With the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the rearview, it's time to direct our full attention to what's expected to be a busy offseason.
Between the draft, free agency, and the trading frenzy, there should be plenty of player movement that shakes up the balance of the NHL. With that in mind, we ask five pressing questions that could alter the landscape of the league.
1. Can the Penguins keep the gang together?
The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to undergo their biggest offseason in recent memory. Franchise pillars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are both pending unrestricted free agents. While it's difficult to picture either player in a different uniform, recent reports suggest it's far from a guarantee that both return.
The Pens project to have $23 million in cap space, but that's only with a roster of 16 players. Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, and Casey DeSmith are also UFAs, while Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen are restricted free agents.
If Malkin and Letang stay, Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup window will remain open. But if not, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and general manager Ron Hextall will have to go out and do their best to replace either one or both of them via trade or free agency, which won't be easy. But sinking into a rebuild while Sidney Crosby is still elite can't be an option.
Moreover, if Malkin and/or Letang decide to leave, it'll almost certainly be for a fellow contender. Both veterans still have a lot to offer, and where they go could shake up the balance of power in the NHL.
2. What does Sakic have up his sleeve?
It's a good thing the Colorado Avalanche won the Cup this year because it may have been their best chance with this core. That's not to say they can't get back, but it'll be increasingly difficult.
Colorado has several key UFAs that'll be looking to cash in, including Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Josh Manson, and Darcy Kuemper. Artturi Lehkonen is the club's biggest RFA.
The Avs do have $25 million in projected cap space, but they can't spend too frivolously beyond 2022-23 knowing Nathan MacKinnon and Bowen Byram will be due for hefty raises.
However, