We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2017-18 NHL season, and there are a number of storylines that have arisen. One-time powerhouses, like the Blackhawks and defending 2-time Cup champion Penguins, are currently struggling to string wins together. The Avalanche are not quite the dumpster fire everyone predicted (as of this writing, they’re currently 25th in the league, so there). The Blues and Bolts are more or less running away with it in their respective conferences. Seattle has emerged as the next town to get an NHL team.
However, the current on-ice (and some off-ice) drama will likely be dwarfed by what could be a very eventful 2018 offseason. Here are a couple reasons why it could be the craziest offseason ever…and one reason why it might not.
A number of general managers working without a contract for next season in place.
According to Frank Provenzano at The Athletic, Ken Holland (DET), Lou Lamoriello (TOR), and Doug Armstrong (STL) are all in the final year of their respective contracts. According to Mike Russo, also of The Athletic, Cliff Fletcher is also working without a future contract.
What could this mean? Possibly nothing. STL has already begun talks with Armstrong, and we all know Lamoriello was more or less keeping the seat warm for someone else. But the situations in Minnesota and Detroit are a little more interesting. The Red Wings are currently sitting eight points out of a playoff spot, and while the Wild currently hold the last wild (no pun intended) card spot, they don’t look anything like the team that charged into the postseason with 106 points. Detroit and Minnesota are also the two oldest teams in the league. Both Holland and Fletcher are also two of the longest-tenured executives in the leagues, Holland the longest-tenured (since July of 1997) and Fletcher closing in on his first decade (May of 2009).
I’d be shocked if Holland were simply shown the door after such a long and successful tenure (three Stanley championships with him as the official GM, plus a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances that ended only last season). But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Holland gets bumped upstairs and someone new gets the official reins. As for Fletcher, I’m less confident in his chances if Minnesota doesn’t have a long playoff run to close out the year.
And of course, there are some GMs whose contracts don’t expire at the end of this season who are in all kinds of hot water. Marc Bergevin and Pierre Dorion look primed to take the fall if the fortunes of the Habs and Sens don’t turn more favorably and soon.
Mind you, we saw the front offices of three NHL teams undergo major change last offseason so it’s not like turnover in the front office is unheard of. But I wonder if, with so many possible openings coupled with so many possible “free agent” executives, we might see unprecedented change.
Whatever the case, those organizations wishing to make changes had better make them before July 1, 2018 because…
The cap is going up. WAY up.
Let Pierre LeBrun tell you what’s going to happen in 2018:
One could swear Maple Leafs chairman and part-owner Larry Tanenbaum was wearing a perma-grin after leaving the Board of Governors meeting. Perhaps it had to do with the update from the league that the projected salary cap for next season will undergo its biggest jump in years, from the current $75 million to likely around $80 million.
Officially, the range the league gave was between $78 million and $82 million based on current revenue projections and depending on what the NHLPA wants to do with the five percent inflator/escalator clause.
That’s a lot of room to play with, especially for contenders who are struggling to fit their current rosters under the cap. It most definitely means a big payday for any players wishing to test the market next season, even if they don’t exactly have perennial All-Star numbers.
Couple this with a possible sea change of general managers and you have what could be a free-for-all the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.
Of course there is one big reason why the offseason of 2018 might not be all that eventful.
A potentially lousy free agent class.
Right now, when it comes to free agents, all eyes are on New York–Brooklyn, specifically–to see what John Tavares ultimately decides to do. If he opts to test the market he will be hands-down the coveted player and will spark a bidding war the likes of which we haven’t seen in a good, long while. If he were truly seeking a deal to maximize his value, he’d go for it, for the very reasons stated above. But if he chooses to remain and sign long-term with the Islanders, then the relative value of this free agent class drops significantly.
While there will still be some interesting names, there won’t be any star players with the talent-level or relatively young age as Tavares. Unfortunately, with so many teams with so much cap space and so few quality players to choose from, you’re likely going to see a few deals comparable to these turkeys.
Or…and this would be the smarter play…teams hold onto their cap space and gear up for the 2019 free agent class, which could include Drew Doughty, Matt Duchene, Logan Couture, and some guy named Erik Karlsson, who recently went on record to say he won’t take the “hometown discount.”
So maybe the chaos won’t happen this year, maybe the real change happens in 2019, all in time for two other big events on the horizon in 2020, Seattle expansion and a possible lockout!
Regardless, we could be looking at a fairly dramatic 2018 offseason, one that sets the stage for a very eventful few years for the National Hockey League. While I hope most of the drama stays on the ice, there’s no denying that this will be a league worth watching even after the Stanley Cup is awarded at season’s end.