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Tavares and beyond: five years of possible free agents

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While NHL fans get to brag about the unpredictability of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, NBA fans score a decided advantage when it comes to off-the-court/ice sizzle.

More often than not, hockey fans can only imagine seismic shifts like LeBron James’ latest “decision.”

(One bold exception is the profoundly dysfunctional Ottawa Senators, who provided us with hockey’s answer to the strange Bryan Colangelo burner account scandal by way of that drama between the significant others of Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman.)

So, like the Toronto Raptors watching Lebron mercilessly crush their playoff dreams, hockey fans grow accustomed to seeing fun spending sprees fizzle away. Could it happen again with John Tavares?

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Tavares and his representatives are “focused” on negotiating with the New York Islanders right now. Pierre LeBrun was also involved in that segment, and rained on our speculative parades even more:

Allow a simple response to the Tavares sweepstakes possibly ending before it truly begins: boo. Boo to that.

Now, sure, there’s the chance that business picks up in July. Maybe sooner. Still, reports like those above remain discouraging for those of us who want to grab the popcorn.

[Which teams would benefit the most from potential buyouts?]

It actually inspires a fun activity: let’s go over the next few years and ponder some of the big names who could auction off their services.

Naturally, because hockey, this list factors in the sad, cruel likelihood that the biggest names will bow out, so there are consolation prizes. Also, this list focuses mainly on would-be UFAs, as RFAs hold very little leverage (thanks, CBA).

This summer (2018)

Biggest fish who might not make it: Tavares

Would begging help?

/kneels

The fascinating Ilya Kovalchuk talk is a helpful reminder of how rare it is for an impact NHL player to explore free agency. At 27, Tavares figures to be exactly that. Despite all the turbulence surrounding the Islanders, Tavares generated 84 points in 82 games during 2017-18, the second-best output of his career.

He’s also put to rest any real worries about some of the freak injuries he suffered. Tavares played 82 games twice in the last four seasons, only missing nine games since 2014-15.

Tavares hitting the market wouldn’t just change the fate of a team. If he landed in the right direction, it could create a new contender. You simply don’t see a franchise center become available often; this would be as close as the NHL gets to a Lebron-type seismic shift.

Which means he’ll probably kill all the drama with an extension soon. *Grumble*

Big name with a better chance to actually hit the market: John Carlson

Before more grumbling commences, there’s this:

There’s evidence that Carlson struggles at time in his own end, particularly stretching back to before this past season. After a dazzling 68 points and a Stanley Cup victory, someone’s paying up, and it should be fun to witness that situation develop. You just do not see defensemen of his ilk hit it big very often, either.

Now that you mention it, hopefully a risky Carlson deal doesn’t scare off teams from next year’s incredible crop.

Some other notables: Joe Thornton, James Neal, James van Riemsdyk, David Perron, and Paul Stastny.

[Six players who should stay put this summer, six who should move]

Next summer (2019)

Biggest possible names: Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty

For some, Karlsson is the top draw (myself included). Old-school types might claim that Karlsson “can’t play defense,” even after he managed to drag a mediocre Senators team to within a goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (yes, that was only a year ago). For those types – who also probably believe that Alex Ovechkin “just figured things out this year” – then Doughty is the jewel.

The truth is that both are really, really good.

They also both carry some mileage into their next deals after being remarkable bargains, as they’re both 28 and log big minutes. There’s a strong chance that Doughty might just re-sign with Los Angeles, possibly as soon as this summer, and the same could be true regarding Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes. (Preemptive boo.)

Now, Ryan Ellis and the Predators? That could be fascinating.

These guys won’t become UFAs … right?: Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Tyler Seguin.

Buckle up, Blue Jackets fans.

Other interesting possibilities

  • Marc-Andre Fleury: He could finish his career with Vegas, but this past season could really drive up his asking price, and his age (already 33) could scare the Golden Knights off.
  • Pekka Rinne: By this time, you’d think Juuse Saros would be ready to carry the torch in Nashville.
  • Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski: Two Sharks centers with intriguing futures. Pavelski, in particular, could age out (turns 34 on July 11).
  • Matt Duchene: With the mess Ottawa’s in, who knows? Duchene leaving would really make a bumpy trade look even worse. Yikes.
  • Blake Wheeler: Winnipeg’s going to need to pay Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, and Kyle Connor. Could an under-the-radar star get squeezed out in the process?

Summer of 2020

Biggest fish to land: Avoiding a lockout or limiting the damage.

