We’re about to get wild. The draft begins Thursday in Montreal, and free agency opens July 13. Here are eight predictions for the NHL’s silly season:
▪ Johnny Gaudreau will sign with New Jersey
Speculating here, but it just makes sense. The Flames won’t be able to afford both Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk and still keep enough around them to compete. The Flyers, Penguins, and Islanders will be interested in the South Jersey native. However, it feels like the Devils, after losing out on Kevin Fiala, will use their cap space — approximately $25 million, without many other contracts to sign — to woo Gaudreau and put him with Jack Hughes Imagine what those two could do with the puck, especially if they get some muscle around them.
▪ The Lightning will lose a crucial piece
Hard to see both Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh returning with the Lightning way over the salary cap. While trying to keep homegrown Palat, the Lightning are looking for a trade partner for McDonagh. Per CapFriendly, the 33-year-old defenseman has four years left on a $6.75 million cap hit, with a full no-trade clause, and his contract is all salary, no bonuses.
In the next three drafts, Tampa Bay has four picks in the top three rounds — including one first-rounder (2022) and one second-rounder (2024). Dealing McDonagh could bring back a few of those assets.
Meanwhile, they kept Nick Paul in the fold. The former Ottawa winger signed a deal worth $3.15 million in each of the next seven years, extending the term to lower his cap hit. Good on Paul, by the way. He was cut no less than five times from Senators training camp, finally making the team at age 24 in 2019. Now, he’s got contract security with a winning team (in a tax-free state, no less).
▪ Valeri Nichushkin will get paid
A tenacious defender who has earned some light Selke Trophy consideration in recent years, Nichushkin’s offense dried up in his final year in Dallas: 0-10—10 in 57 games in 2019. After signing with Colorado, he posted a pair of 20-point campaigns (which could have been 30-something in full seasons) and broke out last year for 25-27—52 in 62 games. The pending unrestricted free agent went bonkers in the postseason, putting up 9-6—15 in 20 games while facing arguably the stiffest competition of any skater.
In the final two rounds, Nichushkin’s most common opponents, per Natural Stat Trick, were Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Connor McDavid, Ondrej Palat, Ryan McDonagh, and Leon Draisaitl. In 10 games against Tampa and Edmonton, he scored six goals and had two assists. He might double his $2.5 million cap hit.
▪ The Jets will reshape their core
There’s been a lot of grumbling in Winnipeg the last few years, with unhappy players wearing it all over their faces. Longtime coach Paul Maurice stepped down when he felt the veteran core was tuning him out. Maybe new hire Rick Bowness can get through to Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Morrissey and the like, but it’s more likely one of the discontented lot will be on the way out. Dubois, a restricted free agent who reportedly told management he intends to test the UFA market as soon as he can (2024), would bring back significant assets. Top-six centers move the needle.
▪ The Blackhawks will keep tanking
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will have to get used to losing, because Chicago isn’t going anywhere but the 2023 Connor Bedard lottery. The Hawks might let restricted free agents Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik leave via free agency rather than extend them qualifying offers. Alex DeBrincat’s name has been floated as trade bait. Kane and Toews, both entering the final years of their deals, might just say enough with it, and waive their no-movement clauses.
▪ The Kings will land a big name
Los Angeles and Minnesota swung the first big trade of the offseason, the Kings grabbing winger Kevin Fiala. Love the fit for the Kings, who can play Fiala on the second line to boost Philip Danault’s production. The Swiss winger, not particularly strong defensively, can benefit from Danault’s elite shutdown skills. Fiala signed a seven-year, $55.125 million deal after a career-high 33 goals and 85 points in 82 games. He turns 26 July 22.
The Kings, who pushed the Oilers in the first round until Connor McDavid wasn’t having it anymore, are shedding the cocoon of their rebuild, as they did before winning Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. Adding a piece such as Filip Forsberg — if Nashville lets him walk — would make them a force in the Pacific Division.
▪ The Wild will be quiet
The Fiala deal was a necessary move for the Wild, who got two pieces and cleared cap space with a crunch coming. They’ll have $12.7 million in dead cap space from the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts, and $14.7 million the next two seasons after that. Ideally, they’ll get a good lineup player on a rookie deal for some of this three-year stretch, since LA shipped over a first-rounder (19th overall) to go with Minny’s own (24th overall). General manager Bill Guerin already had two second-round lottery tickets (47th overall and 56th overall).
