Faced with the harsh reality that the Tampa Bay Lightning was walking away from him and with memories still fresh of being on the wrong side of the Stanley Cup championship handshake line, Ryan McDonagh approved a trade to the Nashville Predators..
The Predators also lost to the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. when they were swept out of the first round. By adding McDonagh and re-signing Filip ForsbergNashville hopes it’s starting to close the gap with Colorado.
“Colorado, the team that won the Stanley Cup, beat us, so that’s in our conference, that’s our measuring stick,” general manager David Poile said Monday. “No illusions – we still have a long way to go, but today I feel like another year for a lot of the younger players and adding McDonagh, I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Nashville isn’t the only team with that yardstick in mind. The Edmonton Oilers, swept by the Avalanche in the conference finals, the Minnesota Wild and others in the West are chasing champions making moves before free agency even begins.
The Oilers gave up draft picks to clear salary-cap space in an effort to re-sign scoring winger Evander Kane, even as they gave his agent permission to talk to rival clubs. The Wild re-signed Marc-Andre Fleury to give them one of the best goalkeeping duos in the NHL. And even some emerging contenders like the Los Angeles Kings provided some young players who could help them go the Colorado way.
“Obviously it’s hard” to stay on top, said Avalanche president of hockey operations Joe Sakic, who was promoted after winning GM of the Year honors. “Everybody’s dream is to win the Stanley Cup, and now we’re the Stanley Cup champions, so we’re going to get the best game ever.”
His next game isn’t until Oct. 12, and those challenges are already beginning, amid the Avalanche re-signing winger Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year, $49 million contract.
Nashville grew stronger on the blue line under McDonagh, who won two straight Cups with Tampa Bay and never missed the playoffs in his 12-year NHL career. The veteran defenseman known for his toughness essentially had his choice of destinations because of the trade protection in his contract and wouldn’t have picked the Predators if he didn’t think they could come out on top.
“Right away it was a big point for me to realize that this group was competitive and has all the pieces that I think you need to win a Cup,” McDonagh said. “You always want to be a contender, make the playoffs and make deep runs, and this team has it all.”
Forsberg saw the same thing before deciding to sign a contract that includes $8.5 million against the salary cap through 2030. The deal takes the Swedish winger through his best years and represents an investment in bringing the Cup to Nashville for the first time.
“The only thing we’re missing is the Stanley Cup, and that’s the main driver for all of us,” Forsberg said. “We have been close. We have had a very good team. I’ve been lucky enough to play for a lot of really good teams here, but we haven’t taken the final step yet.”
The Predators are certainly not alone in that department. It’s been more than three decades since the Oilers won it all, and they tasted a deep playoff run this spring before being swept by Colorado.
In last week’s draft, Edmonton traded a first-round pick and more to Arizona to get rid of forward Zack Kassian’s contract and provide some salary-cap flexibility. New contracts for young restricted free agent wingers Kailer Yamomoto and Jesse Puljujarvi are at the top of that list, along with the possibility of finding common ground with Kane, who was a natural fit alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
“There are so many things,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We have to make a decision in goal. That’s where the cap space goes: one or two of (those) spots.”
Kane’s agent, Daniel Milstein, confirmed to The Associated Press that he is starting talks with other teams while continuing talks with the Oilers, with his client eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
Potentially complicating the situation is Kane’s pending complaint about the San Jose Sharks terminating his contract earlier this season, which almost certainly won’t be resolved in the next three days.
One thing that was resolved was the Minnesota goalkeeping situation, after Wild re-signed three-time Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury to a two-year deal for $7 million. They’re set to pair Fleury with Cam Talbot again, which was a successful recipe for the final six weeks of last season.
“Having Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot as a 1-2 hit, I think we have one of the best tandems in the league,” general manager Bill Guerin said. “Every night we are going to put a fantastic goalkeeper in the net.”
With the avalanche turning to a somewhat unknown amount in 26-year-old Alexandar Georgiev and passing Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota hopes to have enough in the net to get through a long regular season and make a deep playoff run.
“I go into every season looking to make the playoffs and go from there,” Fleury said. “I don’t think it’s good to look too far ahead, but definitely our goal is always to get to the end.”
To do so, Wild will have to go through Avalanche, or one of the other teams on West charging for the same reasons.
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