The word that typically defines free agency in the NHL is “uncertainty.” Players with expiring contracts enter a marketplace unsure of what their next deals will look like or where they’ll next call home.
But in the 2020 free-agent frenzy, that uncertainty has reached previously unseen levels for players and teams. There’s a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for at least the next two seasons. There are internal budget constraints for teams that haven’t had a home game attended by fans since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knows what revenues will look like next season. Heck, no one knows when next season will start, though the “target date” from the NHL is Jan. 1, 2021.
Oh, and to further complicate matters, there’s that looming expansion draft to fill the Seattle Kraken roster next offseason.
Already, we’re seeing the uncertainty affect decisions. Teams are cutting salary through trades, buyouts and refusing to qualify restricted free agents to cut them loose. Although the big-name free agents will get their contracts — without the usual site-visit courtship — no one is certain how much or for how long they’ll get. Meanwhile, the league’s middle class could be absolutely squeezed.
All of these market pressures combine to produce one of the trickiest free-agent markets to predict in NHL history. Here’s a look at all 31 teams, where they stand with their free agents and what they’ll be looking for when the market (officially) opens at noon ET Friday.
Note: Advanced statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Cap and contract information from CapFriendly. Emily Kaplan covered the Central and Metropolitan Division teams, and Greg Wyshynski handled the Pacific and Atlantic Division clubs.
Key players hitting RFA: None
Cap space: $470,001
What they should do: The Ducks haven’t made the playoffs for two straight seasons, but they appear ready to take another crack at contending with a veteran team that carries a significant salary-cap load. GM Bob Murray is looking for “hockey trades,” and that should begin on the blue line, where Anaheim could use help on the right side behind Josh Manson. But the Ducks also desperately need some goal scoring from the wings. The key to this approach is a massive rebound campaign from John Gibson, who posted his first negative goals saved above average season as a starter in 2019-20. If the Ducks don’t want to tear it down, they should at least mix it up by swapping players who have plateaued — such as Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Manson and star Ryan Getzlaf if he decides it’s time to move on in the last year of his deal — for other NHL talent. As far as free agents, Miller is someone the team would like to keep around, but it’s a very crowded goalie market with other options, too.
Cap space: $2,632,765
What they should do: What should have been the biggest question of the offseason for Arizona has an easy answer. Hall is gone, with news that the Coyotes were shopping his negotiating rights. The arrival of GM Bill Armstrong signals that the Coyotes are entering a reloading phase. His expertise is building through the draft — per an agreement with his former employer, the St. Louis Blues, he can’t run this year’s draft board — and he joined a team that had only one pick in the first three rounds of the 2020 and 2021 drafts combined. Expect an aggressive campaign by Armstrong to shed some veteran contracts from an overpriced roster in an effort to bolster the future — hence the push to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes will listen to offers for Darcy Kuemper but should hang on to one of the league’s best goalies if not blown away by an offer. They have only 16 players under contract, with limited cap space following the buyout of forward Michael Grabner. Those aren’t the most ideal conditions for a new GM.
Cap space: $14,430,964
What they should do: The Bruins aren’t qualifying Brett Ritchie and Brendan Gaunce, which makes both free agents. They’d like to bring back Nordstrom but aren’t approaching his negotiations with urgency. DeBrusk is young (23) and talented, but the Bruins are listening to offers on him. They’re talking to Chara to see where he fits next season and if that fit is right for him. They’ve made no progress with Krug, offering him around a $6.5 million AAV when there are likely greater riches for him on the open market. GM Don Sweeney commented that “several free agents have gone and tested the market and come back to the same place that they were at, and it’s something we would also consider.” What he said he isn’t considering: trading Tuukka Rask, which had been speculated since he opted out of the postseason bubble. The Bruins are in on Oliver Ekman-Larsson, as Boston is one of his preferred destinations for which he’d waive his no-movement clause. With the cap space they have, could the Bruins make an even bigger swing at forward in free agency — say, a short-term deal with a Cup-hungry Taylor Hall?
