The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 in Dallas, which means every general manager will be in the same room. What does that mean? Plenty of action. It's the unofficial start to summer movement before free agency kicks off on July 1, and we anticipate the same flurry of trades as has become tradition.
In the meantime, there's one burning question every team must answer as it figures out its identity for the 2018-19 season:
Is this goodbye for the core? The Ducks have posted five straight 100-point seasons, but the window is narrowing for a team with an aging core. Ryan Kesler's nagging hips reportedly could cost him all of the 2018-19 season. Ryan Getzlaf missed significant time with injury last season, but he appears to have plenty left in the tank. That leaves 33-year-old Corey Perry, in a steady decline, as a prime candidate for a fresh start. His $8.625 million cap hit through 2020-21 might be too burdensome for most teams to take on. Can GM Bob Murray find a partner, or are the Ducks straddled with the contracts of these big three, for better or for worse?
So Oliver Ekman-Larsson is on board for the long haul. Who is next? The elite defenseman has reportedly agreed to an eight-year extension, signaling he likes the way the season ended in Arizona (they allowed the league's fourth-fewest goals from February on) and he believes in the Coyotes' future. Don't be surprised if the Swede is named the next captain. Extensions for Niklas Hjalmarsson (an unrestricted free agent after 2018-19) and Jakob Chychrun (restricted free agent after 2018-19) could be next.
Can they upgrade the defense -- and at what cost? The Bruins are a team on the verge of contending yet again, but they could desperately use another top-four defenseman. If GM Don Sweeney wants to aim big, he could take a swing at top UFA John Carlson. That move, however, would eat up almost all of the Bruins' free cap space, forcing them to make a corresponding move such as trading Torey Krug or Adam McQuaid.
Is Ryan O'Reilly on the move? The Sabres will have two elite talents to build around: Jack Eichel and expected No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin. Add Casey Mittelstadt as a top-tier complement. That's a terrific young core, but with the roster Phil Housley inherited, we're looking at a group that might still need to work through growing pains before they can win. So perhaps moving a player like O'Reilly, a gritty two-way forward who consistently puts up 50 points, makes sense given the potential return. Or, do you want O'Reilly to stick around; for a team without a captain, O'Reilly's passion and leadership cannot be understated. Up to you, Jason Botterill.
How can this team add offense? The Flames could use a top-six forward, even a guy who can plug in as a top-line winger with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan (who, by the way, is recovering from four surgeries in April)? GM Brad Treliving has never shied away from a trade -- he's made six in the last year alone -- though with no picks in the first three rounds of this draft, he'll be forced to get creative. Or dip into the free-agency pool.
Exactly how many players will be on the move? We know new owner Tom Dundon is not only hands-on, but committed to a total culture change. That means tearing it all down. Jeff Skinner, who scored 89 goals over the past three seasons, is generating a ton of interest and is likely on the move. But almost everyone on the roster is on the market. That includes talented defensemen Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk, but expect the price for either blueliner to be quite high.
What's the deal with Corey Crawford? Underrated announcement of the offseason: Corey Crawford will be appearing at the Blackhawks Convention, the team's annual fan festival, in late July. Why is it important? The 33-year-old goaltender has been mostly invisible in the public eye since Dec. 23, when he went on what would be season-ending injury reserve. That he'll be a forward-facing figure at the event -- and presumably speak to the media -- is a good sign the team feels confident in his health. Crawford was having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season when he went down, and the Blackhawks spiraled in his absence. If he's not back, the team needs a serious contingency plan. (Paging Carter Hutton ...)
Are the expectations too high for 2018-19? When a team overperforms, like the Avalanche did last season, the bar is inevitably set higher. There's no question the Avalanche are trending in the right direction, but it will be hard to match the success of a 95-point team, especially when GM Joe Sakic is still committed to getting younger. There's a logjam of top prospects on the brink of making the roster.
Is this current roster good enough to win? The Blue Jackets made one of the biggest splashes last offseason when they acquired Artemi Panarin from the Blackhawks. This summer's agenda for GM Jarmo Kekalainen includes inking Panarin to an extension, as well as potentially taking care of new contracts for Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski. If all three get done, that leaves little room for other signings (especially considering how much a Bobrovsky extension would command). This is a team that struggled to find depth scoring last season, and might not have enough money left over to acquire more.
