Now that the Stanley Cup Finals have concluded, the handcuffs are officially off of all 32 NHL teams.
And, the first big deal of the offseason centered around one of the Canucks’ Pacific Division rivals.
Los Angeles acquired restricted free agent Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday in exchange for the 19th overall pick in this upcoming draft and stud right-shot prospect defenceman Brock Faber.
The Kings then quickly signed Fiala to a seven-year extension worth $7.875 million per season.
After pushing the Edmonton Oilers to seven games in this year’s playoffs, the Kings seem ready to toe the line between graduating prospects to the NHL, filling out their NHL roster with talented pieces all the while still being led by two-time Cup-winning veterans Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick.
The Fiala trade does begs the question, what’s next for the rest of the Pacific Division?
No one is mistaking the Pacific Division for one of the NHL’s better ones. But, from the Canucks vantage point, there will be some serious competition at the top of the division next season.
The Kings could challenge for the division title. Vegas should be better with a bit of injury luck. Edmonton and Calgary were the two Pacific Division teams that went furthest in the playoffs, and both could be right back there next season.
Life won’t be easy in the Pacific for the Canucks next year, and that’s before factoring in any potential trade which could hurt the team in the short team (such as trading JT Miller, Brock Boeser or Conor Garland for futures).
With lots of unknowns in these early days of the offseason, let’s look at the biggest question currently facing each Pacific Division team.
Anaheim Ducks: What will they do with John Gibson?
John Gibson might say he doesn’t want to be traded, but you can see why the Ducks would consider it.
Although they overachieved in the first half of last season, this is a team that won’t realistically be a Cup contender for a few seasons.
By then, Gibson will be in his 30s and could have five or six consecutive years of mediocre hockey on his resume.
If the Ducks deal him now, they should get a decent return. If they don’t and he’s mediocre once again, he’ll be nothing but a depreciating asset.
Calgary Flames: Will they hang onto Johnny Gaudreau?
If you’re a Flames fan, two things...
First, why are you here? (but thanks for reading)
Second, are you nervous?
Fresh off of a 115-point season, Johnny Gaudreau is set to break the bank on the UFA market. There’s no reason why he couldn’t command the Artemi Panarin special, and sign a deal north of $11 million per season.
That is, if he signs with a team who has cap space.
Like, say, his home state New Jersey Devils?
Or, a team even closer to his hometown who wants to be aggressive — the Philadelphia Flyers?
The Flames will remain a Pacific Division threat if they retain Gaudreau. Without him, this is a very mediocre-looking hockey team.
Edmonton Oilers: How will they improve next season with no cap space?
You know what the copout answer is here...
“With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, anything is possible.”
Hey, even I believed that for a short time during the 2022 playoffs.
But make no mistake, 2021-22 was virtually an all-in season for the Oilers.
They spent big last offseason by signing Zach Hyman and Cody Ceci, while re-upping Darnell Nurse to a monster extension and by trading for Duncan Keith.
Now? They have a shade over $7 million in cap space with just eight forwards, six defencemen and one goaltender under contract.
There’s no sweetheart Evander Kane deal coming. They also have three key RFAs to sign in Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujärvi.
Not to mention, do they really want to ride the Mike Smith express for one more season?
But who knows, maybe with a couple of swanky meals at Joey’s, perhaps the Oilers can woo some
big free agents.
Los Angeles Kings: Will they deal more futures for help in 2022-23?
Cody sums up how Canucks fans should feel about the Kings quite succinctly.
While the Canucks did whatever it was they did over the last eight years, the LA Kings won a cup, rebuilt, returned to playoffs, and are now using their glut of drafted RD to acquire quality young forwards to insulate their young core for future playoff runs— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) June 29, 2022
Acquiring Fiala was likely the Kings’ big splash, but they do still have a wealth of prospects if they want to make something happen.
San Jose Sharks: Will they make moves with an eye on tanking?
Sorry, I can’t come up with many big-picture items from the San Jose Sharks’ perspective. By signing a guy like Tomas Hertl long-term, they’re clearly not trying to bottom out.
But, until they actually bottom out, they’re seemingly stuck in no-man’s land.
Unless something changes, they could be there for at least three years until they can get out from underneath some of those mammoth contracts for guys like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Seattle Kraken: Will they weaponize draft capital/cap space?
Many expected the Seattle Kraken to weaponize cap space ahead of last year’s expansion draft.
Of course, they didn’t...and they consequently sucked.
Entering this offseason, they have oodles of cap space (compared to most teams), along with 18 picks in the first four rounds of this year’s draft and next.
While they could weaponize cap space and arm their team for the future, recent rumours suggest a more short-term outlook.
Looks like the Kraken might be making some noise in two weeks. I like Gaudreau, but Forsberg has gotta be the first name here... https://t.co/MG4fwaJwSx pic.twitter.com/6MSSijBsLN— Iced Kraken (@IcedKraken) June 29, 2022
Here’s hoping the Kraken stub their scales in year two as well.
Vancouver Canucks: Which top-six forward will be dealt?
And will it or won’t it be JT Miller?
Because right now, the smoke is billowing.
.@DarrenDreger (@rayanddregs) on a potential JT Miller trade:— Sekeres and Price (@sekeresandprice) June 29, 2022
"I believe, this is my speculation, that VAN is going to get an offer on JT Miller they just simply can't refuse...there is no shortage of interest...maybe on the draft floor? Probably." #Canucks @duerperformance
This is clearly a crucial offseason for Patrik Allvin and company. I know us at NM (and probably those of you reading) can’t wait to see what transpires.
Vegas Golden Knights: Will they add more youth to an aging core?
Everyone’s favourite cap dodgers down in Nevada are set to face the music this offseason.
Currently, the Golden Knights are $2.6 million over the 2022-23 salary cap with only nine forwards, eight defencemen and two goalies signed for next season.
Now, the Shea Weber trade helps them circumvent the cap for a few more seasons, but this is a team whose window could be closing quickly.
Currently, Jack Eichel and Shea Theodore are the only integral members of this team that are below the NHL’s average age of 27.
It’s going to be a struggle for them just to remain cap compliant. Can they achieve this while trying to add some youth to this aging core? This could very well be GM Kelly McCrimmon’s biggest challenge yet.