*sigh*

Interesting possibilities

  • Roman Josi: David Poile is responsible for some salary cap wizardry, yet at some point, the Predators are going to need to make some choices.
  • Nicklas Backstrom: Already at 30, and with Braden Holtby also slated for possible free agency during the summer of 2020 (let’s assume Holtby re-signs), it remains to be seen if Washington can/will retain the Swedish center. He deserves an upgrade from that $6.7 million cap hit, one way or another.
  • Corey Crawford: Currently at 33 and the Blackhawks remain in a perpetual cap crunch. Hmm.
  • Holtby: Just in case the Capitals try to save money in net.
  • Tyson Barrie and Torey Krug: Two explosive scoring defensemen who are a bit underrated. Krug, in particular, might be tough for the Bruins to retain. Justin Faulk deserves a mention, too, although his situation could be very different in mere weeks for all we know.
  • Alex Galchenyuk: Will his inevitable split from Montreal happen before free agency 2020?

Even more aimless speculation in later years …

Summer 2021

Aging stars: Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Dustin Byfuglien.

Intriguing prime-age names: Dougie Hamilton, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Devan Dubnyk.

Summer 2022

Last chances at big deals? Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, Kris Letang, Patrice Bergeron.

Intriguing prime-age names: Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones.

***

Interesting stuff, right?

Of course, many of those players are likely to sign extensions, in most cases with their current teams. The same could be said for players who get traded to new teams. Some of the older guys might just retire. Restricted free agents may also add some spice to summers.

There’s even a chance that a new CBA could open the door for more movement in the future.

Looking at the lists above, it’s easy to envision fun scenarios, even if recent hockey history suggests blander solutions. Then again, re-signing players like these could force other important players to get traded, so team-building nerds should have something to chew on even if free agency isn’t as fun in reality as it can be in our heads.

Cap Friendly was an excellent resource for this post. Their tools can help you go on your own dorky hockey adventures, possibly unearthing more interesting names. (You’d need to wait until the summer of 2023 to get excited about Nathan MacKinnon, though.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators assistant GM Randy Lee resigns

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It’s been an off-season to forget for Randy Lee. After being charged with two counts of harassment stemming from an incident involving a 19-year-old shuttle bus driver in Buffalo, he decided to resign from his position as assistant GM of the Sens (he also served as their farm team’s general manager) on Tuesday evening.

“My suspension has given me more time to spend with my loved ones than ever before. For the past 23 years, my family has taken a back seat to my career. My focus now is on putting them first,” Lee told the Ottawa Sun.

“At the same time, I have to think about my obligations to the hockey team. They need an assistant general manager who can focus completely on the coming season. Until this matter is behind me, however, I’m not in a position to that.”

The Senators have already announced that they’ll begin their search for Lee’s replacement immediately. Finding someone to step in right away may be easier said than done at this point. Most teams may not be willing to give Ottawa permission to speak to some of their employees. Promoting from within the organization might make the most sense for now.

Lee spent 23 years with the Senators. He spent four years as the team’s assistant general manager. He also served as director of hockey operations, director of player development, conditioning coach and video coach during his time in the organization.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Devils go ‘heritage’ route with 2018-19 third jersey

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It’s third jersey season and on Tuesday the New Jersey Devils were the latest NHL team to unveil an alternate look for the 2018-19 campaign.

They’re going old school and bringing back the white, red and green uniforms that they wore for a 10-year period between 1982 and 1992. The team is calling it a “heritage” jersey and SportsLogos.net pointed out why:

A “heritage uniform” can only be worn a maximum of six times per season and can be scrapped after one year while a third or “alternate” uniform must be worn a dozen times and for at least three seasons. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

How about those gloves?

Devils

The Devils say they will wear this uniform four times at Prudential Center this season, and considering they’re the white jerseys and not the reds from that era, maybe there’s a chance we see them during a few road games.

What do you think? Already have visions of Stephane Richer, John MacLean and Ken Daneyko dancing in your head?

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Three questions facing Ottawa Senators

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

1. What happens to Erik Karlsson?

It’s only normal that we mention Karlsson’s name a few times thorughout PHT’s Ottawa Senators Day. After all, he’s the face of the franchise, one of the best players in the league and he and his family have been the victims in a pretty strange scandal involving former teammate Mike Hoffman and his fiancee.

Karlsson has been eligible to sign an extension since July 1st of this year, but he hasn’t done so. Based on everything that’s been reported over the last few months, the Sens came close to trading him to the Vegas Golden Knights minutes before February’s trade deadline. In the end, the deal fell through.

Many expected Karlsson to be dealt before the draft, at the draft or around free agency, but Sens general manager Pierre Dorion obviously hasn’t found a deal he’s willing to accept from another team. Ottawa also reportedly made the Swede a contract offer which was below market value. As you can see, he didn’t accept that, either.

So what happens now? It’s mid-August, and a deal hasn’t been made. Either the Sens continue holding out for the best possible return, or they hope that by trading Hoffman, they’ve given themselves a shot at bringing Karlsson back.

