With the NHL lockout at an end, the race to finish off franchise rosters will be swift. Some teams have few changes to make – most notably, the defending-champion L.A. Kings, who are bringing back their entire 2011-12 lineup – but more than a few have some serious work to do. Here are four league transaction hot spots to keep an eye on in the next few weeks:
1. Roberto Luongo/The Toronto Maple Leafs
Given that published, reputable reports had a Luongo-to-Toronto deal agreed to during the lockout, it’s only natural people expect this trade to happen. For one thing, the remaining term of the star goalie’s deal (he’s signed through 2022) means there are very few suitors for his services. For another, the team that could handle his contract – or a buyout – is in dire need of the stability he would bring between the pipes. Canucks GM Mike Gillis says he won’t trade Luongo unless he gets market value. Well, best of luck to him on that front. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson talked that kind of tough game about Rick Nash, but he eventually had to settle for the best deal that was out there. The Leafs are the only ones prepared to give the Canucks something decent. And the playoff-type pressure will be on Luongo right away.
2. The Rangers’ blueline bottleneck
The worst news coming out of the lockout for Rangers fans was that defenseman Wade Redden’s $5.875 million salary will count against the NHL team cap regardless of whether he’s in the American League this season. (Early indications were that teams couldn’t use their amnesty buyout window until this summer, meaning there’s no relief on the Redden front that way.) With the team already at $59.2 million (with a $70.2 million cap) before Redden’s addition, that means there is precious little to pay restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto. The Blueshirts also are committed to spending $51.8 million on only 16 players next season, when the cap drops to $64.3 million, and they’ll still have RFAs Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin to pay. On a lot of fronts, this will be a big year for Manhattan’s NHL team.
3. Ottawa’s fashion-model-thin defense
Injuries to Senators defensemen Jared Cowen (out for the season with a hip injury) and Mike Lundin (broken finger suffered while playing in Sweden) have left their blueline looking rather thin – and that was before rumors surfaced about the possibility of Sergei Gonchar being traded to Pittsburgh (which almost assuredly won’t happen now). Even with new addition Marc Methot, Ottawa is going to need some help on the back end. The good news: with some $18 million in available salary cap space, they’ve got the wherewithal to do it.
4. P.K. Subban’s RFA contract with the Canadiens
Montreal management took a calculated gamble by not signing their most important young defenseman prior to the expiry of the last collective bargaining agreement. The Canadiens have only $6 million in unused cap space this year, but the news is worse for the 2013-14 campaign, when the cap falls to $64.3 million: Montreal already has $60.1 million in committed salaries that season and just 16 players signed. Even with a relatively affordable price tag for Subban – as well as one for David Desharnais, who will be an RFA this summer – the Habs will have to do some shuffling. Of course, some of that will include the buying out of Scott Gomez’s contract, but even then, it’s fair to expect that more change is coming for new GM Marc Bergevin & Co.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
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