Roundtable: NHL free agency predictions; teams needing to make a splash

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What’s one surprising free agency/trade prediction you have for this offseason?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning are the masters of shrewdly navigating the salary cap, so I expect more wizardry. I may even demand it.

That doesn’t just mean that the Lightning will be the beneficiaries, either. Consider the J.T. Miller trade. On one hand, Tampa Bay gave up a player who proved to be a legitimate first-line forward in 2020-21. On the other, the Lightning managed to land a first-round pick even though the entire NHL knew they were desperate.

So, in other words … if any team can pull off trading Steven Stamkos, it’s the Lightning. If not, expect them to make another smart addition, Kevin Shattenkirk-style.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I think we are going to see some more offer sheets this offseason. I usually hate saying that because we always say it and then it never happens, but the Sebastian Aho thing a year ago makes me optimistic somebody else will try it. And Tampa seems like a perfect target. They need to move money and they have two massive RFA’s just sitting out there in Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli. Somebody could really force their hand by signing one of those guys (assuming one of them wanted to sign with a new team, of course).

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I’m on the same train as Adam. I think this offseason we won’t just see one offer sheet, but multiple. This is the time to try it with the economic issues around the league. Teams that have the space and picks to spare shouldn’t be shy about attempting one. Sergachev and Cirelli, even Mathew Barzal are popular targets, but what about someone like Vince Dunn of the Blues? If you think a range for him is between $4-6 million as an AAV, that would cost you either a second-round pick or a first- and a third-round pick. Worth the shot if you want to upgrade your blue line. Of course, what happens with Alex Pietrangelo will factor in to what ends up happening with Dunn.

[Top NHL free agents for 2020 offseason]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The one surprising prediction for the off-season will be the Maple Leafs trading Frederik Andersen. GM Kyle Dubas stated earlier in the week that “as of this moment” I expect him to be the starting goalie for our team whenever we get going here. The key part of the sentence was “as of this moment”.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Andersen was dealt, with Colorado the prime location. The Avs could use a better starting goaltender than Philipp Grubauer and have plenty of resources at this time to sign Andersen to a longer-term deal, if that is what Colorado desires.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The most fascinating situation for me entering free agency is the goaltending dilemma in Vegas. With the Golden Knights giving Robin Lehner a long-term contract extension, that almost assures that face-of-the-franchise Marc-Andre Fleury will be off the roster by the start of next season. If I was really going out on a limb, my prediction would be that Fleury ends up back in Pittsburgh to form a 1A-1B tandem with the newly-extended Tristan Jarry (whose emergence last year led to this week’s trade of Matt Murray, whose emergence four years ago led to Fleury’s exit from the Pens in the first place…time is a flat circle).

That would register very high on the surprise meter, so I’ll dial that back for a second, more plausible offering: that Alex Pietrangelo stays in St. Louis. Although Pietrangelo hitting the open market would be a strong signal that his days as a Blue are over, my gut still says the St. Louis captain ends up back with the only team he’s ever known.

Which team needs to make the biggest splash this offseason?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: It was Feb. 2019 when Senators owner wrote a letter to fans pledging he would begin spending close to the cap ceiling to ice a competitive team as early as 2021-22. The COVID-19 pandemic has probably put a kink in those plans, but the movement towards a better team is there after Pierre Dorion‘s work this week at the NHL Draft and acquiring Matt Murray.

Ottawa has plenty of cap space and while they won’t be luring Taylor Hall or Pietrangelo to Canada’s capital, they can go the route of taking on short-term, bad contracts as long as there’s a sweetener involved. The Hurricanes are good at that. Remember when they took on Bryan Bickell’s contract and also got Teuvo Teravainen? They also took on Patrick Marleau‘s deal (before quickly buying him out) and got a first-round pick of out it, which ended up No. 13 overall this week (Seth Jarvis).

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Remember when the future looked shades-needing-bright for the Flames? After a couple of disappointing playoff showings, things seem downright angsty for Calgary. Most pressingly, Mark Giordano (37) isn’t getting any younger, and people aren’t overflowing with patience for Johnny Gaudreau and others to figure this out.

On the bright side, the Flames have some cap space, and play in (what at least currently looks like) a weak Pacific Division. GM Brad Treliving is known for bold off-season moves. I guess it’s time he pulls off some of that riverboat gambling.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Nashville is the first team that comes to mind. They underachieved last year, they still have what should be a contending core of players that can compete right now, and they just moved a mountain of money out the door to create more salary cap space. David Poile always seems to swing for the fences in trades or free agency (even if it does not always work out) and I just think there is something to be done here. I don’t know if Taylor Hall is a fit, or if someone like Tyler Toffoli makes sense, or if there is a trade to be made (maybe one of Tampa’s cap casualties?) but it just seems like they have a window to make a bold move.

[Predators boldly clear cap space by trading Bonino, buying out Turris]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The team that has to make the biggest splash are the San Jose Sharks. There aren’t too many good years left for Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson‘s injury-plagued seasons of late hurt his value on the blueline. They made of couple of deals already in getting Ryan Donato and Devan Dubnyk from the Wild but need to do a lot more, not only to make the playoffs, but make a long and deep run. Vancouver also seems primed to make a big splash and if they do not get Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it would not surprise me if they took a run at Patrik Laine.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL contentNashville. What did each of the last three Cup champions have in common? The Capitals, Blues, and Lightning were all perennial contenders until their long-awaited championship. The Predators fit that mold. They’ve made the playoffs six years in a row – the longest active streak in the West – but have yet to win it all. And since their 2017 Cup Final appearance, things seem to be getting worse, not better.

In that time, GM David Poile has been very aggressive – and not always successful – trying to find the right mix of top-end players. Why stop now? After all, Poile himself is still searching for his first Cup, after nearly 40 years as a GM in the league.

On Thursday, TSN’s Darren Dreger mentioned Nashville as one of the frontrunners for Taylor Hall. There will be competition for his services, but perhaps the presence of John Hynes – Hall’s coach in New Jersey when he won MVP in 2018 – will help convince the former 1st overall pick to choose the Predators when free agency opens.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

canadiens sabres
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.