How much of an adjustment period will Jim Montgomery need? Let's look at this from a player perspective: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin & Co. are adapting to their third coach -- each with a distinctive style -- in as many seasons. Montgomery isn't announcing any expectations for next season, telling ESPN: "Success is going to be having the right energy and people believing in the process that we're going to instill." In other words, the former NCAA coach knows there might be an adjustment period.
What familiar names will be on the move? GM Ken Holland did great work at the trade deadline, unloading Tomas Tatar's $5.3 million cap hit to the Golden Knights -- for a terrific return. We know the Red Wings are still a year or two off from winning again. They might be active at next summer's free agency, but certainly not 2018. So what cap space can they clear? Gustav Nyquist ($4.75 million, contract through end of the season) is option No. 1. Luke Glendening is recovering from wrist surgery, but he could also be on the move -- though, like Nyquist, likely closer to the trade deadline.
How can they unload Milan Lucic? You would expect Lucic, who has five years left on his deal carrying a $6 million annual cap hit, to be a prime candidate for a buyout. Lucic's ice time was shaved by more than a minute last season as his goal total halved from 2016-17. Some teams are still intrigued by the power forward and believe he could benefit from a change of scenery. The only caveat? The Oilers will certainly have to shoulder some of his salary.
Is this a playoff team if it stays the course? The Panthers just might be, and their late-season push was certainly encouraging. But if they want to expedite their ascent, adding a top-six winger wouldn't hurt at all. Trading for Jeff Skinner makes a lot of sense. This could also be a sneaky good free agent destination for James Neal, should he not work out a new deal with the Golden Knights.
How big are they going to go? The Kings have been linked to many names this summer, from hosting Ilya Kovalchuk to a potential trade partner for Skinner. It's clear that GM Rob Blake isn't satisfied, after last season's revitalized effort ended with a thud in the playoffs. The Kings are looking to add; the question is who, and how high profile are they willing to go?
What does Paul Fenton think of the roster he inherited? In his 12 years as Nashville's assistant general manager, Fenton was an attractive candidate for many GM openings. He stayed patient, until Minnesota called. There's a lot to like about a team that has made the playoffs in six straight seasons. Fenton will determine what he thinks is preventing them from getting over the hump. Charlie Coyle is the player most likely to be jettisoned, though Fenton could make waves and sell high on Eric Staal (a UFA after next season) or deal negotiating rights to RFA Jason Zucker.
Who are they picking at No. 3? The top two picks in the draft feel all but settled, which leaves Montreal at No. 3 as the key to the first round. So much hinges on what the Canadiens decide to do. They have stated their desire for a center or defenseman, their two biggest areas of organizational need. But it's tough to pass on winger Filip Zadina, perhaps the surest 40-goal scorer in this draft.
Is David Poile comfortable standing pat? After recording a franchise record 117 points last season, and with almost every key player under contract for next season (sorry, Mike Fisher), the conventional wisdom is to not tinker with what worked. So they ran into the juggernaut Jets in the playoffs, that doesn't mean this team isn't built to win. But Poile is among the antsiest of GMs, and is always looking to improve his roster. This summer will test his patience.
What do they prioritize this offseason? Expectations are much higher for the plucky overachievers of 2017-18. Yet when analyzing the roster, there are still significant areas to address. For starters, they need depth scoring (a.k.a. anyone but Taylor Hall). The defense group could use an upgrade too -- and will they buy out veteran Andy Greene? The most likely scenario is for GM Ray Shero not to prioritize either, but instead address both concerns through midtier free agents, and hope the Band-Aids stick.
Will he stay or will he go? Look, there's a lot of uncertainty for Lou Lamoriello to sort out. He needs to pick his next coach, address goaltending and grab a defender or two. But the immediate success of this team hinges on one man: If the Islanders retain John Tavares, they have a shot at being decent next season. If not, let the rebuild begin.
Can they keep their fan base happy while they rebuild? New York is straddling uncharted territory. As the team is in a self-proclaimed retooling period, management also realizes it is in a market where losing just isn't tolerated. The Rangers are going to be younger all right, but they also need to be entertaining. Can they find that formula with enough budget signings, elite prospects and Henrik Lundqvist?
Is this rock bottom? After an offseason of organizational malaise, this offseason has been chaos. Randy Lee, the assistant GM, was charged with harassment in an incident at the scouting combine in Buffalo. A scandal has unfolded where Erik Karlsson's wife has accused Mike Hoffman's fiancée of relentless cyberbullying. Yes, it seems likely either Hoffman and/or Karlsson could be moved, but really, how long will it take for the organization to regain respectability?
