Some players already have begun their offseason training in preparation for the 2011-12 season, and the city of Boston still is celebrating its first hockey championship in nearly four decades, but a day that will alter the future season is coming Friday.
July 1 is a holiday in Canada, but it also is a jubilee of sorts for NHL fans everywhere. While this year's free-agent market is considered significantly thinner than normal, there are plenty of teams flush with salary-cap space.
Those two factors could make Friday -- and the days that follow -- pretty unique in the recent history of the NHL. Not only with the 2011-12 campaign likely be affected by key decisions in the next 48 (or more) hours, but teams that do not spend wisely could regret it in future seasons, as well.
The last time so many teams had this much salary-cap space at the start of free agency was 2007. There was more talent available that day, but many of the huge contracts handed out then (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Michael Nylander) soon were considered regrettable decisions.
With that note of caution, here's a look at all 30 NHL teams (in order of where they finished the 2010-11 regular season), and what some of their top needs are as the 2011 edition of the free agent frenzy beckons. All salary-cap figures are courtesy of CapGeek.com.
1. Vancouver Canucks (117 points)
Cap space: $13.016 million
Top needs: Signing Maxime Lapierre was the first step toward rebuilding the bottom two lines, which could be in for a makeover if some of these players find better offers elsewhere. Christian Ehrhoff no longer is the team's property, so finding a top-four defenseman would help. This is a team that has all the key components, but filling in the role players could be tricky (and the key players have plenty of questions for next season).
2. Washington Capitals (107 points)
Cap space: $8.903 million
Top needs: Resolving the situation with Varlamov (KHL? Another NHL team? Staying put?) probably is the biggest thing, while adding one more veteran defenseman because the team doesn't know what it might get from Tom Poti next season also is of high import. Then there is the big picture: Do they shake things up is the question. If the choice is major change, that answer might be a trade or two later in the summer.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (106 points)
Cap space: $8.281 million
Top needs: The Flyers have made plenty of moves already, but they could use another defenseman. How much room they have if they re-sign their three top free agents will dictate the quality of said blueliner. GM Paul Holmgren might need to do some bargain shopping -- or move another player off his roster.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (106 points)
Cap space: $6.412 million
Top needs: GM Ray Shero's continued quest to find cheap options to skate next to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continues. He didn't qualify Kennedy but still hopes to retain him after a breakout season. The possible return of Jaromir Jagr has dominated the narrative in Pittsburgh for the past week.
5. San Jose Sharks (105 points)
Cap space: $7.872 million
Top needs: Getting Brent Burns likely was the biggest move of San Jose's summer, but the Sharks probably could still use one more top-nine forward (to replace Devin Setoguchi, lost in the Burns deal), and one more defenseman.
6. Detroit Red Wings (104 points)
Cap space: $16.207 million
Top needs: A No. 2 defenseman, for starters -- replacing Brian Rafalski could define Detroit's offseason. If Ericsson and Salei don't re-sign, then it evolves into remaking the defense corps. Detroit also needs to find a backup goaltender.
7. Boston Bruins (103 points)
Cap space: $12.097 million
Top needs: Can the Stanley Cup champions be a better team, at least on paper, next season? Absolutely -- given the cap space GM Peter Chiarelli has, he could upgrade instead of re-signing Ryder and Kaberle if he wants. Adding a quality defenseman should be the top priority, because the Bruins have kids ready for bigger roles up front (Tyler Seguin, Jordan Caron, Zach Hamill).
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (103 points)
Cap space: $21.836 million
Top needs: Everything hinges on Stamkos, but the Lightning need at least one and probably two goaltenders (backup Mike Smith also will be an unrestricted free agent). Sean Bergenheim isn't expected back, and the Lightning could use another top-six forward if Gagne leaves, plus some reinforcements on the bottom two lines.
