The 2016-17 NHL season was an exciting one, regardless of the fact it saw the Pittsburgh Penguins win its second consecutive Stanley Cup. In a league that is lauded for its parity, only four teams - Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles - have won the Stanley Cup since 2009. We get tricked into thinking any team can win it each year, but the truth is it takes a team with a special group of players and the four above teams have that. Nonetheless, a potential new crop of exciting young teams emerged last season, including the Auston Matthews-led Toronto Maple Leafs and the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers. The Nashville Predators also emerged as a legitimate Stanley Cup threat and came with two games of winning the coveted cup.
Because the offseason was relatively quiet, it led to a variety of rumors and stories being shared by different media sources. Talk has shifted from on-ice matters to off-ice issues such as team relocation, expansion, and potential issues of malpractice by teams. Naturally, because of the lack of major moves in the offseason, fans and media have began talking about next year's free agent class as well as star players with only a few years left on their current contracts.
15 Matt Duchene Wants Out
It's no secret that Matt Duchene wants out of Colorado. The third overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is one of the game's best faceoff performers and has a considerable amount of offensive skill. He had a miserable year in 2016-17 (as did the entire Avalanche team), but has recorded a near point-per-game pace in previous seasons. Because the team has been so awful, it came out that management wanted to move on from core players like Duchene, but that hasn't happened, at least as of writing this.
14 Maple Leafs Malpractice
The Maple Leafs current management team of Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello inherited an absolute mess. The team was in shambles and had several players signed to long-term contracts who were clearly undeserving. They managed to deal Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins and he thrived with his new team. They also somehow found a suitor in Columbus for David Clarkson. However, they weren't so lucky with Joffrey Lupul or Stephane Robidas.
13 Zdeno Chara Playing Another Few Seasons
Entering the 2017-18 season, Zdeno Chara is a 40 year old, 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman. He's an absolute monster on the blueline, not to mention an incredibly-talented player. Because of his size and moderate skating ability, he has been a fixture in the league since the 1997-98 season and has played 1,350 career NHL games, while posting 604 points.
12 Erik Karlsson's Status
Keeping with the theme of defensemen with high-priced contracts, Erik Karlsson is arguably the best defenseman in the game, if not one of the best players. He proved his worth to the Ottawa Senators last season as he guided the team to the Eastern Conference Finals while playing through injuries. He currently has a cap hit of $6.5 million, which is an absolute steal given the fact the Bruins recently signed winger David Pastrnak to a similar deal.
11 Pending Free Agents
As with the start of every regular season, all eyes will begin turning toward impending free agents. Whereas Karlsson will remain a Senator at least through the following two seasons, there are dozens of prominent players who need new contracts before July 1, 2018.
10 The Sedins Saga
We noticeably left off Daniel and Henrik Sedin in our list of forwards who need a new contract beyond the 2017-18 regular season. That's because the Swedish twins have already made clear they have no desire to leave town, despite the fact the Canucks are trying to rebuild and should be outside of the playoff picture once again this season.
9 Why Has No One Signed The Ageless Wonder?!
As of this writing, the NHL pre-season has begun and Jaromir Jagr is still without a job. While it's true the 45 year old has lost a step or two in recent years, he's only two years removed from a season in which he recorded 66 points and still managed 46 points in a down year last season. In contrast, third- and fourth-line plugs are earning millions of dollars to produce 10 or 12 points a season.
8 Players Not Signing To Play In Olympics
One of the main reasons Jagr hasn't signed anywhere yet, even on a professional tryout, could be because of his desire to play in the 2018 Olympics. The NHL stubbornly announced it wasn't going to be sending players to the Olympics this season, which has infuriated many of its stars, including Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin. Those players are signed to long-term contracts and appear unlikely to break command and play anyway, but fringe veterans without a contract could opt to not sign with an NHL team in order to maintain their Olympic eligibility.
7 2022 Olympic Participation
Although Gary Bettman and the NHL declared with absolute certainty that it wasn't going to participate in the 2018 Olympics, the league hasn't ruled out taking part in the 2022 Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in Beijing, where hockey is growing at an exponential rate thanks in part to 55 year old Chinese billionaire Zhou Yunjie, who has been working with the league to actively grow the game in the largest market in the world.
6 NHL-China Partnership
Say what you will about NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but he has done a remarkable job of growing the game. His commitment to smaller market American teams can be a little nauseating at times, but if he wasn't adamant about keeping the Coyotes in Arizona, who knows if Auston Matthews would be playing hockey right now? Moreover, players are increasingly being developed in warmer climates areas such as California and Oregon.
5 Panthers In Limbo
While the NHL is actively seeking to expand to new markets, it's busy trying to hold on to a once-flourishing market that has been a tire fire for quite some time. In the mid-1990s, the Panthers were a hot ticket in Florida thanks to the team's miracle 1996 run to the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche and, while there has been some decent years since, it has mostly been a disaster.
4 The John Tavares Situation
It's not often a franchise player goes into the final year of his contract without an extension. It's almost commonplace in the NBA, where stars seem to change teams every year, but team loyalty means a lot in the NHL. Generally speaking, the league's best players re-up with their respective teams as soon as they're allowed to negotiate as per the CBA - July 1, one year before their contract expires.
3 Drew Doughty Dropping Hints
Like Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty is a defenseman many expect could test the free agent waters in 2019 and he added gas to the fire earlier in September during an interview with The Hockey News: "I'd love to re-sign in L.A. But if our team isn't going in the right direction ... I want to win Cups. I don't give a damn where I play. I just want to win Cups, and that's the bottom line."
2 Flames On The Verge Of Leaving Calgary?
It's almost impossible to imagine a large-market Canadian NHL team relocating to another city, but it has happened in the past, back when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado. Winnipeg is far from a major market, but the previous edition of the Jets also left town for a medium American market. Could the Calgary Flames be the latest Canadian franchise to move south of the border?
1 Seattle Seeking Expansion Bid
The NHL is in a weird place entering the 2017-18 season as it has 31 teams. The inclusion of Vegas gave the league's owners a hefty $500 million expansion fee to split among themselves, but it now gives the league uneven conferences. While there has long been rumors of places like Quebec City and Seattle seeking to join the league, it's in Seattle where the wheels are officially in motion and, whether it's as an expansion team or a potential relocation for Calgary, Florida, or other struggling markets, the NHL will be in Seattle within a few years.
In fact, the Arizona Coyotes recently had to come out on the record stating that reports it was exploring options in Portland and Seattle were "completely false." Yet, the addition of a Seattle franchise would have immediate nearby rivals in Vegas, Vancouver, and Arizona (if they don't relocate). In fact, on September 18, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray agreed to a formal deal with Oak View Group to build a $600 million arena with construction set to be completed by 2020.
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