The free agent market opens Friday for players seeking a new home, albeit on a different date this year.
Considering how the coronavirus has affected teams’ finances, as well as an impending flat cap, it will be damn-near surprising to see too many teams splurge ridiculously on free agents once the window opens. But some teams will be facing more pressure than others to improve their teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs fans are hoping for some reinforcements on defense to finally wash away the concerns about their team being too front-loaded. The Leafs hoped Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci would help strengthen the back end last season, but it’s all but certain they’ll move on from the two UFAs. Even with those two players off the books, the Leafs will only have slightly more than $5 million in cap space.
General manager Kyle Dubas will have to part with a piece from his forward core to clear more space if he wants to really splurge on free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, a player who would be an ideal fit (for any team) if they want to be a true contender going forward. Pietrangelo has reportedly said he’d be willing to take less than the $9 million annually the Predators gave to Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, but has opted to test free agency despite St. Louis offering up to $8 million AAV. Take from that what you will, but it gives you an idea of what it would cost to land the 30-year-old right-shot D-man on a long-term deal. It would take some serious manoeuvring for the Leafs to make that work.
They could always look at cheaper options to bolster the right side of their D corps by going after guys like T.J. Brodie or even Kevin Shattenkirk, but Leafs fans know that won’t do.
The Leafs also vowed to get tougher to play against, which could be addressed in free agency, but with only so much wiggle room under the cap they won’t be able to pay a premium for it.
There is always pressure for the Leafs to do something and Dubas’s seat won’t get any cooler after yet another lacklustre season.
The Oilers hope to be more of a consistent presence in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Having players like Connor McDavid, NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can help them get there.
But they could use more scoring options beyond those three. The Oilers are relying too much on a streaky James Neal and a grinder in Zack Kassian, which just isn’t good enough. Edmonton needs that winger to take the next step.
General manager Ken Holland has seemingly given up on Andreas Athanasiou after revealing he wouldn’t send him a qualifying offer. It means the Oilers might have to dive into the free agent bin for a scoring winger. Mike Hoffman, a proven goal scorer, is out there. As are Evgenii Dadonov, Tyler Toffoli, and Mikael Granlund. Even Taylor Hall, if they wish to go down that well again.
Had it not been for injuries, the Colorado Avalanche may very well have been the Western Conference’s representative in the Stanley Cup Final this season instead of the Dallas Stars. A team with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar is loaded enough.
But the Avs, being so close to greatness, can put themselves near the top if they acquire a final piece or two. With $22 million in projected cap space to work with, Hall would be an obvious target and his willingness to sign a short-term contract would make it easier on them. Pietrangelo might be too rich for them depending on the players they bring back.
GM Joe Sakic knows a lot about winning from his playing days, and he’s very close to bringing them back to that precipice. He might be able to do it if he gets a big fish in the free agent market.
The Stars finally started to deliver on the promise thrust upon them, even if their recent playoff run ended in defeat in the Stanley Cup Final.
In order to return to the Final, they will need to retool upfront. There were long stretches in the playoffs where the Stars’ forwards fired blanks and were forced to rely on great goaltending to push them forward. The offense can score, they were just locked down and too banged up at times (just ask Tyler Seguin). Dallas could use some help.
Denis Gurianov is a restricted free agent, so whatever money he gets will cut into the projected $13.9 million cap space they have. They may have to really think about whether it’s worth bringing Corey Perry back into the fold at the expense of landing a younger, quality forward.
But GM Jim Nill has shown he’ll do whatever it takes to improve his team, whether through trade or free agency.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the media they can expect his team to be active once the free agent market opens. We already know they’ll be active on the trade front with sniper Patrik Laine being the subject of trade speculation.
The Jets have unrestricted free agents they’ll need to think long and hard about, like Cody Eakin, but some decisions may be easier than others in cases like Nathan Beaulieu and Mark Letestu.
They’re a team that could use reinforcements up front and on the back end, and Cheveldayoff seems ready to make some moves to help those areas of his team. The Jets still have a strong core led by Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck, but they’re going need some outside help if they want to bring a Cup to Winnipeg.
The Wild are stuck in the worst possible place to be: middling mediocrity. Too good to hang out in the basement with draft lottery teams, not good enough to hang with contending teams.
There’s been movement with the Wild, parting ways recently with Mikko Koivu, Luke Kunin, Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk, and bringing in Nick Bonino from the Nashville Predators. It’s a sign that the Wild won’t rebuild just yet, even though they really should.
And if they’re trying to be competitive, it means they’re expected to land some pieces in the open market.
The currently have around $8 million in projected cap space with nearly a full roster locked in for next year, so they do have some money to splash around come Friday. They won’t be able to resolve their glaring need for a top-line center in free agency, but they will be able to shore up their goaltending if they decide to go that route with a number of quality options set to hit the open market.
The Canadiens went from being a potential basement dweller to a playoff team thanks to the pandemic. They’ve already made some moves with the acquisitions of Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson and Josh Anderson. But is that enough to truly be a contender in the Eastern Conference?
It remains to be seen if they’ll be truly competitive in the Hall sweepstakes, but some feel they should. Perhaps they’ll take fliers on cheaper options. The Anderson trade might take them out of the Laine trade conversation. They have been linked to Wayne Simmonds in the last few days which means the Canadiens might feel they need more grit in their bottom-six forwards, and players of that ilk are plentiful in free agency.
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