9. Anaheim Ducks (99 points)
Cap space: $14.529 million
Top needs: If Selanne decides not to return, replacing him becomes priority No. 1. If he plays another season, the Ducks probably still could use one more top-six forward, but money might be tight after filling out the bottom two lines and paying the Finnish Flash.
10. Nashville Predators (99 points)
Cap space: $23.462 million
Top needs: As with the Lightning, everything this summer is secondary to locking up Weber. The Predators always seem to be one game-breaking forward shy of being considered elite, but retaining their restricted free agents likely will exhaust GM David Poile's budget.
11. Phoenix Coyotes (99 points)
Cap space: $32.731 million
Top needs: The Coyotes have to find a goaltender and sign Yandle. Beyond that, they could use a top-six forward but aren't likely to find one in this market. Just retaining most of their players and adding a No. 1 netminder should put Phoenix easily above the cap floor.
12. Los Angeles Kings (98 points)
Cap space: $16.081 million
Top needs: As much as half of that cap space likely will be going to Doughty, and Handzus likely would need to take a pay cut to return as a bottom-six center. Adding Mike Richards was the big move, but the Kings could use another top-nine forward (or two) to play on the wing, but space could be tight).
13. Chicago Blackhawks (97 points)
Cap space: $14.024 million
Top needs: Trading Brian Campbell opened some cap breathing room, but now the Blackhawks do have to replace him -- and maybe add another defenseman as well, if they can. The key players are in place for GM Stan Bowman, and after spending a summer in cap prison, he has retooled and can make some positive alterations for the Blackhawks.
14. Montreal Canadiens (96 points)
Cap space: $14.804 million
Top needs: If that last group of players doesn't tell the story, the Canadiens have some work to do this summer on the blue line. Andrei Markov is expected to be healthy and Alexei Yemelin may help, but the Canadiens need to sign 2-3 defensemen, at a minimum. An upgrade at forward would be nice, but might not be possible. Montreal will be looking for a backup goalie, as well.
15. Buffalo Sabres (96 points)
Cap space: $12.437 million
Top needs: Adding Robyn Regehr was a big move for the Sabres' defense corps, which probably could use another top-four player, along with retaining the restricted free agents. Replacing Connolly (or just adding a top-nine forward) and finding a backup goalie also are on the to-do list.
16. Dallas Stars (95 points)
Cap space: $25.628 million
Top needs: Richards isn't coming back, and he's it when it comes to elite free-agent forwards. Dallas could try to replace him by adding two or three players up front to make the team deeper. The Stars also need another defenseman, but additions to the forward corps appear vital.
17. Calgary Flames (94 points)
Cap space: $7.566 million
Top needs: The Flames are going to be in the market for a defenseman to go along with Butler. They have 13 forwards under contract, but could use an upgrade there that might have to come via trade. GM Jay Feaster has more wiggle room than his predecessor had recently, but don't be surprised if he makes another move similar to the Regehr trade to free up more space.
18. New York Rangers (93 points)
Cap space: $22.225 million
Top needs: Anytime the Rangers have this much cap space, there is an opportunity for just about anything. There are several key restricted free agents who need to be retained, which will eat up a chunk of that space, but Brad Richards and a veteran defenseman likely will be the targets Friday for GM Glen Sather.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (91 points)
Cap space: $26.391 million
Top needs: There are only seven forwards under contract, though a couple of prospects might be promoted (namely Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe). Still, retaining at least one of Cole and Jokinen and then replacing the other would help in a big way. The Hurricanes probably could use another defenseman, as well. They have to spend a little more than $10 million anyway, so a little added depth could come from that.
20. St. Louis Blues (87 points)
Cap space: $23.391 million
Key free agents: T.J. Oshie (RFA), Ty Conklin (UFA)
Top needs: The Blues have to lock up Oshie and find a backup goalie, but they are pretty close to complete. They could add another top-nine forward and/or a defenseman, and have plenty of cap space to do so. The biggest thing is getting everyone healthy so they can finally see if this core of young players has the goods.
