The Boston Bruins are finally playing like the Bruins. The New York Rangers are 7-1-2 in their last 10. Do they have enough runway left to qualify for the playoffs?
Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes have pulled ahead of St. Louis and the Predators are hanging onto to the fourth spot in the West. Carolina is impressively still leading Tampa Bay in the Central. Who saw that coming.
Playoff talk is rightfully the No. 1 conversation in the NHL these days. But there are at least a dozen other issues in the NHL that are bubbling below the surface:
Lightning still have cap issues: The deal that GM Patrice BriseBois worked out with Ottawa, Nikita Kucherov going on the long-term injured reserve provided temporary relief. They have work to do this summer. With the salary cap staying at $81.5 millon, the Lightning have 16 players signed for roughly $85 million. Even with the BriseBois cap management creativity in place, it will be challenging to keep free agents David Savard, Barclay Goodrow or Blake Coleman. You are going to hear the names of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn or Ondrej Palat in the trade rumor mille. You can expect BriseBois to try to cut a deal with the expansion Seattle Krakan to ease their burden. It seems plausible that the Kraken could end up with Washington state native Johnson, plus a draft pick and one of Tampa Bay's best young players.
'Brind'Amour still unsigned: If you are a Carolina fan, you are concerned because coach Rod Brind'Amour is a close friend with Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams and Seattle's Ron Francis. Neither of those GMs have a head coach under contract and Brind'Amour can become a free agent this summer. But here's what you need to remember: Brind'Amour has been living in Carolina for years, and he's in the midst of building a new home. Plus, he is tight with the Carolina group. This is a team that looks like it is going to win a Stanley Cup in the near future. Is he going to give up the comfort and the Cup shot to become an expansion coach or take over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade? I would shocked if Brind'Amour leaves Carolina.
Trouble in Columbus: The season was a seismic failure for the Blue Jackets. The presumption is that coach John Tortorella, a soon-to-be free agent, won't be back. But what about GM Jarmo Kekalainen? He should be back, but we have seen GMs fired for less messiness than we see in Columbus. Should this team trade Patrik Laine? He didn't deliver. Now you have to sign him. You can make a case that moving him would be the most logical course of action. Do you embrace a mini-rebuild? You can't go full rebuild because the team needs to re-sign Zach Werenski and Seth Jones over the next two seasons.
Dougie Hamilton leads intriguing FA class: David Savard. Nick Foligno. Ryan Nugent Hopkins. David Krejci. Kyle Palmieri. Gabriel Landeskog. Plenty of noteworthy names beyond Taylor Hall
Where does Hall end up? If he helps Boston secure its playoff spot, the Bruins could end up being the favorite to get him signed. Hall will be well-paid, but he won't receive a jackpot contract. Would expect Canadian teams, like Calgary, Montreal, and maybe even Edmonton, talking to Hall.
Flames will likely trade Johnny Gaudreau: It's time for Johnny Hockey to move along. He needs a change of venue and the Flames need to new offensive look. It feels as if he's going to end up in the Metropolitan Division.
Kraken finally have a roster: The Kraken will have the same expansion draft rules that the Vegas Golden Knights have, but I don't believe they will receive as many extra players and draft picks as the Golden Knights did. NHL general managers learned from the last expansion draft, and I don't believe they will be quite as eager to give up multiple assets to save a player. But deals will be cut, and the Kraken will have a competitive team. Jake Allen seems like a possibility to be their No. 1 goalie
Yzerman will decide coach's fate: I don't believe this decision is as easy as Detroit fans believe it should be. It's not Jeff Blashill's fault that Detroit's roster is as weak as it is. Yzerman has said publicly that he likes how Blashill coaches. But I still wouldn't bet on Blashill staying. It may just be time to hire a new coaching to go with a new team.
Gerard Gallant should end up somewhere: It's difficult to believe that Gallant doesn't have a job. He took the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season. Fans have him penciled in Detroit because he is Yzerman's former linemate. But other franchises could also be interested.
Sabres will grade Don Granato's work: Granato has done a quality job as a temp behind the Sabres' bench. The players have responded well to his style, particularly younger players such as Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt. I'd promote him from interim coach to full-time coach. But Adams is not an experienced GM. Will he feel some pressure to bring in a more established coach?
Determining what the 2021-22 NHL season will look like: Don't take 82 games and full buildings for granted. We've not done a good job in forecasting of how the pandemic will play out. Let's see where we are in late summer.
Fallout in San Jose, Anaheim, Vancouver, Philadelphia, etc.: The Ducks are missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season and San Jose has missed in back-to-back seasons. Disappointing performances in Vancouver and Philadelphia. That usually means management, coaching or roster shake-ups.
to add plaEveryone should pause before they suggest that the Lightning won't be able to keep Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, or that they will have to trade