Category Archives: Previews

2018 Offseason Preview: Washington Capitals

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams concludes with the Washington Capitals and their outlook for the summer– headaches, lots of headaches and not the salary cap related kind.

Washington Capitals Logo

It only took 13 NHL seasons, but Alex Ovechkin is finally a Stanley Cup champion– and once you’re a Stanley Cup champion, you’re a Stanley Cup champion. No more “annual Second Round exit” jokes, no more counting the number of seasons or games until Ovechkin finally wins the Cup.

Instead, we’re left counting the number of beers all of the Capitals can consume in one offseason– and that’s from winning, not being eliminated this time around.

Kidding aside, Barry Trotz led the Caps to a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season. That was good enough for 1st in the Metropolitan Division in a season when most thought they’d never be as competitive as years past.

This team wasn’t “supposed” to win the Cup. But they did.

Now, Trotz’s two-year extension clause that would’ve kicked in having won the Cup led Trotz to resign as head coach, leaving General Manager Brian MacLellan searching for the next best coach available to step in behind the bench.

Trotz has every right to test the waters of free agency like players can and coaches salaries have risen for top-notch talent (Claude Julien makes $5.000 million a year– guaranteed, while Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville both make at least $6.000 million a year).

He’s the first head coach to not return to his team after winning the Cup since Scotty Bowman retired after winning with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and Mike Keenan left the New York Rangers after winning in 1994 to take the job as head coach of the St. Louis Blues.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Washington has the 31st overall pick in Friday’s draft thanks to winning the Cup.

They’ll either a) keep the pick and use it on a player inside the first or second round rankings, then overcook said prospect until he is ripe for an NHL debut or b) trade the pick for some assets (more picks in lower rounds or replenish some holes on the roster within the tight cap space that they have.

Pending free agents

The Capitals currently have about $11.200 million free in available money to spend this summer. There’s good news and bad news that comes with that.

Good news, Washington will keep some of their glue guys. Bad news, John Carlson is for sure gone because he can make bank (probably around $9.000 million per year) with his next contract elsewhere and MacLellan’s going to trade backup goaltender and pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer.

This begs the obvious question, can the Capitals go back-to-back?

Yes and no.

Trotz plays a huge role in the postseason run that Washington had. The buy-in, the chemistry in the lineups and the changing strategies that got them further than they had ever gone under Trotz’s tenure– all of that comes under a combo of Trotz and the roster MacLellan built (okay, tweaked, since most of the Capitals were drafted by George McPhee anyway).

And no, because Washington’s run might just be one of those one-off acts where a team slays the competition in the playoffs, then stays competitive in the first or second round(s) for another year or two before returning to Earth.

MacLellan has two pending-UFAs to consider re-signing in Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle.

Chiasson, 27, had nine goals and nine assists (18 points) in 61 games in his first season in Washington. He’s been around the league (Dallas, Ottawa, Calgary and D.C.) and likely will find a new address for 2018-19.

Beagle, 32, had 7-15–22 totals in 79 games played this season. Compared to Chiasson, that’s not that much better in 18 additional games. Beagle’s been part of the bottom-six soul of Washington’s forwards, but in an increasingly younger and faster game, he may be outpaced and outdone by the salary cap for the Capitals to retain his services.

Pending-RFAs Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson and Travis Boyd should all see expanded roles if they stick around.

Smith-Pelly, 26, had seven goals in 75 games in the regular season. He had seven goals in 24 gams this postseason. There’s no greater time than now for Smith-Pelly to cash in as one of the most important glue guys to any roster and given Washington’s cash strapped outlook, only time will tell if he’s rocking the red next season.

Wilson, 24, has his antics, reputation and scoring ability? The controversial forward and 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft had his best season in 2017-18 notching career-highs in goals (14), assists (21) and points (35). Washington’s going to want to lock him up if they can, while Wilson may opt for a bridge deal to drive up his value with another productive season or two.

Boyd, 24, hasn’t had a fair shake at the NHL level, having finally reached the Capitals roster in eight games (one assist) this season. He’ll be a low-cost, potentially high-reward (though anything more than one assist is automatically more rewarding) extension if a deal gets done.

28-year-old pending-UFA defender, John Carlson, will be the hottest blueliner on the market and unless MacLellan dumps some salary in a trade, Carlson won’t be back in the U.S. capital.

Michal Kempny, 27, on the other hand, has the chance to become more than a rental player, proving his worth over the course of 22 games in the regular season with Washington after being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks and 24 games in the postseason. He’s a top-6 defenseman that can play top-4 minutes, but like everything in Washington, only time will tell.

Given when this post runs, maybe some of these guys will have signed their name on the dotted line to stick around?

In a lesser sense, near-trade deadline acquisition, Jakub Jerabek, 27, could become more important this season if he’s re-signed as a top-6 guy to fill in behind Kempny, as Kempny fills in for Carlson (assuming both Jerabek and Kempny re-sign).

Madison Bowey, 23, is the only pending-RFA defender for the Capitals.

Star-goaltender, Braden Holtby, 28, has two-years remaining with a $6.100 million cap hit on his current contract and is Washington’s surefire starter for at least another seven years (probably).

Pheonix Copley, 26, likely will inherit the backup role with one-year remaining on his current contract ($650,000 cap hit) as MacLellan finds a trading partner to send 26-year-old backup turned probable starter (and pending-RFA) for a team in need of a goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.

While the Caps have to make the move for salary reasons, there’s a big potential to nail the perfect return.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Wayne Simpson (UFA), Adam Carlson (RFA), Adam Chapie (RFA), Tim McGauley (RFA), Zach Sill (UFA), Liam O’Brien (RFA), Riley Barber (RFA), Tyler Graovac (UFA), Anthony Peluso (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Vegas Golden Knights

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Vegas Golden Knights and their outlook for the summer.

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After shattering record after record set by previous expansion teams in their inaugural seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights compiled a 51-24-7 record and 109 points on the season in 2017-18. It was not only good enough for a playoff berth, but good enough for 1st place in the Pacific Division.

Head coach Gerard Gallant got the most out of General Manager George McPhee‘s roster, which was mostly built on trades and a mix of 2017 Expansion Draft claims, bringing the Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– in their first season. First postseason. First Western Conference championship. First everything.

Well, almost everything (except the Cup, which I hear Alex Ovechkin is, yep, still attached to it).

Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith dominated the first line, while William Karlsson emerged from the shadows of the Columbus Blue Jackets into the limelight as one of the league’s top goal scorers.

He’s also a pending-RFA this summer.

But Vegas doesn’t have to worry about whatever anyone else thinks of them. They’ve already smashed through all the walls that others thought would surely contain them back Earth, yet here they are– with almost $26.500 million to spend this summer.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

McPhee’s Golden Knights do not have a first round pick in the 2018 Draft currently as Vegas packaged a 2018 first round pick, 2019 second round pick and 2021 third round pick at the trade deadline in exchange for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.

Tatar signed a four-year extension with Detroit last offseason and is on Vegas’s books through 2020-21 at a whopping $5.300 million cap hit. I say whopping, because that’s the most expensive cap hit on the roster currently.

Pending free agents

With almost $26.500 million to work with this offseason and some big-time renewals to hand out, McPhee’s work isn’t cut out for him, but the Golden Knights look good heading into 2018-19.

Sure, maybe they won’t get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, but…

Who am I kidding? They’ve defied all logic and we’ll never see an expansion team as good as this one in their inaugural season again. No, not because of any pending changes to future expansion drafts (I’m talking post-Seattle here).

James Neal, Mikhail Grabovski, David Perron and Ryan Reaves are all pending-UFAs for Vegas.

Neal, 30, was an alternate captain this season and 25-19–44 totals in 71 games as a clutch goal-scorer and early face of the franchise. He’ll get top-dollar on the market if he doesn’t re-sign and is the only priority pending-UFA for McPhee to consider bringing back.

Grabovski, 34, is likely to never play in the NHL again, since missing the entire 2016-17 season with ongoing concussion issues.

Perron, 30, was another alternate captain on Vegas’s squad and had 16-50–66 totals in 70 games. His point production was up 20 from last season to this season and he could have some staying power as a playmaker or he could test the waters.

McPhee isn’t rushing to re-sign Neal or Perron because the future’s looking pretty bright with the Golden Knights core, plus the tremendous cap space available that could make Vegas a dark horse for John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk or a landing spot for an Erik Karlsson trade.

Reaves, 31, was acquired in a three-team trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, fitting in on Vegas’s fourth line as a tough guy that scored two important goals in the postseason. He’s a cheap bottom-six forward if McPhee likes grit, otherwise there’ll be other opportunities for Reaves to seek.

Pending-RFAs, William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek and William Carrier are more important to McPhee’s immediate plan.

Karlsson, 25, is likely to receive the biggest salary on the roster, thanks, in part to his forthcoming raise, but mostly due to his scoring ability. He had 43-35–78 totals in 82 games with the Golden Knights this season and 7-8–15 totals in 20 postseason games.

Pay up.

Nosek, 25, eased into a comfortable seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 67 games this season, then added another four goals and two assists (six points) in 17 playoff games. By comparison, he’s no William Karlsson, but he is a dependable top-9 forward in his prime.

Likewise, Carrier, 23, is still young and coming into his own as a bottom-six forward that could see more time or about the same number of games this season (37) as next season. For depth purposes alone, Carrier matters a lot to the team.

28-year-old pending-UFA, Luca Sbisa, played a part in 30 regular season games and could remain as a depth defender if he stays, while 33-year-old pending-UFA, Clayton Stoner, is without a doubt searching for a new place to play.

If re-signing Karlsson and his other pending-RFAs is a pretty big deal for McPhee this summer, then so is locking up Colin Miller, 25, and Shea Theodore, 22, to viable contracts that won’t cost an arm and a leg, assuming the top-6 defenders continue to develop and capitalize on career seasons.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, has one-year left on his current deal at $5.750 million and will be looking to sign what might be his last NHL contract next summer, while backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, 24, is also entering the final year of his $650,000 per year deal.

Subban isn’t likely to overtake Fleury in the next year or two, so both goalies should be back, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, okay? It’s only 2018, not 2019.

Retained salary: Derick Brassard ($2.000 million) through 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Brandon Pirri (UFA), Chris Casto (UFA), Paul Thompson (UFA), Maxime Lagace (UFA), Jason Garrison (UFA), Teemu Pulkkinen (RFA), Oscar Dansk (RFA), and Philip Holm (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

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The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their outlook for the summer.

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General Manager Steve Yzerman added Mikhail Sergachev at the expense of Jonathan Drouin last June in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, added some veteran leadership in four-time Stanley Cup champion, Chris Kunitz, and the Tampa Bay Lightning never looked back*.

*In the regular season, that is. The fun came to a halt in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Jon Cooper out-coached the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season, leading his Lightning club to 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 113 points on the season and a 54-23-5 record.

The Bolts cruised through the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round, then lost Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round. Tampa didn’t let another game slip away, winning four straight to eliminate the Bruins and advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.

But then the Lightning caught up with the Washington Capitals and the Caps stole their thunder.

Washington won Games 1 and 2, Tampa stormed back for Games 3, 4 and 5. Braden Holtby and the Capitals settled in for Game 6 and Steven Stamkos still has yet to produce a point in a Game 7 after the Lightning were shut out 4-0 on home ice.

Just like that, one of the best teams in the NHL was eliminated.

For all of Yzerman’s magic, Tampa has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2015.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Speaking of Yzerman’s magic, the Lightning GM acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

If you thought Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins overpaid for the services of Rick Nash, well….

Miller is a pending-RFA and the numbers– barring any trades– don’t look good at the forward sticking around long-term. But let’s ignore that trade for a second and focus more on the fact that Tampa doesn’t have a first round pick in Friday’s first round of the 2018 Draft.

Only time will tell if the Bolts find a way into the top-31 picks.

In defense of Tampa and Boston, sometimes these trades work out and are the difference maker between an exciting Stanley Cup champions DVD or not and sometimes they don’t pan out at all.

Pending free agents

Yzerman and Tampa’s front office staff have about $7.210 million to spend this summer with a mixture of talent and skill levels to re-sign.

Andy Andreoff, 27, was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for backup goaltender Peter Budaj, which all but assures one of the pending free agents will be replaced heading into 2018-19.

In an evolving game where the emphasis on youth, speed and skill is more than ever before, logic indicates that 38-year-old, Chris Kunitz, will be on his way out the door, despite his 13-16–29 totals in 82 games.

For all that Kunitz did in the regular season, however, he only had one assist in 17 games this postseason.

Tampa has three pending-RFA forwards to re-sign this offseason in Adam Erne, J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.

Erne, 23, had three goals and one assist (four points) in 23 games with the Lightning this season and 6-1–7 totals in 49 career NHL games. Tampa’s 33rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has yet to see full-time status at the NHL level and shouldn’t need a raise if Yzerman is set on keeping him around as a bottom-6 forward.

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

The durable forward had a $2.750 million cap hit on his most recent contract– a two-year extension signed with the Rangers– and 23-35–58 totals in 82 games with Tampa and New York this season, setting career-highs in goals, assists and points.

He’s going to need a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, having reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and fourth season in-a-row of 40-points or more.

Unless the Lightning can convince Ryan Callahan to waive his modified no-trade-clause/no-movement-clause and dump his $5.800 million cap hit, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

Yzerman’s roster is filled with NTCs, NMCs and modified versions of the two. It’s not as bad as the Detroit Red Wings, as most players with the aforementioned clauses in Tampa have one-year remaining on their contract and, again, a modified version of a no-trade clause (in which the player lists teams he can/cannot be traded to).

Tyler Johnson, in the meantime, is only 27, has a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season and a no-trade-clause that doesn’t go into affect until July 1st.

If desperate times call for desperate measures any Johnson transaction would be a clear measure of Yzerman’s skill as a GM. The return wouldn’t be as much of a home run as Sergachev was for Drouin, but Yzerman would have to find a way to get it there.

Finally, the 24-year-old fourth line center in Cedric Paquette is due for a new deal.

Since amassing 19 points in 64 games in 2014-15 with Tampa, Paquette’s production has faltered to just five goals and four assists (nine points) in 56 games this season.

Anything more than a million dollars and longer than three years could come back to bite the Bolts, if they offer an extension.

27-year-old Andrej Sustr might have been bumped out of the Lightning’s top-6 defenders, considering he only played in 44 regular season games and appeared in zero postseason games.

Sustr’s next best deal is going to come from another team after spending the last six seasons in Tampa.

Slater Koekkoek, 24, had four goals and four assists (eight points) in 35 games with the Lightning this season, but was held out of postseason play. The pending-RFA should see another go around with the Bolts, especially if Yzerman pulls of a trade, but stranger things have happened and Koekkoek could end up looking elsewhere for employment.

In goal, the Lightning have 23-year-old starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy locked up for two more years at a $3.500 million cap hit. After that, they’re looking for one of their AHL guys to step into the backup role or searching the market.

Buyouts on the books: Matthew Carle at $1.833 million through the 2019-20 season.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Alex Gallant (RFA), Erik Condra (UFA), Jamie McBain (UFA), Louis Domingue (RFA), Matthew Peca (UFA), Mat Bodie (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Nashville Predators

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Nashville Predators and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Nashville Predators finished atop the league. At the end of the regular season, that is.

For the first time in franchise history, the Preds clinched the President’s Trophy as the NHL club with the best regular season record (53-18-11) at season’s end. Nashville’s 117 points led the Central Division and Western Conference, but ultimately were no match for the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

General Manager David Poile and head coach Peter Laviolette look to regroup and go at it again in 2018-19, but without assistant GM Paul Fenton, who took a job as Minnesota Wild’s General Manager.

Mike Fisher retired (again), Pekka Rinne was chased in multiple postseason appearances and Nashville was left without any hydration from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Poile and the Predators do not have a first round pick in Friday’s draft as a result of the Ryan Hartman trade deadline acquisition made with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a deep draft, so Poile will have to use his magic anyway and select the next elite player in the later rounds or pull off a classic one-for-one hockey trade that rivals the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade or Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. Did I mention the Filip Forsberg deal yet? The point is, Poile’s a magician, but he still hasn’t won a Cup.

Speaking of drafting in the late rounds, though, Nashville doesn’t have a second round pick this year or a sixth round pick (which the latter is more concerning given the aforementioned take above).

Pending free agents

The Predators have about $7.500 million in spending allowance this summer.

Scott Hartnell is their only pending-UFA forward and at 36-years-old, he amassed 13-11–24 totals in 62 games with the club that drafted him 6th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The year-long reunion with his first NHL club produced totals that, sure, mean something from a bottom-6 forward, but he could be replaced as he only played four postseason games (scoring precisely, zero points).

As long as Hartnell isn’t getting a raise, Poile could keep him as a depth forward or a fourth liner, but if either party doesn’t see something mutual, then for sure Hartnell will be moving on.

Poile has two pending-RFA forwards to ponder this summer in Miikka Salomaki and Hartman.

Salomaki, 25, had two goals and six assists (eight points) in 58 games this season and went on to play in eight postseason games with Nashville. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014-15, Salomaki has had 8-11–19 totals in 125 career games. Not great for a mid-twenty-something year-old winger, but he’s more in his prime than, say, Hartnell is and for cheaper too.

Hartman, 23, in his second NHL season was traded by the Blackhawks to the Predators in a bit of a surprise move at the deadline, but went on to amass 11-20–31 totals in 78 games with Nashville and Chicago.

Despite taking some foolish retaliation penalties in the postseason, Hartman’s worth having somewhere in the Preds lineup for a bridge-deal to short-term contract as long as the dollars work out.

The biggest wrench in Poile’s plans might come in the form of Alexei Emelin‘s next contract if the pending-UFA defender is to re-sign with Nashville this offseason.

The 32-year-old blueliner had one goal and eight assists (nine points) in 76 games in his first season wearing a uniform other than the Montreal Canadiens sweater. Emelin was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, then flipped to Nashville as part of a deal that solidified the Predators with the best top-6 defensive corps on paper in the NHL.

Shutdown, offensive, two-way, defensive– you name it, Nashville had it this season.

Emelin’s most recent contract carried a $4.100 million cap hit and if it’s going to be the same or even higher moving forward, Poile might be forced to let him walk with some key RFAs to re-sign for the longevity of the franchise.

One of those keys, of course, happens to be the Predators backup goaltender, Juuse Saros.

The 23-year-old is prime for taking over Pekka Rinne’s net one of these years– if the Preds can keep him around.

While others are after the Washington Capitals trying to work a deal on acquiring the rights to pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer, Saros is comfortably sitting around with his 2.44 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games played and 1.05 GAA and .952 SV% in 4 postseason appearances in this year’s playoffs.

Rinne is 35-years-old.

Shocking, I know, but even more shocking? He only has one-year left on his current deal with a $7.000 million cap hit.

Rinne posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 SV% in 59 games this season as Nashville’s starter, but faltered to a 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the torch is almost to be passed from one elite goaltender to perhaps the next best goalie in the NHL, signing Saros to a sensible bridge-deal before both parties cash in is imperative this summer.

Perhaps, even, before making any major adjustments to the team.

Buyouts on the books: Viktor Stalberg through 2018-19 at $1.167 million

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Harry Zolnierczyk (UFA), Matt O’Connor (UFA), Cody Bass (UFA), Mark McNeill (UFA), Trevor Smith (UFA), Brandon Bollig (UFA), John Ramage (UFA), Anders Lindback (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Boston Bruins

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Boston Bruins and their outlook for the summer.

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The Boston Bruins are ahead of schedule. They weren’t supposed to finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division this season according to most experts. They weren’t supposed to get 50 wins or 112 points, but the 50-20-12 record 2017-18 Bruins made it all the way to the Second Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.

Boston won Game 1.

Then it all came to a screeching halt, the Bruins lost four straight and were eliminated.

But fear not, for Bruce Cassidy‘s system is working and General Manager Don Sweeney has a plan. They weren’t supposed to be this good, this soon, but it all fits the bill of winning the Cup within Cassidy’s first three years at a time when Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen and Co. emerge as the future core behind Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara.

For the entire roster, it was just one more lesson in experience. The postseason is an entirely different animal from regular season action.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Sweeney traded away Boston’s first round pick in the 2018 Draft to the New York Rangers as part of the Ryan SpoonerRick Nash blockbuster trade prior to the deadline in February.

Since then, the Bruins GM has indicated he’d like to get in on the deep first round action if he can, amid speculation that Boston is in the running for Ilya Kovalchuk, David Backes could be traded and more.

Pending free agents

Boston has almost $7.500 million in cap space available currently with the cap ceiling expected to rise perhaps by as much as $4.000 or $5.000 million, Sweeney still cannot afford to hand out long term contracts with a lot of value willy-nilly.

He did, however, just re-sign defender Matt Grzelcyk to a cap friendly two-year, $2.800 million ($1.400 million AAV) extension late last week and no it does not mean that Torey Krug is going to be traded. Signing 2017 first round pick, Urho Vaakanainen to his maximum term, maximum value entry-level contract doesn’t mean Krug is gone either– let alone that Vaakanainen will be on the NHL roster this October.

The Finnish blueliner has to really earn a spot on the Bruins defense this fall. Otherwise things are just going as planned with Vaakanainen’s development and he’ll be fine in Providence (AHL) for a season (at most).

Pending-UFAs Brian Gionta, 39, Kenny Agostino, 26, and Paul Postma, 29, already know they won’t be back in black-and-gold next season, leaving Riley Nash, 29, Tommy Wingels, 30, Rick Nash, 34, and Tim Schaller, 27 as the only pending UFA skaters on the NHL roster (ignoring Austin Czarnik, 25, and the fact that Agostino and Postma were with the Providence Bruins before season’s end, though all three– Czarnik, Agostino and Postma– played with Boston in relief appearances).

Sweeney is in the hunt for Kovalchuk and if it comes down to it, he’ll either sign the 35-year-old scorer looking to rejoin the NHL after a five-year journey to the KHL or re-sign 34-year-old Rick Nash– provided the 34-year-old Nash is still on the market.

It’s a bit of a standoff for the services of a sniper. One that’s almost guaranteed (Kovalchuk) and the other that had a small, injured, sample size already in a Bruins uniform (Nash).

The other Nash, Riley Nash, could get a pay raise elsewhere if the numbers don’t work out in Boston and I’ve already hinted at why *shameless self plug*.

Boston needs a second line winger. Whether it’s Rick Nash or Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t matter. There’s already a youth movement going on and Mark Recchi played until he was 43 on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup champion roster.

Don’t worry about one player– who’s still contributing– getting old. Worry about entire rosters.

Outside of Boston’s core (Bergeron’s turning 33 this July), Sweeney’s roster is filled to the brim with youth.

Wingels could see another go-around on the Bruins fourth line if Sweeney deals Backes’s $6.000 million cap hit elsewhere and brings back Schaller. The latter forward (Schaller) had his best career season with 12 goals and 10 assists (22 points) in 82 games played, while Wingels contributed with grit and the occasional surprise goal on the fourth line.

What’s more important for Boston’s fourth line skaters is the return of pending-RFA, Sean Kuraly.

The 25-year-old center could play on the third line at times, despite only notching 6-8–14 totals in his first full season of NHL action (75 games). Despite his offensive shortcomings, the Bruins shouldn’t give up on Kuraly with guys like Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Trent Frederic breathing down his neck for a bottom-6 forward role on the 2018-19 squad.

Kuraly had two clutch goals in the short-lived 12-game 2018 postseason run.

Pending UFA-defender, Nick Holden, 31, is as good as gone as the rental blueliner was acquired as an insurance policy for a deep run that didn’t come to fruition.

