Tag Archives: Western Conference

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: 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: San Jose Sharks

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the San Jose Sharks and their outlook for the summer.

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The San Jose Sharks quietly strolled along in the Pacific Division for much of the season, spending time in 2nd place behind the Vegas Golden Knights. If it wasn’t for slipping considerably down the stretch in a critical time where every point matters, the Sharks would’ve had home ice for their First Round matchup against the Anaheim Ducks.

Instead, head coach Peter DeBoer and his players finished the season 3rd in the Pacific, with 100 points on the season– one point behind Anaheim– and a 45-27-10 record.

For not having the spotlight on the team most of the year and the pressure that had built up in 2016 and 2017 thanks to the club’s Stanley Cup Final run in 2016, General Manager Doug Wilson made a splash acquiring Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline.

The Sharks were all in.

They swept the Ducks in the First Round, proving home ice advantage didn’t matter to them and even beat the Golden Knights on the road in the Second Round in double-overtime.

But San Jose fell to the Vegas offense and stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and the 2018 postseason run was cut short in six games without an appearance by Joe Thornton— in the literal sense, because he was oft-injured this season.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Wilson and the Sharks have the 21st overall pick in the 2018 Draft and could target a defender or fall in line with the “pick the best available” mantra of the first round past the top-10 picks in the draft.

In any case, San Jose realistically has a chance of landing either Jack McBain, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Olivier-Benoit Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Albin Eriksson, Adam Ginning, Fillip Hallander or Ryan McLeod.

The club does not have any picks in the second or third round as things currently stand at the time of this writing.

Pending free agents

The Sharks have a little more than $7.500 million to work with this summer after delivering a significant pay raise to Evander Kane, keeping him around for the long-term in Northern California, alongside Joe Pavelski.

Speaking of Pavelski, he’ll need a new contract next summer.

Back to the present, for now, though.

Jannik Hansen, Thornton, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward are all pending-unrestricted free agents.

Hansen, 32, might have some staying power in that he’s one of the younger pending-UFAs currently on the NHL roster in San Jose, however, he only amassed 2-12–14 totals in 46 games this season. That’s not good and the Sharks can move on, given the emergence of Marcus Sorensen and, well, the overall outlook of the organization.

It could come down to re-signing one or two of these pending-UFAs if they’re willing to take a tremendous discount and limited role.

While a guy like Thornton wouldn’t have as limited of a role as Hansen, Fehr or Ward, he is coming off of a season plagued by injuries.

If he has anything left in the tank, he’ll be back, but at a discount for sure. Not an $8.000 million, one-year deal, but something like a $1.000 million one-year deal with performance bonuses and the like.

Despite being limited to 47 games this season, the Boston Bruins 1st overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft still had 13 goals and 23 assists (36 points).

At 38, Thornton could be the next ageless wonder, a la Jaromir Jagr— minus all the traveling around the league, because Thornton is that dedicated to the organization he’s been with since the 2005-06 season.

Without a doubt the plan in Silicon Valley is Cup or bust in 2019 and Joe Thornton still haven’t won his Cup.

But he’ll surely take his time to mull over a decision on whether to return or not, let alone return to the game.

Fehr, 32, was a low-cost, potentially high-reward on the fourth line acquisition the Sharks made in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Fehr didn’t have all that far to go to meet up with his new team. He was already on loan to the San Jose Barracuda (AHL).

Unless he can rebound, he might be getting an AHL deal this summer.

Drafted by the Washington Capitals 18th overall in the deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Fehr had three goals and one assist (four points) in 18 games with the Sharks and Maple Leafs this season.

He won’t be back.

Like Thornton, Joel Ward is getting up there in age. He’s 37 and really slowing down in offense. Ward had 5-7–12 totals in 52 games this season and did not play in the postseason. He may still find an NHL team or two interested in his services this summer, but it’ll be outside of San Jose.

Doug Wilson’s biggest priorities this offseason is keeping things intact while envisioning a younger defense somewhere down the not-so-distant line.