What's the cost of Wayne Simmonds? The wingers' impact in the lineup -- and locker room -- is essential to the Flyers' success. He's been incredibly productive (despite playing injured last season) in his late 20s and reaches free agency next summer, at age 30. If the Flyers want to figure Simmonds into their long-term plans, they'll likely want to work out an extension. The expectations on his average annual value are not as much of an issue as the expected term could be.
What's Jim Rutherford's big move? The GM is never satisfied, and as such, the offseason rumors are swirling -- from throwing a Hail Mary in the John Tavares sweepstakes to trading Phil Kessel. A more feasible move would something like the Habs did in acquiring Max Domi from the Coyotes: a low-risk, potentially high reward swap for a player who needs a change of scenery. That trade would be on brand for Rutherford, who has a history of taking on first-round picks (Jamie Oleksiak, Riley Sheahan) who need a fresh start and watching them flourish in Pittsburgh.
Will they land a marquee name? If there's one thing to know about GM Doug Wilson, it's that he's a big-game hunter. He's always in the mix for some of the splashiest names. It's why you've seen them being linked to Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares; they inquired about Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline. Even with Evander Kane locked in, the Sharks have cap space. Can Wilson land one of his prizes?
Are they able to move any of their unwanted contracts? The Blues are the perennial dark horse name in pretty much every high-profile free agent sweepstakes. But as much as they're worrying about Kovalchuk, Tavares, et al., there's a few of their own they're also worried about. There's an element of buyer's remorse on Patrik Berglund's five-year, $19.5 million extension he signed in 2017. Is that movable? What about Jake Allen, on showcase all of last season, or Vladimir Sobotka, a player the team seems to be relying less on? This team could look a bit different by opening night.
Does this group feel the pressure? Because on the outside, we're laying it on thick. These are your early 2019 Stanley Cup favorites. The Bolts bring back an All-Star roster ... for one more season, at least. A year from now, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Yanni Gourde, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman become UFAs, while Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point become RFAs. All of that is to say there's incentive for this group to win while it is still intact.
What's the cost of locking in the Big 3? Toronto has some cap space, but the first item on Kyle Dubas' agenda is taking care of his own. William Nylander is an RFA, while Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are both eligible for extensions. Can Dubas get all three done modestly to ensure future flexibility? Matthews, whose primary agent, Judd Moldaver, recently hopped from CAA to Orr Hockey Group, is likely in line for something in the ballpark of what Connor McDavid received last summer (eight years, $100 million).
Should we temper expectations for the youngsters? When Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin retired, the door opened for Vancouver to fully embrace the youth movement. And there was a palpable sense of giddiness in Vancouver when Swedish teenager Elias Pettersson signed his entry-level contract. "I don't want to put too much pressure on Elias," GM Jim Benning said in an interview with NHL.com, before gushing about the first-rounder and his confidence in Petterson making the roster. Combined with Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Adam Gaudette, it's a young core to be excited about. But winning will still take some time.
What are they going to do with all that cap space? The most obvious item on George McPhee's agenda is working out an extension for Marc-Andre Fleury. The Knights need to work a new deal for William Karlsson (there was no discussion between the sides during the season, and this contract will be a fascinating case study in McPhee's philosophy). Vegas can also re-sign James Neal and/or David Perron -- and even still, there will be plenty of money to go around. Do they reopen trade talks for Erik Karlsson? Shoot for the moon with John Tavares? Sign a couple of midtier guys? Play it frugal?
Can they keep John Carlson? The 28-year-old is the No. 1 free-agent target for just about any team with a defensive need (and even those who don't have one). He has indicated his preference is to stay in Washington, but it might be more complicated than that. With an eight-year deal, and perhaps even a cap hit over $8 million, at stake, it would take serious finagling for the Capitals to get it done. Another offer could be put on the table that he, quite frankly, can't refuse.
Are they able to keep everyone? One player likely not back in the fold: Paul Stastny was a terrific trade deadline addition, but he will prove too costly. Why? Consider the RFAs that Kevin Cheveldayoff has to take care of this summer: Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Joe Morrow, Josh Morrissey, Tucker Poolman, Brandon Tanev, Jacob Trouba. (Not all will get done, with just $25 million in cap space as of now) And that's not to mention working on an extension for Patrik Laine, who is eligible for one as of July 1.