“Hockey isn’t a Big Four sport anymore.” That’s a real thing being spit out by our perpetual hot-take culture. (Well, it’s specifically one guy, but I don’t want to say his name, for fear of summoning a great evil.)
I find it hard to believe the NHL has been passed by another sport because, like the other biggest leagues in North America, the season has truly become a year-long event.
The crowning of the Pittsburgh Penguins as champions officially kicked off hockey’s busy season, with the entry draft coming this week and free agency to follow on July 1. The potential for earth-shattering moves this offseason only grows with the league’s salary cap remaining relatively flat. (Hmm, perhaps no Canadians overpaying for playoff tickets was a bad thing?)
The contending Chicago Blackhawks already started shedding bloated contracts, trading Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes. You can expect more teams to follow suit in order to get out from under the cap ceiling (around $73 million), while others just try to hit the cap floor ($54 million).
With a full summer of action approaching, let’s look at the odds for the NHL offseason.
NHL 2016 Offseason Odds:
Odds where Steven Stamkos will sign
Detroit Red Wings: 11/3
Buffalo Sabres: 4/1
Toronto Maple Leafs: 11/2
Montreal Canadiens: 7/1
Tampa Bay Lightning: 7/1
New York Islanders: 9/1
Florida Panthers: 11/1
The opportunities for free agency’s prize pig are endless. If he wants to stay with a young Tampa team on the cusp of greatness, that’s certainly an option; but the $8.5 million-per-year deal he’d be getting from the Lightning would be a massive “hometown discount.”
Detroit would make a lot of sense with their top center, Pavel Datsyuk, heading back to Russia. But unless they can trade his contract first, they may not have the space. As for rebuilding Buffalo and Toronto, they both have the money, but most of their offensive prospects play up the middle. Would Stamkos (an Ontario native) be willing to stay on the wing just to play close to home?
Odds Detroit trades Pavel Datsyuk’s contract: 5/7
Odds where Milan Lucic will sign
Edmonton Oilers: 11/4
Calgary Flames: 4/1
Philadelphia Flyers: 4/1
Vancouver Canucks: 10/1
Kings fans will be fine with Lucic heading for the door, where Alberta’s two up and coming teams will be waiting with open arms. Both Calgary and Edmonton have a ton of young talented forwards, but no big-bodied-banger to play them with. Lucic represents the gritty, disruptive force that both those teams need. But that’s also a style of play the Flyers have always coveted.
All three teams have cap space to work with. While the Flames have the most, they’ll need to save some of that for goalies: they currently have zero under contract.
There’s also the chance Lucic returns home, but you’d have to deem that unlikely, since every time he goes to Vancouver, people try to punch him in the face.
Odds where David Backes will sign
St Louis: 20/23
After his tearful scrum following the Blues elimination in the Western Conference Finals, it’s tough to imagine Backes really giving the open market a look. The captain of one of hockey’s most consistently successful regular season teams, he’d be hard-pressed to find a franchise that can offer substantially better money and a chance to win now.
Then again, St. Louis has a few key pieces heading for free agency – including Troy Brouwer – and even more important re-signings to make in 2017. If they can’t meet on a reasonable number, perhaps its the Blues organization that ends this 13-year partnership.
Odds where Jimmy Vesey will sign
Boston Bruins: 7/5
Buffalo Sabres: 13/5
The reigning Hobey Baker winner spurned the team that drafted him, the Nashville Predators, saying he wanted to test free agency. Vesey, who’s not eligible for free agency until Aug. 15, then had his rights shipped to Buffalo for a draft pick, giving the Sabres a few weeks to sell the 23-year-old on upstate New York.
It sounds like Vesey is pretty set on testing the open market, but Buffalo is hoping former Boston University teammate and fellow Massachusetts native Jack Eichel can make a convincing pitch. If he can’t, then there’s a clear-cut favorite in free agency.
Odds the Penguins trade Marc-Andre Fleury: 11/10
Next year’s expansion draft looms large for the Penguins; they can’t possibly keep both Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, and letting one of them go without compensation would be a real screw up. Even though Fleury has a no-movement clause, he represents the likely trade chip over the 22-year-old Murray.
Murray proved in the playoffs that he’s ready to be a starter. The Pens should feel all the more comfortable moving Fleury given that they have Tristan Jarry waiting in the wings in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Jarry, a second-round pick from 2013, had a nice first season as a pro, especially after Murray was called up. He also has championship experience, winning a Memorial Cup in 2014 with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Odds the Lightning trade Ben Bishop: 5/9
Tampa is in a similar boat as Pittsburgh, boasting two solid goalies that they wouldn’t be able to protect in next year’s expansion draft. Except both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevski will be free agents after next season, meaning the Bolts need to lock up one and get value for the other. Not surprisingly, it sounds like Tampa is going with the younger Vasilevski, meaning, despite his no-movement clause, Bishop will be shopped around this offseason.
Odds the Rangers trade Henrik Lundqvist: 22/1
This one of those trades that makes too much sense to ever actually happen. New York’s old core is falling off one by one, and they need to entertain the idea of a rebuild. King Henrik is the team’s most valuable asset, one a contender with goaltending issues (cough, Dallas) would love to have.
Odds the Penguins trade Evgeni Malkin: 30/1
Fleury is far from the only Penguin dogged by trade rumors right now, though these ones seem a little less likely. Pittsburgh is tight against the cap, but dealing one of the NHL’s top-ten players is not a legitimate answer. Expect these rumors to go away soon.
Odds the Canadiens trade P.K. Subban: 40/1
Why is this always a storyline in Montreal?
Over/under on how many RFAs switch teams: 4.5
Extending offer sheets to other teams’ restricted free agents is somewhat frowned upon by the “old boys club” of NHL GMs. However, with the introduction of some young blood, including 26-year-old John Chayka (Arizona), perhaps things will begin to change?
One RFA that’s susceptible to be plucked away is Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. Winnipeg is one of the lowest-spending teams in the league and are unlikely to match the market for their top D-man. A trade ahead of time seems highly possible.
Elsewhere, the Ducks already dealt Frederik Andersen, and names like Andrew Shaw (Chicago), Matt Dumba (Minnesota), and Chris Kreider (New York) could also go.
(Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_6043) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)