But first, he’ll have to re-sign pending-RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney.

Hertl, 24, had 22 goals and 24 assists (46 points) in 79 games this season. He’ll be looking for dollars or term and the Sharks will have to work around some things to give it to him, but they absolutely should.

Tierney, 23, has proven to be an effective second or third line center with 17-23–40 totals in 82 games this season. It’s the first time in his young NHL career (4th season) that he’s played in all 82 games in the regular season and he’ll continue to play in many more as long as he’s got a spot on San Jose’s special teams– most notably, at times, killing penalties.

Then there’s pending-RFA blueliner Dylan DeMelo.

The 25-year-old’s role on the Sharks defense increased this season as Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin— though better than average combined– continued to age.

DeMelo had 20 assists in 63 games played this season. He can move the puck and shutdown the opponent on any given night. He’s also in the sweet-spot for a defenseman in their prime.

Finally, the Sharks are set in net with Martin Jones, 28, under contract through the 2023-24 season at a $5.750 million cap hit as their starter and Aaron Dell, 29, on a fresh two-year extension at $1.900 million per year as the backup.

Seriously though, Jones is perhaps the best goaltender– if not one of the best– in franchise history and he’s signed at an affordable cap hit for a starting goaltender of his caliber.

Look, we love Evgeni Nabokov as much as the next guy, but Jones carries the promise of potentially bringing the franchise its first Cup on his current contract and he’s not even being paid $6.000 million or more like other elite goaltenders in this league.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Brandon Mashinter (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Kings

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Los Angeles Kings and their outlook for the summer.

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The Los Angeles Kings got off to a bit of a hot start battling for 1st place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights in the first month or two of the 2017-18 season before cooling off a bit.

Still, first year head coach John Stevens commanded his team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, with a 45-29-8 record and 98 points on the season– good enough for 4th in the Pacific and the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Despite reaching the postseason, the Kings faced the Golden Knights in the First Round and were swept in a low scoring series.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Rob Blake embarks upon his second entry draft with Los Angeles and the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft Friday night in Dallas.

Blake will likely yield one of the following players in Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Akil Thomas or Albin Eriksson.

Pending free agents

This offseason is a big deal for Los Angeles. The Kings have about $3.900 million in cap space currently and a headache looming on the horizon next summer, but we’ll get into that in a minute or two.

Pending unrestricted free agent forward, Torrey Mitchell, 33, was acquired by the Kings in a trade early in the season with the Montreal Canadiens, whereby Mitchell went on to produce 6-5–11 totals in 60 games with Los Angeles and Montreal.

A durable bottom-six forward, the Kings are cash-strapped and probably cannot re-sign him in their current state.

More importantly, Los Angeles is tied to discussions with Ilya Kovalchuk, meaning someone on the roster currently would have to be moved to free up enough cap space to sign the 35-year-old prolific scorer looking to return to NHL action.

Blake has two options for the Kings heading into 2018-19.

Stay the course and grow as a team that’s been implementing a younger, faster game to stay competitive while hitting everything in sight (as has always been the Kings way) or move too quickly to attract too much talent in the short term without planning for a future like how Los Angeles got into their rash of inconsistent postseason appearances– whereby the team is up against the ceiling as the cap stands, regardless of its projected increase.

Tobias Rieder, 25, was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Kings along with Scott Wedgewood in exchange for Darcy Kuemper in February and went on to produce 12-13–25 totals in 78 games with Los Angeles and Arizona this season.

Whether he was a rental or not, we’ll find out if he gets re-signed.

Los Angeles only has two pending free agent defenders in 26-year-old Kevin Gravel and 27-year-old Chrisitan Folin.

Gravel appeared in 16 games for the Kings this season and had three assists. He played in 49 games with Los Angeles in 2016-17, recorded his first career NHL goal and likely won’t be back with the Kings on their NHL roster next season.

