Derick Brassard

Salary cap economics squeezing out NHL’s middle class

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Stanley Cup-winning experience isn’t worth what it used to be. Neither is experience of any kind.

As NHL teams move toward paying their stars more money and relying on young players to fill the gaps, hockey’s middle class is being squeezed out. Veterans like 2018 Washington Capitals playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly are finding it increasingly difficult to land guaranteed contracts and are often forced to go to training camp on professional tryout agreements, which cover potential injuries at camp and not much else.

Hockey perhaps more than any other professional sport has put a premium on veteran players over the years. Guys who have been there before, have some grey in their beards and are valued at least as much for team chemistry in the locker room as they are for what they do on the ice.

Adding the salary cap in 2005 began the process of devaluing these so-called ”glue guys” because there is only so much money to go around. This year, that cap is $81.5 million for a team and there is no wiggle room – teams are not allowed to play if they are over the limit.

”It’s sad because these veteran players are monumental to the team,” St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Especially these guys that have won, too, like Devante Smith-Pelly. He’s been in every situation. He’s a guy that you’d want to have because he’s going to help and he’s been in these situations. When it comes around again, it’s not going to faze him.”

Smith-Pelly and Andrew MacDonald in Calgary, Troy Brouwer in Florida, Matt Read in Toronto and Drew Stafford in Minnesota are among the experienced NHL players on camp tryouts this year. Even more are settling for one-year, prove-it contracts like 2019 Cup winner Patrick Maroon (31 years old) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (30) with Tampa Bay, Derick Brassard (31) with the New York Islanders, defenseman Ben Hutton (26) with Los Angeles and forward Riley Sheahan (27) with Edmonton.

Shattenkirk went from making $7 million last season with the Rangers to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million.

”There’s something for me to prove,” Shattenkirk said. ”I think I have a huge chip on my shoulder right now.”

This is all related to how the salary cap is managed.

Across the league, there are 32 players who chew up 10% or more of his team’s $81.5 million salary-cap space – with more potentially on the way when Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine sign deals. For example, Connor McDavid accounts for over 15% of Edmonton’s cap space.

It is a trend that shows the value of elite talent but it means there is less money to go around for complementary players who are not on entry-level contracts. A handful of players also have expressed concern that restricted free agents are making more out of their entry-level contracts than ever before, further scrambling available money for support players.

”Teams, they want to take a shot on a young guy that has got an upside they see,” O’Reilly said. ”It’s tough because there’s so many good players out there that aren’t getting jobs because of it.”

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, 31, and Patrick Kane, 30, eat up almost 26% of the Blackhawks’ cap space. They combined to win the Stanley Cup three times, but their deals and rich ones given to defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook tend to be blamed for a lack of depth in Chicago, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Toews said he understands the economics of the league aren’t getting any easier for players as they get older.

”It’s tough,” Toews said. ”It just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted, even though you’ve been in the league or you’re a proven player at this level. You start getting into your 30s … you realize that the league’s only going to get younger, it’s only going to get stronger, it’s only going to get better.”

It’s not just older players, either. Smith-Pelly is 27, Joe Morrow is 26 and trying to make the Rangers and fellow defenseman Alex Petrovic is 27 as a long shot to get a contract with Boston.

Grinding forward Garnet Hathaway played the past two seasons on one-year deals in Calgary making under $1 million each year. He went into free agency a bit nervous but was able to land a four-year, $6 million contract and some security with the Capitals, who also signed Brendan Leipsic to a one-year deal and Richard Panik for four years after each player had bounced around the league.

”Contracts are hard to come by in this league,” Hathaway said. ”It’s such a competitive league. Guys I know personally that have gone through it, they’re some of the most competitive guys. It’s guys who have played in this league a long time and have great careers. You wish them the best of luck, but it’s competitive.”

One month into NHL free agency, who’s left on the market?

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The NHL free agent market opened one month ago today and there was plenty of cash thrown around and faces headed for new places. While there were 126 signings of different varieties on July 1 there have been 167 total in the 30 days since.

Even with all those contracts signed, there are still plenty of potentially helpful unrestricted free agents available on the market. We know how strong the restricted crop that’s left is, but that’s a different story altogether.

Let’s take a look at some of the UFAs still unsigned.

HOME OR RETIREMENT
Niklas Kronwall, 38
Patrick Marleau, 39
Joe Thornton, 39
Justin Williams, 37

Don’t expect any of these four to join new teams. In the case of Marleau, he’d be going home after a few years in Toronto and very quick stop as a member of the Hurricanes. Either these players will return to the teams they’re most identified with on one-year deals or they will hang up their skates.

HEADED FOR A PTO?
Scott Darling, 30
Ben Lovejoy, 35
Marc Methot, 34
Dion Phaneuf, 34
Cam Ward, 35

Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, all teams must dress at least eight “veterans” for any preseason game. A veteran is a in this sense is considered forward or defenseman who played 30 games in the previous season, a goaltender who dressed in 50 games or played in 30 the previous season, or any player who has 100 or more career NHL games under their belt. That’s why we see lot of veterans on tryout deals in training camp, so these five players, given their ages and on-ice struggles would be placed in the “possible PTO” folder. In some cases a team can bring them in to create competition at a position in order to get the most out of the players currently under contract before ultimately releasing them.

