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.
Instead, Joe Sakic, the team's General Manager, hasn't lowered his trade demands and is shooting his team in the foot by doing so. Duchene showed up for training camp basically used the Marshawn Lynch line "I'm only here so I don't get fined." He didn't even confirm he would remain with the team if a trade isn't worked out.
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.
Robidas had two years remaining on his contract but was essentially paid to disappear with an "injury," giving the Leafs short-term cap relief. He was rewarded for not saying otherwise by being given a management role with the organization following the end of his contract. Lupul, meanwhile, recently commented on Instagram, claiming that he didn't fail his physical at the start of this season; rather, he said the Maple Leafs "cheat" and "everyone lets them." It'll be interesting to see if anyone from the league looks into this.
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.
Chara's age showed slightly last season as he seemed to lose a step in his skating stride, but he still managed an impressive 10 goals and 19 assists. He must have felt well, because rumors came about in the offseason that Chara, who has only one more year left on his current contract, would be interested in re-signing with the Bruins. There's also reportedly interest from Boston as well.
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.
Karlsson's contract is up following the 2018-19 season and, if he was on any other team, it would be hard to imagine him signing elsewhere. However, the Senators are a budget team and haven't been apt to spend big money on players; likewise, Karlsson could command Connor McDavid money ($12 million) on the free market.
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.
While most of the league's preeminent goaltenders are locked up, Craig Anderson, Cam Ward, and Jonathan Bernier will be all unrestricted free agents. But it's the forward and defenseman crop that's far more enticing. High-profile forwards worth tracking include John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Paul Statsny, James Neal, and James van Reimsdyk. Meanwhile, defensemen like Chara, Mike Green, Tobias Enstrom, Jason Garrison, John Carlson, and Calvin de Haan are all set to become unrestricted free agents if they don't agree to contracts during the season.
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.
If they were open to being dealt, the Sedins could demand at least a decent return to help Vancouver kick-start its rebuild. Instead, they'll play out the contract, by which time both parties will need to make a decision in regard to their future. It's hard to imagine the Canucks wanting to re-sign the Sedins for anything more than an extremely discounted rate; likewise, it's hard to see the Sedins playing elsewhere in the NHL. Chances are they either retire or play a season or two in Sweden.
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.
In fairness to NHL teams, whichever one signs Jagr isn't going to use him on the fourth line as he would be ineffective in that role. If he's going to produce points, he needs to be placed in an offensive role. But he's proven he can still succeed. And given that he wants to play until he's 50, awful teams like the Coyotes or the Islanders should be lining up for his services. Here's to hoping he's signed soon.
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.
Some of the players potentially holding out hope for the Olympics include Jarome Iginla, Brian Gionta, and Cody Franson. As much as we'd like to see Iginla take one more run at the Stanley Cup, it'd be a welcome sight to see a familiar face playing in the Olympics whereas the rest of the players will be former NHL cast-offs and failed prospects.
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.
According to The Hockey News, "ORG [Zhou's company] was a sponsor of the World Cup of Hockey, had board advertising at the All-Star Game and currently has a deal with young Bruins’ star David Pastrnak." As of 2017, there was only 2,000 kids playing hockey in Beijing, but the capital has a population of 21.5 million. China, meanwhile, has a population of 1.3 billion, and the 2022 Olympics presents an incredible opportunity for the league to expand its reach.
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.
One market which we could potentially see players come from in the not-so-distant future is China. We mentioned the Olympic factor in the last point, but one of the biggest NHL rumors right now is the league's involvement with growing the game at the grassroots level in China. The Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings played a pair of exhibition games in the country this week. The demand is certainly there - last year's Stanley Cup Final drew 22 million viewers in China compared to five million in the United States - but how far does the NHL look to expand into the market? It might take more than a decade or even two, but could we see a China-based NHL team in the future?
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.
The team has made the playoffs only twice since the 1999-00 season and has only won one playoff round in that time. Positive results drive ticket sales in markets like Florida, and the Panthers haven't been good for quite awhile. And it shows in the numbers - the team finished fifth-last with an average attendance of 14,567 but those numbers are inflated as countless photos have been circulated with thousands of seats unfilled. With the league seeking further expansion, the Panthers could be on their way out.
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.
Steven Stamkos had the hockey world buzzing last year with thoughts he might be one to switch teams, but he ultimately re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. John Tavares of the New York Islanders might do that as well, but given the poor state of the Islanders - the team has terrible ownership and no concrete plans of where they will play in the near future - it's conceivable that Tavares might seek offers from other teams.
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."
Those comments set the hockey world ablaze given the fact few players have been so open about their willingness to leave their team if they're in rough shape. Most players remain loyal to a fault. Earlier in the offseason, Doughty made another comment that suggested he wouldn't mind playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings had a great four-year run, but are clearly on a downward trajectory. It's certainly easy to see Doughty leaving as a free agent, but the bigger question then becomes whether or not the Kings would deal him before that in an attempt to kick-start a rebuild.
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?
The hope among all fans is that notion holds zero weight as the Flames have quite a storied history since coming into the league, but the team's push for a new area has faced considerable backlash from the municipal government. The team's owners - and Gary Bettman - have been pushing the city to pay for the potential new arena, but the mayor is unwilling to use public funds. In early September, Flames president Ken King said that talks with the mayor weren't going well and the team was "no longer going to pursue a new facility." Given the terrible state of its current arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, it stands to reason that, unless a deal is worked out, the team's days in Calgary just may be numbered.
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.