Folin, on the other hand, participated in 65 games this season with the Kings, which was the most he’s ever played since joining Los Angeles after spending 2013-17 with the Minnesota Wild. Folin recorded 3-10–13 totals with the Kings and was a plus-1.

Between Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, both top-4 defenders have a $4.000 million cap hit. One of them could be traded this offseason to give Folin an increased role and/or sign Kovalchuk.

Of course, the real wild card here for Los Angeles is the status of their anchor on the blueline– Drew Doughty.

Doughty’s current contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season and has a $7.000 million cap hit. That’s about to go way up.

Again, thankfully, Blake and his front office have a season to try to figure out where the money is going to come from. Nevertheless, it makes longterm planning difficult. Especially given how Doughty has indicated he will want to get paid. Big time.

One more thing of note, Oscar Fantenberg is currently in the minors and could play a role in either a trade package or a top-6 spot on the blueline next season.

In goal, 32-year-old, Jonathan Quick is under contract through the 2022-23 season with a $5.800 million cap hit. The elite goaltender still has a few more good years left in him and could backstop the franchise to its third Cup with him at the reins in net.

Peter Budaj, 35, was acquired last week in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Andy Andreoff. Budaj rejoins the Kings organization for his second stint and could end up being Quick’s backup or back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign next season. He has one-year remaining on his current deal and a $1.025 million cap hit.

In the pipeline between the pipes, 26-year-old Jack Campbell resurrected his professional career with Los Angeles, finishing the 2018 postseason as Quick’s backup and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at $675,000 per. Meanwhile, 23-year-old, Cal Petersen has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract and is looking to break through the ice at the NHL level.

Competition for the backup job in Los Angeles isn’t a bad thing.

It’s how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones came out of the system and landed full-time roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, respectively (though Bernier’s bounced around from being a starter in Toronto, back to a backup role with the Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and most recently, Colorado Avalanche).

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Auger (RFA), Andrew Crescenzi (UFA), Michael Mersch (UFA), Jordan Subban (RFA), Paul LaDue (RFA), Scott Wedgewood (UFA), Alex Lintuniemi (RFA), Kurtis MacDermid (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Calgary Flames

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

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The 2017-18 Calgary Flames finished 37-35-10 on the season after heating up at points throughout the year and cooling off when things mattered down the stretch to wind up 5th in the Pacific Division with 84 points.

Naturally, the Flames made sensible decisions to readjust for the 2018-19 season and kept things mostly intact after missing the playoffs for the third year in a row.

I’m just kidding.

Look, Calgary fired Bob Hartley after missing the playoffs in 2016, then they hired Glen Gulutzan and missed the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. Now they’ve hired Bill Peters as their head coach and you’ll never guess, but he’s missed the playoffs all four years as a coach in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes (2014-18).

The Flames last made the playoffs in 2015. Don’t expect them to make it in 2019 either.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

To make matters worse, General Manager Brad Treliving doesn’t have a pick in the first round of this year’s deep draft. Actually, Treliving doesn’t have a selection in the first three rounds currently.

Calgary owns two fourth round picks– their own and one via the Florida Panthers– and one pick in both the sixth and seventh rounds.

If there’s a draft you want to get in on, it’s this one.

Luckily, the Flames are in need of an overhaul and Dougie Hamilton may be a central component to trade as has been rumored– and with Oliver Ekman-Larsson nearing an extension with the Arizona Coyotes, Hamilton moves up in the prospective pool of defenders to acquire around the league.

Thankfully he’s relatively affordable too with a cap hit of $5.750 million through the 2020-21 season and could yield at least a first and second round pick (similar to what Calgary dealt to the Boston Bruins for his services in 2015, when the Flames sent a 2015 first round pick (Zach Senyshyn) and two 2015 second round picks (Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon) to Boston for the then pending-RFA Hamilton).

What’s more, Hamilton wrapped up his fourth straight season of 40-plus points with 17-27–44 totals in 82 games played in 2017-18. He set a career-high in goals, for the record, and was only six points shy of his career-high 50-point 2016-17 season.

