For many people, the summer months are delightful. Warmth replaces the cold as daylight lasts much longer. Children relish in their extended break from schoolwork, and many enjoy family vacations to resorts, parks, beaches, and so on. Wedding season gets underway too, and people are simply all-around happier.
Then, there are hockey fans. Until training camps and preseason all begin in September, hockey fans sit on their hands, twiddle their thumbs, or watch grass grow.
Luckily, the off-season features a handful of bright spots that bring excitement to the hockey community. For hardcore fans, a few days in the summer rank as some of the most exciting times of the entire hockey year. These days, though few, feature some of the biggest and most important moves that set up the upcoming season. Namely, the NHL Entry Draft and the first day of free agency knock a true fans socks off. It is not only free agents signing new contracts in new cities but also the potential for blockbuster trades that everyone salivates to witness. And right now, we’re just three short days away from free agent frenzy on July 1st.
Preparing for July 1st: The Rumor Mill
Fans collectively watch with anticipation as the seconds tick down in June. To be better prepared for that opening bell, check out some of the hottest rumours around the league. This is the most recent information on all of the below scenarios, which (as always) is subject to change at a moments notice.
Ryan O’Reilly: Growing Potential for Trade
After an interesting interview at the end of the season, one in which he explicitly stated he’d “lost the love of the game multiple times” over the course of the year with the bottom-dwelling Buffalo Sabres, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the team is exploring trade options for the Lady Byng finalist.
However, it won’t be easy to acquire Ryan O’Reilly. It sounds like the asking price is high: a first round pick PLUS a second round pick PLUS a top end prospect, high. O’Reilly carries a $7.5 million cap hit through 2022-23. He’s a well-respected two-way player, takes no penalties, wins faceoffs, and posts 50-65 points per year.
— Brennan Klak (@nhlupdate) June 27, 2018
St. Louis moved Paul Stastny at the deadline last season and definitely are in the market for a more defensive-minded player to fill the hole he left. O’Reilly fits that perfectly, but will the Blues pony-up all the pieces these rumours say Buffalo is looking for? Multiple top draft picks and a prospect is a lot, especially for the cap hit and term O’Reilly carries. He doesn’t score as much as others with similar salaries but does more in his own end of the ice.
Has O’Reilly Already Been Dealt?
O’Reilly receives his contract bonus on July 1st, so it is easy to imagine a trade going through the second after the Sabres pay that bonus. That way, the team receiving O’Reilly isn’t on the hook to immediately pay up. If that is the case, expect an official announcement early Monday morning.
UFA Goaltenders: Cam Ward and Carter Hutton
There aren’t many big name UFA goaltenders this summer, but Carolina Hurricanes veteran Cam Ward definitely stands out. Rumours have the Chicago Blackhawks to be after a goalie via free agency, and Pierre LeBrun believes Ward tops their list.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 27, 2018
Despite bringing in far less experience, Carter Hutton probably ranks ahead of Ward as far as quantity of suitors goes. The veteran back-up just posted fantastic numbers with the Blues (17-7-2 with a .931 save percentage) and could push a more-established starter for their job. LeBrun stated he’s got as many as eight franchises interested.
Jack Johnson: Next Stop, Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly have a five year deal on the table with UFA defenseman Jack Johnson. Apparently, both sides are on board with the contract and intend to make it official as soon as they’re allowed to on July 1st.
.@MarkMaddenX first reported that the Penguins intend to sign defenseman Jack Johnson Sunday to a five-year deal. Confirming that. Source says it will be in the $16 million range total (between $3-$3.5 million AAV).
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) June 27, 2018
Five years might be a tad long for a 31-year old, especially one with brutally negative possession stats (-5.4% relative Corsi in 2017-18). Not to mention the fact that he’s amassed an average of just 16 points per year for the last three seasons.
Johnson carries one of the roughest stories of financial distress in the league, as he filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The disaster came at the hands of his parents, whom he trusted to manage his finances. Unfortunately, they abused his income and the drama has been nothing short of tragic for the veteran defenseman. There’s no denying that a five-year deal worth the rumoured $16 million amount will be a feel-good story as he continues digging himself from the debt his parents created.
Tomas Plekanec: Canadiens Homecoming?
Don’t be surprised if when all is said and done on July 1, Tomas Plekanec is back in MTL.
— Bobby Margarita (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 26, 2018
Last season did not go well for Plekanec, who is about to take a major pay cut. At 35 years old, and coming off a career-worst six goals and 24 total points, he won’t be earning $6 million again. He’s experienced a consistent decline in productivity since scoring 26 goals and 60 points in 2014-15. He played well for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs but struggled in the regular season. Plekanec has always said that he would like to return to the Habs.
John Tavares: Meetings Complete
The six teams in on the John Tavares sweepstakes have met with the all-star center over the past few days. In fact, the meetings were all roughly the same length, too.
All teams in on John Tavares spent between 1 hour and 50 minutes and 2 hours and 15 minutes with JT.
Toronto Maple Leafs – ~2 hours
NY Islanders – ~2 hours
SJ Sharks – 2:15
Boston Bruins – 1:50
Dallas Stars – 2:15
TB Lightning – 1:50 pic.twitter.com/XzmJ9hkltw
— Complete Hockey News (@CompleteHkyNews) June 28, 2018
The ball is entirely in Tavares’ court. He’s heard each pitch and can now make a final decision, or at least narrow his focus. Tavares easily ranks as one of the biggest free agents in recent history and has tons of attention. So much so that TSN created a “Tavares Calculator” for fans to take a look at the differences in net salary he’d earn with each team. It factors in taxes based on each team’s location too, giving people a better idea as to what teams have to offer to be competitive. (Spoiler: Tampa Bay and Dallas have HUGE tax advantages, and can offer significantly less per year but yield Tavares the same after-tax income).
Sights Set on July
As much fun as rumours are, the big day is always more satisfying. Much can change between now and then, but plenty of these are starting to settle into the “unofficial, but confirmed” territory. Keep up with the latest as it comes out at Last Word On Hockey.
MONTREAL, QC – JANUARY 25: Look on Carolina Hurricanes Goalie Cam Ward (30) during the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Montreal Canadiens game on January 25, 2018, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)