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.