Pending free agents

Calgary’s got an older roster with a little bit of youth and greatness in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk. With almost $12.500 million to spend this summer and Tkachuk entering the final year of his entry level contract, it’d be wise for Treliving to be smart with his monetary handouts.

The good news? The Flames don’t have any major pending-free agent standouts.

Tanner Glass is a 34-year-old pending-UFA who recorded zero points with the Flames in 16 games this season. In fact, he’s had one goal and one assist (two points) over the course of 27 games with the New York Rangers and Calgary from 2016-18.

Calling up a player from the Stockton Heat (AHL) or signing a bottom-six forward would be better. Let Glass test the market, if there’s even one for his services at this point (no offense, which serves two meanings in this case).

Chris Stewart was claimed off waivers by the Flames on February 26, 2018, yielding ten goals and six assists (16 points) in 54 games with the Minnesota Wild and Calgary this season. He’s a 30-year-old pending-UFA that can still play a role on a third line and that’s badly needed for a team that’s looking to change things up.

Kris Versteeg, 32, revitalized his career in Calgary, notching 37 points (15 goals and 22 assists) in 69 games with the Flames in 2016-17. He then sustained a hip injury and missed most of this season, amassing three goals and five assists (eight points) in 24 games.

Versteeg can stick around for another year or two if Calgary thinks his injury won’t get in the way. Otherwise he’ll be looking for a new place to land.

Longtime Flame, Matt Stajan has been in the league full-time since the 2003-04 season, spending his first six full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to being traded to Calgary.

At 34, the pending-UFA winger isn’t getting any younger and has shown signs of slowing down, especially with a down year this season.

He put up four goals and eight assists (12 points) in 68 games, which is respectable if you’re looking for a fourth liner. Otherwise, he cannot possibly make as much as he did on his most recent contract ($3.125 million AAV).

As for the last pending-UFA forward, Marek Hrivik? Calgary should let the 26-year-old hit the open market. He had no points in three games with the Flames and only three assists in 24 games in his NHL career with the Rangers and Calgary.

Treliving has a few pending-RFA forwards to take a gander at too on the NHL roster in Nick Shore, Garnet Hathaway and Mark Jankowski.

Shore, 25, had 5-14–19 totals in 64 games with Calgary, the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings this season. That’s not great, but exactly what you need from a bottom-six forward, especially where the Flames might have a role to fill on the third or fourth line.

Hathaway, 26, has 21 points in 99 career NHL games, including four goals and nine assists (13 points) in 59 games played this season. Again, if Treliving needs another bottom-six player, he’s got one to re-sign.

Among Calgary’s more promising forwards not named Gaudreau, Monahan or Tkachuk, the “off-the-board” 21st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jankowski, had 17 goals and eight assists (25 points) in 72 GP in his first full season.

Though his play might otherwise be seen as a tiny bright spot, it’s a bright spot nonetheless for a player that’s young enough to still have potential while also being in his prime. Jankowski will undoubtedly see a reasonable pay raise on what should likely be a bridge deal.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing, Calgary. Most of these guys shouldn’t be signing their name on anything longer than three years.

The Flames have one pending-UFA defender (Matt Bartkowski) and one pending-RFA blueliner (Brett Kulak).

If the 30-year-old Bartkowski is comfortable in his depth defenseman role, then the Flames should get another year out of him, especially if they’re looking to trade some blueliners.

Kulak, 24, had 2-6–8 totals in 71 games, which is better than nothing, but doesn’t scream “prodigy”. It does, however, show that he’s capable of being a top-6 defender on Calgary’s roster and they’re going to need him moving forward– at least in 2018-19.

Finally, similar to the New York Islanders, the Flames need a goaltender.

Sure, 36-year-old, Mike Smith is still on the roster with an affordable $4.250 million cap hit, but Calgary isn’t going anywhere with his 2.65 goals against average and .916 save percentage in a light 55-game schedule (25-22-6 record) in 2017-18.

