Every NHL offseason has a number of intriguing storylines to follow, but the summer of 2017 figures to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. With the Vegas Golden Knights set to enter the NHL in 2017-18, they’ll be building up a team through the expansion draft by selecting one player from all 30 NHL clubs.
Those 30 teams can only protect so many players, and they risk losing some standout players for nothing. That means general managers could desperately look to swing trades for some players instead of having Vegas select them without receiving any compensation in return.
And after two-straight offseasons that had weak free agent classes, we’ll have the likes of Joe Thornton, Kevin Shattenkirk, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Marleau, Justin Williams, Andre Markov, Brian Elliott, Karl Alzner and Radim Vrbata on the free agent market. How exciting.
So with the trade and free agent markets ready to heat up, here is a look at one player all 31 NHL teams should chase this offseason.
*Stats via ESPN and HockeyReference.com*
31. Anaheim Ducks: Patrick Marleau
The Ducks time to win a Stanley Cup is now, and they won’t be contending much longer. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are on the wrong side of 30, and defenceman Cam Fowler may need to be traded soon (since he could price himself out of Anaheim, and the team is loaded with blueliners).
They basically have to go all-in, and adding sniper Patrick Marleau would be a great addition. Back in November 2015, Kevin Kurz from CSNCalifornia.com reported that Marleau would accept a trade to Anaheim — despite being rivals of his San Jose Sharks.
Marleau scored 27 goals in 2016-17, and could easily score that many with Getzlaf as his centre. The Ducks don’t have much scoring depth, so adding another star scorer Marleau may be the final piece needed to win one more championship with this core.
30. Arizona Coyotes: Jonathan Bernier
The Coyotes have been among the worst teams in hockey over the last five years, and are in a rebuilding stage. This is also a team that hasn’t had a reliable number one goalie since Mike Smith was playing like one in 2014-15. With this year’s goalie market one of the best in recent memory, the Coyotes should look at adding veteran Jonathan Bernier, who could come nice and cheap.
The budget-conscious Coyotes aren’t going to outbid anyone for Ben Bishop, Brian Elliott or Steve Mason — but they could afford Bernier. The 28-year-old performed well as John Gibson’s backup in Anaheim this season, going 21-7-4 with a .915 save percentage and 2.51 goals against average.
29. Boston Bruins: Kevin Shattenkirk
The Bruins lack of depth and speed on their blue line was magnificently exposed by the Ottawa Senators during the opening round of the playoffs. 40-year-old Zdeno Chara couldn’t do much on his own, and the young Boston defence made too many mistakes in the six-game series loss to the Sens.
Boston really needs to find a top-pairing defenceman to take some of the pressure off of Chara and the young kids, and free agent Kevin Shattenkirk would do a great job of filling up that hole.
Shattenkirk scored 13 goals and 56 seasons with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, along with an excellent 60.3 Corsi for percentage. Shattenkirk would give Boston a true puck-moving defenceman with great speed and a nice right-handed shot. It’s a perfect match — should Boston despite to outbid the other teams for him.
28. Buffalo Sabres: Karl Alzner
The Sabres have plenty of scoring up front with Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane and Marcus Foligno. They have a true number one goalie in Robin Lehner as well. If there’s one problem on this young Sabres roster, it’s a quality stay-at-home defenceman.
Enter Washington Capitals standout Karl Alzner, who is set to hit the free agent market on July 1st. Alzner posted an incredible plus-28 rating this season, helping the Capitals win yet another Presidents’ Trophy. He did his job in limiting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during Washington’s second-round playoff exit, too.
At 6-foot-3, 219 pounds, Alzner brings plenty of size to a Sabres team that is easy for opponents to push around. Defencemen like Alzner tend to get overlooked quite often too, so the high-spending Sabres should be prepared to open their wallets for his services in July.
27. Calgary Flames: Marc-Andre Fleury
Because of Brian Elliott’s struggles during the playoffs — which led to the Flames being swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the playoffs — Calgary may feel tempted to let him hit free agency while finding a new number one goalie.
