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Thirteen NHL teams are still playing in the playoffs for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. This means that 18 teams have already moved into their off-season process, which will include the NHL Entry Draft and free agency.
Several top story lines have emerged already this "summer" for some of these clubs already in off-season mode.
Much has been made about the Islanders captain John Tavares as he approaches unrestricted free agency on July 1st of this season. I wrote about Tavares late in the season, but the story keeps growing.
The New York Islanders would obviously love to keep their captain and top offensive weapon. Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points this past season. The 27-year-old has 621 points in 669 career NHL games, and is one of the biggest free agents to possibly hit the open market in a long time.
A couple of season ago the Tampa Bay Lightning were in a similar position with captain Steven Stamkos, but he ultimately ended up signing a contract with the Lightning before he even hit free agency.
That does not likely appear to be the case with John Tavares and the Islanders, and the team missed the postseason again this season. The Islanders, as documented in my previous piece, struggle to play defense. They can score tons of goals, but simply cannot keep the puck out of their own net.
If Tavares wants a chance to win a championship, the Islanders don't appear to be the team to be on. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens or San Jose Sharks make sense as teams who are closer to a Stanley Cup.
San Jose will likely not bring back superstar Joe Thornton, and Tavares could be a natural replacement. The Sharks are still in the postseason, and have a strong group of young forwards, a good corp of defensemen, and a good goaltending tandem in Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.
The Canadiens struggled this season, but the addition of Tavares to that group would give Montreal a bona-fide #1 center they have been craving for a long time. Plus, they have one of the best goaltenders in the world in Carey Price (assuming he returns to his Vezina form). Questions rise when you talk about Montreal's depth and defense, but that team would appear to be closer to the ultimate prize than the Islanders.
There have been rumors that the St. Louis Blues could be involved. There is a natural fit with the Blues after they traded Paul Statsny earlier this season. There is plenty of cap space in St. Louis this summer, who should have around $12 million to play with this summer (thanks CapFriendly!) and only depth players in need of new contracts.
I find it hard to image Tavares will end up with the Los Angeles Kings. They simply have two solid centers in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The Kings would be better off trying to persuade a winger like Evander Kane or James van Riemsdyk to join their squad.
The fact that Tavares isn't signed to a long-term deal is scary for Islander fans. Losing an elite player like John Tavares would be a significant blow to a woeful team, and it looks like that might happen.
Stay tuned for more.
The Senators' captain Erik Karlsson might be another player on the move. While he is under contract for one more season, the Ottawa Senators don't appear to be anywhere close to competing for a Stanley Cup.
After making the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the wheel came off the Senators, who finished with the second worst record in the NHL. While there has been talk of a new coaching regime (see below), Erik Karlsson might not want to be around if the team needs a lengthy rebuilding process.
It definitely appears that way after the 2017-18 season. The Senators struggled to score goals and to keep the puck out of their own net. While they have some good pieces like Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, etc., this team doesn't have the strong defensive group to.
Their offense is also lacking. I'm still baffled at the idea of trading Kyle Turris for Matt Duchene (I know there was more involved then just those two players). For me, they are very similar players, although Duchene probably has a higher offensive upside. Either way, it seemed like a lot to give up for a guy that isn't much better than they guy you gave away.
There's also the question on if this team has enough offensive firepower or a good enough goaltending situation to be a top team in the NHL.
My instincts are telling me that Karlsson wants out of this situation. He has been made the fool by management and ownership, and the team is honestly pathetic at times on the ice. If he wants to win a Cup, Erik Karlsson might want to demand to be moved this season, something that might be easier said that done.
There are currently four open coaching positions in the NHL, but their could be a few more depending on what happens with the rest of this NHL postseason.
Alain Vigneault was fired by the New York Rangers, but might be the front-runner for the Dallas Stars opening. Ken Hitchcock retired after one season back on the Stars bench. Bill Peters just resigned as the Carolina Hurricanes coach, and many have penciled him into the job with the Calgary Flames, where head coach Glen Gulutzan was relieved of his duties a few weeks ago.
These all seem like natural fits, but then who would jump on the Hurricanes and Rangers jobs? Right now, the word out of Carolina is that Rod Brind'amour might be the guy to step in and take over, but that isn't certain. No front-runners have emerged in the search by the Rangers.
While I don't have answers, coaches like Guy Boucher in Ottawa might be on the way out simply because their teams weren't very good this past season. The coaching carousel is always exciting in the NHL offseason, and I image if there aren't as many coaching changes this year, the excitement will still be there.