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The Top 10 Storylines to Follow in the 2014 NHL Offseason

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterJune 15, 2014

The Top 10 Storylines to Follow in the 2014 NHL Offseason

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    Buyouts. Trades. Rule changes.

    There's almost no time to breathe after the Stanley Cup Final, as the big news during the offseason is set to begin almost immediately.

    Mike Richards won his second Stanley Cup in three seasons Friday, but he could be a free agent as early as Monday if the Los Angeles Kings buy out his contract. Richards is just one of many players who could have their contracts bought out over the next two weeks.

    That's just one of the interesting storylines worth watching during the offseason. There will be rule changes, a host of free-agent signings and perhaps confirmation of a World Cup of Hockey at some point this summer.

    Click through for the 10 biggest storylines you will hear about this offseason.

     

    All statistics via NHL.com.

Let the Buyouts Begin

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    As human beings, we all make mistakes. For regular folks, it's stuff like getting a ticket for rolling through a stop sign or deciding to buy a TurboGrafx-16 instead of a Sega Genesis.

    For NHL general managers, their mistakes cost millions of dollars, and while we can return a crummy video game system to Electronics Boutique (I still live in 1993), their recourse is buying out bad contracts.

    The amnesty buyout period begins Monday morning and runs through 5 p.m. ET on June 30. During this two-week stretch, teams can buy out contracts for either one-third or two-thirds the remaining value of the contract without having any sort of penalty against the cap. It's essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for GMs who signed players to bad contracts prior to the new CBA that took effect before the 2013 season.

    Teams can also buy out players the old-fashioned way and absorb a cap penalty, but this is the final season in which amnesty buyouts are allowed.

    There is no shortage of potential candidates to be given millions of dollars to go away.

    Ville Leino of the Buffalo Sabres, Brad Richards of the New York Rangers and Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings are among the biggest names who could face a compliance buyout.

    CapGeek.com has a section on buyouts that will be very helpful over the next two weeks.

Let the Free-Agent Frenzy Begin (Right After the Buyouts)

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    One day after the buyout period ends, the free-agency period begins.

    Really, there's zero offseason in the NHL.

    There's actually a somewhat decent crop of free agents available this summer, a rarity in recent years. The best of the best unrestricted free agents include Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, Paul Stastny, Dan Boyle, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Callahan and Ales Hemsky. Some of those players could be re-signed by their current clubs before July 1, but the temptation to test the waters will be strong.

    With the salary cap rising by about $7 million for next season, that's about $200 million more that teams have to spend on UFAs. That should make for some interesting (and by interesting, I mean bad) contracts handed to players.

    CapGeek.com has a list of pending UFAs to peruse.

Rule Changes Coming Down the Road

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    In their annual meeting during the Stanley Cup Final, the league's general managers voiced their support for potential rule changes recommended by the league's competition committee. 

    The changes must be approved by the Board of Governors and NHLPA; the BOG will meet June 26, while the NHLPA will have a get-together in Pebble Beach, Florida from July 16-19.

    It's not a definite that all these changes will happen this year, but here's the list of new rules and tweaks that could be coming for 2014-15:

    • Stronger punishments for embellishment: Warnings and escalating fines are on the table for those who commit diving infractions. Suspensions for repeated embellishment are also available to the league.

    • Switching sides in overtime: As it stands now, teams start overtime skating in the same direction they did in the third period. By switching sides, the long change that exists in the second period that tends to result in more goals would be in play. The idea here is the long change will lead to more goals and fewer shootouts.

    • Faceoff violations after icings: In attempt to buy his tired teammates more time to rest, a player with no intention of taking a draw gets himself intentionally tossed, allowing a center to then take the draw. A second violation in that situation would result in a two-minute penalty.

    • Bigger trapezoids: In order to give goaltenders more room to play the puck (and minimize the amount of hits defensemen take), the trapezoid will be increased from 18 to 22 feet.

    • Expanded replay, coaches' challenges: This would cover things like pucks over the glass, offside plays leading to goals and pucks hitting the netting over the glass. This may take another year, but there's a chance some of it will be employed in the upcoming season.

