The Rangers were expected to have a busy off-season, and they made their first major move when they traded Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad. But the Rangers’ trade leaves questions about the other off-season moves that we’re still waiting on.
The dog days of the NHL offseason got a nice jolt on Monday when the Senators and Rangers hooked up on a decent-sized trade. The deal sends Derick Brassard and a seventh to Ottawa in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and a second, improving the Senators’ top six while adding some youth to the Rangers and giving them some additional cap room to work with.
The trade also answered one of the offseason’s lingering questions, which was: When are the Rangers going to get around to doing something? We were all told to expect a busy offseason in New York, as GM Jeff Gorton would look to shake up his aging and expensive core. But until this week, not much had happened aside from a few minor free agency signings. Trading Broussard isn’t exactly a blockbuster, but at least now the Rangers are on the board.
But that still leaves a few more stories lingering in the “still waiting” file. Here are five moves everyone went into the offseason expecting to see that still haven’t happened yet.
The move: The Kevin Shattenkirk trade.
Heading into the offseason, it seemed as if Shattenkirk was the most likely blueliner to be on the move. With UFA status a year away, it just didn’t seem as if he was part of the Blues long-term plans. And with holes in the lineup created by other departures and several teams on the market in the hunt for defensive help, trading Shattenkirk seemed like the most obvious move for Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong.
Why hasn’t it happened yet?: The short answer is that Armstrong hasn’t found the right deal yet. But that just leads to the next question: Why not? It’s not like the market for defensemen suddenly dried up this summer; between P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Adam Larsson, there’s been as much talent on the move as ever, and maybe more. But in Shattenkirk’s case, the move might get complicated. He’s one year away from free agency, so teams may be reluctant to acquire him without a firm sense of how much they’ll have to pay to keep him.
Odds that it still will: High. It just seems like this one has gone too far down the road to be pulled back now, with Shattenkirk’s agent going as far as calling a deal “inevitable” a few weeks ago. Maybe Armstrong has to lower his asking price, and maybe that brings teams like Edmonton back into the mix.
What if it doesn’t?: It’s going to seem awkward if training camp arrives and Shattenkirk is still a Blue. Still, having him in the lineup wouldn’t be the worst thing in the word for a legitimate Cup contender. Conventional wisdom says that you just can’t let a player like that reach free agency without trading him first, but as the Lightning showed with Steven Stamkos last year, sometimes it’s better to stay the course. Still, that’s risky territory for the Blues, and it’s hard to see how this gets that far.
The move: That big Kris Russell contract.
You remember Kris Russell. Small guy, tons of heart, one of the league’s very best shot-blockers? And oh yeah, he was supposed to be one of the summer’s most sought-after free agents. But almost three weeks in, he still hasn’t found a home.
Why hasn’t it happened yet?: We don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but it sure sounds like the market for Russell just never came together the way it was expected to. There were rumors of several teams making bids, but some of those have since been denied. It’s possible that Russell and his camp overplayed their hand here, waiting for a big offer that never came. It’s also possible that they’re targeting one or two specific destinations, and having to wait for other moves to fall into place first.
Odds that it still will: Russell’s going to end up somewhere. The question is whether he’ll get anything close to the sort of contract we were expecting. At this point, with cap space disappearing all around the league, it’s looking less and less likely.
What if it doesn’t?: If a long-term offer doesn’t materialize, there’s always the option of taking a one-year deal with the best possible fit, having a strong season, and then taking another swing next year. Russell could also opt for the Cody Franson approach; in a similar situation last year, Franson opted for a two-year deal with the Sabres that paid him decent money, if less than expected.
The move: The Dallas Stars upgrade their goaltending.
After a year that saw them finish first in the Western Conference despite below-average goaltending, only to bow out early in the playoffs, the Stars figured to be on the hunt for a new starter. In fact, you could have made a case that there wasn’t a more glaring hole on any roster in the league, at least among the true Cup contenders.
Why hasn’t it happened yet?: If you believe Stars’ GM Jim Nill, it’s because he still believes in his pairing of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. But nobody does seem to believe Nill on that point; given how close the Stars appear to be to a championship, heading into next year with the same highly paid duo in place would represent a massive gamble. So it’s more likely that Nill is playing a bit of chicken here, waiting for the right deal to come along while publicly playing it cool.
Odds that it still will: Reasonably high. There are still some big name goaltenders who could be available, including Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop. As always, the cap complicates things – the Stars would presumably need to shed one of their current goalie contracts to bring in another, and that could be difficult in a league where there are more NHL-quality goalies than jobs. But Nill is a guy who tends to find a way to get deals done, so it won’t be a surprise if that’s what he does here.
What if it doesn’t?: If the Stars went into next year with the same tandem, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Dallas is going to be judged by how far they go in the playoffs, not the regular season, so Nill does have some time on his side. But unless one of Lehtonen or Niemi suddenly looks like an all-star next year, heading into the postseason with the same two guys in place seems unthinkable.
The move: The Blue Jackets dump salary.
Being one of the worst teams in the league is bad. Having one of the worst cap situations is also bad. Falling into both categories? Let’s go ahead and call that downright awful. But that’s where the Blue Jackets were heading into the offseason, leading to speculation that they were desperately trying to unload some of their worst contracts.
Why hasn’t it happened yet?: Take a look at some of those deals. Which ones would you want your team to trade for?
Odds that it still will: Buying our Fedor Tyutin created some breathing room, and the team did manage to get Seth Jones extended without an offer sheet showing up, which had been a concern. Still, the Blue Jackets are going to need to move some of these deals at some point. Attaching one to the team’s third overall pick and using that package to move down a few spots in the draft may have been the team’s best shot at doing it, but they decided to stand pat and then used the pick to reach for Pierre-Luc Dubois. That makes sense if that’s the guy they wanted. But with so few teams having space left under the cap or their own internal budget, the job is only going to get harder.
What if it doesn’t?: To be clear, the Blue Jackets are under the cap and should have enough room to fill out the roster for opening night. So this isn’t quite a crisis situation; they can kick the can down the road a bit before that day arrives. Still, at some point it’s going to be tough to contend for much of anything with this much dead weight on the books. If Jarmo Kekalainen can’t find a way to fix it soon, it may not be his problem much longer.
The move: The Avalanche do… something.
OK, this isn’t a specific move. But the Avs sure headed into the offseason looking like a team that was ready to make some major moves, especially after coach Patrick Roy ripped the team’s young core. (Remember, Roy pulls double duty as the team’s VP of hockey ops.) And yet, so far, they haven’t made any headlines – not even the long-rumored Tyson Barrie trade.
Why hasn’t it happened yet?: It’s tempting to say that cooler heads prevailed. Then again, this is Roy we’re talking about, and a few Red Wings goalies could tell you how mellow he tends to be. But it certainly seems as if the Avalanche brain trust took a step back and decided things weren’t as bad as they thought.
Odds that it still will: At this point, a blockbuster involving a core piece like Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog seems unlikely. But Barrie’s name still shows up in the rumor mill from time to time, and with an arbitration hearing scheduled for next week, a move there could still happen.
What if it doesn’t?: Then the Avalanche will keep their good young core together… at least until the next losing streak or ill-timed celebration gets under Roy’s skin.
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