Cap space: $32,258,333
What they should do: The Sabres currently have just 12 players under contract, including Jack Eichel, who isn’t going anywhere yet, and center Eric Staal, whose acquisition was an early win for new GM Kevyn Adams. They currently have just more than $49 million committed to players next season, and that’s the number to focus on, as there has been speculation regarding a $70 million internal budget next season. Of the Sabres’ free agents, Simmonds is gone. One imagines that Sobotka, Girgensons, Frolik and Vesey are as well. The team would be wise to re-sign Johan Larsson, but he’ll have suitors. The Sabres should re-up with their RFAs, but there’s speculation that Montour could be moved out after two middling seasons. The Sabres would be better to stay out of the UFA market and concentrate on the falling fruit from capped-out teams looking to move players who are age 26 or younger with term. Something to keep an eye on: The Sabres could upgrade from Carter Hutton in goal, who has one year left at $2.75 million. That would be advisable.
Cap space: $16,910,834
What they should do: This is one of the most fascinating teams of the offseason. On their blue line, and assuming Kylington is qualified, the Flames have five defensemen under contract, including rookie Juuso Valimaki. Brodie, a Flame for the past decade, had yet to receive a formal contract offer from Calgary earlier this week and could be a coveted player on the unrestricted market. Gustafsson is in the mix to return. In goal, GM Brad Treliving praised Talbot but will have a multitude of options in the short and long term available on the market. Mangiapane will be back, but the team isn’t expected to qualify Jankowski. Then there’s the big question: whether a core player such as center Sean Monahan or winger Johnny Gaudreau could be moved, as the Flames still haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2015. There has been speculation about both, including one theory bouncing around NHL echo chambers: Gaudreau gets moved to fill holes in the roster, and the Flames plug in native son Taylor Hall as their top-line left wing via free agency. Keep this in mind: Treliving said this week that he has the green light to be a team that spends to the cap. Also keep this in mind: He said he has taken inspiration from the champion Lightning, who didn’t blow up the core but augmented it.
Cap space: $7,782,261
What they should do: Foegele and Fleury — each 24 and a good fit with the Canes’ identity — are no-brainers to re-sign. Both players have arbitration rights, so Carolina will likely try to sign both players to long-term or bridge deals to avoid that process. The ball is in Williams’ court on returning for next season; this past season, the 39-year-old waited until January to re-sign, saying he needed time to “step away from the game,” as he was physically and mentally drained. A similar approach is likely this season, especially with uncertainty lingering about the schedule and format. Van Riemsdyk and Vatanen will both test the free-agent market, though they could re-sign with the Canes. The money would have to make sense, though, as Carolina needs to focus on two big upcoming contracts: Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton. The biggest area of need for Carolina is arguably goaltending. The Canes have both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek under contract for next season, at reasonable cap hits, but they should absolutely explore upgrades, especially with so many netminders available via trades or free agency.
Key players hitting UFA: G Corey Crawford
Cap space: $11,163,687
What they should do: For the Blackhawks, 2020-21 is all about continuing momentum from this season’s (unlikely) playoff appearance, especially for the next wave of stars, such as Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist and Alex DeBrincat. When it comes to the RFAs, deals for Kubalik and Strome are of the highest priority for Chicago. Both forwards are huge parts of the 25-and-under core around which the Blackhawks are trying to build, and they have impressed in their short time with the team. Caggiula and Koekkoek are nice depth pieces to keep, though both players might find better deals elsewhere. Chicago will likely have no problem moving on from Subban, considering that he appeared in one game for the team, and the Blackhawks would like to give reps to Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Which leads us to the big goaltending question: Who will be the No. 1? Option A is re-signing Crawford to a short-term deal. He knows he’ll have to take a pay cut, so the question is how much? If contract talks fall apart, the Blackhawks have plenty of options on the free-agent and trade markets.
Cap space: $22,364,405
What they should do: The Avalanche’s championship window is officially open. Even though Colorado has ample cap space, GM Joe Sakic knows that he is going to need to shell out big paydays to captain Gabriel Landeskog and 2020 Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar next summer (and of course, perennial MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon is due for a massive raise after 2022-23 from the $6.3 million he has been earning annually). Those financial considerations mean that the Avalanche should be aggressive — and creative — in how they approach this offseason. Expect the Avs to go searching for the biggest names on the market, such as Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo, offering them lucrative shorter or midrange deals similar to the four-year deal they proposed to Artemi Panarin last summer. The most obvious area of need, though, is goaltending. Although Sakic has said he is comfortable with the duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, this year’s loaded goalie crop is too enticing not to explore. The Avs, for example, would seem like a perfect landing spot for Henrik Lundqvist, should he be interested, though the winds seem to be blowing towards Lundqvist landing in Washington. Colorado could also stay quiet, worrying only about the six RFAs on the roster. Expect the Avalanche to continue shopping the rights to Nikita Zadorov, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he stays around.
