Answering the big NHL offseason questions: Trade candidates, free agents, draft rumblings

The 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs have ended, with the Colorado Avalanche winning their first Cup since 2001.

As the runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning and the other 30 non-Cup winners look to prevent an Avs repeat next season, there are a number of lingering questions on how exactly they’ll go about doing it.

The process has already started, as we saw a top-six forward dealt from one playoff team to another in the Kevin Fiala-to-Los Angeles Kings swap. Will there be more trades ahead of or at next week’s draft? Who are the top free agents hitting the market on July 13? Let’s dive in.

Who are the marquee free agents, and where might they land?

The top four free agents heading into July 13: Nazem Kadri, Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg and Claude Giroux. Will any of them actually re-sign with their current teams? It feels about 50-50 across the board.

Gaudreau and Kadri have both been linked to Philadelphia as a potential landing spot; Gaudreau because it’s near his hometown in New Jersey, and Kadri because his disruptive (but skilled) style seems tailor-made for the Flyers and new coach John Tortorella.

Forsberg hasn’t agreed to an extension with Nashville so far; the Kings would be a team to watch if Forsberg does hit the open market. L.A. averaged fewer than three goals per game last season, and they have money to spend. Forsberg’s skill set would be a tremendous asset, and he’d be reunited with former Predators’ teammate Viktor Arvidsson.

As for Giroux, it could be a two-team race with Ottawa and Florida. The Senators have talented young players, and Giroux would be an excellent mentor to them. Going home would also be the sentimental choice for Giroux. But, if he wants to truly chase a championship, staying with the Panthers (if that’s an option) is the play. It really comes down to what Giroux wants to prioritize at this stage of his career. — Kristen Shilton

Which teams will be the most active in free agency?

The Colorado Avalanche should be brewing a strong pot of coffee right about now after their Stanley Cup party.

“It’s going to be a lot more difficult [to win again] obviously,” general manager Joe Sakic said. “We have a lot of unrestricted free agents here and the cap’s not going up really. We have decisions to make.”

The Avs have 14 players under contract for next season. Their unrestricted free agents include a slew of players who contributed to their Cup victory: Center Nazem Kadri, winger Valeri Nichushkin, defenseman Josh Manson and goalie Darcy Kuemper among them. Artturi Lehkonen, a key trade deadline pick-up and playoff performer, is a restricted free agent. Colorado’s core of players are championship-level. How the Avalanche fill in the blanks around them will determine their chances for a repeat — with a flat salary cap, and Nathan MacKinnon needing a new contract next summer.

The Calgary Flames were expected to challenge the Avalanche in the Western Conference, but their playoff push stalled in the second round. The Flames have about a dozen players under contract for next season. One of them is not winger Johnny Gaudreau, the jewel of the free-agent market. He’s an unrestricted free agent; forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane are restricted free agents, as is defenseman Oliver Kylington.

One more team to watch: The Seattle Kraken. The second-year franchise failed to make an impact in its inaugural campaign. There’s buzz around the league that Seattle could be aggressive in free agency, seeking to make a big splash (as Kraken are wont to do). They have close to $23 million in cap space with which to play. — Greg Wyshynski

Who are some under-the-radar FAs that could end up with a really big contract?

Before the Stanley Cup Final, this would have been Valeri Nichushkin. But he’s on everyone’s radar now, and will command the sizable new contract reflective of his regular season and playoff performances.

A pair of Nichushkin’s Colorado teammates — Andre Burakovsky and Josh Manson — could see unexpectedly large bumps in their negotiations. Burakovsky and Manson both have strong bargaining power; Manson most likely hits the open market with plenty of suitors after a consistent postseason, and Burakovsky’s value got a bump from his late-playoff showing.

Two other names to watch: Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano. Trocheck is 28 and just entering his prime after an under-hyped 51-point season. Vatrano was added by the Rangers at the deadline, and exceeded expectations on their postseason run. Both should have played their way into better deals than they would have fetched last fall. — Shilton

What will the goalie market look like this offseason?

The goalie market isn’t nearly as robust as that wild carousel last summer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing options.

The unrestricted free agents include Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper of the Avalanche; Marc-Andre Fleury, who Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin hopes to bring back; Jack Campbell, who went 51-14-9 in three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs; St. Louis Blues goalie Ville Husso, who stole Jordan Binnington‘s job for a spell last season; and Braden Holtby, who had a bounce-back campaign with the Dallas Stars.

After that, it’s names like Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, Detroit Red Wings goalie Thomas Greiss, Flyers goalie Martin Jones and Predators goalie David Rittich.

There are four interesting restricted free agents. Both Washington Capitals‘ goalies, Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov, are RFAs. So is Alexandar Georgiev of the Rangers, as well as playoff hero Jake Oettinger of the Stars.

Some of those RFAs could end up on the trade market, where there are other veteran options. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings had a solid playoff showing and is in the last year of a contract with a $5.8 million AAV. Semyon Varlamov of the Islanders is also in the last year of his deal ($5 million AAV) for a team that needs to open up cap flexibility. The Devils could move on from Mackenzie Blackwood.

The wild card this summer is Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson. He refuted a report that he wanted a trade from the only franchise he’s known, but would the Ducks benefit from moving his team-friendly cap hit ($6.4 million) with five years left on the 28-year-old’s deal? — Wyshynski

Will we see an offer sheet this summer?

