The inevitable departure of Sabres star Jack Eichel? The sudden availability of young Ranger Vitali Kravtsov? A victim of one of a number of unresolved roster crunches? Any of these situations could provide the first trade of the 2021-22 season, but at least one insider believes the first deal of the year could come elsewhere. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the Chicago Blackhawks are quietly shopping center Dylan Strome as they look to manage their surplus at center. With Jonathan Toews healthy and back in the lineup, the off-season acquisition of Tyler Johnson, and the presence down the middle of top prospect Kirby Dach as well as fellow youngsters Henrik Borgstrom and Mackenzie Entwistle, the Blackhawks suddenly find themselves with centers to spare and LeBrun notes that Strome appears to be the odd man out. At just 24 years old and still clinging to the draft pedigree of being the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, Strome has shown flashes of NHL greatness, but not enough consistency to establish himself as a concrete top-six player. Strome is on an expiring contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer and it looks as if his next contract will not be in Chicago. Interested teams have incentive to add Strome sooner rather than later to get a full-season look prior to negotiating that next deal, while LeBrun notes that the Blackhawks also want to make a move as soon as possible. The result could be a trade in a matter of days rather than weeks. The real question is whether Chicago will land a return commensurate with the Strome who recorded 51 points in 58 games in 2019-20 or if instead the lucky buyer can buy low on the skilled pivot given his 17 points in 40 games last year.
- Who might be the first major impending UFA to sign a long-term extension this season? The Nashville Predators sure hope that the answer will be Mattias Ekholm. The Predators spurned trade offers for Ekholm last season and doubled down on their loyalty and reliance on the two-way defender when they moved Ryan Ellis this off-season, yet Ekholm is still playing on an expiring contract. Ekholm’s camp has stated that they will not negotiate a new deal during the season, so the clock is ticking for GM David Poile and company to come to terms on a critical contract. Fortunately for the Predators, LeBrun reports that both sides have been working hard over the past few days to hammer out the details of an extension. With Nashville beginning their season on Thursday, Ekholm will either re-sign in the next 48 hours or possibly not at all. It will be a long season for the Predators if the future of the top defender is in doubt all year.
- Claude Giroux is in a similar situation with the Philadelphia Flyers as a career member of the franchise playing on an expiring deal. However, no contract is imminent for the Philly captain. LeBrun states that both sides have come to a mutual agreement to wait on extension talks until after the season, quite possibly setting up a separation between the veteran and his squad. It is hard to argue that Giroux is not still a star even at 33; he has scored at just about a point-per-game clip over the past four years and has only missed two games in that span as well. Yet, the Flyers could see his salary cap space as better used on younger assets as they continue to remake their roster. How both Giroux and Philadelphia perform this season will dictate their relationship moving forward.