Key players hitting UFA: None
Cap space: $1,725,000
What they should do: The Blue Jackets are still emerging from the all-in-on-the-2019-playoffs aftermath, but it seems like GM Jarmo Kekalainen is ready to be aggressive again. The Blue Jackets don’t have any of their own UFAs to worry about. On the RFA front, they’ll need to reserve a decent chunk of cap space for a Dubois extension, the value of which was surely augmented by his strong postseason. According to Sportsnet, the Blue Jackets are reportedly mulling a buyout for the struggling Alexander Wennberg, who is due to make $4.9 million annually for the next three seasons. Any cap savings there could free Columbus to pursue more scorers. Expect the Blue Jackets to be very active on the forward market in free agency, even after adding Max Domi in trade.
Cap space: $13,991,302
What they should do: During their run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Stars proved that they have enough winning ingredients on this roster, with a blend of veterans, role players and opportunistic scoring. Given that, it’s difficult to imagine the Stars doing anything too drastic. The biggest negotiations this offseason involve coach Rick Bowness. Both sides should get something done. The Stars have cycled through five coaches in the past decade, and the team obviously responded well to Bowness. The players deserve consistent messaging. The next big decision falls on goaltending. GM Jim Nill has said that he wants to re-sign Khudobin, who led the team through the postseason, as the oft-injured Ben Bishop was “unfit to play.” The question is: Can the Stars offer him a palatable contract, or has he priced himself out? Gurianov, Faksa and Hintz have all proven to be integral to the Stars, and a lot of offseason focus will be on those contracts. The Stars need to decide on Perry. Although he wasn’t productive in the regular season, the 35-year-old had huge value in the playoffs, scoring five goals and being a reliable pest. Another one-year deal for Perry seems fair.
Cap space: $28,211,111
What they should do: Now that GM Steve Yzerman is finished watching the fruits of his labors win a Cup in Tampa, he turns his attention back to turning the Red Wings back into a relevant franchise. Buying out the last three years of Justin Abdelkader is a good first step. Howard, Daley and Ericsson are all as good as gone as well. Mantha and Bertuzzi are going to get new deals, but it’ll be interesting to see what those deals look like, as they are two players drafted by Yzerman’s predecessor. There are two factors to watch for the Red Wings this offseason. The first is what they do with their cap space and ownership’s money. Yzerman has a stated goal of rebuilding through the draft. Taking the chunk of a player’s contract as an intermediary team in a trade — for example, as the facilitator of a Marc-Andre Fleury deal between Vegas and another team — will net Detroit some picks. There’s also the chance to pluck some contracts from teams facing a cap crunch, either to help in the future or to pick up more draft assets, as the Wings did with the Marc Staal trade. This brings us to the second factor: Making sure they have enough players under contract for 2021-22 and the Seattle expansion draft. They currently have five. Detroit has been linked with a couple of interesting players this offseason, too, including Torey Krug, UFA defenseman and Michigan native, and as a potential landing spot for one of the Lightning’s cap casualties. This could mean a player such as Tyler Johnson; it wouldn’t mean an offer-sheet raid on Mikhail Sergachev or Anthony Cirelli, would it?
Cap space: $7,591,182
What they should do: GM Ken Holland has now had a full season to scrutinize the roster he took over in 2019. He has a few priorities: a new contract for center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is a UFA after this season; finding a solid No. 3 center behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl; and replacing Smith in goal, most likely using the deep free-agent pool to pair someone with Mikko Koskinen. Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin — provided that he doesn’t stick with Dallas and Edmonton is cool with giving him the term he wants — could work. Holland’s plans might have been scrambled a bit by Oscar Klefbom‘s shoulder injury, as the defenseman is expected to miss the start of the season. The Oilers have Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell and Caleb Jones on the left side. Adding a puck-mover such as Tyson Barrie would be optimal.
