NHL Draft rumblings: What the Lightning are up to, Utah's defense haul, Guentzel, Reinhart and more

LAS VEGAS — Day 2 sure wasn’t boring at the NHL Draft, and it began with the Tampa Bay Lightning setting off fireworks inside the Sphere.

The cap-clearing trades of Mikhail Sergachev ($8.5 million average annual value) to Utah and Tanner Jeannot ($2.6 million AAV) to the Los Angeles Kings grabbed everyone’s attention.

What is it setting up next?

Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois did circle back to veteran agent Don Meehan on Saturday regarding pending unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos, so there’s that. But in all likelihood, this is about another potential big move, and league sources point to strong interest from the Bolts in pending UFA Jake Guentzel.

“As the calendar turned to June and it looked unlikely we would be able to come to terms with Stammer on a contract, and general managers are starting to chat more about our respective needs and wants and possible trade scenarios, we started to do deeper dives in terms of due diligence on potential unrestricted free agents and started exploring various trade possibilities,” BriseBois said after the draft Saturday.

“In the last week here, as our group hunkered down together in Vegas, one of the avenues we started exploring more seriously was possibly using the fact that we are really strong on the left side of our D-core to address our forward group. Reallocate some cap space between the two positions to end up with a stronger, more-balanced team. And that is where the idea of trading Mikhail Sergachev to Utah started to take shape.

“The end result is that we gave up a two-time Stanley Cup-winning, stud 26-year-old No. 1 defenseman. But, we end up with a younger top-four defenseman in JJ Moser, in which we still see the potential for growth. We acquire a 20-year-old high-end prospect who plays a premium position in Conor Geekie. We haven’t had the luxury of having a prospect of this high of a profile in many years.”

The Jeannot trade cleared more cap space and netted a second- and a fourth-round pick.

But the real story here is that Tampa Bay suddenly has the most cap space it has had in a very long time.

“The hope is that this newfound cap space, our favorable taxation situation and the opportunity to play with some great players should make us an appealing destination when free agents have to make decisions on where to sign come July 1,” BriseBois said. “The unexpected consequence of this newfound cap space is that a number of teams are now reaching out about players that might be available.”


As for Stamkos, the longtime face of the franchise, it doesn’t appear as though Saturday changed a lot.

“I met with Don Meehan again this morning following the trade,” BriseBois said. “The plan is for Steven to test the free-agent market. Our respective positions haven’t changed following today’s trades. I understand that when you get this close to free agency, it can be tempting to see what the market has to offer you. It was a risk I was taking when I didn’t go to Steven a year early. And to be fair, I told Donnie that I think it is in the best interest of our organization to explore all options in the coming days, whether it be via trades or by getting to free agency and seeing how we can use this cap space to improve the makeup of our team.”

The NHL is a business first and foremost, but you do have to wonder if the Lightning are underestimating what Stamkos means to that market and dressing room.

Again, all signs now point to a bigger play for Guentzel, but if they can’t reel him in, they have the flexibility to pursue other options, as well.


NHL trade grades: Utah makes big moves with Mikhail Sergachev, John Marino deals

Utah makes a splash

Utah Hockey Club expects to be players when free agency opens Monday, but there was a limit to how much shopping GM Bill Armstrong wanted to leave for the open market.

Part of the appeal of the draft-shaking trades to acquire Sergachev and John Marino on Saturday morning was getting two proven commodities in their primes with plenty of term still remaining on their contracts.

Had he not made those additions, Armstrong would have left himself vulnerable entering the free-agent period. Utah actually started this week with no NHL defensemen under contract for next season, and that likely would have complicated negotiations with agents, who almost certainly would have tried to use it as leverage for their clients.

“If you’re filling three holes, it’s pretty tough,” Armstrong said.

Two were filled with trades announced six minutes apart and may ultimately have brought back Utah’s top defense pairing. They join a blue line that now has four players under contract (Juuso Valimaki re-signed Saturday and Michael Kesselring Friday) with another the team is confident it will get a deal done with (RFA Sean Durzi).

Sergachev will certainly become the team’s No. 1 following seven seasons in Tampa. Still only 26 and a two-time Cup winner, Sergachev was lauded by Armstrong for his ability to contribute in every facet of the game. The Utah GM has had him on his radar for some time now and believes he’ll be a leader who can help bring along the organization’s young Russian prospects, including last year’s No. 6 pick, Dmitriy Simashev.

