Dallas — Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Kings in his return to the NHL, the Hurricanes and Flames pulled off a five-player trade, and John Tavares will now explore different possibilities for his future.
After a dull first round of the draft, action picked up Saturday as teams laid the groundwork for more moves.
The biggest is Tavares, who will begin talking to other teams Sunday when the free agent negotiating period opens. The New York Islanders’ face of the franchise will reportedly meet with the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and three other teams in the upcoming days in Los Angeles before he can sign a contract July 1.
“He’s earned every right to make whatever choice he has,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He has a right to do that. The important thing is that he’s an Islander at the end.”
That’s far from certain after the Islanders were unable to agree to terms with the 27-year-old point-a-game center before he could open the dialogue with other teams. Just being able to woo Tavares is a tantalizing possibility, even if GMs aren’t willing to say his name while he’s still property of New York.
“I think players do identify our team, our organization, as a place that they want to explore, which is a good thing,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “It’s a good thing that I think players look at our place as a place they want to consider to play, which as a GM makes your life a little bit easier.”
Tavares is the biggest fish in free agency, especially considering the Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals were closing in on a deal to re-sign defenseman John Carlson.
Amid the fast-and-furious selecting in Rounds 2 through 7, Carolina acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox from Calgary for center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin. After missing the playoffs the past nine seasons, the Hurricanes aren’t done dealing.
“We’ll stay busy,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. “I can’t say for sure anything will get done. I’m pretty confident something will get done, whether it’s in the next few days or next 10 days.”
Only two trades involving players went down at the draft, including the Capitals clearing cap space for Carlson by sending backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and 37-year-old defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick. But even beyond Carolina — which could trade winger Jeff Skinner and defenseman Justin Faulk and will likely also get a goalie — the seeds were planted for several more moves over the next week.
One of those could include Montreal captain Max Pacioretty, who changed agents amid trade rumors. Buffalo is also entertaining offers on center Ryan O’Reilly, and the Rangers are seeing what’s out there as they rebuild but have an overflowing amount of cap space.
“We have a lot going on,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. “It didn’t seem like there were as many trades as we’ve seen in the last couple of years at the draft. I’m going to guess that’s going to keep coming here as we go into free agency that in the next week you’ll start to see some more players move around based on the conversations that we’re having.”
Gorton believes some of the higher-end players being available in trades or free agency is holding back trade action. As soon as some of them go, it could start a domino effect.
“A lot of teams set their sights on those guys, and when they don’t get them it may change what you’re doing,” Gorton said. “A lot of times when some of the best players are out there for trade it does hold everybody up because you want the best players and everyone is trying to do it, and they all can’t do it.”
Los Angeles got it done with Kovalchuk, signing him to a three-year contract with a $6.25 million cap hit. Boston GM Don Sweeney, who was in talks to sign the Olympic MVP, said going to three years made it tough on the Bruins and ultimately sealed the deal for the Kings.
The Islanders, Maple Leafs, Sharks and others will certainly try to do the same with Tavares, who would almost certainly get $10-plus million a season on a seven-year deal and fits into the category of players Wilson believes San Jose can get.
“We’re looking for difference-makers,” Wilson said. “We’ll be prepared and see what opportunities and what conversations we’ll be able to participate in.