FORWARDS

Brian Boyle, 34 – The feel-good story from the 2017-18 season needs a new home and anyone looking for a bottom line center who can help your penalty kill could get a bargain here. Between the Devils and Predators last season he scored 18 goals and recorded 24 points.

Derick Brassard, 31 – It’s been a weird few years for Brassard after he scored 46 goals and recorded 118 points in his final two seasons with the Rangers. He was shipped to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad and then moved to Pittsburgh before spending last season with the Penguins, Avalanche and Panthers. He’s shown he can still be productive at the NHL level, but this past season was one to forget.

Patrick Maroon, 31 – He took a discount to come home and helped St. Louis win its first Stanley Cup. It will be hard for Maroon to top what happened in 2018-19, but he showed that his physical style can make a difference on the right team. He may be hoping for a multi-year deal, which could be the reason for the delay in signing.

Jason Pominville, 36 – A solid depth addition, Pominville put up a second straight 16-goal season with Buffalo in 2018-19. He also averaged 1.68 points per game at even strength per 60 minutes over the last two seasons, according to Corsica.

Tobias Rieder, 26 – Like Boyle, Rieder can help your penalty kill, but he saw a sharp drop off in production last season with the Oilers. In 67 games, the forward went goalless and recorded 11 points. Before last season, he had reached double digits in goals in each of his four NHL seasons with the Coyotes and Kings. Rieder looks like a real bounce-back candidate in 2019-20.

DEFENSEMEN

Jake Gardiner, 28 – He may not win any Norris Trophies, but he can play 20 minutes a night, be a power play quarterback, and provide production from the blue line. And at this point in time, his contract demands have likely dropped, so there could be a potential bargain here. Gardiner scored three goals and record 30 points in only 62 games last season with the Maple Leafs. He won’t be any team’s No. 1 right now, but he would definitely bolster a blue line.

Ben Hutton, 26 – Hutton will help a team’s power play and penalty kill and be able to give a team over 20 minutes a night. He tied his career high in goals last season with the Canucks with five and tallied 20 points, the second-highest total of his young career

Other notables: Andrew MacDonald; Dan Girardi; Thomas Vanek, Val Nichushkin; Riley Sheahan; Dmitrij Jaskin; Devante Smith-Pelly; Chad Johnson; Troy Brouwer; Drew Stafford; Marko Dano; Matt Read; Zac Rinaldo.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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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.

ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2019-20 Stanley Cup.

September 20
• New York Rangers sign Tony DeAngelo to a one-year, $925,000 deal.

September 19
• Ottawa Senators sign Thomas Chabot to an eight-year, $64 million deal. (Link)

September 18
• Los Angeles Kings sign Ben Hutton to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

September 17
• Boston Bruins sign Brandon Carlo to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Fredrik Claesson to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

September 16
• Philadelphia Flyers sign Travis Konecny to a six-year, $33 million deal. (Link)

September 15
• Boston Bruins sign Charlie McAvoy to a three-year, $14.7 million deal. (Link)

• Calgary Flames sign Andrew Mangiapane to a one-year, $715,000 deal.

September 14
• Minnesota Wild sign Jared Spurgeon to a seven-year, $53.025 million deal. (Link)

September 13
• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Mitch Marner to a six-year, $65.358 million deal. (Link)

September 12
• New York Islanders sign Luca Sbisa to a training camp PTO.

• New York Rangers sign Brendan Lemieux to a one-year, $925,000 deal.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Ivan Provorov to a six-year, $40.5 million deal. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Marcus Pettersson to a one-year, $874,125 deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets re-sign Josh Morrissey to an eight-year, $50 million extension. (Link)

September 11
• Calgary Flames sign Michael Stone to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Calgary Flames sign Eric Gryba to a training camp PTO.

• Minnesota Wild signs Kevin Fiala to a two-year, $6 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Joe Morrow to a training camp PTO.

• New York Rangers sign Micheal Haley to a training camp PTO.

September 10
• New Jersey Devils sign Pavel Zacha to a three-year, $6.75 million deal. (Link)

September 9
• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Zach Werenski to a three-year, $15 million deal. (Link)

September 7
• Los Angeles Kings sign Jack Campbell to a two-year, $3.3 million deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets sign Eric Comrie to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

September 6
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Jake Gardiner to a four-year, $16.2 million deal. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Brendan Perlini to a one-year, $874,125 deal.

• San Jose Sharks sign Joe Thornton to a one-year, $2 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Landon Ferraro to a training camp PTO.

September 5
• Edmonton Oilers sign Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $900,000 deal. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Jimmy Schuldt to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

September 4
• Arizona Coyotes sign Clayton Keller to an eight-year, $57.2 million extension. (Link)

• Calgary Flames sign Devante Smith-Pelly, Zac Rinaldo, Tobias Rieder, and Alexandre Grenier to training camp PTOs. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Roland McKeown to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Troy Brouwer to a training camp PTO.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Adrian Kempe to a three-year, $6 million extension. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild signs Drew Stafford to a training camp PTO.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Nikolay Goldobin to a one-year, $900,000 deal.