Ben Bishop was the most logical fit for this team, but his rights were traded to the Dallas Stars, and Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that Calgary was on his no trades list. So the Flames should move onto Plan B, which would be Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As I’ve mentioned on here before, the Penguins will want to keep the younger Matt Murray — so they’ll have to trade Fleury to ensure the former isn’t exposed to Vegas in the expansion draft.
With eight 30-win seasons under his belt (along with two Stanley Cups), Fleury would be the ideal fit for the Flames crease. Should the asking price not be anything beyond ridiculous, Calgary needs to make a play for Fleury this offseason.
26. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan-Nugent Hopkins
The Hurricanes nearly made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 — thanks to the tremendous play from their young blueline. Despite only having two 20-goal scorers and mediocre goaltending, the defence from Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin kept Carolina in contention for much of the season.
Carolina recently signed former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling, so their questions in the crease have been resolved for the time being. But if general manager Ron Francis was smart, he’d look to trade one of his young blueliners for scoring help.
The Edmonton Oilers have plenty of scoring, and trading away 2011 first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins makes plenty of sense. He had 18 goals and 43 points in the regular season, but had just four points in 13 playoff games.
Carolina should trade for Nugent-Hopkins and give up Slavin or Faulk in return. Depth on defence is great — but you need scoring to win. This would be a win-win trade for both teams if they’re up for it.
25. Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Eaves
The Blackhawks have now been eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs two-years in a row. The latest defeat — a surprising four-game sweep at the hands of the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators — may suggest that this team’s championship window has closed.
Well, it hasn’t closed just yet — but general manager Stan Bowman has to stay aggressive and go all-in this offseason. Considering how many guys have crushed it with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Andrew Ladd, etc.), why not go for veteran Patrick Eaves?
Patrick Eaves scored 32 goals in the regular season and could absolutely score 25-plus on the star-studded Blackhawks. Given his age (33), teams may be weary of overpaying him. If Bowman can get Eaves on a two-year deal, that’ll give Chicago one more dangerous scorer for opponents to fear.
24. Colorado Avalanche: Kris Russell
With the Avalanche finishing last in the NHL standings, a massive rebuild is on the way. General manager Joe Sakic is expected to shop young stars Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog; so that should already be an indicator that they won’t be big players on the free agent market this offseason.
If Sakic did want to make a signing that could help the rebuilding Avalanche, then shot blocking specialist Kris Russell makes plenty of sense. Besides veteran Erik Johnson and youngster Tyson Barrie, Colorado doesn’t have all that much to offer on defence. Russell would be able to clean up the mistakes in Colorado’s zone and could be a mentor to the rebuilding Avalanche.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets: Martin Hanzal
The Blue Jackets’ dream season ended at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who embarrassed Columbus in five games in the opening round. But should the Blue Jackets really make a big move? They have a Vezina nominee in Sergei Bobrovsky and great depth all over the roster in Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg and Zach Werenski, among other role players.
The Jackets were among the NHL’s highest-scoring and best defensive teams this year — and 2016-17 was just a step forward. If this team feels the need to fix things, they should look at 6-foot-6, 226-pound center Martin Hanzal — who is set to become a free agent on July 1st.
Martin Hanzal would be a key piece in helping the Jackets shut down Pittsburgh and Washington’s explosive offences. He brings plenty of grit and can chip in well offensively for a third-liner. They have no reason to chase any big players in free agency, but a guy like Hanzal could be a vital addition to their young roster.
22. Dallas Stars: Cam Fowler
The Stars signed goalie Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth $29.5 million, so general manager Jim Nill has already addressed the team’s biggest need in the offseason. The next objective? To find a defenceman.
Dallas wasted great campaigns from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in 2017, because they simply don’t have any reliable blueliners. Well, Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks could be an enticing trade option for the Stars. He has one year left on his contract and Anaheim is loaded in young defencemen, so they may choose to trade Fowler rather than possibly lose him next offseason in free agency for nothing.
The Stars have some good prospects in the system, such as Denis Guryanov, Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell. If the Stars can get Fowler for one of those prospects and another asset (a roster player or draft pick), then they just might compete for the Central Division again in 2018.
