It’s getting to the point of summer where most NHL general managers might finally have the time to spend a few days working on their tans instead of worrying about rosters, but there are several that won’t be able to take that vacation any time soon.
There are multiple teams with restricted free agents still to get signed, some of whom still have arbitration dates scheduled. Meanwhile, there are others that have some work to do on their rosters in other ways before the puck drops in October.
Most teams would kill to have a pair of young players that have done so much in their early careers already like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The dynamic, youthful duo are part of the Flames’ foundation and should be for a long time to come. Where most teams won’t envy the Flames is that both had their contracts expire at the same time and getting reasonable deals done with both at the same time could prove challenging.
Even though neither has much leverage without arbitration rights as first-time RFAs, they don’t have to sign a contract until it’s something they like or at least close. With Calgary wanting to be competitive this year, they can’t afford a lengthy contract dispute. Both Gaudreau and Monahan are deserving of long-term extensions and can point to those signed by a guy like Nashville’s Filip Forsberg (6 years, $36 million) and expect something similar, if not better. There hasn’t been a lot of chatter about the negotiations, but the longer they take the more the pressure mounts.
The Flames have almost $15 million in cap space with no other significant roster holes to fill. Aside from potentially trying to move expensive defenseman Dennis Wideman, these contracts are the main priorities of the front office. These negotiations may be among the most important the Flames go through in a long, long time assuming they don’t settle for bridge deals with either or both of these players.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s kind of amazing with how busy the Lightning have been this offseason — re-signing Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn and Andrei Vasilevskiy — that there’s still so much to do. The biggest item on Steve Yzerman’s to-do list is re-signing Nikita Kucherov.
The Lightning really maximized Kucherov’s entry-level years. Last season, he was the team’s leading scorer and a force in the playoffs with Stamkos on the sidelines. Avoiding a bridge deal at all cost here would be in the Lightning’s best interest, which won’t be lost on this savvy front office. That said, things are complicated presently.
Tampa has about $8.5 million remaining in cap space for next season. Kucherov should take up a significant chunk of that on his next contract. However, the team also has to re-sign Vladislav Namestnikov, who is growing into a more significant role with the team and has an arbitration date set for July 29. Meanwhile, defenseman Nikita Nesterov is also awaiting a new deal.
Yzerman has already acknowledged that he likely has to clear salary to get all three re-signed. That puts players like Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan and perhaps especially Ben Bishop on high alert. The reason Bishop has reportedly been on the block is because the team is probably hitching its wagons long-term to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is much younger and already showing signs of being able to handle a No. 1 job. On top of that, Bishop is on the last year of his current contract and the team has to expose one of its goalies in the expansion draft.
The problem for Tampa now is that most teams have their goaltending situation pretty well set for next season. There are teams that could use a boost in net, most notably the Dallas Stars, but goalie trades can be pretty tough, especially when it involves a recent Vezina finalist. Knowing his track record, Yzerman is going to be extremely patient when it comes to making a move, but that could prolong contract talks with Kucherov.
Where Yzerman goes next is anyone’s guess, but the Lightning remain a team worth watching in what has been an offseason full of fireworks for the club.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have made some minor unrestricted free agent signings, locked up two of their key RFAs and managed to swing a surprise trade with the Ottawa Senators to acquire Mika Zibanejad, but there’s still work to be done.
The club still has to re-sign restricted free agents Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, both of whom filed for arbitration. Kreider’s hearing is set for July 22, while Hayes is set for July 27. Kreider and the Rangers appear pretty far apart on what the player should be worth. It very well could go through arbitration that will reset the clock temporarily.
The Rangers have about $10.65 million in cap space remaining, which should be more than enough to re-sign both players. After two 21-goal seasons, Kreider is understandably seeking a long-term deal, while the Rangers may be able to get away with a bridge contract with Hayes. The Kreider situation should be resolved within days, but even beyond that there is more to consider for GM Jeff Gorton.
Updates: Kreider signed a four-year, $11.5 million contract Friday morning to avoid arbitration with the Rangers. Later Friday, the Rangers announced a two-year deal with Kevin Hayes worth $5.2 million ($2.6 million AAV). Details in our Free Agent Tracker.
While resolving the situation with those two RFAs is a big one, the Rangers also have to consider addressing their defense. Trading Derick Brassard bought them a little extra cap space, which could help them strike a deal to boost the blue line.
As of right now, they’re lacking a bona fide puck-mover to replace Keith Yandle. If there’s any way for them to put a trade package together to go after a guy like Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues or even Colorado’s Tyson Barrie (more on him in a second), it’s something they have to consider. Going into next season with the blue line as is doesn’t look particularly promising.
The Avalanche really only have one thing left to do this summer and that’s getting a deal done with puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. And if the Avs have any amount of vision, it should be something long-term, with a trade involving Barrie being the absolute last resort.
As the NHL continues to move in a direction where speed and puck movement are integral to team success, they have a guy that excels in aiding those departments. Barrie has really taken his game to new heights in the last three years with 140 points in 222 games over that span.
Colorado has rarely been a team that spends big in recent years. Right now, they have just under $6.5 million in cap space. Barrie has filed for arbitration and has a hearing set for July 29. The team has to learn from the mistakes they made with Ryan O’Reilly in a similar situation ahead of the 2012-13 season.
Barrie should be viewed as a core player for this club, given his skill set and production. They don’t have to break the bank to keep him, but they shouldn’t leave this in the hands of the arbitrator, either. The clock is ticking.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have been pretty busy this offseason already, but it’s pretty hard to believe that there has been no contract agreement in place with No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews, while most of the players taken after him in the top-five have all worked out deals with their teams.
Detroit Red Wings: Two big RFAs that the Red Wings have to get under contract are defenseman Danny DeKeyser and goalie Petr Mrazek. Both are going to be key players for the foreseeable future for the club, but finding a way to get reasonable deals done with both is going to be easier said than done. That’s especially true if Mrazek wants to be paid like a No. 1 goalie on his next deal. Both have arbitration hearings set on consecutive days, July 27 for Mrazek and July 28 for DeKeyser.
Boston Bruins: The B’s need help on the blue line in a bad way. They should be among the teams involved in going after players like Kevin Shattenkirk and any other puck-mover that may be available. Aside from Torey Krug, the defense lacks a dynamic element to keep up in a league that’s only getting faster.
Buffalo Sabres: Tim Murray has had another strong offseason as Buffalo’s GM, but he would take it from good to great if he can land Jimmy Vesey, the former Predators draft pick whom Buffalo now has exclusive negotiating rights with. They’ve already put in some work, but the recruitment can’t stop. That could end up being one of the last pieces to the puzzle as the team looks to turn the page from rebuilding to competing.