Hockey season is here. Rookie camps and tournaments began across the NHL last week. Full training camps begin this week.
We’re still about a month away from the start of the regular season, so here are seven storylines to watch as the days wind down before the finalization of rosters.
1. Unsigned RFAs: There are still seven unsigned restricted free agents after Vancouver’s Bo Horvat and Calgary’s Sam Bennett agreed to contracts last week. Boston’s David Pastrnak is by far the biggest of those names.
The Boston’s Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reported the sides are discussing an eight-year, maximum-length contract, with other reports suggesting Pastrnak is looking for money similar to Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who signed an eight-year, $68 million contract.
Draisaitl, 21, had 29 goals and 77 points last season. Pastrnak, 21, had 34 goals and 70 points last season. General manager Don Sweeney is expressing confidence that a deal will get done.
Pastrnak isn’t the only significant RFA unsigned. Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno, Columbus’s Josh Anderson, Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou, New Jersey’s Damon Severson, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and St Louis’s Petteri Lindbohm are also without contracts.
Athanasiou’s agent, Darren Ferris, is using a potential KHL deal as leverage. The Devils need Severson for a paper-thin blue line. If RFAs do not sign by Dec. 1, they are ineligible to play in the NHL this season.
2. Jaromir Jagr: The crusade to sign the veteran forward feels media driven. I’ll admit it: I’m stoking that fire. The thing is, Jagr can still play. He can still contribute on a power play or down low with those magical hands and that long reach. He had 16 goals and 46 points in 82 games last season with the Florida Panthers.
Jagr has said repeatedly he hopes to play until he is 50, but he’s not sure if his body will hold out. It would be a shame if nobody gave him the opportunity to test his limits.
3. The Matt Duchene drama: Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic is trying to extract a big return for a player who had 18 goals and 23 assists last season. That’s not going to happen, and Sakic hasn’t helped matters by suggesting in some of those conversations that Duchene has attitude problems.
The best thing for both parties may be for Duchene to report to camp, play better than he did last season during Colorado’s historically bad season, and improve his trade value so the Avs can move him for better pieces. That way, he can move to a happier place and somebody will get a center who still brings plenty to the table, as evidenced by his 184 points over the previous three seasons.
4. John Tavares’ contract: The New York Islanders’ center is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $6 million this season ($5.5 million AAV). Discussions on a contract extension for Tavares have dragged on for more than a year. Rumors on his future have been swirling longer.
Tavares has repeatedly said he wants to remain with the Islanders, but he has been eligible to re-sign since July 1 and no agreement is in place with training camp less than a week away.
“I think everyone’s situation is different, everyone’s circumstances are different, but you look at some of the situations with guys in similar situations that I’m in, it doesn’t always happen the first day or that first month,” he told NHL.com. “It takes time. It’s a big decision in your life and you want to make sure you’re thorough and you understand everything going forward, so I think anybody making any decision like this in life would approach it the same way.”
5. Vegas gets going: As the first NHL expansion club in 17 years, Vegas has generated an enormous amount of anticipation. What will the reception look like for the city’s first major professional team? Will the Golden Knights be as competitive as the league insists they’ll be after an altered expansion draft (hint: they won’t)? How long will it take the Knights to make the playoffs? What will GM George McPhee do with 11 defensemen, 10 of whom are not waiver-exempt?
It’s finally time to find out.
6. Rookies’ readiness: There is a long list of rookies trying to make an impact in a cap-constrained league that is growing increasingly younger.
New Jersey center Nico Hischier could be the first No. 1 pick not to play in the NHL immediately since Erik Johnson (St. Louis) in 2006, or he could contend for the Calder Trophy in a wide-open race.
Forwards Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome hope to infuse a much-needed skill level in Arizona, Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy aims to build off a terrific 2016 postseason, and Philadelphia center Nolan Patrick intends to silence doubters. Minnesota forward Joel Eriksson Ek, Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot, and Vancouver forward Brock Boeser could also factor in the Calder race, but all of them must first secure spots on their respective teams.
7. Cap problems: The Detroit Red Wings still need to re-sign Athanasiou, but they are more than $3 million over the $75 million salary cap, according to capfriendly.com.
Johan Franzen will return to long-term injured reserve, giving Detroit almost $4 million in cap relief, but that won’t be enough to sign Athanasiou and get under the ceiling. The Red Wings have to trade a player, with forward Riley Sheahan a recently mentioned possibility.
Toronto, Chicago and Dallas are also over the cap ceiling, but the Maple Leafs (Nathan Horton) and Blackhawks (Marian Hossa) will get cap relief soon, and Dallas is one player over the roster maximum of 23.