21. Detroit Red Wings: Kevin Shattenkirk
The Red Wings saw their 25-year playoff streak end in 2017, and a huge reason for that was because of the lack of help on defence. Plenty of their young guys can score, and the goaltending tandem of Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek performed fairly well in 2016-17. But their best defenceman is 36-year-old Niklas Kronwall — who is probably a number three blueliner on most other teams at best.
Ken Holland (per The Hockey News), has already said the Red Wings will NOT be rebuilding. If he wants this team to be competitive in 2018, then he needs to go after blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk.
The top defenceman on the market should easily command over $7 million per season on a long-term deal, and Detroit should have no problem offering it to him. If Holland can reel in Shattenkirk, then their defence is suddenly much better — and they could contend for the playoffs over the next few years as they enter a transition stage.
20. Edmonton Oilers: Karl Alzner
The Oilers had plenty of scorers up front, thanks to the emergences of Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl. They also had a star goalie in Cam Talbot, but this team could have used a reliable stay-at-home defenceman — something that could have helped them get buy the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
Edmonton’s untimely playoff exit can be contributed to blowing multi goal leads in Games 4 and 5 against the Ducks. Will another solid scorer change those miscues? No, Edmonton simply needs another reliable defenceman who can get the puck out and clean up garbage in front of his net.
Karl Alzner fits the bill. He was a great stay-at-home defenceman for the Washington Capitals and would help out Adam Larsson a ton on the blue line. If the Oilers can land a guy of Alzner’s caliber, they’ll be more built to beat superior teams like Anaheim in the playoffs.
19. Florida Panthers: Alexander Radulov
2016-17 was a huge disappointment for the Florida Panthers, who not only failed to defend their Atlantic Division title, but managed to miss out on the playoffs altogether. There are wholes all over this roster — but good luck moving out the contracts of goalies Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.
On defence, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Jason Demers form a good unit. Florida has too many centres in Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trochek and surprise breakout player, Jonathan Marchessault. But the Panthers don’t have much on the wing except for 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr — who is set to be a free agent this offseason.
Florida should chase flashy Russian Alexander Radulov, who had a nice return to the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens. He scored 18 goals and 54 points, plus his speed and all-around skill would fit nicely with Florida’s young roster. If they can get a guy like Radulov, then Florida could be right back in the playoffs next season.
18. Los Angeles Kings: Ilya Kovalchuk
The Kings are in a really bad situation. They really need to start a rebuild, but they don’t have any prized prospects in their system and they have so many toxic contracts that former general manager Dean Lombardi handed out prior to his firing.
Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez are among Kings players that’ll be 30 or older by the time next season begins. Most of those contracts aren’t movable, so the Kings can’t really rebuild any time soon.
The only option is to go aggressive this offseason. Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk is expected to return to the NHL, and Sportsnet’s Luke Fox listed the Kings as a good fit. Kovalchuk would be a great fit for a team that averaged just 2.41 goals per game in 2016-17. If he can score 30-plus goals and get the Kings back into the playoffs, perhaps they could rediscover their old playoff magic and win a third championship.
17. Minnesota Wild: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
At last year’s entry draft, The Hockey Press reported that the Minnesota Wild were inquiring about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Given how the Oilers have plenty of scoring and not enough defencemen (while the Wild have too many defencemen and not enough scoring), a trade between the two clubs makes plenty of sense.
Down the road, the Oilers will have to extend Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — and each guy will command a huge amount of cash. According to CapFriendly.com, Nugent-Hopkins has four years left on his deal at $6 million a season, and the flashy centre would be a great pickup for the Wild.
This team doesn’t have much scoring outside of Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund. They should look to trade one of their talented blueliners to Edmonton while picking up a young scorer to fix their offensive problems.
16. Montreal Canadiens: Matt Duchene
The Habs won the Atlantic Division in 2017, but they were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers. The reasons were not because of Carey Price and the defence — which produced aplenty in the postseason. Montreal just didn’t have much of any scoring, and general manager Marc Bergevin HAS to address that need.