At least that was better than his 2.92 and .914 in 55 games with the Arizona Coyotes in 2016-17.

Smith’s best season came in 2011-12 with the then Phoenix Coyotes when he posted a 38-18-10 record in 67 GP with a 2.21 GAA and .930 SV%. That same Coyotes team went all the way to the 2012 Western Conference Final, for the record.

Jon Gillies and David Rittich both spent time as backup/third-string goalies in the organization and well… everyone makes a big deal about the Philadelphia Flyers revolving door of goaltenders since the 1990s, but the Calgary Flames are the Flyers are the Western Conference.

And Calgary had Miikka Kiprusoff in the middle of Philadelphia’s annual search for a starting goaltender.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

David Rittich (RFA), Hunter Shinkaruk (RFA), Luke Gazdic (UFA), Jon Gillies (RFA), Austin Carroll (RFA), Morgan Klimchuk (RFA), Hunter Smith (RFA), Emile Poirier (RFA), Tyler Wotherspoon (UFA), Cody Goloubef (UFA), Dalton Prout (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Today’s yet another day of offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams starting, of course, with the Edmonton Oilers.

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One season after finishing 2nd in the Pacific Division with a 47-26-9 record and 103 points– making the playoffs for the first time since their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance– the Edmonton Oilers collapsed.

The Oilers finished 6th in the Pacific in 2017-18 with a 36-40-6 record and 78 points on the season.

Connor McDavid continued to excel, locking up the Art Ross Trophy with his second consecutive 100-plus point season, while linemate Milan Lucic virtually disappeared on the ice.

General Manager Peter Chiarelli bought into Kris Russell‘s successful 2016-17 season as a shutdown blueliner by re-signing the defender to a four-year, $36 million contract and Russell went on to yield 21 points on the season (an eight point improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18). Russell fits in with Edmonton’s defense.

The only problem is that it’s noticeable when he makes a mistake because the puck’s usually in the back of the net.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Chiarelli has expressed a desire for a winger and a young defenseman this offseason.

Get it out of your system now– you know his trade history and if you’re new around here, give him a quick search on Wikipedia.

The good news is Chiarelli has plenty of options with the 10th overall pick in the Draft in Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari, Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith and Joseph Veleno (should any or all of them be available by the 10th pick).

Past that, Chiarelli may try to shop Lucic and his $6.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season at the draft and work other transactions as necessary, but Edmonton’s a middle of the road team as things stand right now. Moving one player alone won’t help them and trading everybody isn’t an option either– what with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl‘s combined cap hit reaching $21 million.

Pending free agents

The Oilers can get back into playoff contention with some moves though.

One of the good things going for Edmonton is that they don’t have too much holding them back from solidifying a goaltending duo. Sure, Cam Talbot is a starter, but at 30-years-old with one-year remaining on his contract at $4.167 million and a modified-no-trade-clause, there’s plenty of room to find a 1A/1B option.

Talbot posted a 2.39 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 73 games played in 2016-17, but fell to a 3.02 GAA and .908 SV% in 67 games this season.

In his first year as a starter (2015-16) with Edmonton he had a 2.55 GAA and .917 SV% in 56 games. Clearly, he’s not a high volume goaltender. Somewhere between 45 and 55 games is a sweet spot for Talbot as a starter and the Oilers need a backup that can play almost 30 or more games.

Al Montoya, 33, and Mikko Koskinen, 29, are currently listed on the NHL roster. Both have one-year left on their contracts at $1.0625 million and $2.500 million, respectively.

Neither are 1B options.

Mike Cammallieri, 36, is the only pending-unrestricted free agent forward for the Oilers and should only get a callback if he’s willing to be a bottom-6 forward.

Drake Caggiula, 23, Iiro Pakarinen, 26, Anton Slepyshev, 24, and Ryan Strome, 24, are all pending-RFAs for Chiarelli to review this summer.

