First off I just want to say prepare for a wall of text. I'm going to try to put a ton of thought and effort into this because I believe every move we make from now on will be more important than ever. Also a big pat on the back and a 'thank you' to the team this year. They played very gutsy against some tough teams and far surpassed many people's expectations.
Here we go.
The first move I'd propose is to clear some short-term cap space by making a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Loui Eriksson, Jordie Benn, RFA rights to Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher
Colin White, Michael Carcone
I know that Loui has a NTC that he'd have to waive, but I think there's a decent chance he can be convinced. He recently turned 35 and it's obvious that he doesn't really have a spot on this team and his contract is in danger of holding us back. He always worked hard here and kept his head down during some tough, albeit somewhat deserved, criticism. Waiving his NTC now would be a big way of leaving a good final impression on Canuck's fans. I'm sure Melnyk will also love that his contract will help ensure the Senators make the cap floor while carrying a low base salary of only 1 million after bonuses are paid. Ottawa could even retain his salary and trade him to Dallas or something like that. Either way it's a short-term cap dump for us.
I’ve also included Jordie Benn. I think Benn can still be a decent 3rd pairing defenceman and his cap hit and term are both reasonable. However Oscar Fantenberg outplayed him this year and we can clear a bit more salary by trading him. He can solidify Ottawa’s 3rd pairing for a while and then they can get maybe a 4th round pick for him at the trade deadline if he plays well.
Finally I've included the RFA rights for both Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher. This is where the real value comes in for the Senators. Virtanen is a good, young winger who brings a ton of speed and size. However he has always been a little inconsistent here and perhaps even lazy or unprofessional at times. To me he's a classic case of a player needing a change of scenery/wake up call. That being said he still put up a 40 point and 20 goal pace last season which is nothing to scoff at for a then 23 year old power forward. Our top 6 wings are already somewhat crowded and with the likes of Podkolzin, Hoglander and Lind coming in the next few years it won't get any easier for Jake to work his way up the lineup. He should fit perfectly in with the Senators though, their best young forwards play at centre and left-wing. Lastly Stecher. I love Stech and wish we could keep him. He battles incredibly hard, moves the puck well and is just coming into his prime as a two-way defenceman. However once again there are questions about whether or not we can afford him. Much like Hutton last summer he is an RFA with his salary arbitration possibly coming in around 4 million. If we resign Tanev, we would have him and Myers still taking up the top 4 right-handed defencemen spots and Rafferty coming in next year, which leaves little room for Stecher. Once again though he looks perfect for the Senators as they have pretty questionable depth at RHD. They have the inconsistent Leaf cast-off, Nikita Zaitsev, signed long-term, a promising, but unproven Erik Brannstrom and 39 old Ron Hainsey who's an expiring UFA and not likely a part of their future plans. They could take Jamie Drysdale with one of their picks, but I highly doubt he will be ready to play next year either. Stecher slots into their d-core pretty nicely taking a lot of pressure off Brannstrom to play hard shutdown minutes, while still being young enough to be a part of their team for years to come. He could be their Tanev, being a leader when they are ready to contend.
On the other side I have Colin White being acquired by us. Supposedly Ottawa was looking to unload him earlier this season, so unless they've changed their minds I view him as a neutral asset. They signed him to a six year deal worth 4.75 million per year last summer after he came off a decent sophomore season. He was supposed to challenge Chris Tierney for their 1st line centre position, but he struggled for most of last season. He put up a 30 point and 10 goal pace after getting just over 40 points the year before. That being said he's still only 23 and I think a change of scenery would do wonders for him, similar to Virtanen. I don't even think his cap hit is that bad, it's just the term that's maybe a problem if he continues to struggle. Just over 4.5 million going forward for a good, young top 9 forward is probably about right if the cap starts to go up again. Supposedly he's hard working, versatile and speedy. To me he would be a perfect fit with Gaudette on our 3rd line going forward. They could easily switch between who plays centre and right-wing and they are both from Massachusetts and extremely close in age so I wouldn't be surprised if they know each other already. I think Colin White is also the type of player who can centre the 2nd powerplay and play on the pk for us going forward, replacing much of Sutter's role. I don't think the long term of his contract is a huge blow to us at all. We will probably shed some cap in the expansion draft next summer and we have many contracts expiring in the next few years, such as Sutter, Beagle, Roussel, Pearson and Edler who can be replaced with younger and cheaper players.
Lastly Michael Carcone comes back our way to help even out the contracts a little more. Carcone was a bit of a throw-in in the trade where they acquired Zaitsev and Connor Brown. His AHL totals dipped this year and he’s already 24, so I assume that the Senators would actively want to get rid of him if they were taking on more contracts.