Key players hitting RFA: F Lucas Wallmark (did not receive qualifying offer), F Dominic Toninato (did not receive qualifying offer), F Dryden Hunt (did not receive qualifying offer), F Aleksi Saarela, D Mackenzie Weegar
Cap space: $21,738,712
What they should do: As is often the case with new GMs, Bill Zito has fielded pitches from his new peers on players such as Aleksander Barkov. He has said “no sale” on those inquiries, but he could be the only true “untouchable” on the roster. (Well, outside of Sergei Bobrovsky, given the goaltender’s contract.) He has already made a few moves, including the addition of Patric Hornqvist from the Penguins. There’s interest in Weegar, an underrated defenseman. As for the unrestricted free agents, it’s all wait-and-see with Dadonov and Hoffman, who will have their suitors on the open market. The sense is that the Panthers have some other irons in the fire in the trade and free-agent markets, and if those cool off, the team will circle back to their own UFAs, if they’re still around. Zito has only 12 players under contract for next season, so he has a chance to put his stamp on this roster quickly. Will he go on a spending spree? Perhaps the bigger question: Does owner Vinny Viola have an appetite for another splurge after Bobrovsky’s rough season as a free-agent prize?
Key players hitting RFA: C Nikolai Prokhorkin
Cap space: $13,620,715
What they should do: Exactly what they did in acquiring Olli Maatta from the Blackhawks, which is bailing out other teams’ cap problems for little or no cost — all due respect to ECHL forward Brad Morrison, whom the Kings traded. The Blackhawks picked up a portion of Maatta’s contract for the next two seasons. There are going to be a slew of similar trades available to GM Rob Blake if he wants them. The Kings are playing the long game and playing it well, with an ever-increasing collection of top prospects, some of whom will be ready to make a difference this season. The best course is to shy away from older talent in free agency — in fact, the Kings will likely let theirs walk — and skew a little younger. Maatta turned 26 in August and brings substantial playoff experience. The key here for Blake: Make the Kings better without blocking the progress of their prospects.
Cap space: $8,467,246
What they should do: GM Bill Guerin is starting to put his stamp on this roster. That includes making some tough decisions, such as telling 37-year-old captain Mikko Koivu that it is time to move on and parting with Eric Staal. The first-time GM has been super active on the trade market in recent weeks, acquiring Marcus Johansson (who has one year remaining on his contract) from Buffalo, Nick Bjugstad (also one year left on his deal) from Pittsburgh and Nick Bonino (you guessed it: one year remaining on his deal) from Nashville. Guerin also sent Ryan Donato and long-time No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk to San Jose. Minnesota has been weighed down by mediocre goaltending the past few years; the Wild want to give Kaapo Kahkonen (the AHL goaltender of the year) a chance, but they should bring in a goalie from the crowded marketplace to compete with Kahkonen and Alex Stalock. Guerin has been listening to offers for Matt Dumba, but I think the defenseman should stay; it doesn’t sound like the Wild have been wowed by any offers, either. Minnesota’s biggest need is center depth.
Cap space: $10,868,691
What they should do: Maybe take a breath? Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has been in work mode since his team left the bubble. He handed defenseman Jeff Petry a four-year extension, traded for and signed defenseman Joel Edmundson, traded for Jake Allen to get ahead of the goalie market and swapped restricted free agents with the Blue Jackets in shipping Max Domi for winger Josh Anderson. What’s left to do? Besides contracts for the team’s RFAs, the Canadiens could be in position to make some free-agent waves at the forward position, especially when you consider that they have just three forwards under contract for next season. Logic dictates that’ll happen via trade, with some young players to ante up. But could someone such as Taylor Hall, if he were inclined to come to the market, take the Habs to the next level as a free-agent coup? Remember, we’re not too far removed from Bergevin chasing John Tavares.
Key players hitting RFA: None
Cap space: $17,667,190
What they should do: Ever since they made it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Predators have been stuck in neutral. GM David Poile tried to shake things up, firing Peter Laviolette three months into the previous season and replacing him with John Hynes (recently let go from New Jersey). Poile wants to do more but has been hamstrung by a tight cap and little flexibility, thanks to a handful of long-term contracts. The GM did himself some favors by clearing $8.1 million in cap space this week, buying out Kyle Turris (who struggled mightily with Nashville and was on the books for the next four seasons) and trading Nick Bonino to Minnesota for 22-year-old Luke Kunin. Poile has said he wants to get younger, which means Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund are likely leaving, which can open lineup spots for prospects such as Eeli Tolvanen, Philip Tomasino and Yakov Trenin. Now that Nashville has some cap room to play with, Poile might pursue some free agents with a scoring touch. Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov make sense, but Taylor Hall almost makes too much sense, given that he had his most successful season playing for Hynes in New Jersey and the Predators fit Hall’s criteria as a team ready to win now.