Brock Faber, a defenseman from the University of Minnesota, also came in the deal. Smart to play the odds toward young, inexpensive, and talented. To compete, they’ll need another MVP-caliber season from $9 million man Kirill Kaprizov, a big year from Millis product Matthew Boldy (in the final year of his entry-level deal), and fellow prospect Marco Rossi.
▪ The Sharks will be a total wild card
Still without a GM, San Jose made a clean sweep for the new boss. Interim GM Joe Will fired coach Bob Boughner and his staff Friday. Now looking for leadership in a shallower pool of candidates, who knows which direction the Sharks are going. Have to feel for Boughner and Co., who enter the coaching market as jobs are drying up. As for players, there will be plenty of teams interested in Timo Meier (restricted free agent in 2023) if he’s available.
▪ The Canadiens will be memorable draft hosts
The Ottawa Sun reported Montreal GM Kent Hughes has called every other team picking in the top 10 because he wants to “make a splash” with a second pick. Only one team in the last 20 years has chosen twice in the top 10. In 2020, Ottawa took Tim Stützle at No. 3 and Jake Sanderson at No. 5. The top-10 double used to happen quite a bit: the Bruins (Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov in 1997), the Islanders (Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer in ‘97, and lesser duos in 1999 and 2000) and Panthers (2002) all took those gambles.
Hall of Fame inductee Carnegie long overdue
The Hall of Fame class had a Nordic flair, with three Swedes (Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik and Daniel Sedin) and a Finn (Riikka Sallinen). Roberto Luongo and Herb Carnegie (builder) are the other 2022 inductees.
The induction of Sallinen, who was for years the best women’s player outside North America, felt proper. Women have been under-represented in the game for too long, and that is changing. But the Hall was not more on the mark than with the long-overdue induction of Carnegie.
Carnegie, who died in 2012, goes in as a builder, partly as a nod to his decades of commitment to youth hockey. He never played in the NHL, but he was the first Black star. He won MVPs and played with Jean Beliveau in the Quebec Provincial league, when that league was nearly on par with the NHL.
“He was a smooth-skating player, equally adept at centre or on a wing,” Beliveau wrote in the foreword to Carnegie’s 1997 memoir, A Fly in a Pail of Milk. Carnegie and the future Montreal great were teammates with the Quebec Aces in the late ‘40s.
“Herbie certainly had the talent and was very popular with the fans, who would reward his great playmaking with prolonged standing ovations, both at home and on the road,” Beliveau wrote. “Perhaps they suspected that his colour was an issue with the NHL, but it certainly wasn’t with them.
“It’s my belief that Herbie Carnegie was excluded from the National Hockey League because of his colour. How could the NHL scout overlook not one, but three most valuable player awards for a player on a team in a top senior league?”
The story passed down through the years: Toronto owner Conn Smythe watched a 19-year-old Carnegie skate at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1938, and told Carnegie’s coach that he would sign the player that moment — if he were white.
Carnegie, the Toronto-born son of Jamaican immigrants, nearly broke the NHL’s color barrier — against the Bruins, 11 years before Willie O’Ree debuted.
Entering the 1947 playoffs, the Canadiens were smarting from injuries to star Elmer Lach and forwards Buddy O’Connor and George Allen. Carnegie, then playing for Sherbrooke in the Quebec Provincial league, was rumored to be a call-up.
The March 19, 1947 editions of the Globe quoted Bruins president Weston W. Adams as saying he had no objection to the move.
“A player’s race or creed makes no difference to us,” he said. “If he’s a good player and can help the Canadiens that’s all the interest we have in the matter.”
Two days before, incidentally, baseball’s Jackie Robinson debuted for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top farm team, in an exhibition against the parent club in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Carnegie was invited to the Rangers’ training camp next fall, turned down a lowball offer, and later wrote in his memoir that management was “unable to look beyond the colour of my skin.”
His name lives on in several places: the Carnegie Initiative, the Boston-based sports antiracism summit started by his daughter Bernice and former NHL executive Bryant McBride; the Future Aces hockey school in Canada; and a Toronto arena with his name.
And, rightfully so, on the corner of Yonge and Front Streets.