Trading for Colorado Avalanche speedster Matt Duchene makes sense. He was on the trade block throughout the season, and the last-place Avalanche are widely expected to move he and Gabriel Landeskog out during the offseason.
It would take a big package, but if Bergevin could deal away a couple of his top prospects (Charlie Lindgren, Charles Hudon or perhaps Mikhail Sergachev), plus a couple of draft picks for Duchene’s services, it would be a huge boost in fixing Montreal’s scoring woes. The Habs’ time to win is now, so Bergevin needs to go all-in and add a scorer of Duchene’s caliber.
15. Nashville Predators: Justin Williams
According to CapFriendly.com, the Predators have just over $3.5 million left in salary cap space. They’ll want to re-sign leader Mike Fisher (a pending free agent), while restricted free agents Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Austin Watson are due for nice raises this offseason.
The Predators don’t have a lot of room to add a big name, but they’re also in the Western Conference Finals — so there’s no need to make a blockbuster trade nor big free agent signing. If they want to add another useful piece to their talented roster, then Justin Williams makes sense.
The 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner scored 24 goals and 50 points for Washington this past season, and his 36 tallies and 94 points in 140 playoff games are well documented. A solid scorer who brings his A-game for the postseason, Williams would be a great veteran leader for a young Preds team trying to win championships.
14. New Jersey Devils: Kevin Shattenkirk
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun pointed it out best…
Devils pick first overall and let's say manage to sign UFA d-man Kevin Shattenkirk on July 1, would be getting better in a hurry…
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 30, 2017
This New Jersey team already has a nice foundation in place with the scoring duo of Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall, plus a top-10 goalie in Cory Schneider. They’ll add a franchise centre in Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with the top pick, and have plenty of room to make a run at a premier free agent.
With more scoring help coming on the way (thanks to the weird NHL draft lottery system), the Devils now need to work on fixing up that depleted blue line. Adding Kevin Shattenkirk — one of the league’s best puck-moving defenceman — would be the perfect start.
Suddenly, New Jersey has a trio of quality scorers, Shattenkirk and a top goalie. They could start making noise in the Metropolitan Division — as teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers slowly see their championship windows coming to a close. Now’s a good time for New Jersey to add that big defenceman.
13. New York Rangers: Cam Fowler
The Rangers were two wins away from reaching the Eastern Conference Final, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize this team’s Stanley Cup window is closing quickly. World class goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 35 years of age and only has so many good years left, so the time to win is now.
10 different Rangers scored double-digit goals this year, as the speed from Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Michael Grabner and Kevin Hayes wore down opponents throughout the season. But a lack of depth on defence outside of Marc Staal and the rapidly declining Dan Girardi are preventing the Rangers from going to that next level.
They surely won’t be able to afford Kevin Shattenkirk, so why not ask the Anaheim Ducks about Cam Fowler? Anaheim has too many defencemen and not enough scorers. If the Blueshirts could do a Kreider or Miller swap for Fowler, then they would suddenly have a top-notch defensive unit. That would pry open the championship window a little bit more.
12. New York Islanders: Jimmy Howard
The Islanders just barely missed the playoffs in 2017, but a strong performance under interim head coach Doug Weight suggests they’ll have zero problem getting back there next season. There is plenty of scoring with John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson. The defence is solid with Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic and Nick Leddy, too.
But are the Islanders really trusting career backup Thomas Greiss to be the starter? They gave him a three-year deal in January, but it’s extremely risky to believe he can be a full-time starter at this point of his career.
General manager Garth Snow should look at trading for Detroit Red Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun believes they’ll “listen to offers” for him, and it’d be best for Ken Holland to get out of Howard’s contract as they hand over the starter’s job to the younger Petr Mrazek.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Brian Elliott
The Flyers pose arguably the best depth of forwards in the NHL, but they once again failed to reach the playoffs. You can look at their porous goaltending situation — which allowed 2.82 goals per game. That was good for 10th-worst in the NHL, and the tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth combined for a mediocre .901 save percentage.