Sweeney won’t have to do much this offseason. Find a second line winger, work on bringing some key glue guys back (if possible) and re-sign or sign a new backup goaltender.

You’ll notice “find another top-4 defender” isn’t included in this list. A healthy Brandon Carlo shakes things up in the 2018 postseason. More experience under McAvoy’s reign or the insertion of Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril on the blueline can make a difference too.

Boston doesn’t have to rush and overpay for the services of a top-4 blueliner– unless they have John Carlson or the like in mind.

That’s right, Anton Khudobin, 32, is a pending-UFA.

While Khudobin held down the fort in October and early November, the backup goalie is not a starter. He loves Boston and the city, rightfully, loves him back for his best performance in goals against average (2.56) and save percentage (.913) in 31 games played since his 2013-14 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes (a 2.30 GAA and .926 SV% in 36 games played).

There isn’t a huge goalie market, which could do favors for Khudobin if he’s looking for a healthy pay raise, but for Sweeney and the Bruins means he might have to fork something up to retain the services of his backup or acquire a new one.

Then again, Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar have a healthy competition in the system for the backup role to starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, 31, and his $7.000 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season.

Rask posted a 2.36 GAA and .917 SV% in 54 games played this season with a 34-14-5 record. He had his third-straight 30-plus win season and was right in the sweet spot for number of games played as a starter (he was four appearances shy of matching his 58-game appearance in 2013-14 with the Bruins– the same season Boston won its 2nd President’s Trophy in franchise history).

Now, as for why the Bruins would look to move Backes (I’m sure you’ve been wondering), it’s a simple game of math. Freeing up $6.000 million in cap space makes signing Kovalchuk or John Tavares more attractive, while also leaving an open door for maybe re-signing glue guys like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller.

And no, Boston won’t bring Milan Lucic back for a second stint with the organization like they did with Glen Murray years ago. Sweeney’s looking to rid the organization of a bad $6.000 million contract, not trying to add one in the form of an Edmonton Oiler’s forward who had his worst season since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and his injury shortened 50 game season in 2009-10.

Plus, Boston still has Matt Beleskey ($1.900 million, retained salary) on the books through the end of 2018-19, Dennis Seidenberg‘s $1.167 million cap hit through 2019-20 (thanks to a buyout) and Jimmy Hayes‘s $866,667 cap hit through the end of 2018-19 (another buyout) on the books.

Waiting a year to then buyout Backes’s remaining contract isn’t an option either, for the record.

It’s either find a trading partner or live with the consequences.

And no, just trading David Krejci without taking care of Backes at some point doesn’t fix things either. That’d actually hurt the team in its roster depth. Krejci is your surefire second line center (unless Tavares comes into the equation), which is not something Backes could handle at this point in his career.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Hickman (RFA), Chris Breen (UFA), Colby Cave (RFA), Tommy Cross (UFA), Austin Czarnik (UFA), and Anton Blidh (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their outlook for the summer.

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There was no competition for the remaining playoff spots in the Atlantic Division this season as only three teams were truly in contention for the top spot through divisional seedings.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning sat atop the Atlantic Division standings for about 95-percent of the season, the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins swapped 2nd and 3rd all season long until Boston started peaking in March.

Toronto finished the regular season 3rd in the Atlantic with a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season, lining up on the road for Games 1 and 2 of their First Round matchup with the Bruins.

It was the first postseason meeting between the two clubs since their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup and epic collapse in Game 7 by Toronto. Like 2013, however, the Maple Leafs won Games 5 and 6 in the series, forcing a decisive Game 7 back at TD Garden.

This time, though, the Bruins cruised in the third period to a 7-4 victory and won the series, 4-3.

Head coach, Mike Babcock, faced criticism from Toronto media and fans alike for back-to-back years of First Round exits, while Lou Lamoriello fulfilled his three years as General Manager.

Lamoriello’s seven-year contract with the club intended on keeping him in the role of GM for three years, then as a senior advisor for the final four years. Instead, Lamoriello resigned from Toronto and joined his son with the New York Islanders (and was subsequently promoted as General Manager).

Since Brendan Shanahan took a front office job with the Maple Leafs, there’s been another name prime for the GM job. Kyle Dubas.

Hired as an assistant GM as a 28-year-old, the prolific analytics-driven evaluator became General Manager of the Leafs at 32 as his Toronto Marlies (AHL) won this year’s Calder Cup championship.

The old regime is almost completely new-school in the 6ix.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Dubas and his Maple Leafs scouting crew hold onto the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft and it’s not entirely clear cut on who they’ll likely target. There’s no immediate need to fill with a teenager, the 2018 Draft is deeper than usual and Toronto could always trade the pick.

There’s no ties to a player like Erik Karlsson, but the Leafs seem prime to make some type of acquisition this summer via a trade in addition to sticking with the plan.

Pending free agents

Toronto has about $22.340 million in cap space heading into July with some big names to consider re-signing.

Tomas Plekanec, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and James van Riemsdyk are all pending-UFAs as of July 1st– with van Riemsdyk as one of the hottest players not named “John Tavares” potentially hitting the open market.

Acquired around the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, 35-year-old Tomas Plekanec is two games away from the 1,000th in his NHL career. He recorded two assists in 17 games down the stretch with the Leafs and had six goals and 20 assists (26 points) in 77 games with Toronto and Montreal this season.

Since he amassed 54 points in 2015-16, Plekanec has averaged 27 points over the last two seasons. That kind of production drop-off is to be expected at some point in the waning days of his NHL career, but still important to the depth scoring of any organization.

He brings intangibles to the locker room, like leadership and good chemistry with Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau that boosted Toronto’s playoff performance and helped extend the series with Boston to seven games.

The question is, can Dubas keep two 35-plus members on the roster, let along on the same line for another year or two (though nightly lineups are at Babcock’s discretion) and will Plekanec be allowed to regrow his goatee if he re-signs now that Lamoriello is gone?