Big-Time Players on the Trading Block

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    There's no shortage of star players who are rumored to be available in trades. In the case of Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, general manager Bryan Murray has confirmed his captain has asked to be moved.

    The San Jose Sharks are looking to retool after squandering a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings, which means Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau could be moving, per Mark Purdy of The Mercury News. Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks could still be in play after he was reportedly close to being moved at the 2014 trade deadline, per Darren Dreger of TSN.ca.  Cam Ward's and Eric Staal's time with the Carolina Hurricanes could be coming to a close, per Chip Alexander of NewsObserver.com. The Pittsburgh Penguins could look to move James Neal, although he denied asking for a trade.

    And those are only the rumors that have been leaked. There could be a whole other crop of players on the table no one knows about.

    Some of the deals could go down at the draft, set to take place June 27-28 in Philadelphia. But some may not be resolved until much closer to the start of training camps in September.

Teams Still Need to Fill Open Coaching Positions

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    The 2014 draft is less than two weeks away, and four teams have vacant coaching positions: Vancouver, Florida, Carolina and Pittsburgh.

    It would make sense that they would be filled before such a big day on an organization's calendar, but that's not necessarily a requirement.

    Dan Bylsma, whose head was on the chopping block for so long it was close to falling off on its own, was fired June 6 and has already had his name in rumors for both the Panthers and Canucks openings. The Canucks consider Bylsma an "interesting name," via Iain MacIntyre of The Vancouver Sun, while Panthers GM Dale Tallon said last week the team has interviewed Bylsma.

    Most of these openings should be filled quickly. 

Finalizing Plans for a World Cup of Hockey

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    Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed before the Stanley Cup Final the possibility of a hockey World Cup that would take place in September 2016 under the umbrella of the NHL and NHLPA.

    It would be a money-making juggernaut, but nothing has been finalized.

    "We're not ready," Bettman said. "It's not something that's fully baked. As you know, World Cups and international competitions are something we do jointly with the Players' Association. While we're having very substantive discussions about what the possibilities are, what the World Cup might look like, how it should be done, whether we're looking at a series of World Cups, is something that we're not yet in a position where we're comfortable making any announcements, because even if we announced that we were doing a World Cup, for example, in '16, the fact of the matter is you then have 20 follow-up questions about how it would work, what the different issues were, how they'd be addressed.

    "I think we want to get to a position where we and the Players' Association are comfortable that we're in agreement on all of those issues. That's something that we have been working on and we will continue to work on."

    While a World Cup isn't about to happen anytime soon, the announcement could come this summer.

Paying Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and How It Affects Chicago's Salary Cap

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    The Blackhawks don't have much in the way of problems with free agents this summer. They have their core signed already with about $5 million to spend on a few role players and restricted free agents.

    The problem could come next season, as general manager Stan Bowman needs to find a way to sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to new contracts for 2015-16 and beyond. Bowman will likely try to get it done this summer to allow himself more time to tweak and adjust his roster around his stars.

    A look toward the Anaheim Ducks can give you a sense of what Bowman is facing in Chicago. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf signed eight-year contracts that activated for 2013-14 with cap hits of $8.625 million and $8.25 million, respectively. Perry and Getzlaf accounted for 24 percent of the Ducks' salary cap in 2013-14, but they will account for less over the course of their deals as the salary cap presumably rises.

    It's impossible to say for sure what the salary cap will be in 2015-16, but for the sake of math, let's say it rises to $75 million. If Kane and Toews account for 24 percent of the Blackhawks' cap that season, they're looking at eight-year deals worth about $9 million each if you consider them on the same level as Getzlaf and Perry, although they could command more.

    In this theoretical world, that leaves Bowman with about $13-14 million to spend next offseason on key restricted free agents Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy and unrestricted free agents Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival. 

    It's not an untenable situation as long as the salary cap continues to rise, but the cap hits of Toews and Kane will play a huge role in the future of the Blackhawks.

