Five 2015 draft picks set to make impactful NHL debuts next season

Dylan Strome during the 2015-16 pre-season (Harry How/Getty Images)

The hype surrounding Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick and first-overall selection Auston Matthews isn’t unwarranted, but sometimes lost in the excitement surround Matthews is the fact that there’s a fair chance he won’t be the rookie that makes the biggest difference this coming season.

That doesn’t just go for Matthews, either. Winnipeg Jets fans are excited about Patrik Laine, Edmonton Oilers fans have high hopes for Jesse Puljujarvi, Matthew Tkachuk’s got his sights set on the making the Calgary Flames this coming season and the Columbus Blue Jackets might even see Pierre-Luc Dubois make the jump to the NHL.

But the fresh faces of the 2016 draft class shouldn’t make us forget about the talented group of youngsters drafted in 2015 who could find their way into the NHL and become top scorers or go-to players for their respective clubs. Here are five 2015 draftees yet to see an NHL game who stand to be impact players in 2016-17: Read more

The five players with the biggest buyout cap hits in 2016-17

Brad Stuart (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Antoine Vermette has officially become an unrestricted free agent following an entirely unexpected buyout that saw the 34-year-old sent packing by the Arizona Coyotes.

Vermette told RDS that he understands the reasoning behind the move from the Coyotes’ perspective. With young talent on the rise in Arizona, the management needed to make a decision that would allow room for the Dylan Stromes and Christian Dvoraks of the organization to have their chance at making the club out of training camp.

“Given the change in leadership, the youth movement started last year and that the best hopes of the organization are centers, I could see that it was only a matter of time,” Vermette told RDS.

Still, it caught him off guard. Vermette said he didn’t expect to be sent packing so soon or by way of a buyout, but the Coyotes assured him it had “no connection with (his) performance on the ice,” Vermette told RDS.

Even when Vermette signs elsewhere, he will still count against the Coyotes’ salary cap for $1.25 million. It seems like a lot of money to pay a player to go away — and looks worse when you add Mike Ribeiro’s $1.444 million buyout cap hit, which means Arizona will pay nearly $2.7 million to players on other teams — but Vermette’s buyout cap hit isn’t even among the top five in the league. More surprisingly, the combined buyout cap hits of Vermette and Ribeiro aren’t even the worst pair of buyouts in the league.

Here are the five biggest buyout cap hits for the upcoming season: Read more

Which players could take on the six vacant captaincies?

Connor McDavid (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Four players became first-time captains in the NHL ahead of the 2015-16 season, each to varying degrees of success.

In San Jose, Joe Pavelski took over as captain after years of speculation that he was the next in line to wear the ‘C’ for the Sharks. In his first season, he helped lead the Sharks to the Stanley Cup final with an impressive post-season performance.

Pavelski was joined as a new captain by Max Pacioretty, who donned the ‘C’ for the first time and did so as a member of arguably the most storied organization in the history of the sport, the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty’s Canadiens flew out of the gate like an early Cup contender, but an injury to Carey Price derailed Montreal’s season.

Also joining the captains club were Nick Foligno, who was chosen to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Andy Greene, selected by the New Jersey Devils to take the captaincy from the retiring Bryce Salvador. Both teams missed the post-season, but took some strides forward that have both fan bases hopeful for the coming campaign.

While four new captains may seem like a lot, there’s potential for as many as seven first-time captains to take over major leadership roles in 2016-17. Anze Kopitar has already been handed the ‘C’ for the Los Angeles Kings, but that still leaves the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers without captains. So, will those clubs have a captain this coming season and, if so, who will stitch the ‘C’ to their sweater? Read more

Hurricanes impressive off-season continues as Rask signs six-year, $24-million deal

Jared Clinton
Victor Rask (Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Given that the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t seen the post-season in more than half a decade, some will have a hard time believing the organization is really trending in the right direction, but GM Ron Francis continues to impress with his savvy moves to slowly but surely improve the on-ice situation in Carolina.

The off-season started with a blockbuster deal that saw the Hurricanes use their cap space to relieve the Chicago Blackhawks of Bryan Bickell and his $4 million contract, but Francis leveraged the deal into acquiring skilled youngster Teuvo Teravainen, as well. Francis also brought back veteran goaltender Cam Ward, made a smart signing in locking up Lee Stempniak and added some lesser pieces in Viktor Stalberg and Matt Tennyson.

But Francis’ best piece of work may have come Tuesday as the Hurricanes announced they’ve locked up 23-year-old restricted free agent center Victor Rask to a six-year, $24-million contract that will keep him in Carolina well into his prime.

“Victor has gotten better every season that he’s been a part of our organization,” Francis said in a release. “He is a big part of this team’s present and future, and we are thrilled to sign him to a longer-term deal.” Read more

Winners and Losers from Day 1 of the free agent frenzy

Troy Brouwer Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Contractual obligations force your trusty correspondent to declare the definitive list of winners and losers from the first day of free agency at a time before the ink is dry on all of the contracts. Who knows who won the day? After all, Thomas Vanek hasn’t even been a healthy scratch as a Detroit Red Wing yet.

With that in mind, we present our Winners and Losers from Canada Day, better known as the Start of Silly Season. If you subscribe to the theory that is held by a number of GMs that more mistakes are made on July 1 than any other day of the year, then perhaps the biggest winners are the teams that did nothing. Maybe it was the Colorado Avalanche, who picked up two players who were not extended qualifying offers and another who was bought out for a total cap hit of $5.3 million.

But that’s no fun. You, dear readers, demand Winners and Losers. Please keep in mind that everyone overpays. So here goes:

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Eric Staal signs with Minnesota, next stop Las Vegas?

Eric Staal  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For most high profile free agents, July 1 is the day they cash in. For Eric Staal, it was a day to take an enormous haircut. It wasn’t long ago that people were talking about Staal as one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. But when the dust settled, he took a 58 percent cut in his average yearly salary on a three-year deal. A three-year deal.

If you’re looking for the newly signed free agent who has the most to prove and should be most highly motivated in 2016-17, Alexander Radulov is probably the first who comes to mind. But not far behind will be Staal, who will be on a quest to prove he’s still an elite center in the NHL. He certainly hasn’t looked like that since the lockout shortened season in 2012-13 and is coming off the most miserable season of his career.

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