On the night of June 15, 2015, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and key playoff performer Brandon Saad were in a mid-ice embrace as their Original Six club celebrated yet another Stanley Cup championship.
Exactly 15 days later, on June 30, Bowman traded Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Such is the cold reality of being a Cup-champion GM in the salary cap era. There’s almost no time to smell the roses. Tough decisions can’t wait.
"You don’t get much time to stop,” veteran GM Jim Rutherford of the Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins said Friday morning. "We do have another season to play next year and there’s lots of work to do. But we’re trying to enjoy the moment as much as we can.’’
In other words, he’s not complaining, nor was Bowman a year ago. There are 29 other GMs wishing they had this little "problem’’ that Rutherford has right now: so little time to get so much done.
At the top of the list, a decision will have to be made at some point over the next couple of weeks about whether Marc-Andre Fleury begins next season in Pittsburgh or is dealt during the offseason. It’s a delicate one. The veteran goalie is arguably one of the franchise’s most popular players ever, and an even greater person off the ice than the goalie he is on it.
But with young Matt Murray’s Cup run in net and expansion to Las Vegas on the horizon pending the Board of Governors vote next Wednesday, the decision on Fleury's future has become more complicated.
"Ideally, we’d like to start next year with both goalies, Fleury and Murray,” Rutherford said Friday morning. "But we have to look into some things. We have to, first of all, look into what the expansion guidelines are (if the Board of Governors votes yes next week), and talk internally as to how all this works, if both goalies are here.’’
Rutherford said he hasn’t seen the official expansion guidelines yet. It's likely the league will forward the guidelines to teams if and when the Board votes yes next Wednesday.
The question is this: Can the Penguins make both goalies happy next year in Pittsburgh?
"We’re very fortunate that we have two very good goalies; one a franchise goalie who's done a lot for the Penguins over the years and another, up-and-coming young guy that just helped win a Stanley Cup. We have to look at the situation but it’s a good one to be in,’’ said Rutherford.
The GM spoke a bit with Fleury this week. "We met briefly, but not really in depth as to what the situation is,’’ Rutherford said.
The bottom line is this: I don't think there are enough starts in Pittsburgh to appease both goalies. Would Fleury like to figure out his future this summer, or is he willing to wait another year until the expansion draft? One would think he’d want this settled now. But I don’t know that. Fleury has a full no-move clause and a partial no-trade clause, so his camp has a say in his future.
Teams looking for a starting goalie -- hello Calgary Flames! -- should consider Fleury. While the Anaheim Ducks' Frederik Andersen is appealing because he’s only 26 and still growing into a No. 1, he’s not accomplished like Fleury, who has two Cups under his belt and is coming off a regular season during which he was once again a top-five goalie in the league.
Speaking of the Penguins, it will be interesting to see how their speed, speed, speed game impacts how other teams adjust their lineups during the offseason. Namely, what does it mean for pending unrestricted free agent Mikkel Boedker, whose No. 1 attribute is his speed? There's no better timing, perhaps, for the winger to go free, which appears to be a certainty at this point despite the fact that he enjoyed his brief time with the Colorado Avalanche after being traded there from the Arizona Coyotes.
The Avalanche will be kept in the mix but it appears he’s headed to market. "We’ve come this far on shorter deals, now we’re at the point where he can pick a team,” said his agent, Jarrett Bousquet of Titan Sports Management, Inc., on Thursday afternoon. "We’re going to definitely weigh all the options and make the best decision for Mikkel. He liked everyone from the coaches and the players to the fans in Colorado. It’s definitely a place that’s up there on his list."
He’s also just 26, unlike most 30-something UFAs, and just entering his prime. He plays left wing, right wing and the point on the power play. Now, he hasn’t scored 20 goals yet in a season but I have to think that it he finally lands on a contender that would be a breeze.
Jonathan Drouin indicated that he he wants to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He said as much on May 27 in the end-of-season sessions with Tampa Bay media. But just in case anyone was wondering, in a subsequent chat between his agent, Allan Walsh, and GM Steve Yzerman, Drouin's trade request was officially withdrawn."As Jo said at the end of the season, he wants to be back in Tampa next year,” Walsh said via email Thursday. "It's a tight-knit group, and going forward, he's happy being part of it."
Drouin showed his all-world skills and why he was very much worth the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft in these playoffs. It's nice to see everyone turn the page on a year full of drama.
Pending UFA winger Loui Eriksson is coming off a 30-goal season in Boston and will be in demand come July 1 -- although Bruins GM Don Sweeney has not given up hope in trying to re-sign the 30-year-old.
The clock is ticking, though. "Don and I have been in regular communication," Eriksson's agent J.P. Barry of CAA SPorts said via text message Thursday afternoon. "We were expecting a new offer from the Club at some point but we haven’t received one yet. I’m sure we will speak again prior to the draft about their intentions."
GM Dean Lombardi indicated to me via text message on Thursday what he also later told local Los Angeles media on a call in the wake of Anze Kopitar being named as Los Angeles Kings captain -- that the Kings are formalizing their "best offer" for pending UFA winger Milan Lucic and it should be on the table in the next week or so. Other teams can start talking to Lucic on June 25. I think Lucic would love to stay with the Kings, and if the offer is good enough, he will sign it. But if the sense is there will be other opportunities for him on July 1, I also think the hulking, talented winger has the frame of mind to see what’s out there.
Having traded for his rights on Thursday, the Arizona Coyotes are going to host pending UFA blueliner Alex Goligoski and his wife, Amanda, on Monday and Tuesday, hoping to woo and sell him on the merits of their market and improving squad. Hey, if they can’t convince him, what’s a fifth-round pick to a team that’s had a ton of picks over the last two years? It's well worth the gamble for 27-year-old GM John Chayka.