Roster Outlook… UFA:
Cory Stillman RFA:
$30.38 million (11 under contract) Off-season Needs…
2 Top-nine forwards
Backup goaltender Possible Trade Bait…
None Burning Questions with Bob Wage (Canes Country)… 1. What is GM Jim Rutherford's top priority this summer?
Rutherford mentioned at his end-of-season press conference that he wanted to get an experienced backup goalie for Cam Ward as well as a fourth line center who can win faceoffs. Both positions were weaknesses for the Hurricanes last season. If he can not re-sign Joni Pitkanen, he will also need to find another respectable blueliner in the free agency market, but he won't spend too much for this replacement.
2. What is the future of UFA's Pitkanen, Jokinen and Cole with Carolina?
Erik Cole has family, as well as long time friends in this area and odds are that he will stay in Carolina. Rutherford said that re-signing the winger is a "priority" for the organization this summer. Having said that, Cole has always been a tough negotiator in the past and this re-signing won't come without its fair share of drama. But by time all is said and done, it would be surprising if he moved on.
Pitkanen and Jokinen reportedly are both looking for raises and are expected to test the open market on July 1. My gut tells me that their days in Carolina are over, but my gut has been wrong before.
3. With some contracts coming off the books, is there potential for Rutherford to make a splash this summer?
The Hurricanes never make a “big splash” in the summer, in that they always stay out of the field of competition when it comes to bidding wars for high priced free agents. They will be making “mini splashes” though as they find their fourth line center, backup goalie, and a replacement for Pitkanen (if indeed he moves on).
Roster Outlook… UFA:
Tomas Vokoun RFA:
$18.89 million (12 under contract) Off-season Needs…
3 Top-six forwards
Starting or 1A-type goaltender Possible Trade Bait…
Burning Questions with Donny Rivette (Litter Box Cats)… 1. What is GM Dale Tallon’s top priority this summer?
A draft performance which bloats, from a quality standpoint, Florida’s organizational depth. Beyond the first pick (3rd overall) the goal has to be stocking the franchise at all levels with prospects who fit Tallon and Assistant GM Mike Santos’ ‘blueprint’, whatever that may be. Not unrealistic to assume anyone who falls around (or "better" than) 6’-2”, 225 lbs will get an honest look from the club. Going into the final days before the 2011 Entry Draft, Florida has 10 picks in seven rounds to fill.
The need to simply spend money in order to satisfy salary floor requirements is very much secondary… a busy July and August await.
2. True or false: Tomas Vokoun will be in net when the Panthers open the 2011/12 season.
True. The salary floor, in this case, demands it. Florida can easily afford to keep him in the loop (and overpay for the rather bizarre privilege of holding on to a guy who’d rather be in Sunrise anyway). His experience and mentoring should do wonders for All-Universe goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom.
As for terribly-underrated backup Scott Clemmensen – with a year remaining on his own deal – we’d very much hate to lose him; he is far too effective a pro with a vast and generally successful resume to easily discard. He was a Randy Sexton signee, though, which shouldn't be forgotten. Former coach Peter DeBoer appeared willing to utilize his services in only the direst of circumstances.
3. Picking at No. 3 overall in the draft, who would you like to see the Panthers get?
It’s a terrific top-four. Extremely difficult to predict which prospect among the “elite” might fit the understandably secretive bill for Tallon, Inc., but we at LBC are guessing the Panthers will quite reasonably target a forward, most likely Gabriel Landeskog, if he remains available.
Given that both Edmonton and Colorado realistically need to travel the Franchise Defenseman route – though at best only one of those clubs will – we’re impressed with the physical and professional maturity Landeskog has displayed in his career. Parallels with the character and will-to-win personality of 2010 third-overall selection Erik Gudbranson are few and far between. “GL” continues to see his stock rise at a similar pace.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Roster Outlook… UFA:
Mike Smith RFA:
$36.55 million (11 under contract) Off-season Needs…
Starting goaltender Possible Trade Bait…
Burning Questions with Clark Brooks (Raw Charge)… 1. What is GM Steve Yzerman’s top priority this summer?
Navigating the salary cap and contract negotiations is going to be like a game of Minesweeper; every move he makes will directly impact every other move he wants to make. Re-signing Stamkos probably won’t be difficult, but he’ll need to start there just to know what to do next.
2. There are numerous UFA’s that made an impact. In your mind, who stays and who goes?
Defenseman Eric Brewer and goalie Dwayne Roloson are the must-keeps. The wish list of keepers starts with forward Sean Bergenheim, then Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall. After that… Yzerman has said they’re all welcome back, but acknowledges that he probably can’t keep everyone. Simon Gagne is almost certainly a goner.