“We wanted to cement a top-end D that can play a ton of minutes,” Armstrong said. “Good thick body on him. He plays hard. He blocks shots. Can play on the offense and the defense. He’s won. He’s got a lot to bring into our culture.”



Up close with Mikhail Sergachev: Lightning D on his next step, from fatherhood to becoming a No. 1

Sergachev is signed for six more seasons.

Marino is coming off a down year in New Jersey, but looks like a strong candidate to bounce back. The 27-year-old right shot is a high-end skater and a possession driver who is under contract through 2026-27.

When free agency opens, Armstrong will still be looking to sign another defenseman, preferably one who can play the left side. But he can take comfort in knowing that he doesn’t need to build the entire thing up from scratch.



Is Utah Hockey Club playoff-bound after adding Mikhail Sergachev and John Marino?

Stanley Cup free agents

While his players continue to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory, Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito is doing whatever he can to keep the team together.

The most important order of business is getting Sam Reinhart’s signature on an extension before he hits the open market. Florida would obviously love to retain the 57-goal man, who is due a raise on the $6.5 million annual contract he just finished. It’s just not clear if it will be able to.

Among the team’s other pending UFAs are Vladimir Tarasenko, Kyle Okposo, Nick Cousins, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov and Brandon Montour.

Discussions between Zito and the agents for those players didn’t even really get going until after the Panthers beat Edmonton in Game 7 earlier this week.

“Everybody knew what was going on,” said Zito. “Everybody knew, ‘Well, we can’t really do this now.’ I talked to the agents and said, ‘Listen, be ready the day after.’”

The team will hold its Stanley Cup parade and celebration in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.

Then Zito dives directly into free agency.

“We’re going to try and keep everybody,” he told The Athletic. “Obviously it’s a special group, and we’ll try to keep as many guys as we can and be mindful that there’s opportunity (on the open market) for people. We have a cap. Radko Gudas (who signed with the Anaheim Ducks last summer) was a good example, but you know what? That’s good for us too. While that’s a loss in one area, then maybe the next guy will come and say ‘OK, it worked out for me.’”



Sam Reinhart’s career year ahead of UFA was ‘a fluke,’ and the Panthers want the whole NHL to know it

The New Jersey Devils made a pair of trades Saturday, one setting up a likely UFA signing Monday, the other addressing a need for more sandpaper.

First, the Devils shipped Marino to Utah in exchange for a pair of second-round picks. It’s a move that appears to set up the UFA signing of Brett Pesce on Monday, according to league sources.

“We’d like to be aggressive in free agency,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald told The Athletic after the trade, not naming any free agent by name, of course. “And to be honest with you, getting a second-round pick for today in that deal was really important for my team — the goalie that we picked. Marty Brodeur was begging to get him a second-round pick. And the only way I could that was with John Marino.

“John is a great player. He’s going to help Utah. We just feel like, ‘Let’s get in the (UFA) market. So that’s where we’re going.”

Then came a trade that had a lot of people buzzing, with the Devils moving Alexander Holtz and Akira Schmid to Vegas for Paul Cotter and a 2025 third-round pick.

It’s deal that wasn’t received favorably by a lot of Devils fans, giving up on a first-round pick in Holtz. But I get what New Jersey is doing. The Devils lost a certain dimension when Miles Wood went to the Colorado Avalanche.

And in the bigger picture, as we saw with the Panthers transforming themselves two years ago from an offense-only team to a balanced, physical and defensively conscious team that just won the Cup, the Devils feel they need to become more balanced. It’s not just about scoring goals.

“It was an opportunity to add a player with size, skating ability and physicality,” Fitzgerald said of Cotter. “We believe he is only scratching the surface of his ability. With that, you need to give to get. Alex would have found himself as the odd man out. I’m looking to build a certain type of bottom six.

“With Schmid, he would have been our No. 4 this year. With our new tandem (Jacob Markstrom and Jake Allen), he slipped in the depth chart.”



NHL free-agent big board: Expanding to 75 top targets as the draft approaches

Preds’ plan on Askarov

The Nashville Predators will continue to listen on young goalie Yaroslav Askarov, but after not being able to move up in the first round Friday, Nashville is also comfortable keeping him around and giving him the opportunity to learn from Juuse Saros, whose new eight-year, $61.92 million extension should be finalized and announced Monday.