September 3
• Dallas Stars sign Stefan Noesen to a training camp PTO.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Lance Bouma to a training camp PTO.

• Minnesota Wild signs Louie Belpedio to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

September 1
• St. Louis Blues sign Ivan Barbashev to a two-year, $2.95 million deal.

August 28
• New York Islanders sign Anthony Beauvillier to a two-year, $4.2 million deal. (Link)

August 26
• Dallas Stars sign Scottie Upshall to a training camp PTO.

• Florida Panthers sign Denis Malgin to a one-year, $750K deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Gabriel Bourque to a one-year, $700K deal.

August 24
• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Patrick Maroon to a one-year, $900K deal. (Link)

August 22
• Calgary Flames sign Andrew MacDonald to a training camp PTO.

August 21
• Minnesota Wild signs Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year, $2.975 million deal.

• New York Islanders sign Derick Brassard to a one-year, $1.2 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Colin White to a six-year, $28.5 million deal.

August 19
• Colorado Avalanche signs Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Michael Dal Colle to a two-year, $1.4 million deal. (Link))

• New York Islanders sign Joshua Ho-Sang to a one-year, $874,125 deal. (Link)

August 17
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Chase Priskie to a three-year, $3.55 million entry-level deal.

August 14
• Tampa Bay Lightning trades Adam Erne to Detroit Red Wings for 2020 fourth-round pick. Erne signs one-year, $1.05 million deal with Red Wings.

August 8
• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Marko Dano to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

August 6
Joel Edmundson awarded a one-year, $3.1 million deal with the St. Louis Blues following an arbritration hearing. (Link)

• Anton Forsberg awarded a one-year, one-way deal worth $775,000 with the Carolina Hurricanes following an arbritration hearing.

Rocco Grimaldi awarded a one-year, one-way deal worth $1 million with the Nashville Predators following an arbritration hearing.

August 5
• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Kevin Shattenkirk to a one-year, $1.75 million deal. (Link)

August 3
• Arizona Coyotes sign Adin Hill to a one-year, $708,750 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres and Jake McCabe avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.7 million deal. (Link)

• Buffalo Sabres and Linus Ullmark avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.325 million deal. (Link)

August 2
• Calgary Flames buy out the final year of Michael Stone’s contract.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Matt Read to a training camp PTO.

August 1
• Buffalo Sabres sign Remi Elie to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs A.J. Greer to a one-year, $735,000 deal.

• New York Rangers buy out final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract. (Link)

July 31
• Colorado Avalanche signs Samuel Girard to seven-year, $35 million extension. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils and Will Butcher avoid arbitration, agree to a three-year, $11.20 million deal. (Link)

July 30
• Colorado Avalanche signs Vladislav Kamenev to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning trade Ryan Callahan and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Mike Condon and a 2020 sixth-round pick. (Link)

July 29
• New Jersey Devils acquire Nikita Gusev from Vegas Golden Knights, sign him to two-year, $9 million deal. (Link)

• Tampa Bay Lightning re-signs Andrei Vasilevskiy to eight-year, $76 million extension. (Link)

July 27
• Calgary Flames and David Rittich avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Michael McCarron to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 26
• Detroit Red Wings sign Dominic Turgeon to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New York Rangers and Pavel Buchnevich avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $6.5 million deal. (Link)

• Washington Capitals and Chandler Stephenson avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.05 million deal.

July 25
• Buffalo Sabres’ Evan Rodrigues is awarded a one-year, $2 million contract by an independent arbitrator. (Link)

July 24
• Calgary Flames and Sam Bennett avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $5.1 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Vinni Lettieri to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Pontus Aberg (one-year, $700,000), Kenny Agostino (two-year, $1.475 million), Tyler Gaudet (one-year, $700,000), Kalle Kossila (two-year, $1.4 million), Nick Shore (one-year, $750,000), Garrett Wilson (one-year, $725,000) and Kevin Gravel (one-year, $700,000).

• Washington Capitals’ Christian Djoos is awarded a one-year, $1.25 million contract by an independent arbitrator.

July 23
• Colorado Avalanche signs Anton Lindholm to a two-year, $1.485 million deal.

• Nashville Predators and Colton Sissons avoid arbitration, agree to a seven-year, $20 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Michal Neuvirth to a training camp PTO.

• Vegas Golden Knights trade David Clarkson and a 2002 fourth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Garret Sparks. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Deryk Engelland to a one-year, $700,000 deal that could be worth up to $1.5 million if he hits his bonuses.

• Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp is awarded a two-year, $4.56 million contract by an independent arbitrator.

July 22
• Florida Panthers and MacKenzie Weegar avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.6 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Ian McCoshen to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New Jersey Devils and Mirco Mueller avoid arbitration, agree to a one-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins and Zach Aston-Reese avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $2 million deal.

