A look at the NHL’s 7 biggest offseason questions

While the Colorado Avalanche raised the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, 31 other NHL teams were now officially on the clock. Each of those clubs fell short of hockey’s ultimate prize. All of them will now embark on an offseason journey to replicate Colorado’s champagne-laden celebrations, whether that be a contender searching for the missing ingredients to put them over the top for next June or a rebuilding club stockpiling with a multi-year blueprint in mind.

The next two to three weeks will be the craziest days on the hockey calendar. Superstars and franchise icons are less than three weeks away from landing on the free-agent market. Salary cap squeezes will force elite RFA talent to be dealt in trades. Goaltending controversies and needs will be addressed within a game of musical chairs. GMs on the hot seat will make frantic (and often short-sighted) moves in an attempt to get back into the playoffs. The next wave of hockey’s most promising talent will find new homes at the NHL Draft.

Don’t blink because the fireworks of the 2022 NHL offseason are about to start.

There are tons of intriguing storylines to monitor for every team. Here are seven of the most interesting ones, excluding the UFA storylines such as Johnny Gaudreau’s future, Pittsburgh’s decisions on Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the Predators’ choice with Filip Forsberg and more.

Will the Blackhawks trade or keep Alex DeBrincat?

Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has made it clear the club is committed to a full rebuild. No more half-measured approaches to getting younger, no more splashy win-now acquisitions like Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury — it’s all about the future in Chicago.

A complete teardown is unequivocally the correct course of action, but the task is daunting and will require years of pain. The Blackhawks’ current roster lacks promising young talent, their prospect pool was ranked 25th in the league by colleague Scott Wheeler this year and the club is already without its first-round pick in June because of a poorly timed trade for Jones. It’s likely going to be a long time before we see Chicago emerge from the NHL’s basement.

All of that brings us to Alex DeBrincat, who’s reportedly been the subject of trade talks.

DeBrincat, 24, is a two-time 40-goal scorer. Only five players have scored more goals than him in the last two seasons. Four of those five have at least one Hart Trophy on their resume and the other is Kirill Kaprizov. Make no mistake about it: DeBrincat is a bona fide star.

Now is the time for Chicago to decide if DeBrincat is part of the next great Blackhawks team, which could be more than half a decade out from now, or whether he’s the catalyst as a trade chip to accelerate a rebuild the way Brandon Hagel was.

DeBrincat is entering the final year of a bridge deal carrying a $6.4 million cap hit, with a hefty $9-million RFA qualifying offer. He’d still only be in his late 20s if it took five years to turn the franchise around, which makes one wonder why the organization would look to trade their only surefire star rather than build around him. But Chicago also has to weigh whether it believes DeBrincat would re-sign long-term considering the team won’t have a realistic chance of winning during some of his best prime years. With Patrick Kane, Seth Jones and Jonathan Toews all possessing no-move clauses, do the Blackhawks have high-end trade chips to acquire the draft picks and prospects necessary for a rebuild if they decide to keep DeBrincat anyway?

It’s a complex, layered dilemma for the Blackhawks.

Do the Jets believe they can contend or is it time to blow up the core?

With their 2018 run to the Western Conference Final, the Jets looked like they had announced their arrival as a perennial contender. Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp were all under 25 at the time. Patrik Laine had just scored 44 goals as a 19-year-old, while Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic were all 21 or under.

The future looked very bright.

Winnipeg’s frustratingly regressed over the years, culminating in a playoff miss last season, and is now staring at a fork in the road. At the end of the 2023-24 season, Scheifele, Hellebuyck and captain Blake Wheeler — the three most prominent faces of the Jets over the last decade — will all be expiring UFAs. Pierre-Luc Dubois will also be UFA eligble by then and he’s already informed the Jets that he plans to test the open market, according to Elliotte Friedman. That essentially gives the Jets just two years to contend with this core.

Running it back with the status quo would likely be a mistake though. Sure, the Jets can make some tweaks and there’s a decent chance they could make the playoffs again. But if the goal is to legitimately contend for a Stanley Cup, Winnipeg’s far away.

Author: Lucy Green