NHL fans should know this year’s Stanley Cup finalists by the end of this week.
The Tampa Bay Lightning leads the New York Islanders 3-1 in the Eastern Conference final, while the Dallas Stars held a similar lead over the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference entering Game 5 on Monday night.
By the end of September, a new Stanley Cup champion will be crowned. Soon afterwards, the NHL’s off-season business will commence.
The league announced on Friday the first round of the draft will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m. Atlantic, followed by Rounds 2-7 the following day at 12:30 p.m. Usually held in late-June, the draft timetable was changed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic forcing the delay of the season’s completion.
Unlike previous drafts held in NHL arenas filled with fans, media and anxious prospects and their families, this year’s will be held online as general managers and their staff make their selections.
Left-winger Alexis Lafrenière of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic is considered the top prospect. He’s the first player since Sidney Crosby to win the Michel Brière memorial trophy as the QMJHL’s MVP in consecutive seasons. He’s expected to be chosen by the New York Rangers, who hold the first-overall pick.
Two days later, at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9, the free-agent market will open. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, there is no longer a one-week interview period for pending free agents to speak with interested teams. That means it’s back to general managers frantically calling the players’ agents and getting into bidding wars for their services during the market’s opening day.
Several noteworthy stars could be available. The list includes St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes left-winger Taylor Hall and Boston Bruins blue-liner Torey Krug, as well as goaltenders such as Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals and Robin Lehner of the Golden Knights.
The best free agents usually land lucrative, long-term contracts. With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for 2020-21, however, they could find those deals harder to come by. The flattened cap could prevent some teams from bidding for the best available talent.
Trade activity between teams usually picks up once the playoffs are over. However, some general manager aren’t wasting any time.
Some cap-strapped teams, like the Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs have already made cost-cutting deals. The Leafs kicked things off last month by shipping Kasperi Kapanen to the Penguins in a multi-player swap. On Sept. 2, the Blues traded goalie Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens and the Penguins dealt centre Nick Bjugstad to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.
Teams with plenty of salary-cap space and tradable assets (like the Canadiens) will use those to their advantage. In addition to acquiring Allen in exchange for two draft picks, the Habs also recently landed defenceman Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes for a fifth-round selection.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with the Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.
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