A year ago, the hockey world was consumed with Mike Babcock's future, the pending free-agent coach keeping everyone guessing until signing a massive deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs after coaching the Detroit Red Wings for 10 seasons
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville got ahead of the story last month by signing a lucrative extension a year and a half ahead of his deal expiring.
Very quietly, however, there's a head coach with two Stanley Cup championships under his belt who's just months away from his deal expiring: Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings.
There's no question he'd be in demand if he hit the market after the season, but my guess is Sutter would much rather stay and coach the Kings, where he's been since being hired in December of 2011.
"He's outstanding," Babcock said Wednesday morning when asked about Sutter. "He's done a hell of job. Look, [GM] Dean Lombardi and his people, 10 years now they built a program to have success. Then they brought in Darryl -- he created a climate of accountability.
"He knows what wins. He's honest as the day is long. He looks gruff on the outside, but he really cares about people. He's a hell of a man. He's one of the top coaches in the league."
The belief is that there have been some preliminary discussions between the organization and Sutter, but just where it goes remains to be seen.
One would hope it gets done.
Speaking of contract negotiations, it's going to be fascinating to see how it plays out between the Arizona Coyotes and pending unrestricted free-agent winger Mikkel Boedker, who's just 26 years old and entering his prime years. I believe negotiations have begun, but I don't get the sense anything's been put on the table that appeals to Boedker just yet.
He signed just a one-year deal last summer because he was worried about the team's arena situation and ownership. Has Boedker seen enough now to sign a long-term deal? The future looks incredibly bright for the team on the ice, and I would think there's lots of pressure on GM Don Maloney to get this done. I don't think you let this guy walk. But the deal also has to make sense for the team. Does Boedker get traded by the Feb. 29 deadline if he's still unsigned and the team is close to a playoff spot? Really interesting situation.
The Calgary Flames are getting calls on pending UFA winger Jiri Hudler, whom I don't think is likely to sign an extension. The 32-year-old Czech scored 31 goals last season but has struggled with just six so far this season. Still, for the right price he'd be a nice top-six add for a contender.
The Edmonton Oilers haven't decided yet what they'll do with pending UFA winger Teddy Purcell. The 30-year-old found some decent chemistry playing on a line with Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl this season, putting up 11 goals and 18 assists in 51 games. But with a deep forward group moving forward when healthy, I think the Oilers have to decide where their money is better spent. Do they re-sign him this month or trade him?
"Yeah, I would love to," Byfuglien said. "I've met a lot of good people and have some really good friends. I've been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I've been here long enough. Family's been here and I've had two kids here. It's somewhere you don't want to leave."
So, the question is where the sweet spot is in his negotiations. I don't think he signs for less than five years. And salary for a pending UFA who's one of the league's top defensemen? You have to think between $7 million and $7.5 million per season. Because Byfuglien's 30, the Jets have a tough call to make for sure. He's incredibly popular in the Winnipeg market, the fans adore him, but do you agree to a deal like that knowing you might regret it in three or four years?
It's a tough decision. I can see both sides of it, but I would sign Byfuglien if possible.