PHILADELPHIA -- If the expectation was that draft weekend would yield a plethora of significant trades, then the 2014 draft period failed.
James Neal, to no one's surprise, was dealt to Nashville on Friday night, and the Leafs curiously traded defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to St. Louis for Roman Polak on Saturday. But that was about it in terms of trades of import.
So now we move from draft mode to free-agency mode, and there are some teams that have work to do between now and when the market opens for unrestricted free agents on July 1.
The draft came and went and captain Jason Spezza remains a Senator. Perhaps GM Bryan Murray's asking price has been too high (we're told that in discussions with Anaheim, before the Ducks acquired Kesler, the Sens wanted the 10th overall pick that went from Ottawa to Anaheim in the Bobby Ryan deal last offseason, which was a nonstarter for the Ducks). Or maybe it's a case of Spezza having to expand the number of teams to which he would be willing to be traded, having nixed a trade to the Nashville Predators as they are among 10 teams to which he will not agree to a trade. There are still teams looking for help down the middle, and it'll be interesting to see how and when this prickly situation will be resolved. In the end, it may come down to if Spezza wants a change of scenery badly enough to broaden his horizons.
Speaking of the Preds, they are one of those teams looking to get better down the middle, especially since Neal has 40-goal potential provided there's someone who can get him the puck. Spezza would be a nice fit, but there are other options via free agency. Hard to imagine the Preds would have the wherewithal to sign Paul Stastny, but there are other options including Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and possibly Vincent Lecavalier, whom new Preds coach Peter Laviolette knows from Philadelphia.
Interesting to see head coach Todd McLellan's suggestion regarding stripping the captaincy from center Joe Thornton and not having a captain at all. Weird times in San Jose for sure as GM Doug Wilson has made it clear he wants to get younger, which would suggest moving on from Thornton and perhaps Patrick Marleau -- both of whom Wilson signed to extensions last season. It's clear the crushing loss to Los Angeles in the first round in which the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead has exposed some structural issues within the locker room that Wilson is determined to fix. But both Thornton and Marleau, who took less than they would have commanded on the open market as free agents, are happy where they are. Something's got to give and the question is whether it's sooner or later.
The Coyotes got a new name at the draft and then bought out their No. 1 center Ribeiro in a somewhat controversial move. GM Don Maloney cited behavioral problems away from the rink, but the bottom line is that without Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata, the Yotes are going to have to find some offense somewhere. Does that mean moving defenseman Keith Yandle in the hopes of returning a top-line center? With the Ducks upping the ante in the Pacific Division by acquiring Kesler, the Coyotes must find a way to inject more offense into their game if they're going to return to the form that saw them advance to the Western Conference finals in 2012.
We know the Red Wings would like to add a big piece to their blue line to help take the pressure off workhorse Niklas Kronwall, which is why free-agent defenseman Dan Boyle represents an interesting figure come July 1. The Red Wings made the playoffs for a 22nd straight year in spite of crippling injuries to top players. Young stars like Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar showed they are ready to provide the next generation of offense. But the Wings are also coming off a rare free-agent miss in Stephen Weiss, whom they signed to a whopper five-year deal worth $4.9 million annually only to see him score just twice before being lost for the season to injury. You know it's not good enough for the Wings to be merely a playoff team, and right now they're still a step or two behind the Boston Bruins, the team that erased them in the first round of the playoffs.
Got to hand it to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, he isn't afraid to get back on the horse after taking a tumble. The Blues, of course, made a significant splash at the trade deadline in acquiring former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller from Buffalo, but Miller wasn't the answer as St. Louis blew a 2-0 series lead against Chicago and was knocked out in the first round. It's easy to blame Miller, who struggled late in the series, but the real issue was the Blues stopped scoring. To that end, Armstrong is looking to upgrade down the middle, which means looking at Spezza and soon-to-be-free agent Paul Stastny. If he can land a top pivot to share time with David Backes, the Blues should be back in the mix in the Central Division again next season.
The Blackhawks came achingly close to advancing to a second straight Stanley Cup finals but were beaten in overtime in Game 7 at home by eventual Cup winner Los Angeles. Soon after, GM Stan Bowman told veteran Michal Handzus that he wasn't part of the team's plans moving forward, and the Hawks began their own search for a second-line center to play behind Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks have cap issues and the debate has centered on what pieces Bowman would have to shed to acquire a guy like Spezza or to sign Stastny. Tough decisions ahead for a team that remains an early 2015 Stanley Cup favorite.