If you assume that Virtanen and Stecher cost between 6-7 million combined then the Senators would be taking on about 14-15 million for these 4 players, which they can easily afford. Boedker, Hainsey and Anderson are all unlikely to be resigned. That combined with them sending us White's contract would free up over 17 million alone. Not to mention Callahan and MacArthur finally expiring. The only players they have that are due for raises are Chabot, Duclair, Tierney and Connor Brown. Chabot signed for 8 million, Duclair will probably sign a bridge contract around 4.5 million, Tierney might get a slight raise to 3.5 million and Connor Brown maybe 3 million. Projecting a 23-man roster with all of these trades and resignings as well as Gaborik’s contract being on LTIR, I only count about 64 million which leaves them with over 17 million still in cap space. Benn's contract would expire after a single year and Eriksson's after 2 and they don't have to give long-term commitments to Virtanen or Stecher if they don't want to. They can always trade them in a year or 2 for more value. Meanwhile we net gain 3.25 million in guaranteed cap space for this summer and probably just over 6 million if you assume we’d have resigned Virtanen. So there it is. The Senators clear up some long-term cap, while we clear some short-term cap.
The 2nd move I’d propose is to the New Jersey Devils to clear up a little more cap space.
To New Jersey:
Sven Baertschi, 2020 3rd Round Pick
2020 7th Round Pick
Here I’ve included Sven Baertschi. I like Sven and was a bit surprised when he was waived at the start of the season. That being said I would agree now that he is expendable for us. We would also be doing right by him to trade him somewhere where he has a chance of cracking an NHL roster again. He deserves it. He carries a cap hit of just over 3.3 million for one more season which, although a bit steep, is not a horrible contract given the lack of term. Sven is also only 27 and should still be right in his prime and able to bounce back. If the Devils retain some of his salary at next trade deadline they could probably even get a decent pick for him. Maybe a 3rd or 4th depending on how he plays. I don't think he's an entirely negative asset, but I’ve also added a 3rd round pick to give the Devils some immediate value.
The only significant raises the Devils will have to give are to Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Hischier is due 7.25 million and Bratt will probably make around 3.5 million. Projecting a 23-man roster with Baertschi they would still have almost 11 million in cap space.
Afterwards we can try to resign our expiring players. I propose:
Jacob Markstrom 5 years at ~6 million
Demko looked terrific in the playoffs, but Markstrom carried our team in the regular season. Keeping this tandem together for at least 1 more year will let us split their starts nicely, giving Markstrom more rest and Demko an extra year of development and then we can expose Markstrom in the expansion draft and see what happens.
Tyler Toffoli 5 years at ~5.5 million
Toffoli looked great for the Canucks in my opinion. He played really well with Miller and Pettersson and I think he could develop more chemistry with Bo and Pearson as well. I’ve seen a lot of people say that he and Boeser are redundant. I completely disagree. Keeping Toffoli would push Brock to compete for ice time while also taking some of the burden off of him to produce offence. Good teams have several good lines and combinations where they can move players up and down the lineup based on matchups and who’s playing well. Get used to it and cherish it while we have it. We could even trade him in a few years when Podkolzin, Hoglander and Lind are ready to play in the top 6.
Chris Tanev 4 years at ~4.15 million
Tanev had another great year and most importantly, managed to stay healthy. He’s beloved in the locker room and by the fans and he loves the team and the city in turn. He said himself that he wants to stay. When he’s healthy he’s one of the best shutdown defencemen in the league. However he’s now in his 30’s, has a spotty injury history and doesn’t typically produce a ton of offence. The cap hit seems a little bit low for now, but I think it’s fair for a 4 year contract.
Adam Gaudette 2 years at ~2.1 million
Gaudette had a very good regular season by the numbers and I like him quite a bit for a young player. However I thought he was invisible for some stretches and wasn’t great in the playoffs. 2.1 million seems about right for him. I’d say Beauvillier and his contract is a decent comparable.
Tyler Motte 2 years at ~1.3 million
Wow. So much respect to Tyler Motte. He was absolutely beastly in the playoffs. Such a great shot blocker and plays with so much energy. Perfect 4th liner. In a fair and just world he deserves so much more money, but given his role and typical level of offensive production I think 1.3 million seems about right. I believe he’d also be a UFA at the end of it which would make me sad, but he deserves to have a chance to get paid.
Oscar Fantenberg 1 year at ~1 million
Fantenberg played relatively well last season, but to me was especially noticable in the playoffs. He’s solid and can play physical. Exactly what you’d expect from a 6-7th defenceman. Didn’t put up a ton of points though so 1 million should probably be enough for a UFA.
So with that our proposed lineup next year would be:
Miller Pettersson Boeser
Pearson Horvat Toffoli
Roussel Gaudette White
Motte Beagle Sutter
Projecting this 23-man roster would leave us with just over 1 million in cap space and that’s assuming that Ferland isn’t placed on LTIR and nobody else is moved. Overall it looks pretty good to me. Lots of options for players to move around the lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Juolevi with Myers and Rafferty with Edler instead. You could even split up Miller and Petey and play them both at LW and then play White as the 2nd line centre.