That depends: Will the Montreal Canadiens sign one of the Carolina Hurricanes‘ restricted free agents, because it’s their turn in this “top that” offer sheet rivalry?

All kidding aside, the Hurricanes do have a restricted free agent that would fit the offer sheet bill: Center Martin Necas, who had 40 points in 78 games last season, but could use a change in scenery.

Two other targets of note: New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson is coming off a 51-point breakout season on a team with salary cap issues; and Stars goalie Oettinger, if only because there are so many teams seeking a solution in goal. But since the Stars’ only other goalie under contract is Anton Khudobin, one assumes they’d do what it takes to retain him.

In the end, offer sheets are like sales at Louis Vuitton: Fascinating in theory, almost non-existent in reality. Well, outside of Montreal and Raleigh. — Wyshynski

Who are the most notable skaters on the trade market — and which do you think will get traded?

The No. 1 player on most trade boards has already been moved: Forward Kevin Fiala, whom the Minnesota Wild traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday for a first-round pick and NCAA defenseman Brock Faber.

Who’s next? There’s been plenty of speculation about the Vancouver Canucks‘ forward duo of J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. Miller, 29, has no trade protection, a $5.25 million cap hit and reaches unrestricted free agency next summer. Boeser, 25, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights — but he made $7.5 million in salary last season.

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun was in the rumor mill last season and is going to be again during the summer. The 24-year-old puck-mover needs a change in scenery; but given his team-friendly contract ($4.6 million AAV through 2024-25), he won’t come without a huge return for Arizona.

The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to reshape their roster. GM Kyle Davidson said that only Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Seth Jones — who have no-movement clauses — aren’t being shopped. Which means standout winger Alex DeBrincat, 24, could be on the move this summer.

The Edmonton Oilers could look to move offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie (signed through 2023-24, $4.5 million AAV) to create some cap flexibility.

The Montreal Canadiens could move 34-year-old Jeff Petry, who has three more seasons at $6.25 million against the cap. He asked for a trade last season because his family is in the U.S. The Canadiens could also be tempted to move forward Josh Anderson, who has a $5.5 million AAV on a contract that runs through 2027. Keep in mind that GM Kent Hughes didn’t acquire him or sign him.

Among the restricted free agents that could be on the move if the economics don’t work out with their respective teams: Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto of the Oilers; defensemen Tony DeAngelo and Ethan Bear of the Hurricanes; center Pavel Zacha and winger Jesper Bratt of the Devils; and winger Kasperi Kapanen of the Penguins.

Then there’s Pierre-Luc Dubois, who reportedly told the Jets he plans on testing the free agent market … in 2024. The Jets have two more seasons of control over the restricted free agent. Talk about calling your shot.

Who gets traded? Three names we’re expecting: Chychrun, Puljujarvi and Miller. — Wyshynski

How transformative will this offseason be for the Seattle Kraken?

GM Ron Francis pledged to build Seattle up the slow and steady way. The Kraken played last season as the anti-Vegas Golden Knights, stumbling through their freshman campaign like an awkward teen. Seattle can use this offseason to start the inevitable franchise glow-up.

Francis holds the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, which has the outside potential of producing a selection who could be in the Kraken lineup sooner than later. The Kraken have four second-round picks; does the GM use them all on prospects, or leverage some on the trade block?

Setting Seattle up for success in free agency is critical. It will take more than just great drafting to mold the Kraken into an eventual contender. Francis has done well so far getting a couple key players from the expansion draft (Jared McCann and Jamie Oleksiak, especially) on long-term contracts. A return to form by goaltender Philipp Grubauer would go a long way in stabilizing the team’s most important position. Francis doesn’t have much control there — especially given the goalie’s long-term deal — but he can surround Grubauer with more talent.

This second offseason will require Francis to add more impact skaters to the mix, and keep instilling confidence in Seattle’s future direction. If Francis plays his cards right, Seattle could be one of the surprises of next season; maybe not quite a playoff team, but a lot more fun to watch. — Shilton

Does Shane Wright still go No. 1 in the draft?

Montreal should have no reservations about taking right-shooting center Shane Wright at No. 1. He’s still the best overall player available, he’s the safest choice based on history of past performance, and he has overcome character-building battles to get where he is.

When the OHL canceled its 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hurt Wright’s ability to truly establish himself in that No. 1 spot sooner. Wright had ground to make up in this last OHL campaign, and finished eighth in league scoring with 94 points in 63 games (plus 14 points in 11 playoff tilts). He’s also a 6-foot, 200-pound 18-year-old with an admirable competitive streak, good leadership skills, high hockey IQ and game-breaking potential.

Wright consistently makes things happen on the ice and elevates those around him, and he’ll be a cornerstone for Montreal. — Shilton

Logan Cooley is a 5-10 forward from the U.S. development program who came up through the Sidney Crosby “Little Penguins” program in Pittsburgh, but fancies himself as a Patrick Kane-like scorer. Slovakia has produced two great prospects: Left wing Juraj Slafkovsky, who some believe could still go first overall; and Simon Nemec, the highest-rated defenseman in the draft on most boards. Czech defenseman David Jiricek is right there with him.

Forward Cutter Gauthier and center Matthew Savoie are also expected to go in the top 10. — Wyshynski

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