Cap space: $26,245,001
What they should do: The Devils are still on the rebuild, so they should weaponize their cap space. Plenty of teams are feeling burdened by bad contracts, especially with the salary cap remaining flat at $81.5 million for the foreseeable future and the Seattle expansion draft looming. Any team in that situation should be calling GM Tom Fitzgerald, and New Jersey should be open-minded and ready for business, acquiring as many draft picks and young players as possible to surround Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. “I’m not looking for a quick fix here,” Fitzgerald said last week. “When this team takes off, it’s when Jack and Nico take off for good. And then they’re the type of players that can pull everybody with them.” On the current roster, the biggest offseason priority is a new deal for Mackenzie Blackwood, whom the Devils are ready to anoint as their No. 1. Although Cory Schneider is under contract for two more seasons, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New Jersey move on and sign another veteran to back up and compete with Blackwood.
Cap space: $8,905,833
What they should do: The Islanders seem really close. GM Lou Lamoriello would like to keep the roster intact, but it’s going to be tough with the team’s financial situation. The famously secretive GM rarely telegraphs what he’s about to do. We know the Isles’ top order of business is signing Barzal to a long-term deal. The 23-year-old is the most exciting forward on New York’s roster, and he could command nearly all of the Islanders’ available cap space with his new contract. The Islanders also need to sign two of their up-and-coming defensemen to new deals: Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. There isn’t a ton of cap space to play with, so look for Lamoriello to make tough decisions (such as potentially parting with fan favorite fourth-liner Matt Martin) and do some other roster reconstruction. As always, the Islanders are a dark-horse team when it comes to luring free agents. If Lamoriello could find a way to bring in a scorer such as Mike Hoffman, who has averaged 28 goals the past six seasons, he would do it.
Cap space: $23,091,867
What they should do: Although it seems like the Rangers are in salary-cap heaven — a spend-happy team has more than $23 million in cap space, what could go wrong? — that isn’t exactly the situation. New York has only 13 NHL-level contracts signed for next season, and DeAngelo and Strome are asking for big contracts; both players are coming off career-best 50-plus-point seasons. The Rangers have extra money available because they already did some cap maneuvering, trading long-time defensive stalwart Marc Staal and buying out Henrik Lundqvist. Both players’ roles must be replaced. Igor Shesterkin, Lundqvist’s heir, is on his entry-level contract for one more season, but Alexandar Georgiev (who should get a decent share of the starts) is due for a new deal. The Rangers’ rebuild was expedited with the signing of Artemi Panarin and their winning the 2020 draft lottery, but it isn’t over yet. Expect Jeff Gorton to explore the market for centers. Erik Haula could be a good fit, and Derek Grant could be a budget option.
Cap space: $42,062,500
What they should do: The Senators already made two significant moves. The first was buying out Bobby Ryan‘s contract, which will linger on their cap for the next four seasons. The next was acquiring Matt Murray from the Penguins. He’s a 26-year-old goalie with multiple Stanley Cups who will be given a fresh start with the Senators after a couple of tough seasons in Pittsburgh. Brown and Tierney will both get bumps on new contracts. The Senators are in a full-on rebuild, but GM Pierre Dorion has done a great job of building their prospects and draft assets. The team could get richer in both if owner Eugene Melnyk allows Ottawa to take a chunk of a traded player’s contract as an intermediary on a three-way trade or in a straight-up deal in which the Senators land someone’s high-salaried flat-cap casualty. The key, as it is with rebuilding teams, is to not block the progress of young players in the system. The Senators have only 10 players under contract, and only two of them are over 30. They could use some veteran sages in the Hainsey mold next season.
Key players hitting RFA: D Philippe Myers
Cap space: $8,685,273
What they should do: The Flyers got a late surprise when Matt Niskanen told management that he was retiring with one year remaining on his contract. Philadelphia quickly reacted by signing Justin Braun to an extension — GM Chuck Fletcher didn’t want to lose two of the team’s penalty-killing veterans — but the blue line, once an area of strength for Philly, is now a bit murkier. Niskanen shone on a top pairing with Ivan Provorov last season, and Fletcher said he “won’t be easy to replace.” Philly could take a run at Alex Pietrangelo or Torey Krug, though Krug plays on the left, which is the deeper side on Philly’s depth chart. The Flyers could also pursue a reunion with Radko Gudas, who was traded for Niskanen last summer. It seems like the Flyers have already conducted the rest of their offseason business, bringing back backup goalie Brian Elliott, who took a reduced rate to stay. If the Flyers want to be more aggressive, they could look into bringing in Bobby Ryan. Adding a new dimension to the offense should be a priority after it stalled in the playoffs. Ryan — a South Jersey native who was recently bought out by the Senators — said the Flyers would be “high on my list.”