Paying PK Subban

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    When Marc Bergevin took over as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens two years ago, his first order of business was to sign restricted free agent P.K. Subban to a new contract. Instead of giving Subban a long-term deal that bought out some years of unrestricted free agency, Bergevin gave Subban the ever-popular bridge deal, a "prove it" two-year contract.

    Well, Subban proved it, and now he's going to cost more than ever.

    Subban was rumored to want five years and $25 million as negotiations lingered into the shortened 2013 season. Instead, he took a two-year, $5.75 million deal and had two of the best seasons of his career and will cost much more to sign long term now.

    In 2013, Subban won the Norris Trophy with 11 goals and 38 points in 42 games. In 2013-14, he had 10 goals and 53 points, sixth-most among defensemen, in 82 games. He was a force in the 2014 postseason with five goals and 14 points in 17 games.

    In January, after Subban was named to Team Canada for the Sochi Olympics, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that Subban wanted between $8 million and $9 million per season on his next contract. The three defensemen with the largest cap hits are Shea Weber ($7.86M), Ryan Suter ($7.54M) and Kris Letang ($7.25M), although it should be noted only Letang's deal was signed under the new collective bargaining agreement.

    Subban is going to get his payday. It's just a matter of when and how much, a matter that would not matter if Bergevin had signed his stud defenseman long term two years ago.

The Potential Implosion of the San Jose Sharks

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    Since 2003-04, the San Jose Sharks have averaged 103.5 points per season (prorating 2013) and have been a strong contender to win the Stanley Cup in each and every season.

    Unfortunately for the Sharks, they haven't even reached the Final over that time, and it seems as though a decade's worth of frustration has built to the point where their first-round loss in 2014 was the final straw.

    General manager Doug Wilson announced after the season that Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat wouldn't be back and that no player on his team should be considered untouchable in a trade. Wilson loves the term "reset and refresh," but a rebuild could be coming in San Jose based on comments about younger players assuming a leadership role.

    Joe Thornton has been captain since 2010, and Patrick Marleau served in that role prior to Thornton. It sounds like next season will see Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski ascend in the leadership department with Thornton perhaps to be stripped of the "C" on his sweater.

    This is all fallout from the Sharks' losing in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. While the Ducks and Blackhawks also fell to the Kings in seven games, only the Sharks did so after taking a 3-0 lead in the series, and the blame for that seems to be falling on the veterans.

    Side note: In Games 4-7 against the Kings, Couture and Pavelski combined for one goal and zero assists, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed most of Game 5 and the final two games of the series with a concussion. Couture also played Game 7 with a broken hand he suffered in an idiotic fight at the end of a Game 6 loss.

    But sure, scapegoat the veterans.

    The 2014-15 Sharks will likely be a different team than what we've come to know over the years. Depending on what Wilson gets for his veteran stars, it could also be the beginning of a big downward trend for one of the NHL's elite teams that's seemingly in a panic over losing a seven-game series to another elite team.

The Potential…Well, Perhaps Status Quo of the Toronto Maple Leafs

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    While the San Jose Sharks, perennial contenders, are on the verge of lowering a giant cartoon bomb into their locker room, the Toronto Maple Leafs, perennial punch lines, seem to think there's not much need to alter the blueprint. 

    The Leafs crumbled down the stretch, going from third in the East to out of the playoffs to miss the postseason for the eighth time in nine years. As a result, they hired Brendan Shanahan as team president in April. Since taking over, Shanahan has made the bold moves of not firing coach Randy Carlyle and not firing general manager Dave Nonis, who thought it was a swell idea to dump a garbage truck full of money on the front lawn of David Clarkson.

    There's talk the Maple Leafs could trade captain Dion Phaneuf, but there's not much of a market for a defenseman who is not very good and has a seven-year, $49 million contract, another stroke of brilliance from Nonis. Other names in reported rumors, via TSN's Darren Dreger, include Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, a pair of cheap, talented players most teams would covet but maybe not the Leafs.

    This offseason could go either way for the Leafs; they could clean out that locker room and bring in new faces or stand pat. Either way, no team is poised for a more interesting summer than the Leafs.

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