“People are phoning on him (Askarov), obviously. With us getting close to getting Saros done, obviously the rumors start and you guys have something to write about,” Preds GM Barry Trotz said with a smile on Saturday. “But goaltending, you can’t have too much of.

“Remember what we did with Pekka Rinne and (a younger) Saros, and before that Pekka Rinne and Chris Mason, and before that Tomas Vokoun. I think there’s a progression. So far Askarov, I don’t know too many 21-year-old goaltenders that are leading their team in the National Hockey League.

“It’s always that slow burn with goalies, where you continue to refine your game and continue to grow your confidence as a goaltender.”

Again, the Preds are open to listening on Askarov, but they’re fine keeping him around to learn from Saros, too.

“I have to listen to calls, and if there’s something that makes sense for us, then we’ll do it,” Trotz said. “But there’s no timeframe, no urgency on my part.”

Meanwhile, the Predators are hoping to land an offensive piece or two in free agency, as well as to replace Ryan McDonagh on the blue line. League sources said Nashville will push hard on Stamkos and Brady Skjei, among other options. The Preds also have interest in Chandler Stephenson.

“I’d love to add a piece on the back end and love to add up front as well,” Trotz said. “I think need a little more pop up front.”

Avs cap dance

Avs GM Chris MacFarland could be seen chatting with veteran agent Allan Walsh after Saturday’s draft wrapped up.

It was obviously about pending UFA Jonathan Drouin.

Walsh a few moments earlier told The Athletic he remained in talks with Colorado to get Drouin re-signed, which was also what MacFarland told us.

“Yeah we’re in discussions with them,” MacFarland said. “Obviously there’s a deadline (when the market opens Monday), and we just got to try and find a sweet spot. He’s a guy we’d certainly like to have back. He had a great year last year. Played phenomenal. I’m biased obviously — I think our situation was really good for him, too, to succeed.

“So we’ll see where we can go.”

The bigger question that continues to hang over the organization is what happens next with Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichuskin.

Landeskog hasn’t played in two years as he continues to recover from a type of knee surgery that no NHLer has previously come back to play from. And Nichushkin remains suspended without pay in the midst of a six-month rehab stint as part of being in Stage 3 of the NHL-NHLPA player assistance program.

It begs the question: How does Colorado manage those uncertainties, in terms of their impact on the roster?

“It’s hard,” MacFarland said. “Two challenging situations for different reasons obviously. I think with Val, he’s doing what he has to do hopefully this summer to get better for him and his family. And hopefully does well. That one is a bit more clear in terms of there’s a path to get back (in November).”

With Landeskog, there aren’t any guarantees about how he will fare or feel once he tries to play again.

“Knock on wood: He’s feeling good,” MacFarland said. “He’s doing his rehab. I believe he’s increasing some things and then it’s just read and react off of that. But the difference from last year, when we knew he was out 12 months — this year we don’t. We’re hopeful that he’ll be back, but I can’t say he will or won’t. So does that present cap challenges? Yes, it does.”

But the bottom line right now is that the Avs have to proceed like both of those salaries are on the books next season. They can’t tie up that cap space with other moves.

MacFarland made it clear that he’s not entertaining trade offers on Nichushkin.

“Right now, I would say it’s not even a focus,” he said. “The focus for Val is to hopefully get better and then go from there.”

Other quick pending UFA updates

• Carolina, as of Saturday afternoon, had not given up hope on re-signing Guentzel. Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon spoke with Guentzel’s agent, Ben Hankinson, at the draft Saturday.

The Hurricanes this week offered Guentzel an eight-year, $64 million deal. But as every hour ticks by, it seems more likely Guentzel wants see what’s out there. As mentioned above, Tampa Bay is now a real option. And all along, there’s been interest from the Vancouver Canucks, among other teams.

It’s a huge market for Guentzel. Here’s another scenario to contemplate: Would Carolina be willing to take part in a sign-and-trade? That could allow Guentzel to get eight years out of it and the Canes to get an asset back in return. It’s a difficult thing to pull off in such short time frame.

• Veteran agent Pat Brisson could be seen Saturday at the Sphere meeting with Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman regarding pending UFA Patrick Kane.

“We’re still talking to Detroit,” Brisson said. “The intention is to try and work something out.”

• Brisson also met Saturday with Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon on pending UFA Jonathan Marchessault.

Top photo of Steven Stamkos: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

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