Regardless, it’s been noted that Plekanec and his turtleneck have a desire to go back to Montreal, but if he truly wants to win a Cup before the end of his playing days…

Bozak, 32, is six games shy of his 600th career NHL game and had 11-32–43 totals in 81 games this season. One of Toronto’s more consistent point-producers, Bozak has only surpassed 20 goals once in his career (he scored 23 goals in 2014-15).

The veteran center has long been a playmaker, reaching 30-plus assists three times in his career– including the last two seasons.

He should get another look, but at what cost given some of the other big names potentially heading for the open waters of free agency from Toronto.

Komarov, 31, had 19 points this season. He’s never reached the 20 goal plateau in his career and– despite being a fan favorite and Brad Marchand‘s man-crush— he shouldn’t expect a big contract from Dubas if he wishes to extend his stay in Ontario’s capital city.

Moore, 37, resurrected his career last season with Boston, notching 11-14–25 totals in all 82 games, but the fourth line center scored just six goals in 50 games with the Maple Leafs this season.

Three games shy of 900 in his career, his 12 points on the year this season doesn’t scream “extension” in a Leafs sweater, but might find work elsewhere as a bottom-6 forward in what could be his last chance at a Cup.

van Riemsdyk, 29, reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career since being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He first scored 30 goals and 31 assists (61 points) with Toronto in 2013-14.

He had 33 assists last season and 36-18–54 totals this season.

Under Dubas, the Leafs are on their way to becoming the next Washington Capitals in prospect development. The Marlies just won the Calder Cup with a mixture of grizzled former NHLers in Colin Greening and young, developing, players that are intentionally overcooked at the AHL level for an easier transition to the NHL game.

Moving on from older pending-UFAs is bound to happen and it just might be this offseason’s plan.

In his second full season at the NHL level, pending-RFA William Nylander, 22, matched his rookie season point total (61) on the heels of 20 goals and 41 assists in 82 games this season. Sophomore year went swimmingly for the top-6 forward.

Now he’s a pending-RFA and will need a pay raise with Auston Matthews entering the final year of his entry-level deal.

It might seem easy for Toronto to crunch some numbers, keep van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Nylander and the rest of the gang together, but without a little proper planning for the future, the club could easily get themselves in some deep trouble.

32-year-old pending-UFA defender Roman Polak over came a leg injury, signed a PTO and landed a one-year renewal for his fourth season as a Maple Leaf in October. He had 4-7–11 totals in 75 games last season and improved to 2-10–12 totals in 54 games this season with Toronto. He even recorded his third career point in the playoffs (an assist).

But for the St. Louis Blues’s 160th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t seem like another year in a Leafs uniform is in the cards. Not when Travis Dermott was making waves as a potential top-6 defender next season in the playoffs and Polak was being blown past by Bruins forwards.

Connor Carrick— a 24-year-old, pending-RFA defenseman– had a career-year in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12) in 47 games this season. Why he’s not utilized more is perplexing. He was a healthy scratch for 32 games, injured for two more and did not play in the postseason.

Both Dermott and Carrick should see precedence over Polak next season– especially in today’s game and with Ron Hainsey already as an anchor veteran on the blueline at 37-years-old– but that all depends on whether Dubas makes an effort to bring Carrick back and mend whatever’s between Babcock’s viewpoint and Carrick’s play on the ice.

If the Leafs get older and more reliant on guys like Hainsey, Polak and Marleau, like they did this postseason, Babcock risks being viewed similar to Ken Hitchcock in his loss of being adaptable in an increasingly younger, faster and more skilled than ever league.

That’s not to discredit Babcock as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, but rather to point out he’s got a challenge ahead of him and his staff– and Babcock likes challenges, because he usually excels at them.

In goal, Frederik Andersen, 28, is under contract through the 2020-21 season with a $5.000 million cap hit and backup Curtis McElhinney, 35, has one-year remaining at $850,000.

There’s no need to disrupt something that’s working in net in the dynamic duo that is Andersen and McElhinney, but you can expect to see 24-year-old Garret Sparks get a few extra looks having led his team to the Calder Cup championship.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Colin Greening (UFA), Miro Aaltonen (RFA), Frederik Gauthier (RFA), Andreas Johnsson (RFA), Martin Marincin (RFA), Kyle Baun (UFA), Justin Holl (RFA), Calvin Pickard (RFA)

Of note, Toronto has $1.200 million in retained salary on the books (Phil Kessel) through the 2021-22 season.

2018 Offseason Preview: Minnesota Wild

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Minnesota Wild and their outlook for the summer.

Just like they have for previous five seasons, the Wild’s 2017-18 campaign saw them advance to the playoffs for the sixth-straight year. And, just like they have for the previous two postseasons, the Wild’s 2018 playoffs ended in the first round (in fact, Minnesota has won only one playoff game apiece for the past two seasons) for a third-straight year.

Whether you’d call it idling, treading water or stalling, the point remains the same: the Wild aren’t getting better, and any time a team isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse.

Is this a problem that can be resolved this offseason? Or will newly appointed General Manager Paul Fenton be able to duplicate his Nashville success in St. Paul?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With the 24th-overall pick in this year’s deep draft, the Wild are still in the running for landing an excellent prospect. Personally, I’m leaning towards Minnesota snagging D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads), D Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) or C Jay O’Brien (Thayer Academy), pending each player’s availability.

Of the 18-year-old defensemen, Alexeyev is the more offensive-minded of the two as his .82 points per game this season is superior to McIsaac’s .72 points per game, but both would make an already dangerous Wild blue line even more lethal.

Determining the better of the two centers is a taller task, as O’Brien is still playing with his high school team (posting 43-37-80 totals in 30 games played) while Groulx has been facing tougher competition in the QMJHL (posting 28-27-55 totals in 68 games played). However, clocking in at 6-foot, 174 pounds at only 18-years-old, O’Brien just might be worth the risk to propel Minnesota forward.

Pending free agents

With both G Devan Dubnyk and G Alex Stalock under contract for at least one more season, the only way there’s something changing here is if Fenton makes a trade – and I doubt he does it.

The Wild have three pending RFA defensemen to make decisions on, the most important of which is soon-to-be 24-year-old D Mathew Dumba. The seventh-overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Dumba’s 23:49 time on ice per game is third on his club at his position, while his .61 points per game is second among Wild defensemen with at least two games played.

