NHL Puck Drops: Let the off-season begin

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Another long NHL season has come to an end, but the general managers of the 30 teams are entering what could be a very busy off-season.

The annual NHL Draft will be held in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday. It’s possible several teams holding picks in the top-10 could trade them to either move up in the draft or acquire established NHL players. The Florida Panthers, who own the first-overall selection, and the New York Islanders (fifth overall) have indicated their willingness to trade their respective picks for immediate roster help.

Among the clubs believed to be keen to move up are the Vancouver Canucks (sixth overall), Toronto Maple Leafs (eighth) and Winnipeg Jets (ninth). The Buffalo Sabres hold the second-overall pick and hope to add another first rounder.

 

New homes

Several notable NHL stars could find themselves with new teams by the end of the weekend. On Monday the Philadelphia Flyers kicked off what could be a busy week in the trade market by shipping left-winger Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger R.J. Umberger and a draft pick. The Ottawa Senators are actively shopping captain Jason Spezza, while the Canucks are trying to move centre Ryan Kesler. The Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues are considered frontrunners for both players. They lack a skilled second-line centre and both possess depth in young talent and draft picks to entice the Senators and Canucks.

 

Rising cap

The anticipated increase in the salary cap should encourage more player movement this summer. Currently at $64.3 million, the cap ceiling for 2014-15 could jump to $70 million, while raising the minimum to $52 million. Not only will there be more money for big-market free-spenders like the Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, but several budget-conscious clubs (like the Panthers, Islanders and Sabres) will be forced to spend more to keep pace with the rising cap floor.

 

Free agency

This summer’s unrestricted free-agent market is devoid of superstars, but there’s sufficient talent available – such as Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Miller – to generate the usual frenzy of signings when the free agency period begins on July 1. Joining them will be Murray Harbour’s Brad Richards, who was recently bought out of his contract by the Rangers. Richards’ agent recently indicated his client is willing to entertain interest from the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom he began his NHL career and had his best seasons. Given the Lightning’s current depth at centre (Steven Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson), they probably don’t have room for Richards.

 

Arbitration

The salary arbitration period runs from late July through early August. It will be worthwhile keeping an eye on Colorado Avalanche winger Ryan O’Reilly. The Avs are taking him to arbitration as it would be too expensive ($6.5 million) to qualify his rights for next season. If this goes before an arbiter and the ruling favours O’Reilly, Avalanche management must decide to accept or reject the decision. If it’s the latter, the 23-year-old O’Reilly will become an unrestricted free agent, generating a potential mid-summer bidding war for his services.

Awards

The NHL Awards are being held tonight in Las Vegas. Here’s a list of nominees and my picks for each major player award.

Hart Trophy (MVP) – Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux.

My pick– Crosby carried the injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Penguins into the playoffs while leading the league in scoring for the first time in seven years.

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender) – Ben Bishop, Tuukka Rask, Semyon Varlamov.

My pick – Varlamov won more games (41) and had the third-best save percentage (.927) while facing the most shots (2,013) of all goalies this season.

Norris Trophy (top defenceman) – Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber.

My pick – Keith had both the best plus-minus (+22) and Corsi-for percentage (56.6 per cent) of the three.

Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) – Tyler Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon, Ondrej Palat.

My pick – MacKinnon led all rookie scorers this season with 63 points and is a superstar in the making.

Selke Trophy (top defensive forward) – Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews.

My pick – Bergeron blocked more shots, won more faceoffs in the defensive zone and scored more short-handed points this season than Kopitar and Toews.

Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly player) – Patrick Marleau, Ryan O’Reilly, Martin St. Louis.

My pick – O’Reilly, who drew only one minor penalty throughout this season while playing a strong two-way game.

Masterton Trophy (perseverance) – Jaromir Jagr, Manny Malholtra, Dominic Moore.

My pick – Moore overcame the loss of his wife to cancer to become a key player for the New York Rangers this season.

Have a wonderful summer, NHL fans.

 

Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. This is his final column for The Guardian this hockey season.

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