Cap space: $4,718,158
What they should do: Since the Pens last won the Cup in 2017, GM Jim Rutherford has been constantly reshaping his roster around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in both dramatic and subtle ways. Let’s just say this offseason hasn’t been subtle. Rutherford has already bought out maligned defenseman Jack Johnson and traded away Nick Bjugstad, Patric Hornqvist and Matt Murray. As for the rest of the roster? The Penguins said that Schultz is not coming back, and they did not extend a qualifying offer to Dominik Simon, which will make the forward an unrestricted free agent. The Penguins don’t have a ton of cap space to maneuver, and they are reportedly operating with a lower internal salary cap, which means Rutherford might have to wait until the trade deadline to make more acquisitions.
Cap space: $8,640,000
What they should do: The Sharks had an active week, trading for forward Ryan Donato and goalie Devan Dubnyk from the Wild. The latter acquisition gives them the veteran goalie battery they wanted for next season. Donato helps the forwards, but Wilson will no doubt be on the lookout for additional help in the UFA market, with a green light to spend to the cap. From the team’s free agents, Noesen could return on a low-cost deal. Labanc signed that infamous, one-year, $1 million deal last summer; what does he get this time after his stats sunk? Then there are the Joe Thornton questions. Does he want to return to the NHL next season? Will it be with the Sharks? Add to that the Patrick Marleau question: Would the Sharks bring the franchise legend back for a third tour of duty, as he sits 44 games away from Gordie Howe’s all-time record of 1,767 games played? One other interesting veteran option: Would Bobby Ryan, fresh off a buyout from the Senators, like to join some fellow veterans back in California with the Sharks? It’s clear that the Sharks think that with an optimal season from their veterans — returns to form and healthy campaigns — they could contend with an improved defensive effort. It seems Wilson will approach the offseason that way.
Key players hitting UFA: F Troy Brouwer, D Alex Pietrangelo
Key players hitting RFA: D Vince Dunn
Cap space: $5,153,096
What they should do: The one name that dictates what the Blues do this summer: Alex Pietrangelo. The captain wants to stay (and the team knows it), but the Blues have been tough negotiators. Contract talks have broken down several times, and St. Louis has gone on to ink several other player deals, leading to further frustration. The Blues should find a compromise with Pietrangelo. If not, the focus falls next on RFA Vince Dunn. The 23-year-old would get an increased role and probably a better contract if Pietrangelo leaves. St. Louis would need to replace Pietrangelo in the lineup. The Blues could promote Robert Bertuzzo to a regular role or find more budget options on the market. A Kevin Shattenkirk reunion could be intriguing. If Pietrangelo leaves, the Blues should spend their extra cap space on top-nine scoring. St. Louis managed without Vladimir Tarasenko for nearly all of last season, but he had yet another surgery this offseason, and it’s tough to predict when or in what capacity he will return.
Cap space: $4,595,834
What they should do: The Stanley Cup champions aren’t going to get fat and happy after (finally) winning the big prize. The first priority is new contracts for Cirelli, Sergachev and Cernak. Clearly, the Lightning will need to ship out some salaries to accomplish that. Veterans Tyler Johnson ($5 million AAV, no-trade clause), Yanni Gourde ($5,166,666 AAV, no-trade clause) and Alex Killorn ($4.45 million AAV, modified no-trade clause) are the likeliest candidates. But TSN’s Bob McKenzie dropped the bombshell on Monday that oft-injured superstar Steven Stamkos ($9.5 million AAV, no-move clause) isn’t considered an untouchable. After this bit of business, it’ll be on GM Julien BriseBois to rebuild the supporting cast, either by bringing back some of the veteran unrestricted free agents or by finding the next diamonds in the rough.
