Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend report: Welcome to the offseason

The 2015-16 season is over. The final buzzer has sounded, the Stanley Cup has been presented, the parade route has been cleaned up, and the two voters who inexplicably left Phil Kessel completely off of their Conn Smythe ballots have been found, tried, and thrown into a dungeon, never to be seen again. It's offseason time.

And that means that things are about to get busy, because the NHL offseason is a bit of a weird beast. We've got an entire summer to work with before anyone steps on the ice again, but almost all the action will be squished into the next week or two, at which point everyone will disappear to a cottage and nothing will happen for two months. Here are a few of the key dates to keep in mind:

Right now: The window for buyouts is already open, and teams have until June 30 to burn their worst contracts (and eat a long-term cap hit in return). We already know two victims, Philadelphia's R.J. Umberger and Toronto's Jared Cowen, and there will be more to come. Remember that players need to pass through waivers before they can be bought out, which is why your Twitter feed will light up every day at 12:01 with updates about who's on and who cleared.

Some day soon(?): The NHL still hasn't formally set the salary cap limit for next season, in part because it needs the NHLPA to decide if its going to use its 5 percent escalator. That would, uh, be good information for teams to have.

Wednesday: The NHL Awards show, live from Las Vegas. Hey, remember a few months ago when we all wanted to fight each other over whether Drew Doughty was better than Erik Karlsson? We're two days from finding out which side won. And it will probably be overshadowed, because this is also the day we're all expecting the league to finally announce that its adding an expansion team in Vegas for the 2017-18 season.

Friday and Saturday: Buffalo hosts the NHL entry draft. The first round goes on Friday night, with everything else getting squeezed into roughly six minutes on Saturday morning because everyone has a flight to catch.

Saturday: The opening of the week-long window for teams to begin talking to unrestricted free agents. No deals can be signed until July 1 (and in theory, firm offers aren't even allowed), but teams and players can use the days before to figure out the market. Any teams that want to talk to specific players before the window opens will need to trade for their rights, and we usually see a handful of deals like that. We've already had one this year, with the Coyotes targeting Alex Goligoski.

July 1: Free agency officially begins. Expect a flood of deals to be signed on the first day; with the salary cap looking tight, most players don't want to wait around and risk being shut out. But don't be shocked if the bigger names, like Lightning star Steven Stamkos, take their time.

This is also the first day that teams can try to poach restricted free agents with offer sheets. If it's anything like most years, nobody will.

July 20: First day that salary arbitration hearings can begin. Like most years, expect plenty of cases to be filed, but very few to actually make it to a hearing.

August 15: The day that drafted but unsigned NCAA players become unrestricted free agents. Harvard's Jimmy Vesey will likely be the biggest name available, unless his rights have already been traded to his preferred destination by then.

September 17: Start of the World Cup of Hockey preliminary rounds, with camps opening shortly before. NHL rookie tournaments will be taking place around this time, with full training camps shortly after. We all wonder where the summer went.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (front office edition)The Hurricanes were a sneaky-decent team last year, staying on the fringe of the playoff race for most of the season despite being written off as Auston Matthews contenders by most of the experts. And they did it while trading veterans like Eric Staal and stockpiling picks and prospects, sticking to the rebuild plan even as the results on the ice probably tempted them towards fast-tracking.

Last week, they cashed in a few of those future chips in a strange deal with the Blackhawks that saw them acquire Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell for second- and third-round picks. In other words, they agreed to pay $4.5 million and eat Bickell's cap hit in exchange for getting a very talented young player at a steep discount. That's some flat out smart asset management for a team that's below the cap floor and was going to have to spend that money somewhere.

Granted, that Cam Ward extension looks iffy, and looks more like a loyalty move than a defensible hockey decision. But at least it sounds like the team may not make the same mistake with Staal. So on balance, the Hurricanes still had a good week. And they're slowly but surely developing a reputation for being one of the more underrated front offices out there.

(Bonus points to the team's marketing department, which tortured Oilers fans by doing this all last night.)

4. Anaheim Ducks—Scratch one big name restricted free agent off the list. The Ducks locked up Sami Vatanen on Saturday, signing the blueliner to a four-year deal that will carry a cap hit just under $5 million. That's solid value for a player of Vatanen's age and ability.

The Ducks still have a challenging offseason ahead of them, with plenty of big decisions left to be made. But Saturday's signing has them off to a good start.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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