Trade activity expected to increase ahead of NHL free agency

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NHL teams now refocus their attentions from the future to the present with trade talks expected to continue in advance of the free agent market opening July 28 at noon ET.

The market will be dictated by the NHL salary cap of $81.5 million, but there is expected to be a lot of activity within the next few days.

“Everyone is going to turn their attention back to solidifying their NHL team,” Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. “Free agency is going to open up in a few days and I suspect that the trade talk is going to pick up again in a few days.”

 

[RELATED: NHL Trade Tracker]

 

The biggest news will likely swirl around center Jack Eichel and his future with the Buffalo Sabres, who could trade him after already moving defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers and forward Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers this weekend.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said after the first round on Friday that he is fielding calls on Eichel. He said he spoke to Eichel’s agent, Peter Fish, twice on Saturday, but he has not ruled out keeping him.

“I would have no problem at all if Jack Eichel is on our team when we start training camp,” Adams said. “I have said this before and I’ll say it again: If we are in a position that we believe will help our franchise not just short term but for the long term in building this out, building around a core and a foundation of critical assets, then we’d be open to look at that. If we didn’t have that on the table or don’t think that makes sense, then we don’t do something. But, yeah, I have no problem with Jack being here.”

The Seattle Kraken plan to be active entering the free agent market for the first time.

“Certainly we think there are some players in free agency that we’d like to have a discussion with and hopefully we’re able to convince them to come and join our organization,” general manager Ron Francis said.

Several teams have already addressed immediate needs through trades or signing their own would-be free agents.

The Colorado Avalanche got defenseman Cale Makar, a pending restricted free agent, under contract for six years and $54 million ($9 million average annual value). They’d like to re-sign forward Gabriel Landeskog and goalie Philipp Grubauer; each can become an unrestricted free agent Wednesday.

“Both Philipp and Gabe, our captain, we’re hopeful that we can come to terms as well and have them signed to be a part of us as well,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said. “I won’t comment on the negotiations. They’re still going on. We still have time.”

The Boston Bruins signed forward Taylor Hall, a pending unrestricted free agent, to a four-year, $24 million contract ($6 million AAV). They still have center David Krejci, who is a pending UFA.

“I have been in regular communication with David, and there’s no timeline to make decisions,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Thursday.

The Chicago Blackhawks acquired defenseman Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets and will reportedly sign him to a long-term contract extension.

Video: Blue Jackets trade Seth Jones to Blackhawks

The Flyers re-tooled their defense by acquiring Ristolainen from the Sabres and Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators. They also did a 1-for-1 trade with the Blue Jackets, getting forward Cam Atkinson for forward Jakub Voracek.

The Vancouver Canucks got defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes. The Panthers got Reinhart from the Sabres. The Edmonton Oilers re-signed goalie Mike Smith, a pending UFA, to a two-year, $4.4 million contract ($2.2 million AAV).

The St. Louis Blues acquired forward Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers.

Video: Pavel Buchnevich traded to Blues

But there’s still much more expected to come.

The goalie market should be intriguing with many teams looking for help, particularly with the NHL returning to an 82-game schedule that will be compressed because of the built-in break from Feb. 7-22 for the potential return to the Winter Olympics.

The Bruins, Sabres, Flyers, Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and San Jose Sharks are among the teams that figure to be involved in the goalie market through free agency or trades.

Colorado will be too if Grubauer leaves.

The goaltending market could still include either Robin Lehner or Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury if the Vegas Golden Knights decide to trade one of them.

Canucks goalie Braden Holtby might be available in a trade, general manager Jim Benning said.

The market for defenseman is led by pending UFA Dougie Hamilton from the Hurricanes.

Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Alexander Edler, David Savard, Alec Martinez, Tyson Barrie and Zdeno Chara also can become UFAs.

The Wild, Winnipeg Jets and New Jersey Devils have already said they’ll be actively looking for defensemen. More teams will be in that market too.

“We need it,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said. “The trade market is not dead either. It’s still an option. We can work at it through free agency and we can work at it through the trade market.”

That will be the task for all teams in the coming days now that the draft is behind them.

It will be busy.

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