July 21
• St. Louis Blues and Oskar Sundqvist avoid arbitration, agree to a four-year, $11 million deal. (Link)

• Winnipeg Jets and Neal Pionk avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $6 million deal

July 20
• Carolina Hurricanes and Brock McGinn avoid arbitration, agree to a two-year, $4.2 million deal.

July 19
• Colorado Avalanche signs Bowen Byram to a three-year, $2.775 million entry level deal.

• Edmonton Oilers trade Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Charles Hudon to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• New York Rangers sign Jacob Trouba to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

July 17
• Colorado Avalanche signs J.T. Compher to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Joe Hicketts to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• New York Rangers sign Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Chris Stewart to a training camp PTO.

July 16
• Carolina Hurricanes sign Haydn Fleury to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks trade Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Josh Archibald to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Cal Petersen to a three-year, $2.575 million deal.

• Minnesota Wild signs Ryan Donato to a two-year, $3.8 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Connor Carrick to a two-year, $3 million deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Teddy Blueger to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Jake Bischoff to a three-year, $2.15 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Jakub Vrana a two-year, $6.7 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• Anaheim Ducks sign Chris Wideman to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Dylan Cozens to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Clark Bishop to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes’ Gustav Forsling accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Andre Burakovsky to a one-year, $3.25 million deal. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sonny Milano accepts qualifying offer of $874,125 for the 2019-20 season.

• New York Islanders sign Simon Holmstrom to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

July 14
• Detroit Red Wings sign Moritz Seider to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $5.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

July 13
• St. Louis Blues sign Jordan Binnington to a two-year, $8.8 million deal. (Link)

July 12
• Buffalo Sabres sign Johan Larsson to a one-year, $1.55 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Ryan Dzingel to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils sign Jack Hughes to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $11.325 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• Philadelphia Flyers sign Scott Laughton to a two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

• St. Louis Blues sign Robby Fabbri to a one-year, $900,000 deal. (Link)

July 11
• Anaheim Ducks sign Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Jason Dickinson to a two-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Joel Armia to a two-year, $5.2 million deal. (Link)

• Montreal Canadiens sign Artturi Lehkonen to a two-year, $4.8 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Kaapo Kakko to a three-year entry-level deal worth up to $10.725 million if he hits all of his bonuses.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dylan Gambrell to a two-year, $1.4 million deal. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks sign Antti Suomela to a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

July 10
• Los Angeles Kings sign Alex Iafallo to a two-year, $4.85 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Micheal Ferland to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

July 9
• Boston Bruins sign Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Dillon Heatherington to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Malcolm Subban to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

July 8
• Chicago Blackhawks sign Kirby Dach to a three-year, $2.775 million entry-level deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Ryan Graves to a one-year, $735,000 deal.

• Dallas Stars sign Gavin Bayreuther to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Zach Sanford to a two-year, $3 million deal, avoiding arbitration.

• San Jose Sharks sign Kevin Labanc to a one-year, $1 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Francis Perron to a one-year, $715,000 deal.

July 7
• Arizona Coyotes sign Victor Soderstrom to a three-year, $4.755 million entry-level contract.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Gemel Smith to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 6
• Boston Bruins sign Peter Cehlárik to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Marcus Johansson to two-year, $9 million deal. (Link)

July 5
• Anaheim Ducks sign Andreas Martinsen to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres re-sign Zemgus Girgensons to one-year, $1.6 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche re-signs Nikita Zadorov to one-year, $3.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Scott Harrington to a three-year, $4.9 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Mario Kempe to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Nick Cousins to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning re-signs Cedric Paquette to two-year, $3.3 million deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Josh Leivo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

July 4
• Arizona Coyotes sign Hudson Fasching to a two-year, $1.475 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Kevin Roy to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Ben Chiarot to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Cody Ceci to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Alexander Kerfoot to a four-year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Justin Bailey to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 3
• Montreal Canadiens sign Phil Varone to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Joseph Blandisi to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 2
• Anaheim Ducks sign Anthony Stolarz to a two-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Arizona Coyotes sign Lawson Crouse to a three-year, $4.6 million deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign C.J. Smith to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Carolina Hurricanes announce their intention to match the five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet Sebastian Aho signed with the Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Nick Paul to a one-year, $750,000 deal.

• San Jose Sharks sign Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Motte to one-year, $975,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Anthony Bitetto to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Mark Letestu to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

July 1
• Boston Bruins sign Brett Ritchie to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Boston Bruins re-sign Connor Clifton to a three-year, $3 million extension.

• Buffalo Sabres sign Curtis Lazar to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Buffalo Sabres sign John Gilmour to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Calgary Flames sign Cam Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes sign Petr Mrazek to a two-year, $6.25 million deal. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Ryan Carpenter to a three-year, $3 million deal.

• Chicago Blackhawks sign Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche signs Joonas Donskoi to a four-year, $10.5 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche trade Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, a 2020 third-round pick. The Avalanche will retain 50% of Barrie’s $5.5 million cap hit. (Link)

• Colorado Avalanche signs Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Colorado Avalanche signs Colin Wilson to one-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Ryan Murray to two-year, $9.2 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Joonas Korpisalo to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

• Columbus Blue Jackets sign Gustav Nyquist to four-year, $22 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Andrej Sekera to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Joe Pavelski to a three-year, $21 million deal (Link)

• Dallas Stars sign Corey Perry to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

• Detroit Red Wings sign Valtteri Filppula to two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Patrik Nemeth to a two-year, $6 million deal.

• Detroit Red Wings sign Calvin Pickard to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Mike Smith to a one-year, $2 million deal. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers sign Jujhar Khaira to two-year, $2.4 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Alex Chiasson to two-year, $4.3 million deal.

• Edmonton Oilers sign Tomas Jurco to a one-year, $750,00 deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Anton Stralman to a three-year, $16.5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Sergei Bobrovsky to seven-year, $70 million deal. (Link)

• Florida Panthers sign Noel Acciari to a three-year, $5 million deal.

• Florida Panthers sign Brett Connolly to a four-year, $14 million deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Joakim Ryan to a one-year, $725,000 deal.

• Los Angeles Kings sign Martin Frk to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Minnesota Wild signs Mats Zuccarello to five-year, $30 million contract. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild signs Ryan Hartman to a two-year, $3.8 million deal.

• Montreal Canadiens sign Riley Barber to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Montreal Canadiens have tendered a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. The Carolina Hurricanes have seven days to match or walk away. Should the Hurricanes walk away, the Canadiens will send them first-, second-, and third-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal. (Link)

• Nashville Predators sign Daniel Carr to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• New Jersey Devils sign Wayne Simmonds to one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers sign Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal. (Link)

• New York Rangers trade Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 third-round pick. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Anders Lee to a seven-year, $49 million deal. (Link)

• New York Islanders sign Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators sign Ron Hainsey to one-year $3.5 million.

• Pittsburgh Penguins sign Brandon Tanev to six-year, $21 million contract. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Timo Meier to a four-year, $24 million extension. (Link)

• San Jose Sharks re-sign Tim Heed to one-year contract.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Sammy Blais to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• St. Louis Blues sign Nathan Walker to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Curtis McElhinney to a two-year, $2.6 million deal.

• Tampa Bay Lightning signs Luke Schenn to a one-year, $700,00 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kevin Gravel to one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Kenny Agostino to a two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, prospect Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in 2020 for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and forward Michael Carcone. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs sign Jason Spezza to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks sign Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million deal. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks sign Jordie Benn to a two-year, $4 million deal. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Brandon Pirri to two-year, $1.4 million deal.

• Vegas Golden Knights sign Tomas Nosek to one-year, $1 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Richard Panik to four-year, $11 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Garnet Hathaway to a four-year, $6 million deal.

• Washington Capitals sign Brendan Leipsic to a one-year, $700,000 deal.

• Winnipeg Jets sign Nathan Beaulieu to a one-year, $1 million deal.

June 30
• Carolina Hurricanes trade Scott Darling and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for James Reimer. The Panthers have put Darling on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out. (Link)

• Chicago Blackhawks trade a second and seventh-round pick in 2020 and a third-round pick in 2021 to the Montreal Canadiens for Andrew Shaw and a seventh-round pick. (Link)

• Edmonton Oilers have put Andrej Sekera on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

• Montreal Canadiens trade Nicolas Deslauriers in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth-round draft pick in 2020.

• Philadelphia Flyers have put David Schlemko on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out.

June 29
• Dallas Stars place Valeri Nichushkin on waivers for purpose of a buyout. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins trade Phil Kessel, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and Dane Birks to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Oliver Joseph. (Link)

• New York Islanders re-sign Tom Kuhnhackl to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

• Vancouver Canucks place Ryan Spooner on waivers for purpose of a buyout.

June 28
• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Alex Nedeljkovic to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• Chicago Blackhawks re-sign Dylan Sikura and John Quenneville to extensions of two years worth $1.5 million each.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Kasperi Kapanen to a three-year, $9.6 million extension and Andreas Johnsson to a $13.6 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick. (Link)

• Washington Capitals trade Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2020 second-round pick, 2020 third-round pick, and Scott Kosmachuk. (Link)

June 27
• Dallas Stars re-sign Taylor Fedun to a two-year, $1.475 million extension.

• St. Louis Blues re-sign Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year, $3.5 million extension.

• Toronto Maple Leafs re-sign Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, $700,000 extension.

June 26
• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Brian Elliott to a one-year, $2 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights trade Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick. (Link)

June 25
• Colorado Avalanche trade Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick. (Link)

• Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Adam Clendening to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Ottawa Senators re-sign Cody Goloubef to a one-year, $800,000 extension.

June 24
• Boston Bruins re-sign Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 million extension.

• Carolina Hurricanes trade Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. (Link)

• Dallas Stars trade Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Ryan Hartman. (Link)

• Minnesota Wild re-signs Brad Hunt to a two-year, $1.4 million extension.

• Philadelphia Flyers re-sign Travis Sanheim to a two-year, $6.5 million extension. (Link)

• Vegas Golden Knights re-sign William Karlsson to an eight-year, $47.2 million extension. (Link)

June 22
• Nashville Predators trade P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and second-round picks in 2019 and 2020. (Link)

• New Jersey Devils trade John Quenneville to the Chicago Blackhawks for John Hayden.