The only thing holding back Philadelphia from being a legitimate contender is a true number one goalie. With Mason likely to depart via free agency, they should take a chance on veteran Brian Elliott.
Yes, his 2016-17 season with the Calgary Flames was a bit of a disappointment, but Elliott would be an instant upgrade over the Mason/Neuvirth tandem. With plenty of experience as a starter, Elliott could step in and lead the Flyers not only to the playoffs — but towards Stanley Cup contention as well.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins: Brian Campbell
The Penguins are right up against the salary cap right now, and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen round out their top free agents. RFA Justin Schultz is also in line for a big raise, so general manager Jim Rutherford won’t be able to make a blockbuster trade nor a big splash in free agency.
However, the Penguins are in the Eastern Conference Final for the second-straight year, so they aren’t in desperate need to add another big player. But it would be wise for Rutherford to add a veteran defenceman at an affordable price — and Brian Campbell fits the bill.
Campbell isn’t the offensive defenceman he once was, but he’s experienced enough to still play good defence in his own zone, racking up a plus-12 rating with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Campbell would be a low risk, high reward pickup for the Penguins should they go bargain shopping.
9. Ottawa Senators: Joe Thornton
The Senators have used an impressive neutral zone trap system under new head coach Guy Boucher, and it has them in the Eastern Conference Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Goalie Craig Anderson has also enjoyed a big bounce-back season, but the Senators only averaged 2.51 goals per game in the regular season — ranking 22nd in the NHL.
Erik Karlsson may be the league’s best offensive defenceman, but Kyle Turris and Mark Stone — their two best forwards — aren’t exactly superstars. Ottawa could use a true number one centre, and Joe Thornton would be an ideal fit.
He’s 38 years of age and is an unrestricted free agent. Joe Thornton will want to join a Stanley Cup contender, and the Senators fit the bill. If they can kept the assists machine on a two-year deal worth around $10 million, it could be one of the best additions of the offseason.
8. San Jose Sharks: T.J. Oshie
The Sharks could lose their two greatest players in franchise history this offseason, as Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are both set to become free agents. Both guys are 38 years of age in the offseason, so it’s possible San Jose decides to move on from both players, adding more speed and youth in the process.
San Jose’s Cup window is closing quickly, and if they lose both Marleau and Thornton, they’ll have to act quickly in finding more offence to offset their departures. Well, T.J. Oshie is an ideal fit. The two-way sensation scored 33 goals and 56 points, setting himself nicely for a big pay day.
The Sharks can afford Oshie if they don’t keep Marleau and/or Thornton, and general manager Doug Wilson should be desperate enough to land him. Oshie is a big playoff performer as well, and could be the final piece San Jose needs to win the Stanley Cup once and for all.
7. St. Louis Blues: Andrei Markov
Knowing they weren’t able to keep Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis traded the star defenceman away to the Washington Capitals before the trade deadline. The Blues managed to reach the second round of the playoffs, but the Nashville Predators took advantage of their weak defensive depth — eliminating St. Louis in six games.
The cap-strapped Blues won’t be able to pay top dollar for Shattenkirk in free agency, but Montreal Canadiens’ veteran Andrei Markov would be a cheap and suitable replacement. Assuming Markov doesn’t re-up in Montreal, he’ll be a bargain pickup for anyone.
He’s 38 years of age, but Andrei Markov is a solid power play quarterback and moves the puck well through the neutral zone. Markov is also sound in his own end, so he’d be a great fit to a St. Louis team that needs a top-pairing blueliner.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonas Brodin
The Lightning barely missed out on the playoffs, as the team wasn’t able to overcome the loss of Steven Stamkos and the defence was extremely thin outside of Norris Trophy finalist, Victor Hedman. General manager Steve Yzerman has plenty of scoring depth and the goaltending situation is fine — but he needs to add more depth on the blue line.
Luckily for him, the Minnesota Wild should be open for business. They have too many quality blueliners in Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. General manager Chuck Fletcher won’t want to lose any of them for nothing in the expansion draft, so he’ll probably look to deal one of them.