Minnesota has just under $7.5 million in projected cap space for this upcoming season, but more than $2.55 million of that is going to be heading Dumba’s way (that’s the price at which he signed his last two-year contract).

Without even signing D Ryan Murphy or D Nick Seeler, the Wild would have eight NHL defenseman contracts on their books. Odds are very good that at least one Minnesota defenesman will be shipped off in some sort of trade this offseason, and that number could climb all the way to three.

How am I so confident in that prediction? The Wild also have five free agent forwards to ponder, including primary target W Jason Zucker – a pending RFA. The 59th-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft posted decent 33-31-64 totals in 82 games played (.78 points per game) from his spot on the first line, scoring the second-most tallies on the team for a career-high.

This Wild team without Zucker would be helpless, so I have a hard time believing Fenton will allow him to wear a different sweater next season if he’s committed to winning now. As such, Zucker will likely improve on his $2 million contract, even if it’s only a one-year deal to get him to his 27th birthday – the graduation into unrestricted free agency.

And just like that, we’ve spent almost $6 million of the $7.5 million available on Dumba and Zucker. As such, Minnesota is likely going to be forced into some uncomfortable trades that could likely damage the team and potentially put its six-year playoff run at risk.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as unsigned restricted free agents, Dumba and Zucker may not be necessarily off the trading table. Both (especially Dumba) will be valuable haggling pieces if the Wild decide to do a retool, but they’ll need to make sure to get the right pieces in return to avoid wasting anymore of Dubnyk’s prime.

2018 Offseason Preview: Anaheim Ducks

The theme of aquatic birds continues in DtFR’s offseason preview series, as it’s time to tackle the Anaheim Ducks’ priorities regarding their pending free agents.

Featuring a playoff roster with an average age of 28.5-years-old, logic would indicate the Ducks are in their prime. However, even though they’ve qualified for the postseason for six-straight seasons, they’ve failed to advance beyond the first round in half of those appearances – including a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks this April.

One of the biggest concerns about this Anaheim club is it plays an old-fashioned, grind-it-out style that simply doesn’t mesh well against the increasingly quicker and technically-sound opponents.

In simpler terms, the Ducks need to get younger and faster.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

One of the easiest ways to get younger is with a solid draft class, and Anaheim will have that opportunity with the 23rd-overall selection.

If one of the mock drafts I’ve compiled (all of which are available at Elite Prospects) are correct, I’d bet on General Manager Bob Murray selecting D Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels), C Ryan McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads), D Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) or D Bode Wilde (USNTDP) with his first round selection.

If there’s one thing the Ducks’ scouts know, it’s definitely defense. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are all solid blueliners 26-years-old or younger that will service this organization for years to come, and I’d only expect Alexeyev, Sandin or Wilde to join the group if they’re deemed truly worthy.

That’s what makes McLeod such an attractive option. Even though the 18-year-old is all but ensured at least one more season with the Steelheads, Anaheim’s deep defense gives it the opportunity to invest in restocking its attack.

McLeod had a breakout season in 2017-18, registering 26-44-70 totals in 68 games played (1.03 points per game), followed by 2-3-5 marks in his six postseason appearances. If he can take command of the club following the potential departure of brother F Michael McLeod (12th-overall pick by New Jersey in 2016) and lead Mississauga on a deep playoff run, Anaheim could happen into a stellar young forward.

Pending free agents

Let’s tackle Anaheim’s easiest position first: goaltending. G John Gibson and G Ryan Miller are both under contract for one more season, so the Ducks will likely make no moves in this department. The most important note here is making sure Murray reserves money on the back burner for Gibson next summer (he’ll be an RFA, for those that care about those sorts of things). He currently has a touch over $9 million in cap space this season and a whopping $23 million to play with in 2019-20.

Along the blue line, D Kevin Bieksa (UFA), D Brandon Montour (RFA) and D Andy Welinski (RFA) are all looking for jobs, but I’d argue that only Montour is truly worth a big-time contract.

Montour’s 20:28 time on ice per game was fourth on the team, and the same can be said for his .4 points per game. At 24-years-old, he’ll be worth every penny of any contract he receives to play an imposing presence as a top-four defenseman.

Having just turned 37-years-old Saturday following a 0-8-8, -13 season in 59 games played, it’s hard to see a way Bieksa returns to Anaheim for a fourth season. That makes signing Welinski –  the Ducks’ third-round pick in 2011 – to a low-cost, two-way contract all the easier to swallow.

Instead, the toughest decisions for Anaheim will be made in the forwards room. RW J.T. Brown, W Jason Chimera, C Derek Grant, W Ondrej Kase, F Chris Kelly, LW Nick Ritchie and F Antoine Vermette are all looking for contracts this summer, with all but Kase and Ritchie being of the UFA variety.

Regardless of type, Kase is by far the most important free agent on Anaheim’s plate this summer. He reached the 20-goal plateau in his second season in the NHL, and he needed only 66 games to do it. He may not compare to RW Teemu Selanne (I mean, the Finnish Flash did score 76 goals in his rookie season compared to Kase’s five), but I believe he’s fully ready to climb into a top-six position with F Rickard Rakell to lead this Ducks team when F Ryan Kesler and C Ryan Getzlaf depart.

In a similar fashion, fellow 22-year-old Ritchie should also receive a fresh deal to keep him in Orange County. While not quite the scorer Kase is (he managed only 10-17-27 totals in 76 games played this season), Ritchie is an excellent third-liner that still has more than enough time to develop into a real weapon from his position. Get him a bridge deal for a cap hit under $1.25 million and move on.

Anaheim’s most important UFA is Grant, a player that provided 12-12-24 totals in 66 appearances this season from his position on the fourth line. Coming off a one-year, $650 thousand deal, he’ll likely sign for cheap to give the Ducks four solid centers.

