While the Kings continue to celebrate their organizations 1st Stanley Cup, the rest of the NHL is set to begin what is sure to be an interesting off season. As hockey enters the dog days of summer, here are some storylines to keep an eye on and stay tuned for updated storylines throughout the summer months:
1) The CBA
September 15, 2012. That is the deadline for the NHL to get a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place before the old agreement expires. For the lay fan, the CBA is a fancy way of saying the contract between the owners (NHL) and players (NHLPA). Historically, the NHL has not handled reaching these agreements very well. The 1995 renewal resulted in a shortened campaign and everyone is well aware of the cancelled 2004-2005 season. This time around, the NHL faces more uncertainty than in the past. The NHL has had issues with viewership as a result of the last lockout, but has been recovering over the last few seasons (despite the low ratings for the 2012 Finals). One has to question whether the league could bounce back from another lockout this year. And the issues are not easy this time around. In addition to needing to establish a new cap agreement, there are issues such as contract length, suspensions, and escrow agreements to consider. Look for the Olympics in Sochi to be a topic as well. The good news this time around though is that they do not need to discuss the need for a salary cap, which was the major stumbling block last time. The latest news is the NHLPA is trying to move the void date of the current agreement up to June 30 to help facilitate a quicker deal and avoid a lockout.
2) Coaching Search
The part of the offseason that interests fans the most are personnel moves, and the first moves to happen will be for the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals to name their new head coaches. While there are only two openings and many available coaches, neither team is likely to compete with each other for their head man. The Oilers are looking for a teaching coach, one that can mold their talented young core into a competitive team, while the Capitals are in search of a coach who can take their talented roster to the next level. Some the names that will likely be flying around over the next few weeks are some old faces such as Brent Sutter and Marc Crawford while new names such as Assistant Coaches Adam Oates (NJ), John Stevens (LA), and Mike Sullivan (NYR) will likely get calls. Look also for Norfolk Admirals Head Coach Jon Cooper and Canadian Junior League Coach Patrick Roy to be popular interviews. If I had to guess, I would say the Oilers take a flyer of Cooper or Sullivan while the Capitals take Oates or Crawford (also, do not sleep on current Assistant Dean Evason in DC).
3) Free Agent Frenzy
Assuming a deal is signed, there is sure to be a fierce battle for the top names in a thin free agent class. The three prizes of the class are Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Alex Semin. Each will be seeking a long term deal for big money. Look for Parise to stay in Newark to finish what they started this season. And do not be surprised if Suter and Semin both end up in Detroit of they can make the numbers work. Suter is the logical replacement for Lidstrom and Semin had a good deal of chemistry with Datsyuk at the World Championships. If not Detroit, look for Semin to get offers from LA, the Rangers, and the KHL. The thin FA class also means an increase in trades is likely, so keep an eye on the ever evolving Rick Nash saga.
4) The Decision NHL Style in 2013?
While still a year away, four big name free agents are set to hit the market in 2014, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry from the Ducks and Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal from the Penguins. In the case of Crosby and Perry, look for the Ducks and Penguins respectively to lock up their stars this offseason as soon as the new deal is in place. That means 2 big name centers will likely be available next year in Getzlaf and Staal, which might affect how money is spent by teams this offseason. Rumor has it that Crosby is looking for 9 million and term in his new deal. I would suspect both will get a deal done, but if Crosby is unsigned by the All Star break, look for some teams to start unloading contracts to make room for the Kid. And if he hits the open market, look for a Lebron James like frenzy to woo the superstar from Pittsburgh. Although do not expect a cable special to announce his decision from the reserved Crosby.
5) Predictions, Predictions, Predictions
A favorite past time of experts, fans, and bloggers alike is to use the offseason to make bold predictions for the upcoming season. Here are a few:
1) Claude Giroux will lead the NHL in scoring for the 2012-2013 season. This might not seem too bold, but it would mean he out produces the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Stamkos, and the Sedins. Look out for the crafty Giroux.
2) Alex Ovechkin returns to form and wins the goal scoring title- One has to assume that any interview for the Capitals job will center on getting the most out of the talents of the falling star. Trust McPhee to make a hire to bring that star back to life.
3) Tuukka Rask wins the Vezina- With Tim Thomas taking the year off; it is time for the much hyped Rask to shine. He has a great team in front of him and will make the Bruins forget about the suddenly troublesome Thomas.
4) The Edmonton Oilers win the Northwest Division- Armed with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and the most likely newly drafted Nail Yakapov, the Edmonton Oilers will finally return to the postseason as the 3rd seed in the West.
5) Down falls the hammer- In light of the carnage that was the 2012 NHL Postseason, look for supplemental discipline to be a big factor next season. In all likelihood, some formalization of suspension rules is likely. Formalization could be bad news for stars who have sometime been given light suspension, so look for a big name to be hit hard by Shanahan next season.
Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com