NHL offseason filled with plenty of intrigue, questions

The Avalanche will soon turn their focus to the offseason but let them have their fun first. The Lightning will too, but a few days to decompress is required after losing their bid for a three-peat in a 2-1 loss in Game 6 at home.

The rest of the NHL has already been preparing for the offseason, which is now here.

Tea 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft is at Bell Center in Montreal on July 7-8. The NHL’s free agent market opens July 13. There are still three teams without a head coach and one without a general manager.

Opening night for next season is Oct. 11.

There’s a lot to get done in the next few weeks. Here are 10 questions that will be answered:

1. Will Shane Wright be the No. 1 pick?

Wright, a center from Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, is the No. 1 North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings. The Montreal Canadiens are projected to take him with the No. 1 pick in the draft, but it’s not a lock.

Juraj Slafkovsky, a forward from TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top professional men’s league, is a possibility for the Canadians. The Slovak is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of International skaters after being No. 2 behind forward Joakim Kemell of JYP in Liiga in the midterm rankings.

The New Jersey Devils have the No. 2 pick, and the Arizona Coyotes will select at No. 3.

2. Will the Devils trade the No. 2 pick?

Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald left the door open to this possibility when he addressed the media May 5, saying if trading their first-round pick will help the team improve immediately he’d do it.

Fitzgerald did not move off that stance five days later, when the Devils got the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery, but it’s fair to wonder if his mind changed when he realized they could get Wright or Slafkovsky.

If it’s Slafkovsky, he might be the perfect fit for the Devils to play on the wing next to center Jack Hugheswho was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

3. Will Filip Forsberg sign with the Predators?

Forsberg has been offered an eight-year contract by the Nashville Predators, general manager David Poile said June 23.

The Predators are the only team that can offer Forsberg an eight-year contract. He can sign with another team for a maximum of seven years if he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Forsberg has played his entire 10-season career in Nashville. He set career highs in goals (42), assists (42) and points (84) in 69 games this season. The Predators were swept by the Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round.

He’s 27 years old and he’s the Predators’ all-time leader with 220 goals. But Forsberg just completed the final season of a six-year, $36 million contract and is expected to sign what will likely be the most lucrative contract of his NHL playing career.

The Predators have the offer out, making it known that they want him. They can offer the extra year that no other team can. There is also no state tax in Tennessee. But Forsberg has yet to sign, so there is still a chance he hits the open market July 13.

Video: Pagnotta dishes on Forsberg, Fleury, and Flyers

4. Is Gaudreau going to re-sign with the Flames?

Johnny Gaudreau will cash in on the best season of his nine-year career. The question is will it be with the Calgary Flames, the only team the forward has played for since they selected him in the fourth round (No. 104) in the 2011 NHL Draft?

Gaudreau finished the regular season tied for second in the NHL in points with a career-best 115 (40 goals, 75 assists) in 82 games. He can become a UFA on July 13.

The Flames have said they want him back, with general manager Brad Treliving saying May 28 that Gaudreau has a chance to be one of the all-time greats in team history. Gaudreau also said he wants to return to the Flames and win the Stanley Cup in Calgary.

But Gaudreau also left open the possibility he would leave, saying “Whether I’m here for next year or not, who knows what happens?”

5. Have the Penguins reached the end of an era?

Evgeny Malkin and Kris Letang are pending UFAs and certainly not locks to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning the core that has had a tremendous amount of success for more than a decade might no longer be together.

Malkin, a center, and Letang, a defenseman, have won the Stanley Cup three times with the Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017) and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008. The Penguins have never missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 16 seasons they’ve been on the team.

Sidney Crosby has been the leader of that core, of course, and he’s signed through the 2024-25 season. Crosby no doubt wants Malkin and Letang to return, but the Penguins might have some other ideas, particularly since Malkin turns 36 on July 31 and Letang turned 35 on April 24.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said “in a perfect world” they’d re-sign both, but Malkin said he wants to play for at least three or four more seasons, and Letang wants to play for four or five more.

