?
With Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban in tow, the Devils are suddenly a fearsome team in the formidable Metro Division. Now it leaves many wondering if this is enough for Hall to commit to the team long-term. The 27-year-old winger will be entering the final year on his contract and the Devils would like to see him stick around past that. Hall told NHL.com that New Jersey’s additions are exciting and important, but he’s still focused on getting a championship and he’s won just a single playoff game in his nine seasons in the NHL. "...I only have so many years left in this League and so many chances to win a Stanley Cup, it hasn't even come close yet. So I want to make up for lost time but kind of want to be smart with everything that is going on."
New York Islanders: Will Anders Lee come back?
John Tavares’s departure spawned vitriol all over Long Island when he left for his childhood team. Understandably so. But for the second consecutive offseason, the Islanders are in danger of losing their captain to free agency. Contract negotiations between Lee and GM Lou Lamoriello hit an impasse after the team had already taken care of Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson. Lehner still needs a contract, too, and the Islanders have been linked to Panarin and are in the offer sheet conversation. Lee has expressed his interest to remain with the team, but he’ll have no shortage of suitors if he looks to go elsewhere.
New York Rangers: How much longer will the rebuild take?
The Rangers’ Russian Revolution kicked off with signing top prospects Igor Shestyorkin, Yegor Rykov and Vitaly Kravstov (the second coming of Alexei Kovalev, if reports from developmental camp are to be believed). What better way to culminate the influx of talent than by adding Panarin? Jeff Gorton has created one of the deepest prospect pools in the league, bolstered by Kaapo Kakko, and in a short timespan. Making a big splash would trim a year or two off the rebuild. With or without Panarin, the Rangers aren’t far from playoff relevancy.
Ottawa Senators: How much salary will the Sens take on?
GM Pierre Dorion will still have to spend at least $15 million to hit the cap floor, and that’s after potential new deals with Colin White and Cody Ceci. Ottawa has time and room under the cap—which should put them in a position to take on bad contracts for assets—but Eugene Melnyk is allergic to committing money to his team. Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Erik Brannstrom will lead Ottawa’s youth movement next year and adding a couple veterans couldn’t hurt. Jason Spezza, anyone?
Philadelphia Flyers: How bold can they go in free agency?
A few weeks ago it looked like the Flyers could be a team aiming for a big name once July 1 rolled around. But after signing Kevin Hayes, acquiring Matt Niskanen, trading for Justin Braun and signing Brian Elliott, the extra cap space has quickly disappeared. Chuck Fletcher still has a bit to work with, but with a handful of pending RFAs still to sign, there likely won’t be any monster moves like many originally thought could happen in Philly this offseason. But what we truly want to know: What is Gritty cooking up for his sophomore season?