As the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks battle it out in the NHL’s Conference Finals, the teams they vanquished from the previous round face a busy off-season.
After upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell in six games to the Bruins. GM Jarmo Kekalainen took a big gamble on his club. Rather than shop pending free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, he retained them as “own rentals” for the playoffs. He also mortgaged part of his club’s future on trade-deadline acquisitions such as Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.
NHL.com’s Jeff Svoboda reports Kekalainen still hopes to re-sign Panarin, Bobrovsky and Duchene. With over $30 million in salary-cap space, there’s enough to get it done. If they test the free-agent waters, however, the Jackets GM could go shopping for replacements. Panarin and Bobrovsky aren’t expected to return, with the latter putting his downtown Columbus condo up for sale last week. Ongoing speculation links the duo to the Islanders and Florida Panthers.
If Duchene and Dzingel leave, Kekalainen will have nothing to show for his deadline moves. Duchene isn’t ruling out re-signing with the Blue Jackets. He was a good fit down the stretch and in the postseason, finishing second to Panarin among their playoff scorers.
The Blue Jackets will face competition for Duchene’s services. The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports there’s talk he could sign with the Nashville Predators or return to the Senators. Dzingel, meanwhile, had his ice time reduced and was a healthy scratch for one playoff game. That doesn’t bode well for his future in Columbus.
ISLANDERS TURN EYE TOWARDS OWN FREE AGENTS
Having swept the Pittsburgh Penguins from the opening round, the New York Islanders suffered the same fate against the Hurricanes. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes GM Lou Lamoriello’s biggest question is what to do with pending free agents Robin Lehner, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle.
With over $47.7 million invested in 16 players, Lamoriello has plenty of cap room to re-sign those four. Cyrgalis’ colleague Larry Brooks, however, isn’t sure if the Isles GM will spend all of it. He doubts Eberle will be re-signed. Meanwhile, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Isles are working toward a new contract with Nelson.
Having lost one captain in John Tavares to free agency last summer, Lamoriello will try to keep Lee in the fold. Contract term, however, could be a sticking point. The Isles captain turns 29 on July 3 and Lamoriello could be reluctant to invest more than five years in him.
Lehner is a Vezina Trophy finalist this season and among the chief factors behind the Islanders’ surprising success. Having signed a one-year, $1.55-million deal last summer, the 27-year-old goaltender is in line for a more lucrative contract. The Isles took a chance on Lehner and stuck by him after he revealed his treatment for addiction issues. For the right offer, he could reward their loyalty by staying put.
Cyrgalis also thinks Lamoriello wants to add a high-impact forward like Artemi Panarin to complement young center Mathew Barzal. That’ll depend upon how much is spent on Lehner, Lee and Nelson, as well as Panarin’s asking price on the open market.
STARS TO RETAIN ZUCCARELLO?
Following their opening-round upset of the Predators, the Dallas Stars fell to the Blues in a hard-fought seven-game series. ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan and Chris Peters suggest GM Jim Nill could try to bolster his club’s secondary scoring.
They also recommend re-signing pending UFA Mats Zuccarello. Acquired before the trade deadline from the New York Rangers, the 32-year-old right winger was sidelined a month with a broken arm. He proved a solid addition upon his return to their lineup, tallying 11 points in 13 playoff games. Given Zucarello’s age, term will be an issue. For an opportunity to play in a tax-free state, perhaps he’ll accept a three-year deal with an annual salary-cap hit similar to his current $4.5-million.
AVALANCHE PLAN TO BE AGGRESSIVE
The Avalanche upset the Calgary Flames in the opening round before dropping a seven-game decision to the San Jose Sharks. As Steven Ellis observed, GM Joe Sakic’s youth movement is paying dividends.
With over $47.7 million committed to 14 players, Sakic has plenty of cap space to work with this summer. His priority is re-signing restricted free agent winger Mikko Rantanen, who could cost up to $9 million annually.
Sakic should also have room to bolster his roster depth, particularly his second-line scoring. The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports the Avs GM said he intends to be “more aggressive” in this summer’s UFA market.
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