Senators’ Mete troubled by world junior incident
Victor Mete said he was not one of the players involved in the Hockey Canada situation, the first active player to make any kind of statement on the matter. Mete, the Senators defenseman, was one of the 2018 World Junior Championship players invited to a gala event later that summer.
“At the time, I was away on vacation with family and friends in Jamaica and only learned of the situation recently through media reports. I am deeply troubled by reports of this incident,” said Mete, who pledged to cooperate with investigators upon request.
Mete’s words came as a half-dozen corporate sponsors, including prime backer Scotiabank, suspended funding to Hockey Canada last week.
Top speed tracked in an NHL game this season, according to the league: Carolina’s Martin Necas, who hit 24.9 miles per hour. Next on the list: Alex Formenton (24.7), Connor McDavid (24.6), Nathan MacKinnon (24.5), Ryan Merkley, Nikolaj Ehlers and Lawson Crouse (24.4), Bowen Byram (24.3), Christian Jaros and Alex Tuch (24.2). Only two of those guys can stickhandle through defenders at those speeds, and you know who they are ... There have been two offer sheets tendered in the last three summers, both of them involving Carolina players (the Hurricanes signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi away from Montreal; they also matched the Canadiens’ lowball offer to Sebastian Aho). If anyone’s going to get one this summer, Necas looks like a candidate. The 23-year-old put up a somewhat disappointing 14-26—40 season, and didn’t maximize his time in the top six. The Canes have some $19 million to spend and 10 free agents, including Necas, Max Domi, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Tony DeAngelo, and Ethan Bear. If a team — hey, why not Montreal? — offers Necas more than $4.21 million, which is likely, the Canes would recoup a first- and a third-round pick if they didn’t match … RFA Adam Gaudette was not qualified by the Senators, and the Braintree product is in line for free agency July 13. He would be a decent depth pickup for the Bruins … Two RFAs, Vegas center Nic Roy and LA right-shot defenseman Sean Durzi, would be perfect roster fits here, but the B’s are likely too close to the cap to be in the offer-sheet business. Offering a player on a cap-strapped team a deal way over his value is an effective method of getting that player, but then you’re paying through the nose. Carolina isn’t asking for a do-over on Kotkaniemi, but he’s still, shall we say, growing into his $4.82 million cap hit … Nazem Kadri, who told the haters to “kiss [his] ass” after winning the Cup, showed up to the Denver championship parade in a custom “Too Many Men” shirt, a laugh-off of his controversial OT goal in Game 4 … Exuberance in victory cost AHL Chicago goaltender Alex Lyon. After his 28-save shutout gave the Wolves the Calder Cup, Lyon flipped off the crowd in Springfield. He’ll sit the next two games of his AHL career. He was barehanded, so there was no pinning it on an Andrew Ference-style “glove malfunction” … Kudos to Wolves coach Ryan Warsofsky, of Marshfield, who became the youngest coach (34) in recent memory to win the Calder Cup. Franklin’s Peter Laviolette was 35 when he coached Providence to the 1999 title … Pavel Datsyuk, soon to turn 44, told reporters at a Russian charity game he will retire. First-ballot HOFer in 2026 ... If Zdeno Chara doesn’t play this season, he would be right next to Datsyuk in that class … A story in The Athletic had NHL executives and agents concerned about Russian players who returned home this summer, as in: Would they be allowed to return to the States? You’d think Vladimir Putin, hockey superfan, would want to see Alex Ovechkin resume his chase for the NHL goals record, but you never know. The Bruins, who have never had much of a Russian presence on the roster, wouldn’t be affected … This comes as Flyers goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov was detained, according to Russian reports, for alleged evasion of military service. The 25-year-old signed an entry-level deal with Philadelphia last month and planned to quit CSKA Moscow, the Russian Army club whose players are considered military personnel. Fedotov, a finalist for KHL goalie of the year, won silver with Russian at the 2022 Beijing Olympics … Byram logged 19:22 a night in the postseason, third-most among Avalanche defensemen, and was excellent in all three zones. One Denver police officer apparently didn’t know that. At the Avs’ victory parade, the officer got off his bike and grabbed the rookie, who was toting a couple beers as he greeted fans along the parade route, and tried to shoo him into the crowd. Byram, wearing his No. 4 jersey, convinced the cop to let him back into the celebration.