• Tampa Bay Lightning trade J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick, and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021. (Link)

• Toronto Maple Leafs trade Patrick Marleau and a conditional first-round pick in 2020 or 2021, seventh-round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2020 sixth-round pick. (Link)

• Vancouver Canucks trade Tom Pyatt and a 2019 sixth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Francis Perron and a 2019 seventh-round pick.

Trouba trade highlights Rangers’ brilliant rebuild

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While it’s important to understand the context for why the Jets made the trade, the bottom line is that the Jacob Trouba trade is a slam dunk for the New York Rangers. Scratch that, we need a more pronounced sports metaphor: it was a grand slam.

It also says a lot about the Rangers’ rebuild process that, while the Trouba trade might be management’s best move yet, there are plenty of other fantastic moves to choose from.

Brassard bonanza

If you want a starting point that includes an exclamation point, begin with the monstrously one-sided Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade. The trade seems to get more lopsided with every Zibanejad goal, and after every time Brassard sadly packs his bag after being traded once again. It’s almost cruel that the Rangers received a second-rounder while Ottawa only nabbed a seventh-rounder as part of that deal.

(Really, that trade isn’t that far off from the Rangers’ buddies in New Jersey stealing Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.)

If you start with the Zibanejad heist and end with trading for Trouba plus the near-certain selection of high-end prospect Kaapo Kakko, you’d see that the Rangers are writing the blueprint for how to run an NHL rebuild. Sure, there’s been luck here and there – particularly in getting 2019’s second pick – but the Rangers have done more to make their own luck than any other rebuilding team.

Turning Pionk and the 20th pick into Trouba

Neal Pionk‘s presence in the Trouba trade stands as one of the testaments to the Rangers’ full rebuild approach.

Where the occasionally rebuild-resistant Red Wings gave opportunities to aging veterans like Mike Green and Thomas Vanek (Vanek had a no-trade clause this past season!), the Rangers pulled a perfect “pump-and-dump” with Pionk. There’s some evidence that Pionk was a fairly substantial part of the package for the Jets, so the Rangers deserve some credit for driving up Pionk’s value. Depending upon whom you ask, the Rangers might have profited from the Jets overlooking dismal underlying numbers for Pionk.

Whatever Winnipeg’s actual opinion of Pionk might be, the bottom line is that Trouba is an enormous addition for the Rangers. You can get into a debate about how good or great Trouba really is, but the bottom line is that he’s immediately the Rangers’ best blueliner, and almost certainly by a wide margin.

(As great as the Pionk pump-and-dump turned out, the Rangers’ paltry defense opened up that scenario by … you know, being really bad.)

Putting on a hard hat for this rebuild

Yes, the Rangers have lucked out here and there (a huge lottery jump to the upcoming No. 2 pick, the Jets being in a bind so they needed to trade Trouba, the hilarity of the Zibanejad heist), but they’ve also made their own luck by making tough decisions.

Lesser teams would have kept all or some of Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta, possibly losing them for nothing via free agency anyway. Instead, the Rangers made those often-painful choices, and are healing faster after pulling off those Band-Aids.

Thanks to that hard work, they’ve added a nice war chest of picks, prospects, players, and assets.

  • Again, Trouba is a top-pairing defenseman, if not a star, and is thus a huge addition.
  • Adam Fox is a hyped defensive prospect in his own right, costing the Rangers a couple draft picks.
  • We’ll see how Lias Andersson develops, but the Rangers wouldn’t have received the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft if they didn’t trade Stepan and Raanta.
  • Maybe the Rangers didn’t get a perfect deal for McDonagh and J.T. Miller, but it was another example of New York loading up on volume in picks and prospects. For example: if K’Andre Miller (22nd overall in 2018) becomes a gem, note that the Rangers used some of their quantity of draft picks to move up a bit and snag him.
  • A Stars’ Game 7 win against the Blues in Round 2 would have turned a 2019 second-rounder into a 2019 first-rounder for New York, but the bottom line is that the Rangers got a nice deal for Zuccarello. Also, if Zuccarello re-signs with the Stars, the Rangers get a first-rounder in 2020, instead of a third-rounder. You simply need to make that call with a 31-year-old winger, even one as beloved as Zuccarello.
  • The 20th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft went from the Jets to the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes deal, and that the Rangers sent it back to Winnipeg in the Trouba trade. So, if the Rangers didn’t trade Hayes, they might not have landed Trouba. Again: load up on picks and assets, and load up on scenarios where you can get better. The Rangers have been masterful at this.
  • If there was hand-wringing over giving up assets for Adam Fox, the Rangers soothed some of them by landing some lesser picks for Adam McQuaid.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff, and this is the abridged version of that trade book; you can see a fuller list via Cap Friendly’s handy trade history page.

Mix those above moves with some interesting picks like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, and the Rangers are making leaps, rather than baby steps, toward being competitive once again.

Kaapo Kakko ranks as the biggest pending prospect addition, yet he could have some nice help thanks to the Rangers’ other moves.