For that to happen, owner Eugene Melnyk is going to have shell out some serious coin over the next few years. And, of course, they have to pray to the 28-year-old is willing to look past all the warts and deficiencies of his current team.

The ending to this story should be interesting.

2. Should they keep Brady Tkachuk for the whole season?

Just a few days ago, Tkachuk announced that he was leaving Boston University after just one season. Many people assumed that this meant he was going to turn pro no matter what, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Sure, he can stick with the Sens all season or he could even spend the year playing in the minors. But his junior hockey rights belong to the OHL’s London Knights, which means he could be heading there if things don’t work out in Ottawa.

Do the Sens really want to expose Tkachuk to what’s happening in their locker room right now? Do they want place him in a situation where he’s part of a team that loses more than it wins? We’ll find out in the fall. But in the end, if they feel he’s good enough to play a regular role in an NHL lineup right away, they should keep him.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Breakthrough: Thomas Chabot]

The key will be to see what kind of role Guy Boucher is willing to give him in his first season. Boucher doesn’t tend to trust rookies very easily, so if he doesn’t plan on utilizing him in a top-nine role and giving him some time on the man-advantage, there’s really no point in keeping him in the NHL.

3. Do they have to make a strong push for a playoff spot just because they don’t own their first-round pick in 2019?

The simple answer is no. There’s no point in sacrificing future assets just to make sure the Colorado Avalanche don’t get the first, second or third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. If the Sens happen to be competitive (against all odds) that’s one thing, but they can’t move youngsters for veterans or hold on to some of their potential unrestricted free agents instead of trading them for pieces.

The fact that they dealt their first-round pick away stinks for them. They just have to live with it now. There’s nothing they can do about. If they’re out of the playoff hunt early and they realize they can’t re-sign Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and/or Erik Karlsson, they have to unload them.

Even if they’re in the chase for a playoff spot, they can’t afford to lose all those guys for nothing. It’s a really delicate situation Dorion and Melnyk are in right now because the organization appears to in shambles and a lot of their key players aren’t locked in to long-term deals.

Sens management can enter the season with a plan, but the players have all the cards right now. There’s no need to do something drastic right now. If they happen to get back on track with this group of players, that’s great. More power to them. That just appears to be unlikely at this point.

They can’t get sucked into chatter about not having their own pick. That’s not a reason to go all in. They have to live with the consequences of making a trade that simply didn’t work out. No one could have predicted that the Duchene deal would have turned out like this. They Sens felt like they had a shot to go for it, so Dorion pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal early on the season. Often, we find out that certain trades or moves don’t work. That’s what happened here. Don’t make it worse by trying to get short-term results.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Building off a breakthrough: Thomas Chabot

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

There’s been a lot of doom and gloom around the Ottawa Senators over the last year. After being one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, the Sens totally fell apart after they made an aggressive trade for Matt Duchene last year.

Finding positives in a lost season isn’t always easy, but Thomas Chabot certainly took a positive step in his development. The 21-year-old got his first extended look in the NHL and he managed to put up a respectable nine goals and 25 points in 63 games.

He averaged 17:31 of ice time during the regular season, but he finished the year by playing over 20 minutes in 10 of his final 12 contests. Even though he’s far from being a finished product, Chabot has shown that he has all the necessary tools to become an impact blueliner at the highest level.

Sens head coach Guy Boucher trusted Chabot enough to pair him with Erik Karlsson last season (the two played almost 400 minutes together). Having one of the best defensemen in the NHL by his side definitely helped the youngster grow. Without Karlsson by his side, Chabot had a CF% of 44.82 percent. With Karlsson, that number jumped up to 52.93 percent. That’s a significant difference.

“I’ve been following the (Karlsson) situation closely,” Chabot said, per NHL.com. “And I’d obviously like for him to stay with us. I had the chance to play with him last season and I learned so much from watching him work. He’s talented at everything he does. Even his own teammates, we sometimes can’t believe the plays that he makes.

“He’s a mentor to me, I’m trying to model my playing style after his. He’s also a really cool guy outside the rink.”

Losing Karlsson would hurt Chabot and the Senators, but it looks like he’ll eventually be playing for a different organization, so they’ll have to face reality sooner or later. But losing Karlsson will also mean that this blue line will become Chabot’s. He’s the one who has the most upside, which means they’ll need him to take charge.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Pierre Dorion | Three Questions]

Parting ways with a franchise player like Karlsson is never ideal for any organization. In this case, at least the Senators can say that they have a potential stud waiting in the wings. Is he ready for that kind of responsibility right now? Probably not. But at least they can rest a little easier knowing that they have a potential number one defenseman coming.

No matter what moves are made, they’ll need Chabot to take another positive step forward in a hurry. He’ll have to find a way to avoid that sophomore slump that many second-year players go through when they get to the NHL.

As bad as things look in Ottawa, at least they can say they have a young building block on defense.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.