Caggiula improved by two points in seven additional games from his rookie season of 18 points in 60 games played. The 23-year-old forward had 13 goals and seven assists (20 points) in 67 games. If Chiarelli sees potential (as there have been some signs), then a bridge deal makes sense.

Pakarinen posted 2-1–3 totals in 40 games played this season. Hard pass. Find a replacement.

Slepyshev had six goals and six assists (12 points) in 50 games with the Oilers this season. He had 4-6–10 totals in 41 games played in 2016-17 and one assist in 11 games in 2015-16. Don’t bring him back if you’re expecting top-6 forward production.

Strome had his best season since his 17-33–50 totals in 81 games with the New York Islanders in 2014-15, but he only amassed 13-21–34 totals in 82 games. At 24, he’s still in the midst of his prime, so things can improve, but with the right linemates. Bring him back and find him a friend or two.

Pending-UFA defender, Yohann Auvitu participated in 33 games for Edmonton this season with three goals and six assists (nine points). The 28-year-old was a plus-four and could stick around as a depth defender.

Both Matt Benning, 24, and Darnell Nurse, 23, are pending-RFA blueliners.

Nurse’s name has flown around the trade rumor mill already and, sure, he could be a centerpiece to move and attract a decent package in return, but as a surefire top-4 defenseman, Edmonton should hold onto his services and try to convince Andrej Sekera to waive his no-movement-clause instead.

Especially with Benning posting 24 points this season, both defensemen are ready for bigger roles if the Oilers are content with another middle of the road season. Having been more established in the league than Benning, Nurse is opt to be the one dealt this summer.

Edmonton has about $10.100 million to spend this summer and will undoubtedly have to trade one of their younger guys just to keep everyone else happy– this is where Nurse’s name comes up and guys like Oscar Klefbom, the only NHL ready defenseman without a NMC/NTC as part of his contract and at an affordable $4.167 million price tag through 2022-23.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Laurent Brossoit (UFA), Brian Ferlin (UFA), Mark Fayne (UFA), Braden Christoffer (RFA), Dillon Simpson (UFA), Ben Betker (RFA), Joey Laleggia (UFA), Kyle Platzer (RFA), Grayson Downing (UFA)

Buyouts on the books: Benoit Pouliot— $1.333 million through the end of the 2020-21 season.

2018 Offseason Preview: Vancouver Canucks

It’s the third day of our 2018 offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams and today kicks off with the Vancouver Canucks.

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Nobody expected the Vancouver Canucks to be a mid-pack team in 2017-18 and well, what do you know, they weren’t. The Canucks finished 7th in the Pacific Division this season with a 31-40-11 record and 73 points on the season.

Vancouver was second-to-last in Western Conference standings, behind the Chicago Blackhawks by three points in the standings and just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.

Chicago was the only team in the Central Division to not reach the 90-point plateau, while Vancouver was one of three teams in the Pacific Division to amass less than 80 points on the season.

Yes, Brock Boeser— the 2018 NHL All-Star Game MVP– emerged as a rookie sniper, but the faces of the franchise in Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired after almost 20 years in the NHL.

Other than that, Vancouver still has two fringe starter/backup goaltenders, 32-year-old Loui Eriksson under contract with a cap hit of $6.000 million through the 2021-22 season and a lack of apparent depth throughout the lineup.

At least Bo Horvat is part of the core and the team has gotten younger (due, in part, to the Sedin’s retiring).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

There’s no reason to sound all doom-and-gloom regarding the Canucks, because they’ve managed to establish a small pool of productive prospects in Thatcher Demko, Michael DiPietro, Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlén.

Another down year can be expected, but there’s plenty of room to grow and turn a lot of heads in 2018-19.

Thankfully, in the deep draft that is the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vancouver won’t miss out on a decent top-10 prospect with the 7th overall pick as long as General Manager Jim Benning doesn’t mess things up.

