The Stanley Cup Final is over and expansion is on the horizon. In the condensed, delayed 2021 season, the next few weeks are going to be mayhem. The Seattle expansion draft is July 21, with the NHL entry draft and free agency to follow soon after.
Every team has a lot to address with expansion and the questions that emerge from that, but some squads have more decisions to make than others. Here’s five teams who have some existential choices looming.
The goaltending situation remains the big question. Tuukka Rask is an unrestricted free agent. He’s said numerous times he doesn’t want to play anywhere but Boston. The Bruins have the cap space to get it done.
Rask is going to miss the start of the season, though, likely until at least January. Jeremy Swayman had a good showing when he started, but it’s a risk to assume he can just slide in and be the long-term starter. Jaroslav Halak is also a free agent, and could be a solid backup option for Swayman while they wait for Rask to be ready.
Then there’s Dan Vladar, who has been waiting in the wings of Providence as well. Swayman’s emergence was earlier than anticipated, so perhaps they rely more heavily on Vladar.
Rask’s future is the big question mark. They have others; there’s what to do with David Krejci, who similarly expressed a desire to stay un Boston. Then there’s Taylor Hall, their acquisition at the trade deadline who had chemistry with Krejci.
The Panthers will re-enter an Atlantic Division housing the Stanley Cup champions and runner ups, the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and an improving Ottawa squad, too.
Florida looked good last season. They competed with Tampa Bay in the First Round. General manager Bill Zito went out and got Sam Bennett at the deadline. The question now is how aggressive are they back in the Atlantic, and with a questionable goalie situation.
They have a ton of goalie depth with Spencer Knight and then Devon Levi waiting in the wings. They also barely have anyone signed long term beyond 2023, including Selke Trophy winner Aleksander Barkov. Zito and co. are going to have to make some decisions on rostered players and beyond, and soon.
Then? Perhaps get Zach Parise to waive his no-movement clause.
His cap hit of $7.538 million is rough. As of now, the Wild are projected to lose a good player in expansion no matter what format they use, whether they prioritize keeping Matt Dumba or let him float out there. Getting Parise to waive his deal could help them retain someone like Jordan Greenway, though.
There’s the Jack Eichel rumors, too, as pipe dream-y as they might be. The Wild were fun in 2021. They competed hard with Vegas in the First Round, too. They have some choices to make, especially after losing someone in expansion.
They’ve already moved Viktor Arvisson in a deal with the Kings. Afterwards, GM David Poile said, “I think we have to have some growth in our team and go in a little bit different direction. I’m not saying a whole bunch of changes, but I think it’s time to make some changes.”
They have some decisions to make. Goalie Pekka Rinne likely won’t be back after an emotional regular season finale before the Preds fell in the First Round to the Hurricanes.
Mattias Ekholm was a trade candidate at the deadline and he has another year left on his deal. Ryan Ellis could be moved if there’s no good deal on Ekholm. Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansson will be exposed to Seattle, but it’s asking a lot to think they might get out from under those contracts.
Poile is right; they need a shift in direction. What that might be, though, is unclear.
St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko wants out. He’s had three shoulder surgeries in two seasons. He has two years left on his eight-year mega contract, but his value is certainly lower than it was in the first half of the deal. He has seven goals in his 34 games over the past two years.
So he’s asked to be traded, has a ton of health risk and carries a $7.5 million cap hit. The upside is there, though, even if the Blues don’t have much leverage in a trade. He has a no-trade clause, too, so he controls his own destiny where he ends up.
Factor in the other choice the Blues need to make on defenseman Vince Dunn, likely to be exposed to Seattle. Perhaps they make a deal to get some value on him first. Consider the Blues losing Tarasenko means they have to replace some offense, too.