More work to do

Speaking of other moves, the Rangers’ work isn’t done yet.

The most intriguing situation would come down to switching gears if Artemi Panarin really is interested in hitting Broadway.

The Trouba trade, not to mention the influx of talent headlined by Kakko, could make the Rangers a more appealing destination for Panarin. That’s especially true if the Rangers have even more tricks up their sleeves as Cap Friendly projects their cap space at about $19M (though a Trouba contract and Panarin pact would make that dry up fast).

The Rangers don’t have to rush things if they don’t want to, or if Panarin looks elsewhere, though.

For one thing, Mika Zibanejad rules, is just 26, and is a bargain for some time ($5.3M cap hit through 2021-22). A potential trio of DJ Z-Bad, The Bread Man, and (whatever nickname we give) Kakko could be one heck of a start.

Especially since the Rangers boast other interesting forwards at or near their primes.

Chris Kreider (28, $4.625M), Vladislav Namestnikov (26, $4M), and Jimmy Vesey (26, $2.275M) all enter contract years in 2018-19. The Rangers could trade one or more of those three forwards, either before the season or even at the trade deadline, or keep them around if they’re primed for immediate competition. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Sabres have already contacted the Rangers about Vesey, so for all we know, more significant moves could come soon.

(If you ask me, Kreider is the standout of those three, although that might make him even more appealing to trade.)

Money clearing up

The Rangers’ salary structure should look a lot cleaner after 2020-21, too.

Consider three expensive, aging veterans who are all coming off the books after two more seasons: Henrik Lundqvist (37, $8.5M per season), Kevin Shattenkirk (30, $6.65M), and Marc Staal (32, $5.75M).

For some, the Rangers’ rebuild is held back by Lundqvist, as there’s an objective argument that it would be wiser to part ways with the future Hall of Famer. That makes sense in a vacuum, but context matters: trading Lundqvist would be a very difficult thing to spin PR-wise, particularly since the Rangers are already asking fans to be patient. Maybe trading away “King Henrik” would be too extreme for fans paying big bucks at MSG.

It’s probably healthier to look at that situation with a more optimistic outlook.

There’s a scenario where the Rangers do indeed make a quantum leap from rebuilder to contender, giving Lundqvist one or two more chances to chase that coveted first Stanley Cup.

On the other hand, maybe the Rangers strategically stink, and Lundqvist either: a) plays out his contract, thus eventually opening up a ton of space in two years or b) gets antsy and asks for a trade to a contender, likely easing angst from fans if the Rangers did make a trade. Maybe Rangers fans could cheer on Lundqvist somewhere else, as some Bruins fans did when Ray Bourque lifted a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche?

All things considered, it could be worse, right?

You can apply similar logic to Shattenkirk and Staal.

In Shattenkirk’s case, I wouldn’t be shocked if the American-born defenseman rebounded at least to some extent. In 2017-18, he was hampered by a knee injury that eventually prompted surgery. Last season, it was probably tough for any Rangers defenseman to look respectable. (Hey, Shattenkirk’s relative stats are OK.)

It’s not outrageous to picture Shattenkirk’s perception rise if Trouba helps his fellow right-handed defenseman slide into a sheltered, and less prominent role. If that happened, the Rangers could either get more out of Shattenkirk from improved play, or maybe even trading him. This is a league where teams are desperate for defense, so you never know.

Marc Staal seems like more of a lost cause, at least if you look at deeper numbers, yet as we’ve seen frequently in the NHL, plenty of teams either don’t care about analytics, or will value narratives about “sturdy veterans” more than any graphs or stats.

Those teams are more liable to pursue Staal now that his term is down to two years remaining, and the Rangers could also offer to retain salary to make something happen.

Now, it’s possible that none of Lundqvist, Shattenkirk, or Staal would get traded. There may be no takers, and all three have clauses of some kind to make deals more difficult to strike.

But even if they play things out, and so at a disappointing level, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light isn’t even very far away.

***

After heaping all of this praise on the Rangers, it’s important to reiterate that there’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of ways where things could still go wrong. Maybe the Rangers make Bobby Holik-type free agent mistakes again once they start spending money, or maybe management gets impatient with losing and pulls the plug on the rebuild before the foundation settles?

Overall, though, you can’t ask for much better work than what we’ve seen from the Rangers, especially in the NHL, where teams aren’t always as bold as they should be when it comes to making trades and getting creative.

This could very well be the peak of the rebuild as far as a single week of moves goes, but this isn’t an isolated incident. The Rangers have done a brilliant job of building a brighter future after being in a pretty dark situation not that long ago.

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.

Avalanche offseason presents big opportunities — and challenges

The Colorado Avalanche don’t want to hear this – not after falling painfully short against the Sharks in Game 7 – but to many observers, that agonizing ending feels like just the beginning.

Just consider the players who spearheaded their surprising five-game steamrolling of the Calgary Flames in Round 1, and the players who pushed San Jose to the limit in Round 2.