Cap space: $5,406,467
What they should do: Well, there’s what they should do and what they can do. The Leafs should trade Frederik Andersen in his walk year, but market forces made that difficult for GM Kyle Dubas, so the goalie is back. They should make a big move to bolster their defense after Barrie didn’t work out — they need to add something on the right side — but with limited cap breathing room, that’s going to be difficult. They should be in the market for the kind of bottom-six grit and toughness that help championship teams excel, which is why the Leafs have been linked to free-agent players such as Wayne Simmonds. This last task should be the easier one to accomplish, thanks in part to a slew of restricted free agents who are going to hit the unrestricted market after not receiving qualifying offers. There are bargains to be had for the kind of hard-charging, penalty-killing players the Leafs lack in their bottom six.
Cap space: $13,473,122
What they should do: This is a critical juncture for GM Jim Benning. The Canucks had their playoff Bar Mitzvah this summer, winning the qualification round, eliminating the defending champion Blues in the quarterfinals and pushing the Golden Knights to seven games. They’re flush with cap space next season before having to hand new contracts to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes for 2021-22. They should retain their RFAs, though there is speculation that they could move Virtanen. Their UFAs are the tricky part. Tavev, 30, was the primary partner for Hughes, but the rookie had better underlying numbers while skating with others. Toffoli fit snugly into the top six, but do they want to do a long-term deal with the 28-year-old? Markstrom was a playoff hero before Thatcher Demko took the baton, but how much does the team want to pay a 30-year-old who had his best season in his contract year and reportedly wants expansion-draft protection? Trickier still is whether the Canucks should trade for Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is signed through 2027. The best-case scenario: Re-sign Markstrom without draft protection, and see if Toffoli will go big money for one season. OEL is a tough one to fathom, in both economics and effectiveness.
Key players hitting RFA: F Nick Cousins (did not receive qualifying offer)
Cap space: $0
What they should do: That isn’t a typo on the line above: The Golden Knights need to clear some cap space, first and foremost. The five-year, $25 million deal for goaltender Robin Lehner gobbled up the remainder of what they had. On top of Cousins needing a new deal, the Knights undoubtedly want to make another bold move to push closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup, with prized unrestricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo reportedly on the radar. Who might move? Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ($7 million AAV) is as good as gone, but the Knights need an intermediary team to pick up a portion of his contract before trading him. (Say, Detroit, for a high draft pick heading to the Red Wings?) Defenseman Alec Martinez ($4 million AAV) has one year left and a lot of value. Veterans Paul Stastny ($6.5 million AAV), Max Pacioretty ($7 million AAV) and Jonathan Marchessault ($5 million AAV) are all possibilities, but they carry some trade protection.
Key players hitting UFA: F Ilya Kovalchuk, D Radko Gudas, G Braden Holtby
Cap space: $5,000,123
What they should do: The Caps already made their big move of the offseason. They fired second-year coach Todd Reirden after another early playoff exit, then splurged on Peter Laviolette. GM Brian MacLellan hopes that a different (and more experienced) voice will fix his team’s post-Cup woes, meaning he won’t have to blow up the roster. The contract talks that are perhaps most interesting are with Alex Ovechkin, though his deal isn’t up until after the 2020-21 season. Ovechkin is negotiating for himself, and it’s believed that he wants a new deal with Washington (and not, say, to bolt to finish his career in Russia). Washington liked what it saw from Brenden Dillon, and they re-signed him already. That deal means they’re likely moving on from Radko Gudas. The Caps are also moving on from their Cup-winning goalie, Braden Holtby. The Caps have a lot of faith in 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, but they’ll want an experienced goaltender to back him up. Washington is a contender for any veteran netminder on the market; say, one that recently played his home games at Madison Square Garden?
Cap space: $11,077,145
What they should do: After last season’s unexpectedly high turnover on the blue line, the Jets’ priority is to stabilize their defensive corps. Winnipeg was aggressive in re-signing Dylan DeMelo, and he was a great fit after being acquired from San Jose last season. After that deal, the Jets have only five NHL defensemen signed to contracts for next season — DeMelo, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Carl Dahlstrom and Tucker Poolman, the latter two of whom are each making less than $1 million — so adding blueliners is a must. There has been plenty of chatter about a potential Patrik Laine trade. The 22-year-old has proven himself as an elite goal scorer, but there’s a sense that both sides don’t feel great about the winger’s situation — sometimes on the ice but mostly when it comes to his next contract. When his entry-level contract expired in 2019, Laine agreed to a two-year bridge deal to bet on himself. That contract expires after next season. If the Jets think it’s going to be an issue to re-sign him long-term, they might try to avoid the drama now and strike while they have control of the situation.