The rest of the UFAs (Brown – 27, Chimera – 39, Kelly – 37, Vermette – 35) either don’t fit with the “get younger” plan or simply aren’t worth the money (looking at you, Brown). Anaheim can either promote a forward from its organization (I like pending RFA F Kalle Kossila) or acquire another from outside to fill its 13th forward position.

2018 Offseason Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Only a few more teams’ offseason previews remain before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft gets started this Friday. First up today is the Pittsburgh Penguins!

The chance to become the NHL’s first official dynasty since the 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers is still available to C Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins, but falling in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Washington Capitals has forced them into a situation that requires another title in 2019.

Among others, the major flaw in this Penguins club during the postseason was clearly a disappearance of the depth scoring that became so expected during their previous two Stanley Cup runs, as well as a defense that – while playing well overall (their 26.6 shots against per game in the playoffs was best of all 16 teams) – had a habit of allowing its few mistakes to become major problems.

Was this just a result of a tired squad, or is General Manager Jim Rutherford going to have to make some major adjustments?

2018 NHL Entry Draft

For any Pittsburgh fans planning on addressing these issues in the draft, you’re in for some bad news: the Penguins’ first round pick belongs to Ottawa as a result of the trade that yielded C Derick Brassard.

Slated to turn 31-years-old this September, Brassard certainly does not provide the Penguins the scoring youth they would have received in the draft (speaking of, I’d expect Ottawa to select C Benoit-Olivier Groulx [Halifax Mooseheads], RW Martin Kaut [HC Dynamo Pardubice], F Isac Lundeström [Luleå HF] or RW Serron Noel [Oshawa Generals] with Pittsburgh’s pick). However, there’s a reason Columbus selected him sixth-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Under contract for one more year, Brassard is still capable of providing the depth scoring Pittsburgh needs, as he’s notched at least .64 points per game in three of his last four seasons. After a summer off the ice to fully recover from his groin injury, I have no doubt Brassard will make Rutherford’s trade look like an excellent idea.

Pending free agents

With almost $4.8 million to play with, Pittsburgh needs to sign or trade for a minimum of three players just to reach the minimum 20-man roster required by the NHL. That’s not very much wiggle room, especially since that would leave the Pens without a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman.

To put it simply, Rutherford is going to need to put in some serious work if he wants to get his club back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four years.

With nine forwards on the current roster, it’s a no-brainer that a minimum of three rosters are going to be added into the mix. If the Penguins elect to change things up in their bottom-six, they’re certainly going to have that option, as W Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carter Rowney, W Bryan Rust, C Riley Sheahan and F Dominik Simon are all pending free agents, with all but Rowney being of the restricted variety.

Of the five, Rust is clearly the most talented offensively, as his 13-25-38 totals in 69 games played are the most of the group. Making him more impressive, Rust bounced all over the Pens’ lineup this season, proving that his numbers weren’t just a result of playing with Crosby or F Evgeni Malkin.

With unrestricted free agency only one year away, odds are very slim of seeing Rust settle for much of a team-friendly deal given his two championship rings. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my chips on Rutherford shipping Rust’s rights to a team that has cap space and needs a proven winner (perhaps F Ryan Dzingel or W Micheal Ferland would be available if Pittsburgh could find an acceptable package).

Sheahan is another player that I wouldn’t be surprised to be wearing a different sweater next season. Though he is still excellent at the face-off dot (he won 54.2 percent of draws this season), it’s hard to justify his 11-21-32 totals (.4 points per game) at the $2.075 million price tag he was awarded in 2016 by Detroit. Unless Sheahan – who will be eligible to test unrestricted free agency following his next contract’s completion – is willing to take a pay cut, he might meet the same fate as Rust.

Of their free agents I’d actually expect the Penguins to resign, Simon looks to be the best bet. Turning 24-years-old in August, the Czech posted 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL appearances this season, spending time on the first and third lines. Considering how good Crosby has made young players look in the past (ex: F Jake Guentzel, W Conor Sheary and Rust), there’s a strong chance Rutherford gives Simon a slight raise to a three-year, $1 million AAV contract to keep him in town.

A resigning of Simon also makes Kuhnhackl expendable if the two parties cannot come to terms on a team-friendly deal. The German provided only 2-6-8 totals in 69 games played from his fourth-line role at a $625 thousand price tag. If he tries to leverage his two championships for a raise, Rutherford will likely go no higher than $1 million per season.

Lastly, if Rutherford resigns Rowney for a cent more than the league minimum ($700 thousand starting this season), he loses his job. It’s that plain and simple in my book. The Penguins simply don’t have the cap space to keep a player who’s averaged only .17 points per game for his career.

His only saving grace in staying with the team is the Pens not wanting to risk having too few players. He’s a known commodity, which makes him a better asset on the fourth line than a player from outside the organization.

One thing to keep in mind regarding the signing of any of these free agents is the fact that Guentzel will be looking for a contract this time next year. Given his 23 goals and 42 points in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games, the Nebraskan will fetch a pretty penny that Rutherford will need to plan for if he sees Guentzel as a longtime member of the organization.

With Pittsburgh set in net (G Matt Murray and G Casey DeSmith have respective two and one seasons remaining on their contracts), the only contract to focus on defensively is RFA D Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak’s 17:24 time on ice per game was seventh among Penguins defensemen, while his .3 points per game clocked in at fourth-best.

For the past three offseasons, Oleksiak has signed one-year deals of increasing value, the most recent of which was worth almost $965 thousand.

Figuring out if Oleksiak gets a new contract is a difficult task, as Pittsburgh could certainly save money by promoting from within. Since 2015, the Penguins have drafted eight defensemen – including three in the first three rounds – but none of those players have even been signed by the club.

If promotion is in fact the route Pittsburgh elects to take, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best option, D Andrey Pedan, is no longer on the table due to his decision to take his talents to Russia. Similarly, both D Frank Corrado and D Kevin Czuczman are in the same position as Oleksiak, as their identical one-year, $650 thousand contracts expired following the Charlotte Checkers’ three-game sweep against the Pens.

If Rutherford can pull off the signings listed above, he’ll have approximately $2 million to play with to keep Oleksiak around and/or acquire additional skaters.