It only makes sense that Benning goes with the best available player by the time the Canucks are on the clock– whether it’s (not listed in any particular order) Brady Tkachuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Evan Bouchard, Quintin Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari or Joel Farabee– since there’s no immediate need on the NHL roster that can be filled by a player in this year’s draft.

Pending free agents

What it all comes down to for Vancouver is sticking to the plan. Now is the time to implement more youth with the likes of Demko, Juolevi, Pettersson and Dahlén in expanded or new roles altogether on the NHL club.

However, Demko’s path to stealing a job in net for the Canucks is currently crowded by Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as 1A and 1B solutions to the fact that Vancouver does not have a true number one, starting goaltender.

Markstrom, 28, has two-years remaining on his current contract with a $3.667 million cap hit. That’s a friendly value for any team that’s looking for a temporary placeholder in net as a low-cost, potentially high-reward, starting goaltender– as long as that team has a defense to limit shots against.

Nilsson, 28, has one-year left on his contract and a $2.500 million cap hit. Again, also a bargain in the grand scheme of things, where top-notch goaltenders run organizations around $7.000 million in cap space.

Both are in their goaltending prime, which is different from a skater’s prime in that it’s usually delayed in comparison by a few years, but neither Markstrom nor Nilsson have shown they are going to get better than their 2.71 and 3.44 goals against averages in 60 and 27 games played, respectively.

That’s not just a case of a bad defense.

Average is still average and below average is still below average. For the Canucks to get better, they almost have to get worse, which sounds horrible to diehard fans, but might not actually be that bad.

Sure, Demko doesn’t have the level of experience that Markstrom and Nilsson have, but for a team that’s truly committed to a rebuild, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let him get more playing time to help bring his NHL game up to speed.

Aside from goaltending, Vancouver has six pending free agent forwards to assess. Three of them (Jussi Jokinen, Nic Dowd and Darren Archibald) are pending-unrestricted free agents and three of them are pending-restricted free agents (Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi).

Of their pending-UFA forwards, Dowd should get a callback, while the priority remains on re-signing the 21-year-old Virtanent and 25-year-old Granlund this summer.

Baertschi has only passed the 30-point plateau once in his career, but fills a role as a third line forward that the Canucks desperately need. Anything more than a bridge deal for the 25-year-old forward could come back to bite the organization if his offense doesn’t improve.

Finally, the Canucks have a pair of pending-RFA defenders to re-sign this offseason in 24-year-olds Derrick Pouliot and Troy Stecher.

Once expected to change the course of Pittsburgh’s blueline, Pouliot was the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and only just played his first full NHL season with Vancouver in 2017-18. Plus/minus aside (he was a minus-22 in 71 games played), Pouliot is worthy of keeping around, so long as Erik Gudbranson is considered expendable.

Stecher, on the other hand, has shown signs of being a puck-moving defender with flashes of a decent transition game, but had 1-10–11 totals in 68 games played as part of a sophomore slump.

While the Canucks may have higher expectations for Stecher, given his homegrown development, Pouliot outplayed his teammate with double the production (22 points).

If Vancouver is serious about moving Gudbranson and convinces Alexander Edler to waive his no-trade-clause for a transaction, then both Pouliot and Stecher have bigger roles and a proving ground to make the most of what should be bridge contract extensions.

The Canucks have a little more than $22 million to work with in cap space this summer.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Joseph Labate (UFA), Anton Cederholm (RFA), Cole Cassels (RFA), Griffen Molino (RFA), MacKenze Stewart (RFA), Patrick Wiercioch (UFA), Jayson Megna (UFA), Richard Bachman (UFA), Reid Boucher (RFA), Michael Chaput (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Arizona Coyotes

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

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The Coyotes added some major pieces in Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta last June in a trade with the New York Rangers and were expected to be more competitive than they actually turned out to be in 2017-18. Things did not go as planned as the the team finished in 8th place in the Pacific Division and dead-last in the Western Conference with a 29-41-12 record (70 points).