Brodin may be the best candidate to go. The Fourth Period reported at last year’s draft that many teams were interested in him. He’s just 24 years of age and had 25 points in 28 games. Should Yzerman be able to make a move for him, then the Lightning’s defence will be in good shape. He has plenty of trade candidates too in Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Chris Tanev
The Maple Leafs had one of the NHL’s most prolific offences in 2016-17. Auston Matthews led the way with 40 goals and 69 points. Five different players scored 20 goals, while six players scored at least 50 points. Frederik Andersen was excellent in goal, notching 33 wins. But Toronto was sloppy in its own zone, and it was evident during their first-round defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
Toronto needs more depth on their blue line, and adding stay-at-home defenceman Chris Tanev could be that next piece to get them over the top. TSN’s Scott Cullen believes the Vancouver Canucks would be willing to trade their blueliner to Toronto in a package deal that would send Connor Carrick, Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.
That would be a huge win for both teams. Tanev has been linked to Toronto for some time and would immediately clean up the defensive mistakes there, while the rebuilding Canucks add three more young assets. Toronto should be willing to overpay for Tanev, and Vancouver would be smart to trade him while his value is high.
4. Vancouver Canucks: Dmitry Kulikov
Canucks president Trevor Linden already admitted the team will not be players in free agency. That’s smart, because they need to rebuild and are stuck with the albatross contract of Loui Eriksson — whom they signed to a six-year deal worth $36 million in free agency last year.
Vancouver is picking fifth this year, and they should look to trade away some veterans to begin this rebuild. If the Canucks do want to chase anyone in free agency, it should be someone in the bargain shopping bin.
26-year-old defenceman Dmitry Kulikov would be a good fit. He’s very responsible in his own end and could be a good mentor to a young Canucks’ blueline that has 23-year-olds Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher. Should Vancouver trade Chris Tanev, Kulikov would be a quality, cheap replacement who would be able to fix the team’s defensive woes.
3. Vegas Golden Knights: Matt Murray Or Marc-Andre Fleury
The Golden Knights will be selecting one player from all 30 NHL teams in the upcoming expansion draft. Each team can only protect one goalie, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have by far the best goaltending tandem in the NHL.
If the Penguins aren’t able to convince Marc-Andre Fleury to waive his no-trade clause, then it’s likely Matt Murray will be exposed in the draft. You can bet the Golden Knights will select him. But if Pittsburgh manages to keep the 23-year-old 2016 playoff hero, then Fleury may be the one rolling the dice in Vegas (via trade).
Unless Pens general manager Jim Rutherford can somehow get crafty and find a way to keep both or trade either Fleury or Murray away to another team, then Vegas should be able to pick one of the two. Whoever is available, the Golden Knights need to make that goalie their number one priority.
2. Washington Capitals: T.J. Oshie
The Capitals won yet another President’s Trophy in 2017, and once again failed to get past the second round in the Alexander Ovechkin era. What else will it take? They have arguably the NHL’s best goalie in Braden Holtby, the league’s best defensive unit and great offensive depth.
Well, this team is still too talented to rebuild — so keeping winger T.J. Oshie is a priority to ensuring they have another chance at winning the Stanley Cup. Oshie scored a career-high 33 goals in 2016-17, and the Capitals offence will decline significantly without him.
Washington will likely lose Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency. Those three are expendable — but Oshie is an excellent two-way forward that should be part of their future. He could command around $7 million annually, but the Capitals have to meet his asking price if they want to give it one last go for a championship.
1. Winnipeg Jets: Brian Elliott
Scoring wasn’t a problem for the Jets — who missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. Mark Scheifele (82 points), Blake Wheeler (74 points), and Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers (64 points each), provide great offence, while Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba round out a solid defence.
But the goaltending tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson were incredibly inconsistent, and the Jets aren’t going to compete for the playoffs unless they get an upgrade.
Veteran goalie Brian Elliott should top their wish list in the offseason. He went 26-18-3 with the Calgary Flames this season and has been one of the more underrated goalies of the past five years. If the Jets add Brian Elliott, they’ll have scoring, a good defensive group and a true number one goalie. All the needs to be a Stanley Cup contender.
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