The Penguins haven’t won a playoff series since 2018, losing five in a row. It’s possible that the era is over.

6. Can the Avalanche keep the group together?

The celebrating continues in Colorado, but the Avalanche have a host of pending UFAs to deal with, nine who played in the Cup Final to be exact.

They are goalie Darcy Kuemperdefensemen Jack Johnson and Josh Mansonand forwards Valery Nichushkin, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm and Darren Helm.

General manager Joe Sakic has his work cut out for him if he wants to keep the championship team intact, or at least mostly intact.

Sakic also has to consider that center Nathan MacKinnon will be entering the last year of his seven-year, $44.1 million contract that he signed July 8, 2016.

MacKinnon’s $6.3 million salary-cap charge has been one of the best bargains in the NHL in the past six seasons. He’s fifth in the NHL with 495 points (183 goals, 312 assists) in 420 games since 2016-17. He also finished tied for first in playoff goals with 13, and had 24 in 20 playoff games.

MacKinnon’s cap charge could double in his next contract, which is something Sakic has to factor into the equation when he’s deciding who stays and who goes among the pending UFAs from the Stanley Cup winning team.

Video: Check out every Avalanche goal from Stanley Cup run

7. Is Carey Price going to remain with the Canadians?

Price turns 35 on Aug. 16, and the Canadiens goalie has four years remaining on his contract.

But Price is coming off a trying season in which he struggled to recover from knee surgery he had last offseason and entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program in October for substance use.

He won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Price played five games this season, his first April 15 and his last April 29, when he made 37 saves in a 10-2 win against the Florida Panthers in Montreal’s final game of the season. It was his 700th NHL start and after the game Price openly questioned if it was his last.

“If it is, then that would be a great way to do it,” he said.

The fact is the Canadians have to decide if Price is healthy enough to play for them next season. If he is, and Price wants to continue, he’ll likely remain in Montreal. But the potential for Price to retire or have his contract bought out also remains.

The Canadians also might have to acquire another goalie as an insurance policy in case a decision on Price can’t be made until the start of next season.

8. Who will fill the remaining coaching vacancies?

The Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings are still in the hunt for new coaches.

Barry Trotz pulled his name out of the running Friday. He told he wanted to focus on his family next season.

Trotz, a Stanley Cup champion with the Washington Capitals in 2018 who is third all-time in wins (914), was thought to be a favorite for the Winnipeg opening after the Vegas Golden Knights (Bruce Cassidy), Philadelphia Flyers (John Tortorella) and Dallas Stars (Peter DeBoer) filled their coaching vacancies.

But without Trotz, the Jets are back in the market with the Bruins and Red Wings for new coaches. Ideally, they all have them in time for the draft July 7, but short of that July 13 would be the next deadline because that’s when the free agent market opens.

9. When will the Sharks hire a new general manager?

Doug Wilson stepped down from his position as the San Jose Sharks general manager April 7, citing his need to focus on his health. Wilson was Sharks GM for 19 seasons.

The Sharks have been conducting a search for a new GM since and should be nearing the finish line with the draft and free agency approaching.

Candidates have not been made public, but one is expected to emerge shortly.

10. Are Chara and Thornton coming back for another season?

Zdeno Chara and Joe Thorntonthe two longest tenured active NHL players, are each a pending UFA and it’s fair to wonder if their careers are over.

Chara is 45 years old, the oldest player in the NHL. He played 72 games with the New York Islanders this season. His agent told The Boston Globe on June 25 he will wait until September to make a decision.

Thornton, who will turn 43 on July 2, is coming off a season in which he was often a spare forward with the Panthers. He had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 34 games.

Thornton has played the past five seasons on one-year contracts. Chara has done the same in the past four seasons.

If they retire, they’d each leave tied for third in NHL history in seasons played (24). Thornton is sixth all-time in games played (1,714) and Chara is seventh (1,680). Chara is first all-time among defensemen in games played.

Thornton is seventh in assists (1,109) and 12th in points (1,539) all-time.

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