The NHL off-season is already under way and it promises to be busier than a moth in a mitten. Here are the dates to keep in mind.
The Seattle Kraken expansion draft takes place on Wednesday, July 21, with teams having to submit their protected lists by July 17 for the league to make public a day later. The entry draft is scheduled for July 23 and 24, and free agency opens on July 28. Add the complication of a flat salary cap and teams will be clamouring to make it all work.
That means trades and buyouts. Buckle up!
Fresh off their Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Montreal Canadiens will be active. A rested Carey Price can be lethal, but Jake Allen is the guy who made that possible and he would need to be exposed to Seattle. GM Marc Bergevin may have to sacrifice an asset to focus the Kraken elsewhere. Last Wednesday, July 14, news broke that the Habs may not protect Shea Weber for the expansion draft as he is likely to miss most, if not all, of next season while several injuries are being addressed.
The Habs needed a puck-moving defenceman before the Weber news, and this may be a year to trade their first-round pick to get one. Bergevin also has a gaggle of free agents to address, both unrestricted and restricted. He opened business by signing Coach Dominique Ducharme to a 3-year contract, removing the Interim Coach tag, and re-signing Assistant Coach Luke Richardson.
The Winnipeg Jets are the team the Habs swept to come out of the Canadian division. They will try to survive the expansion draft without losing one of Dylan DeMelo or Mason Appleton, who are important for different reasons. The loss of DeMelo in the playoffs revealed how important he was to a team that needs to strengthen its defense corps. Appleton is a young depth forward in an aging group. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff also needs to find a backup goalie to support their ace.
Before being swept by Montreal, the Jets swept the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. GM Ken Holland must add pieces to avoid wasting elite talent.
The first task was to re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This bit of clever business was followed by an odd trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending young defenseman Caleb Jones and a 3rd round pick for Duncan Keith and forward prospect Tim Soderlund. Holland also needs to add a goal scorer to play with McDavid and address the goaltending situation.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the North division was the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were expected to be among the final four contending for the Stanley cup, but instead choked in their series against the Habs. Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, and Nick Foligno are free agents and the Leafs have limited cap space to fill holes.
On Thursday, insiders reported the Leafs were shopping rights to negotiation with Hyman, not wanting to lose him for nothing. Toronto will also be looking for a second goaltender who doesn’t break the bank to help Jack Campbell. The Leafs have just three picks at this year’s draft.
The three Canadian teams that did not make the playoffs will also be busy.
The Ottawa Senators kicked off their off-season by adding TV analyst Pierre McGuire as the Senior Vice President of Player Development. Back in May, McGuire told TSN1200 that the Sens need to be aggressive this off-season. He said a new contract for Brady Tkachuk is a priority, and they need to add an established player or two to bring veteran balance to a young line up. Let’s see if GM Pierre Dorion agrees. Ottawa owns the 10th overall pick at the amateur draft.
GM Brad Treliving has some decisions to make about the identity of the Calgary Flames. If there were questions about the core before, they got a dose of steroids with the addition of Darryl Sutter as Head Coach. At the centre of that debate is Johnny Gaudreau, who is entering the last year of a giant contract and has a no trade clause kicking in on July 28th. Will they expose Captain Mark Giordano to Seattle? Calgary owns the 12th overall pick at the draft.
Finally, the Vancouver Canucks are expected to have an aggressive off-season, or at least this was the commitment from GM Jim Benning in their end of season presser. Benning said buyouts would be part of their strategy, and Loui Eriksson is an obvious candidate.
Benning will be on the hunt for forward depth, and also need to clarify his goaltending situation as Braden Holtby has not worked out as hoped. The Canucks also have the highest draft pick of all of the Canadian teams at 9th overall.
With the league planning to return to its normal October to April schedule for 2021-22, there is a lot of hockey business to pack into a few weeks so it’s a busy time around the league, despite it being the off-season.
Blue Jays Babble
The Toronto Blue Jays went into the All-Star break tied for third place in the American League East.
Three Blue Jays – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (first base), Marcus Semien (second base) and Teoscar Hernandez (outfield) – were named as starters for the American League. Vladdy was named the All-Star Game MVP. Let’s hope Jays management has been busy during the break.
As Yogi Berra said, “The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.”
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and newbie ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat, just as long as it remains respectful. Find her on twitter as @lori10habs.