NHL's busy off-season begins

The games may be over, but there will be plenty of NHL activity over the next weeks, with coaching hires, buyouts, draft picks, trades and new contracts on the agenda.

Plenty of movement, changes on tap in coming weeks

Thomas Vanek didn't make quite the impact in Montreal as desired, but could provide years of reliable goal production for another NHL club. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today/Reuters)

Now that the parade route has been mapped out for the Stanley Cup champions in Los Angeles, another season begins.

There will be plenty of activity in the NHL over the next few weeks, albeit off the ice. Among the highlights:

Coaching carousel

There are still four NHL teams yet to name a new head coach: Carolina, Florida, Pittsburgh and Vancouver. 

With Willie Desjardins of the Texas Stars tied up with the Calder Cup Final until August (OK, it ends June 23), the vacancies may not all be filled before the NHL draft.

Vaya con dios

NHL clubs will be saying goodbye to underperforming, high-paid players beginning June 16 when the buyout window opens. Finnish flop Ville Leino, with just 10 goals in three seasons after signing a six-year, $27-million US deal with Buffalo, will likely leave Western New York, and maybe the NHL for good.

Even though they reached the final, there has been speculation that Brad Richards of the New York Rangers and Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings may not be long for their teams.

Martin Havlat (San Jose), R.J. Umberger (Columbus) and P.A. Parenteau (Colorado) figure to be buyout candidates if trade partners can't be found.

Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and Philadelphia have used both of their allowed compliance buyouts, which were negotiated in the last CBA and do not count against a team's salary cap going forward. More than half of the NHL clubs haven't used a compliance buyout yet.

Teams can also employ a traditional buyout, which do count against the salary cap in subsequent years.

Players bought out will be unrestricted free agents, and will receive one-third or two-thirds of their remaining salary, depending on their age. That amount, for cap purposes will be spread out over twice the length of the remaining term.

The new breed

The NHL draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia.

Florida has the top pick, with five Canadian teams picking in the top 10: Edmonton (3rd), Calgary (4th), Vancouver (6th), Toronto (8th) and Winnipeg (9th). 

Ottawa's first-round pick, 10th overall, belongs to Anaheim due to the Bobby Ryan trade from last year. The Ducks also select in the 24th slot. The Tampa Bay Lightning own two picks in the first round as well, at 19 and 28, due to the Rangers advancing past the conference final after the Martin St. Louis-Ryan Callahan transaction.

The top prospects include Canadians Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad, and Europeans William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen. All but blue-liner Ekblad are forwards.

Trade winds?

Last year around this time, players such as Tyler Seguin, Loui Eriksson, Cory Schneider and Dave Bolland were on the move.

It's always tough to predict just how many impactful trades there will be. On the one hand, nearly half of all NHL general managers/front-office setups are less than a year old. Newish GMs may be champing at the bit to put a stamp on their clubs, but some could be hampered by overly generous contracts (in terms of pay and movement clauses) handed out by their predecessors.

Free agency

Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller have reduced leverage, with most NHL goalie spots spoken for, while future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur may be forced to contemplate a backup job (or even a forced retirement).

Leading playoff goal scorer Marian Gaborik is unrestricted, as are forwards Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny and Mike Cammalleri. 

Defencemen who could leave their existing teams include Andrei Markov, Matt Niskanen and Willie Mitchell, with Dan Boyle already guaranteed to be moving on from San Jose (and, kinda sorta, the New York Islanders, who traded for his rights).

P.K. Subban of Montreal leads the crop of restricted free agents, with Justin Schultz of Edmonton, Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers and Brayden Schenn of Philadelphia also angling for better pay.

NHL clubs have from June 16-30 to make qualifying offers to their RFAs. These type of free agents could receive an offer sheet from another club, but general managers have been inclined to match those terms historically, despite their inflationary pressures.


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