These truly are the dog days of summer. Players, GMs and coaches get their brief time off between the free agency boom and training camps. Media have time to do fun stuff like rank every logo in the NHL. With no hockey, we spend our nights watching
Bachelor in Paradise baseball.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening in the NHL. If you squint, you’ll notice several important questions still unanswered, such as…
1. Will Columbus mend fences with Ryan Johansen and sign him long-term?
The most recent reports out of Columbus had restricted free agent Johansen and the Jackets still $3 million apart. Per season. That’s a Grand Canyonesque gap. So far, the P.K. Subban story isn’t working as a cautionary tale about short-term bridge contracts. After his bridge, Subban won the Norris Trophy and his new long-term cap hit is probably about $2 million more than it would’ve been had Montreal ponied up two years ago and paid him, say, Drew Doughty money.
The Jackets want Johansen to prove his 33-goal breakout was for real, just as they wanted Sergei Bobrovsky to back up his Vezina Trophy campaign when they inked him to a bridge deal last summer. The difference? Nothing about Johansen’s development says fluke. He has pedigree as the No. 4 overall pick in 2010. He was always supposed to be this good. There’s every reason to trust him. Columbus could live to regret a bridge contract. The East is wide open, and this team can contend with its top pivot signed and happy.
2. Where will Martin Brodeur land?
The winningest goaltender of all-time was excited to test the free agent waters, but he’s seen nary a ripple. It’s not so much the .901 save percentage scaring people off as it is the distraction factor. Brodeur has indicated time and again he wants to play a lot, especially if he’s not joining a contender. Any team signing him is giving its existing stopper a vote of non-confidence. To me, Winnipeg is the one team that could seriously use his services, but the likely scenario has him waiting for an injury or retiring. Expect this story to drag into September and beyond.
3. Will Evander Kane, Mike Green and Cam Ward be traded?
Evander Kane sure seems unhappy in Winnipeg, seemingly turning down any opportunity to endorse the Jets, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has received offers for his power forward. Do the Jets retain Kane based on his vast potential? It would mean avoiding the mistake – yes, mistake – Boston made in pulling the plug on high-ceiling Tyler Seguin. The key difference this time is Kane seems to desire a move as much as anyone. Maybe a trade benefits both sides best. Anyone acquiring him must surrender a lot, but Kane is worth it. He’s just 23 and he’s never played with a true No. 1 center. In, say, Pittsburgh, he could replace James Neal’s production (and edgy play) in a heartbeat while offering a higher ceiling.
Mike Green to Detroit makes too much sense. The Wings need offense from their defense and a right-shot defenseman, and Green is being squeezed out in D.C. thanks to the Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signings. The Caps, however, have suggested they want to see how Green responds under Barry Trotz, so he should remain with them through training camp.
What about Cam Ward? He projects as a $6.3-million backup to Anton Khudobin. Some team out there can use his puck-stopping ability, but a deal this early doesn’t make sense. Who wants to pay a notoriously brittle goalie that much money for two full years? It’s up to Ward to excel and, more importantly, stay healthy as a backup or 1B for most of the season. Then he just might make himself attractive to a desperate contending team in March.
To harp on Winnipeg again – I don’t see why it doesn’t buy out Ondrej Pavelec. Ward would be dirt-cheap to acquire in terms of surrendering personnel, as taking on his salary would help Carolina so much. He’s still an upgrade over Pavelec in my mind. It’s a matter of whether Winnipeg can spend that much actual money.
4. Will Detroit re-sign Mike Babcock before the season starts?
It’s shaping up to be a memorable season in Detroit. The possibilities range from glorious to disastrous. We could see the young guard of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Mantha leap forward and take the torch from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. We could see the rickety stars go down again and the youngsters struggle to replicate last season’s miraculous effort. Babcock’s future as coach is equally cloudy. Will he sign another long-term deal to shepherd the next generation? Or is he ready for a new challenge? He won’t discuss a contract with GM Ken Holland until the two meet face-to-face in the coming weeks. If he enters the season unsigned, though, it adds a few more degrees to a piping-hot seat, especially when he’s already said he won’t talk contract during the season if he doesn’t have a deal in time for Game 1.
5. Is Kimmo Timonen’s career over?
Teemu Selanne continues to dominate the headlines all summer, but another Finn’s situation bears serious watching: that of Timonen in Philadelphia. A blood clot may be enough to end a career for a 39-year-old. The Michael Del Zotto signing tells us as much about Timonen as it does about Del Zotto. The Flyers expect to lose their stalwart for a significant time, if not forever.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin