By Lori Bennett
With the NHL Amateur Draft in the history books, attention has shifted to free agency.
On Wednesday, July 13, the free agency window opens, and unrestricted free agents whose contracts have expired are free to sign with any team. The final list will not likely be sorted until noon EST on Wednesday as teams work hard to try and re-sign the biggest names.
The most sought after UFAs are in the forwards category. Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary), Filip Forsberg (Nashville), Nazem Kadri (Colorado), Claude Giroux (Florida), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh), Valeri Nichushkin (Colorado) and Evander Kane (Edmonton) are the most prominent names that are up for grabs. About half of those names will end up going nowhere when their current teams cough up the cash to keep them, and some will even be re-signed by the time you’re reading this. Still, some of them will find new homes and healthy pay raises this week.
There are some delicious defencemen who are also set to become UFAs. Kris Letang (Pittsburgh) was the biggest name but recommitted to the Penguins. John Klingberg (Dallas) and Josh Manson (Colorado) are blueliners who are about to strike gold.
Last summer was a game of goalie musical chairs, and that theme may continue this year. Darcy Kuemper (Colorado), Jack Campbell (Toronto), Marc-Andre Fleury (Minnesota) and Ville Husso (St. Louis) are all netminders that could find themselves at a new address come training camp.
Free agency is truly silly season, and some of the teams that “win the sweepstakes” this week will have significant buyers’ remorse before long. With the executive side of the hockey business picking up, fans are waiting to see if some big questions are answered.
Is this the summer when the Toronto Maple Leafs will give up one of their expensive forwards to address other needs? Will the Edmonton Oilers finally land a reliable goalie? Can the Calgary Flames retain their two best forwards? Will the Montreal Canadiens be able to clear enough salary to make improvements to their team? Can the Ottawa Senators take the next step? Does anyone even know what the most pressing questions are for the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks?
The head coaching picture also continued to shift this past week. The Detroit Red Wings named Derek Lalonde, who arrives via Tampa Bay where he was one of the assistant coaches. Jim Montgomery, who was an assistant in St. Louis, is the new guy in Boston. The Winnipeg Jets shifted gears quickly after Barry Trotz decided to take a break from coaching and hired Rick Bowness, who was recently fired by Dallas.
Just when we thought the coaching situation had settled down, the San Jose Sharks relieved their coaching staff. The Sharks made bigger news on Tuesday, hiring Mike Grier as their General Manager. Grier becomes the first Black person to be named GM in NHL history.
The NHL took further strides in diversifying its executives this week. The Toronto Maple Leafs promoted Hayley Wickenheiser to an Assistant General Manager position. She joins three other women to take on AGM roles this summer, including Meghan Hunter in Chicago, Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay in Vancouver, and Kate Madigan in New Jersey.
Blue Jays Babble
Last week the Toronto Blue Jays tried to bolster their bullpen, signing veteran reliever Sergio Romo. The 39-year-old won three World Series rings with the San Francisco Giants but is in the twilight of his career. He was recently released by Seattle after a rough start, and the Jays have signed him for the rest of the season. Romo is not likely the long-term solution the Jays need, but it is short-term help if he can minimally eat innings in losing games and save some other guys for the winnable games.
Then on the weekend the Jays acquired left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda from the Pittsburgh Pirates to strengthen the bullpen. Like Romo, Banda is a help, but not likely a solution.
Clearly, the Jays need more. They lost three of four home games to the Tampa Bay Rays on the weekend, and then opened their three-game series against the Oakland Athletics with a couple of losses. They were headed to Seattle for a four-game weekend series against the Seattle Mariners.
At the halfway mark of the season, the Jays find themselves trailing the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East. If management doesn’t act soon, they might not be in a position to act at the deadline.
With the free agency negotiating period opening last weekend, and signings set to begin this past Thursday, the Toronto Raptors were active.
First reports broke that the Raptors had re-signed Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young, retaining some existing depth. Then they signed forward Otto Porter Jr. to a two-year deal, fresh off being part of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. Porter’s defensive prowess is a good fit for the young Raptors, and he is a solid long-range shooter which the Raptors have lacked.
These deals were overshadowed by news that Kevin Durant had requested a trade out of Brooklyn, and rumours that the Raptors were contenders to acquire him. Press deadline came before resolution on this storyline, but it’s one to watch and see if Masai Ujiri can work some magic and obtain the aging star without sacrificing important pieces of the current squad.
Of course, obtaining Durant is only the first challenge. Keeping the enigmatic star happy is the real quandary.