21. Minnesota Wild (86 points)
Cap space: $13.578 million
Top needs: There could be more space depending on what happens with Cam Barker, but the Wild also would need another defenseman if that happens. Minnesota is an intriguing team -- GM Chuck Fletcher finally has some cap space, and outside of backup goalie, has no glaring holes. Can the Wild finally take a big step forward this offseason?
22. Toronto Maple Leafs (85 points)
Cap space: $18.785 million
Top needs: Brian Burke will make a strong push for Brad Richards, but if he doesn't get him, here's guessing he focuses on re-signing his restricted free agents and looking for a trade. Toronto isn't short on role players, and beyond maybe adding another low-priced goalie, Burke likely is looking for an impact player or two.
23. New Jersey Devils (81 points)
Cap space: $12.122 million
Top needs: The Devils need another defenseman or two, but Parise's contract likely will eat up a large chunk of New Jersey's cap space. So, too, would Adam Larsson; the fourth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft could fill a spot on the blue line, but isn't going to be cheap if he plays immediately. This is another team that needs a backup goalie.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (81 points)
Cap space: $21.437 million
Top needs: The Blue Jackets need defensemen. Depending on how confident GM Scott Howson is in a couple of his prospects, it's likely he still needs three or four defensemen (though Methot and Stralman could count as two of them). Assuming Ryan Johansen makes the team, the Blue Jackets suddenly are strong at center, but one more top-nine forward wouldn't hurt. The Blue Jackets also will be in the market for a backup goaltender.
25. Winnipeg Jets (80 points)
Cap space: $28.358 million
Top needs: If there was more talent available, the Jets really could go on a shopping spree. They still might. Winnipeg is pretty close to set on defense and in goal, so expect to see the Jets in on some of the top forwards available. If they're willing to spend near the salary-cap ceiling, the Jets could be one of the winners of this offseason.
26. Ottawa Senators (74 points)
Cap space: $19.525 million
Top needs: Another tough team to gauge -- the Senators have plenty of cap room to make improvements, but GM Bryan Murray is committed to rebuilding with youth, and there isn't going to be a lot of impact talent available anyway. The Senators might add a veteran or two (and could go with a backup goalie to keep Robin Lehner playing full-time in the minors), but otherwise they likely will promote a few prospects and go with what they've got.
27. New York Islanders (73 points)
Cap space: $27.534 million
Top needs: The Islanders have pretty specific needs, and the list isn't nearly as lengthy as it has been the past couple of seasons. A veteran defenseman or two (Ehrhoff would be a huge coup), a top-nine (preferably top-six) forward with some size, and clarity in net. Only one of those seems plausible via the free-agent market, unless GM Garth Snow makes a play for a forward like Erik Cole.
28. Florida Panthers (72 points)
Cap space: $38.174 million
Top needs: GM Dale Tallon will be one of the most-discussed people in hockey during the next few days. He is trying to rebuild the Panthers with youth, and he has lots of prospects to give playing time to. He also has to spend more than $22 million just to get the cap floor. Top draft picks Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau could make the team and their contracts likely would eat up in the neighborhood of $5 million in cap space. The Panthers' needs are many -- a goalie (especially since top prospect Jacob Markstrom might not be ready for camp because of an injury), multiple defensemen and a bushel of forwards. It could be a wild summer in South Florida.
29. Colorado Avalanche (68 points)
Cap space: $34.804 million
Top needs: Goaltenders -- the Avalanche need more than one. They might go with what they have (plus their restricted free agents) on defense, but the Avalanche also are short on the wings. Obviously there is plenty of cap space to work with for Colorado.
30. Edmonton Oilers (62 points)
Cap space: $19.875 million
Top needs: The Oilers probably will look to add a veteran defenseman or two, but unless a better long-term solution in net presents itself, expect Edmonton to be pretty quiet. Ryan Smyth was a perfect addition -- a short-term contract that alleviates the concern other rebuilding teams have about getting to the cap floor while still giving their kids ample playing time.