NHL offseason: Five unanswered questions

With most of its offseason business conducted already, and training camps not opening until mid-September, August is the redheaded stepchild of months when it comes to the NHL.

Team executives squeeze in some vacation time after largely filling out their rosters in July with trades and free agent signings, the players train away from the spotlight in their various hometowns and, well, there's just not a lot hockey news taking place.

However, that does not mean there aren't important storylines to follow and decisions to be made in, this, the quietest of all hockey months.

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To that end, here are five important questions which still need to be answered before training camps open in four weeks or so.

Will Matt Duchene be traded, and, if so, to whom?

In one of the longer divorce proceedings in recent NHL memory, the Avalanche continue to entertain the possibility of trading 26-year-old center Matt Duchene. However, GM Joe Sakic continues to frustrate potential trade partners, Avs fans and Duchene himself in failing to pull the trigger on a deal, prolonging a situation that first picked up steam at last year's trade deadline.

Most experts believed Duchene would have had his Rocky Mountain tenure ended by now, likely by the draft in June, but Sakic — somewhat to his credit — seeks a major haul in return for Colorado's top trade chip. Of course, there are others — count Islanders general manager Garth Snow in this camp you'd have to imagine—- who see Sakic as gun shy and afraid to get burned by dealing away a player who scored 30 goals two years ago and has 418 points in 572 games despite an off year in 2016-17.

In a recent interview with Sportsnet, Duchene sounded the part of a star player who has already mentally checked out of his current situation and is just waiting to focus on his next challenge with his new team.

Hanging on to Duchene, who has two years remaining on his contract, is not good for the league-worst Avs, nor for Duchene, yet it really seems as though camp will open with Duchene still in Colorado. If somehow Sakic does deal Duchene, it likely will be to an Eastern Conference team, with the aforementioned Islanders and the going-for-it-now Blue Jackets as prime landing spots.

Leon Draisaitl will be signed before training camp, won't he?

The Oilers took care of their most important player early this offseason, signing league MVP Connor McDavid to an eight-year, $100 million contract extension that starts in 2017-18. They have yet to get another very important player signed, however.

Leon Draisaitl is not McDavid, but he is a supremely gifted 21-year-old star. And unlike McDavid, who had one year remaining on his entry-level deal, Draisaitl is a restricted free agent this summer. So, there is a sense of urgency here.

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Yet Draisaitl remains unsigned, and even though there's a month before the start of training camp, there is some growing angst in Edmonton about a potential holdout if the impasse continues.

After a 19-goal, 51-point rookie season two years ago, Draisaitl exploded in 2016-17, scoring 29 goals and 77 points, second to McDavid on the Oilers in both categories. In the playoffs, Draisaitl starred, leading the club with six goals and 16 points in 13 games.

Draisaitl is going to get paid, very well it should be added, perhaps on a long-term deal worth $7 million AAV. The bet here is that an agreement comes before training camp. The talented young German is simply too important to a team that has serious championship aspirations this season.

Do the Islanders and John Tavares finalize a contract extension any time soon?

John Tavares appears to be the most loyal, and patient, superstar in sports. However, the Islanders can not take that for granted and trust that means he will sign a contract extension before becoming an unrestricted free agent next July 1.

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Sure, GM Garth Snow can point to Steven Stamkos, the Lightning superstar who played out the final year of his contract two years ago and seemed destined to hit UFA status before reupping with Tampa Bay shortly before the first of July. However, it is difficult to believe Snow wants the Tavares question hanging over the organization this entire season.

But how can the Isles get Tavares' signature on a contract extension? This doesn't seem to be about money, Tavares is going to get plenty of it whether from the Islanders or somewhere else. 

Tavares is concerned with the Islanders' never-ending arena issues and question marks, as well as the makeup of the roster moving forward. The former won't be settled any time soon, while the latter is a work in progress with Jordan Eberle joining the team this year and the pursuit of Matt Duchene still hot and heavy.

It's hard to believe the Islanders somehow won't find a way to get their franchise player signed long-term by opening night, though. If they don't, this will become a far bigger soap opera than Duchene's in Colorado.

Where will Alex Kerfoot and Will Butcher land?

There are two very intriguing young players, with impressive collegiate resumes, who become free agents August 15 that are attracting plenty of attention from teams around the league. 

Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher, an offensive-minded defenseman who led the University of Denver to the 2017 NCAA Championship, and Harvard forward Alex Kerfoot, a Hobey Baker finalist who notched 45 points in 36 games this past season, both decided to forego signing with the teams that drafted them and become free agents. Butcher snubbed the Avalanche, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and Kerfoot is testing free agency instead of signing with the Devils, who made him a 2012 fifth-rounder .

Butcher reportedly is drawing interest from the Penguins, Blackhawks and Red Wings, among other teams, while Kerfoot -- who has not publicly ruled out signing with the Devils after becoming a free agent -- has long been linked to his hometown Canucks, though one recent report contradicted that conventional wisdom.

Keep an eye on the Rangers. They signed Jimmy Vesey after August 15 a year ago, and did likewise with Kevin Hayes in the summer of 2014, so there is a track record of the Blueshirts heavily pursuing top college free agents. They also need a third-line center, a spot where Kerfoot -- a college teammate of Vesey's -- would fit.

Don't the Rangers still need a center?

As mentioned above, perhaps signing Alex Kerfoot would fill the Rangers' void down the middle where the club has yet to fill the departed Derek Stepan's skates. Mika Zibanejad assumes the No. 1 center role with Stepan traded this summer to the Coyotes, and Kevin Hayes moves up from third line to second. Veteran David Desharnais signed as a free agent, but at this stage of his career, he's more of a fourth-liner and special teams option.

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So that leaves, well, whom to fill a regular spot at center? J.T. Miller was drafted as a center, but has flourished on the wing with the Rangers. Matt Puempel has some offensive skill, but has been unable to find consistency at the NHL level with the Senators and Rangers. Boo Nieves is the top minor league option, but he missed much time a year ago because of a concussion and still needs seasoning, and is more of as fourth-liner at this stage anyway. Then there's Lias Andersson, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft who impressed at prospects camp and in the World Junior Summer Showcase with Sweden.

The Rangers would like to trade defenseman Nick Holden as part of a package for a veteran center -- Toronto's Tyler Bozak has been mentioned often in rumors -- but the closer it gets to training camp, the less likely this scenario becomes it seems.

So, the answer to the original question is yes, the Rangers do need another center. And there are internal options they likely will use, at least to start the season, before evaluating during the season and deciding if another path is necessary to filling that void.

Source : http://www.sportingnews.com/ca/nhl/news/nhl-off-season-5-unanswered-questions-avalanche-matt-duchene-oilers-leon-draisaitl-contracts-trades-john-tavares-islanders/19ymqwrs3cwxr1m95y857yx7pq

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