NHL Questions to Ponder During Summer’s Dog Days.

It’s early August and there’s little notable NHL news. That shouldn’t be surprising, as most hockey folks are taking time over the summer to relax.  While many players are now back into full-time training for the upcoming season, it’ll be a few weeks before the hockey news picks up.

So, now is as good a time as any to mull over some NHL questions for the upcoming season.

How long will it take the St. Louis Blues to get Alex Pietrangelo under contract?

Sure, there’s plenty of time to accomplish this, but the latest word out of St. Louis claimed Pietrangelo could be seeking $7 million per season, while the Blues apparently don’t want to go over $6 million.

Doesn’t seem like much of a gap to close, but remember, Pietrangelo is represented by Newport Sports and uber-agent Don Meehan. Their other notable young clients include P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty and Ryan O’Reilly, who all staged holdouts of varying degrees before re-signing with their respective clubs.

Pietrangelo is coming off his entry-level contract, so if negotiations remain at an impasse entering training camp,  the only leverage he has is a holdout.

Will Patrick Roy & Joe Sakic do anything to bolster their defense this summer?

Will Patrick Roy & Joe Sakic do anything to bolster their defense this summer?

 How long until the Colorado Avalanche management dream team of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy realize they made a horrible mistake by not bolstering their blueline this summer?

The Avs defense corps currently consists of Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson, Cory Sarich, Matt Hunwick, Andre Benoit and either Stefan Elliott or Tyson Barrie.

That’s scarcely an improvement for a team which had the fourth-worst goals-against per game (3.12) whilst giving up the sixth-most shots-against per game (31.4).

Some folks blame the goalie tandem of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere for those poor numbers, but the real culprit is their swiss cheese defense.

The Avs are akin to the Edmonton Oilers of the past two years: top-heavy at forward, with average goaltending and a suspect blueline. If they fail to adequately address the latter, they can expect the same fate as those Oilers.

Could the Maple Leafs actually trade Cody Franson if they feel his salary demands are too expensive?

TSN’s Darren Dreger raised some eyebrows toward the end of July by suggesting the possibility.

The Leafs had a golden opportunity for a quick resolution to their limited salary cap space by buying out John-Michael Liles during the post-arbitration buyout window.  They opted to pass, probably because of how a Liles buyout would bite more deeply in its latter years into the Leafs payroll.

Trading Liles seems quite difficult given his age, salary and partial no-trade clause. They could also get some cap relief by demoting one or two players earning less than $925K.

Moving Franson would be an extreme move, especially after his bounce-back performance last season playing for head coach Randy Carlyle, leading all Leafs blueliners in regular season scoring and tying for second in playoff team scoring.

If they trade him, it could be a move GM Dave Nonis could regret. If Franson were to go on to stardom elsewhere, you can bet Leafs Nation will never let Nonis forget it.

Could this season be the last hurrah for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle with the San Jose Sharks?

Sharks GM Doug Wilson spoke to the trio about contract extensions, but at their respective ages (Thornton is 34, Marleau turns 34 in September, while Boyle is 37) they won’t be getting any lengthy offers beyond three years, and they can certainly expect less money per season.

Thornton is entering the final season of a three-year, $21 million deal. Marleau is in the final year of his four-year, $27.6 million contract, while Boyle is in the final season of that six-year, $40 million deal he originally signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to their shipping him to the Sharks.

If Thornton and Marleau are willing to accept two-year deals and Boyle one year, as well as agreeing to pay cuts by betwee $1 million- $2 million each, they could be retained.

Wilson, meanwhile, is focusing on the future by locking up Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to long-term extensions this summer, and will obviously do the same after this season with Antti Niemi. He won’t invest too much for too long in his fading stars.

My guess is Boyle could be the odd man out, while Wilson tries to keep Thornton and Marleau by offering two-year, $6 million per season deals.

How long until the NY Islanders realize Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin won’t get the job done in goal this season?

The Islanders were 21st in goals-against per game last season (2.83). Granted, Nabokov had respectable numbers last season (23-11-7, 2.50 GAA, .910 SP, 3 shutouts), but he’s also 38 and facing a full 82-game schedule.

Poulin, meanwhile, only appeared in five games last season, which says pretty much all we need to know about his readiness as an NHL starter.

Unless Poulin finally proves himself ready for prime-time this season, the Isles will need an experienced backup to spell off Nabokov.

How many of next summer’s crop of unrestricted free agents will still be available by July 1, 2014?

The UFA Class of 2014 is a deep one, featuring Henrik Lundqvist, the Sedin Twins, Thomas Vanek, Joe Thornton, Phil Kessel, Ryan Miller, Cory Crawford, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Marleau, Paul Stastny, Marian Gaborik, Da Girardi, Dion Phaneuf, Jaroslav Halak, Jonas Hiller and ageing stars Ray Whitney, Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson.

Even the depth in second tier talent is impressive, featuring Matt Moulson, Andrei Markov, Milan Michalek, Alex Steen, Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville, Ales Hemsky, Andrej Meszaros, Brooks Orpik, Tomas Vokoun, Brian Gionta, David Legwand, Devan Dubnyk, Steve Ott, Nick Schultz and Matt Niskanen.

Many of the aforementioned could end up re-signed by their respective clubs before next July, but unlike this summer, a few notables should still be available when next summer’s market opens.

Now that the Phoenix Coyotes four-year ownership drama has finally been resolved, which team could become the focus for possible relocation? 

Prior to the Coyotes’ ownership soap opera, the Nashville Predators were considered possible relocation candidates, but under their current ownership they’re no longer in danger of relocation.

The NY Islanders will be moving in 2015, but only down the road to Brooklyn, where they’ll remain the Islanders.

It was recently reported the New Jersey Devils could be taken over by the NHL, but unlike the Coyotes ownership saga, there’s potential buyers with deep pockets willing to keep the team in Newark, so it shouldn’t take the league anywhere near as long to settle this situation as it did the Coyotes.

My guess is the spotlight falls upon the Florida Panthers, who’ve been struggling for years to build up their attendance. For the coming season, they had a limited season ticket offer which included perks like a free Panthers jersey, free parking, four free concerts at their arena (BB&T Center) and more for only $7 per game.

Great bargain for those lucky 500 Panthers fans who signed up, but not a great way for the club to make money. Granted, they’re doing what they can to bring back fans disillusioned by the recent lockout and the Panthers inability to make the playoffs last season, but they can’t do this sort of thing indefinitely.

Should the Panthers fail to make the playoffs next spring, the relocation rumors could get louder.

The NHL wants to put a franchise in the Pacific Northwest, preferably Seattle but they could also consider Portland. Quebec City is constructing an NHL-worthy arena and  made no secret of its desire to bring back the NHL. Kansas City has an NHL-ready venue, and there’s talk of putting another NHL franchise in Southern Ontario or even Las Vegas.

Should the Panthers ownership decide to move the team, there won’t be a lack of potential destinations.