Arizona went almost a dozen games without winning for the first month and a half of the season, continued to struggle, then turned on the jets (no relation to their franchise history having moved from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996) in February as a team with a lot of potential.

Clayton Keller emerged as a bright spot all season long, staking a legitimate claim at this season’s Calder Memorial Trophy honors as rookie of the year, while Dylan Strome was finally given a fair shake at the NHL level.

In short, the Coyotes have a lot of promise heading into 2018-19– perhaps as a playoff bubble team. It’s too early to tell if they’ll maintain their near 120-point projection (over the course of a season) performance as a team from February to the end of the regular season in April, but one thing’s for sure– they won’t be in the basement come April 2019.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager John Chayka has an analytics mindset in a smaller market (monetarily speaking). Chayka has to do a lot with a little in terms of salary cap spending allowance.

Drafting the right players is always essential to overall franchise success, long-term, but as the league continues to shift to a younger, fast and more skilled game, the Coyotes have a chance to stockpile on talent.

Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom could deliver on offsense for Arizona. Then again, the team could be thinking of adding a young defender in Noah Dobson, Quintin Hughes or Evan Bouchard. In any case the Coyotes have some big decisions to make among their pending free agents and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Pending free agents

Arizona has a mix of important roster members and depth guys to figure out just who exactly should earn another contract and who should be free to find a different city to play in.

Though Ekman-Larsson has one-year remaining on his current contract, there are signs of a looming extension being signed unless there is a trade offer out there that is too good to pass up.

This is where a guy like pending-restricted free agent Max Domi plays a vital role in Chayka’s overall offseason plans.

It’s unimaginable to think that Arizona would want to part with the 23-year-old son of legendary NHLer Tie Domi, but the fact of the matter is that it remains unclear how satisfied Domi is with the organization.

There’s a chance the Coyotes could be a lot better than they were this season, but the same thing was said last season and so on.

How Domi perceives the future of the organization will yield a decision in whether or not there’s a chance he gets traded. Otherwise, he’s Arizona’s biggest priority to re-sign.

Sure, they could look at what a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins would entertain and the Coyotes have about $23 million in cap space to work with– so a deal involving Phil Kessel would be attractive, but at what cost to the future of the team?

There’s a plethora of youth, prospects and promise in Arizona. How much is Chayka willing to risk to make the Coyotes go from rebuilding to playoff contender, keeping in mind that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Cup.

In addition to Domi, forwards Brad Richardson (UFA), Freddie Hamilton (RFA), Zac Rinaldo (UFA) and Laurent Dauphin (RFA) are current NHL-roster pending free agents this July. Arizona could move on from all of them if they wish to hit the reset button on their bottom six-forwards, though re-signing Dauphin wouldn’t hurt the club.

28-year-old defensemen, Luke Schenn and Kevin Connauton are pending-UFAs and could be kept around if Chayka’s not looking at adjusting his defense.

In goal, Raanta has three-years remaining on his deal and backup Darcy Kuemper has two more years left on his contract. As long as the Coyotes are content with their strategy in net, there’s no need to ship either goaltender elsewhere.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Sean Maguire (RFA), Dakota Mermis (RFA), Trevor Murphy (RFA), Joel Hanley (UFA), Pierre-Cédric Labrie (UFA), Mike Sislo (UFA), Tye McGinn (UFA), Mark Langhamer (RFA) and Michael Bunting (RFA)

How the Vegas Golden Knights got here

The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.

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Let’s clarify a few things here:

1. The team has a lot of leadership.

Whether it’s Jon Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland or Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights have a deep locker room of leaders.

And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.

2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.

Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.

Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.

Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.

3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.

Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.

Let’s reword that a bit.

Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.

Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.

William Karlsson had underperformed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and was left exposed to Vegas as part of a deal that saw the Golden Knights take on David Clarkson‘s deadweight contract.

A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.

Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.

The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.

Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.

McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.

When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.

Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).

David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.

Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.

Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.

Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.

Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.

But for now, why not enjoy the ride?

They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.

There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.