Following Tuesday's 6-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, the Colorado Avalanche are on the verge of clinching the final Western Conference wild-card berth. While the Avs are focused on making the playoffs, some observers are looking ahead at their off-season plans.
Re-signing right winger Mikko Rantanen will be GM Joe Sakic's priority. Selected 10th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old Finnis completing his entry-level contract. Having reached career highs in goals (31) and points (87) this season, he's in line for a substantial raise.
Rantanen could become a tempting target for an offer sheet, but Sakic isn't concerned about that possibility. During an appearance last Thursday on Montreal's TSN 690, Darren Dreger saidthe Avs GM pointed out he had the salary-cap space to match any offer. CapFriendly indicates the Avalanche have just over $46 million invested in 12 players for 2019-20. With the cap projected to reach $83 million, Sakic has more than enough to counter an offer sheet for Rantanen, re-sign other restricted free agents such as Alex Kerfoot and J.T. Compher, and re-sign or replace unrestricted free agents like goaltender Semyon Varlamov and center Derick Brassard.
Dreger also speculated Sakic could attempt to “add some pieces” this summer, suggesting the blueline could be an area he'd like to improve. He could also try to bolster his club's secondary scoring, as their production drops sharply beyond the first line of Rantanen, center Nathan MacKinnon, and left winger Gabriel Landeskog.
Speaking of the Avalanche's blueline, The Denver Post's Mike Chambers wondered about veteran Tyson Barrie's long-term future in Colorado. An invaluable contributor to the Avs' playoff push, the 27-year-old recently set franchise records for the most goals (74), assists (232) and points (306) by a defenseman. He's signed through 2019-20 with a salary-cap hit of $5.5-million.
Waiting in the wings, however, is promising college prospect Cale Makar. Chambers noted the Avalanche can afford to carry Barrie and Makar next season. Should the youngster play up to expectations, he suggested the Avs could trade Barrie and put the savings toward re-signing RFAs like Rantanen. Sakic probably won't heed that advice. Makar has yet to make his NHL debut and needs time to adjust. Even if the Avs don't spend toward the cap next season, they won't need to shed Barrie's salary to re-sign Rantanen and their other free agents.
Nevertheless, Barrie's future beyond 2019-20 could become a topic of growing conjecture this summer. He's slated to become an unrestricted free agent next July and could seek a substantial pay raise on a long-term extension. How much, and for how long, could determine whether Sakic attempts to re-sign him or starts entertaining trade offers this summer.
SHOULD THE CANUCKS SHOP HUTTON OR DEMKO?
As another disappointing season draws to a close for the Vancouver Canucks, there's speculation over what GM Jim Benning has in store for his rebuilding club. Building up the blueline could be his prime concern.
ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters reported there's talk the Canucks could attempt to land a young right-shot defenseman. With Jacob Markstrom emerging as a starting goaltender this season and promising Mike DiPietro in the system, the Vancouver Sun's Patrick Johnston wondered if promising Thatcher Demko might make a good trade chip. Meanwhile, The Athletic's Harman Dayal doesn't consider Ben Hutton to be a reliable top-four defenseman and suggested Benning should move him while his stock is high.
Hutton, 25, is completing a two-year. $5.8-million contract and becomes an RFA this summer with arbitration rights. If Benning anticipates a difficult negotiation perhaps he'll put Hutton on the trade block.
Benning doesn't have to rush into a decision with his goalies. Markstrom is signed through 2019-20 while Demko is coming off his entry-level deal and will be an affordable re-signing.
HURRICANES TO SHOP PROSPECT FOX
Last June, college prospect defenseman Adam Fox was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes as part of a five-player deal with the Calgary Flames. While some observers believe the 21-year-old is close to NHL-ready, it appears his big-league debut will be with another team.
The Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reported Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said his team will try to trade Fox after he balked at signing an entry-level contract. Should the blueliner return to Harvard this fall for his senior year, he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculatedFox could change his mind if dealt to a club he wants to play for. The New York Rangers could be his preferred destination.The asking price could be a first- or a second-round pick.