3. Will the extension to Steven Stamkos prohibit the ability to sign Brad Richards or make an upgrade on defense?
Getting Richards at this point is strictly a pipe dream that hinges on him signing at a significant discount. Regardless, yes, upgrading the defense will be tricky if not downright difficult.
Roster Outlook… UFA:
Marco Sturm RFA:
$50.89 million (18 under contract) Off-season Needs…
Depth defenseman Possible Trade Bait…
Burning Questions with Kareem El-Alaily (Japer’s Rink)… 1. What is GM George McPhee’s top priority this summer?
The easy answer is that the Caps need to find a second line, with the increasing possibility being that two second-liners (Brooks Laich and Jason Arnott) will not return to the Caps. But that’s ignoring the bigger issue.
George McPhee's top priority this summer is upgrading the mental toughness of the team. Fixing this is more than just adding a veteran third- or fourth-line presence, it’s about making the Caps top 10 skaters smarter and tougher to play against. The current group of core players is undoubtedly talented, but they have never demonstrated the ability to quickly adjust to adversity on the fly and, as a result, routinely fail to live up to their talent level in the playoffs. See the Tampa series for further proof.
2. Personnel wise, what needs to be done for the Caps to get over the playoff hump?
First of all, the team needs some good luck on the injury front. Had the Caps had a fully functional Mike Green, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman – three very deft puck-moving defensemen – their odds of beating Tampa’s 1-3-1 trap go up considerably.
Second, the Caps need to address their second line this off-season. The Caps entered the playoffs with Arnott at center, Laich at right wing and Alex Semin at left wing. Right now, it’s debatable whether Arnott and Laich will be re-signed as both are UFA’s. If they do not re-sign, the Caps need to find a center who can squeeze more out of Semin, and a right wing who can do the dirty work along the boards, crash the net and be as defensively responsible as Laich was the past several seasons. Easier said than done.
3. Do you expect to see the goaltending trio of Neuvirth, Varlamov and Holtby to all be back next year?
Tough question. The Caps strongest asset is their collection of three young goaltenders. Absent McPhee getting an offer he can’t refuse, I do see all three back next season, because I do not think that any team will try and sign Varly, who is a RFA.
There are rumors out there that Varlamov is exploring the KHL, and some fans are equating the parting of Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe as a sign that the Caps are ready to move on from the oft-injured Varly. I'm not so sure. He is the most physically talented of the three goalies and has posted a very impressive .917 career save percentage in 59 games. I can’t see how the Caps would give up on such a talent so easily.
Ultimately, I think the Caps have one more year before they have to make a decision on which two goalies to keep. Although Holtby really impressed in his limited time with the Caps this season, it wouldn’t hinder Holtby’s development if he got one more year of seasoning in the AHL. To me that means we’re going to see Neuvirth and Varlamov battle it out again to be the No. 1 goaltender in D.C. this fall.
Roster Outlook… UFA:
Freddy Meyer RFA:
$35.94 million (15 under contract) Off-season Needs…
Depth forward Possible Trade Bait…
Burning Questions with Richard Pollok (Illegal Curve)… 1.What is GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s top priority this summer?
Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hands are most definitely full this off-season. Most first-time GMs are busy, but “Chevy”, how he is affectionately known, has to deal with the moving parts (no pun intended) surrounding the Thrashers franchise move to Winnipeg.
While the draft is obviously important, with the Winnipeg franchise selecting 7th, as well as unrestricted free agency, Kevin Cheveldayoff’s top priority will be signing three key restricted free agents: Zach Bogosian, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler. All three are young and talented and present interesting contract circumstances. With all the hype surrounding this team’s young core, signing these players will be Kevin Cheveldayoff’s top priority.
2. Do you expect a conservative or aggressive approach in trying to improve the team this summer?
Expect Cheveldayoff and Craig Heisinger to be fairly conservative in their approach this off-season. If the team can sign all of its important restricted free agents, have a strong draft and address a few needs through the unrestricted free agent market (nothing awe inspiring), then it will probably be considered a successful summer in Winnipeg.
3. After a few weeks since knowing Winnipeg would get the Thrashers, what are your thoughts on the team?
This roster has a lot of young talent. Whether it be Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien or Tobias Enstrom, there is a nice core in place to take the next step within a few years. Make no mistake, this is no expansion team. While the system can use some “A” prospects, the youthful roster and high draft pick leave much room for optimism. Never mind the hiring of veteran hockey executives who look like they will complement each other in Cheveldayoff and Heisinger.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.