  • Nathan MacKinnon‘s the headliner, and at 23 with a ridiculous bargain $6.3 million cap hit through 2022-23, he might be the best value in all of the NHL.
  • After a bumpy start to his Colorado stay, Philipp Grubauer sure looks like a legitimate No. 1 goalie. He’s 27 and cheap ($3.33M) though 2020-21, too.
  • Mikko Rantanen‘s not that far behind MacKinnon, and just 22.
  • It feels like Gabriel Landeskog has been around forever, but he’s just 26. His $5.571M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.
  • Cale Makar looked right at home in the pressure cooker of the playoffs, and he’s 20. Samuel Girard is another nice piece, and could improve since he’s just 20, too.
  • Tyson Barrie‘s like Landeskog in that he’s still young (27), and affordable ($5.5M through 2019-20).

Of course, it’s not just all that precocious youth that makes the Avalanche seem like a Team of Tomorrow.

Thanks to that brilliant Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene trade by GM Joe Sakic, the Avalanche didn’t just add Girard and other more immediate pieces; they also snagged what would become the Ottawa Senators’ first-rounder in 2019 (along with Ottawa’s third-rounder).

While Colorado didn’t enjoy the sexiest option of getting a shot at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, you won’t see a ton of teams make two consecutive playoff appearances and land the fourth pick of the draft. That happened thanks to the Turris trade, and the Avalanche are also slated to pick 16th with their own selection, as confirmed by NHL.com.

[Sharks hold off Avs in Game 7]

Having two picks in the top half of the 2019 NHL Draft gives Sakic & Co. some fascinating options.

Most directly, they can stick with both picks. They could also move one or both of those selections for more immediate upgrades via trades.

Both options are tantalizing, but the latter scenario is fascinating because of the road ahead for the Avalanche. Let’s take a look at the decisions Sakic must make, both in the near and longer-term future. As always, Cap Friendly is a crucial resource for contract information and other details, and served as a great resource for this post.

Tons of cap space, but some big names to re-sign

Via Cap Friendly, the Avalanche have about $46.9 million in cap space devoted to 13 players, with few problem contracts (aside from, I’d argue, Erik Johnson‘s deal).

There’s some significant money coming off the books as this season ends, and it remains to be seen if Colorado wants to bring back any of veterans Semyon Varlamov (31, $5.9M in 2018-19), Derick Brassard (31, $3M after retention), and Colin Wilson (29, just under $4M). Honestly, the Avs would probably be wise to let both Varlamov and Brassard walk, and maybe see if Wilson would take a little less cash for some term.

Either way, a ton of money will be allotted to RFAs. Rantanen figures to come in at a big clip, and it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if he landed in double digits. Honestly, even if he did, his trio with MacKinnon and Landeskog could probably still be underpaid as a group.

Rantanen isn’t the only noteworthy RFA. Alex Kerfoot, 24, and J.T. Compher, 24, both need new deals, and each player is somewhat tough to gauge value-wise. (Kerfoot is sneaky-effective from a two-way perspective.) Nikita Zadorov is another interesting situation as a 24-year-old RFA.

A window opens

Considering how young this Avalanche core is, the instinct might be to take a zen-like, slow approach.

Yet, if the Avalanche look at cap-crunched teams like the Maple Leafs, they should realize they have an unusual advantage to know that a window is opening, and that they should seize opportunities when they come along.

MacKinnon’s contract represents the outer limits (2022-23) of that window, but Colorado should also consider more immediate “deadlines.”

  • Landeskog and Grubauer are eligible to become UFAs after 2020-21, and should expect hearty raises.
  • Tyson Barrie’s deal runs out after 2019-20, and could be pricey considering his offensive production.
  • Girard’s slated to be an RFA after 2019-20, while Cale Makar’s rookie deal ranks as another competitive advantage for Colorado.
  • Granted, there will also be moments of cap relief. Carl Soderberg‘s $4.75M cap hit ends after 2019-20, so that should come in handy. The Brooks Orpik buyout ends after 2019-20, too.

With all of that in mind, the Avalanche should strongly consider ramping up their aggressiveness by either landing a free agent (maybe recent opponent Erik Karlsson, if he springs free? How does Artemi Panarin feel about skiing?) or by trading for a big ticket player. It’s tough to imagine the Predators trading P.K. Subban in general, yet especially to a division rival where they’d face Subban multiple times per year, yet Subban might be the type of gamebreaker Colorado should try to land.

Again, this is where that fourth or 16th pick could make things that much more interesting. Colorado could sell a trade partner on receiving cap space and/or a high draft pick in exchange for taking a known quantity, and a player who’s already x number of years into their development.

Imagine the Avalanche team that battered the Flames and challenged the Sharks adding an All-Star-level player, or even two? It’s a scary thought for opponents, and the Avalanche shouldn’t wait forever to try to make big strides. MacKinnon’s contract gives them a lengthy advantage, yet other bargains will evaporate soon. Why not get a surplus of talent while you still can?

***

Whether you believe the Avalanche should go bold or take a more measured approach, it sure seems obvious that this team has a lot of potential.

If management makes the right decisions – and, honestly, gets a few lucky breaks – then the Avs might just reach that potential.

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.