The NHL's top storylines heading into an unprecedented free-agent period
Taylor Hall will be looking for a new home this fall. (Photo by Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)
There is no roadmap for the NHL's 2020 free agent period. As revenues have declined and the salary cap remains unchanged, each team faces their particular circumstances and must adjust their plans and ambitions accordingly.
Two things are certain: being a free agent is not an overly beneficial turn, and neither is it a good time to start looking for money. Something about the free hand, however, the owners always seem to have a little less on the cap than they previously claimed, which is a good sign for those looking to make a splash.
It could be boring. They could be fools. We will see.
But here's what everyone will be talking about when the free agent phase opens for the first time ever in mid-October.
Will Pietrangelo stay at home?
Without question, the most valuable asset slated for the block is St. Louis Blues defender Alex Pietrangelo. This is a player who gained legendary status with the franchise by taking it to its first Stanley Cup in front of two sources, but the captain and club relationship has deteriorated for reasons that were not fully understood. It is believed that Pietrangelo's grips mainly focus on the bonus structure or lack thereof, which is tied to a maximum extension proposed by the club. However, it appears that friction between the two negotiating parties began long before the brass tax was introduced under a new deal.
The same money that Pietrangelo would have out there under normal circumstances just might not be there this summer. But there are a handful of teams out there who will try to tempt the 30-year-old right-back with all they can. The Vegas Golden Knights have come to the fore in the past few weeks but may have to pay an exorbitant price to get Marc-Andre Fleury to clear the spot to sign Pietrangelo. The Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins are also expected to be involved, but these franchises also face some challenges.
St. Louis will surely work to the last moment to keep Pietrangelo, who took root in St. Louis. But with the blues captain so close to the free hand now it seems certain he'll be listening to what's out there.
What does Hall want?
Taylor Hall has one of the weirdest NHL careers ahead. As part of the most infamous one-on-one trades ever made, it took the former No. 1 Overall Draft's first MVP performance to get his first (brief) whiff of the off-season for the first time in its eighth season Postseason to achieve the league. Since that personal best, Hall missed a significant period of injury one season and moved from his second NHL franchise, the New Jersey Devils, to his third, the Arizona Coyotes, the next.
It seemed like something was there for Hall in Arizona that stayed in the bladder for a lap after pissing off the Nashville Predators. With a new managing director and the mandate to shape the financial situation as it is, Hall is pushed out the door again.
Beyond what it means to Pietrangelo, the circumstances simply destroyed Hall's earning potential. While this is obviously a less than ideal situation, it could actually help simplify things for Hall, who can only prioritize what's best for his hockey career.
Does that mean chasing as much money as possible? Perhaps. But it's also possible that the situation encourages him to sign up with a winner where he can restore his worth while playing some really meaningful games for the first time in his career.
The harvest of the free active ingredients isn't limited to two stars in Pietrangelo and Hall - this class is super deep. Mike Hoffman, Torey Krug, Evgeni Dadonov, Sami Vatanen, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Tyler Toffoli are just a few of the names that will be available when the free agency officially begins.
What makes it even more competitive for teams and uncertain for players entering the open market is that there is an onslaught of restricted free agents who have been cut off and added to the pool of players looking to get their next deal.
Anthony Duclair, Vinnie Hinostroza, Dominik Kahun, Andreas Athanasiou, Matt Benning, Troy Stecher, Nick Cousins and Mark Jankowski are just a few of the names that have not received a qualification offer from their clubs and that are sure to attract attention on the dollar on the free Market.
For the few who live in the fold, it doesn't get any easier.
It's an especially crowded market among goalkeepers, and arguably the best option previously slated for the free agency, Robin Lehner hasn't done either of them a favor by getting a relatively modest five-year extension with the Vegas Golden Knights signed.
That puts Jacob Markstrom at the top of the class and is expected to make a big payday for himself, whether with the Vancouver Canucks or not. But beyond that, Braden Holtby, Thomas Greiss, Corey Crawford and even postseason breakout star Anton Khudobin may have to settle for less, while there may be fewer openings than hitchhiking veterans from a group that includes Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard, Cam Talbot and Craig Anderson.
Matt Murray, who was sold to the Ottawa Senators for a second-round selection on the second day of the NHL draft on the second day of the NHL draft, shows how cool a resource-worthy goalie game is these days.
How about the Avs?
The Colorado Avalanche are the team that can be seen in the free agency. Perhaps the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2021 as they currently stand, the Avalanche also have a ton of free cash to spend.
Nothing should be taken off the table for the Avs that could add another level of insult if they so choose, or even support the goalkeeping game they failed in the postseason when starter Philip Grubauer went down.
With every other team feeling the pressure, or so it appears, and Nathan MacKinnon remains criminally underpaid, now is the time for a strike for the Avalanche, who did a brilliant job at the free agency last summer and would be downright scary if she would do it again.
And the Leafs, of course
Kyle Dubas has set two main goals for the off-season: strengthening the defense and making the Leafs a tougher team to play against.
While there is no shortage of options in the eco section of the NHL, every decision and roster change needs to be carefully weighed as there is very little margin for error for a team prepared to spend up to an expected salary cap on the climb continued on its normal trajectory.
A big advantage for the Leafs is that money is not an object for their group of owners. During such an off-season, there should be opportunities to improve your team by relieving financial pressure on others by covering real dollar costs. The Leafs have to find them.
It's important, of course, to nibble on the edges to support a solid core and achieve one of its main goals, which is to become a meaner, tougher team to face off against. However, it is not out of the question that Toronto is taking a massive step to upgrade its defense. Pietrangelo couldn't fill the void on the right side of the defensive core any better, but it seems unlikely at this point that he will strike a deal with his hometown side. But the Pietrangelo idea would likely require a major step related to it.
In order for this impact defender to be nailed down for good, the Leafs may have to trigger it anyway.
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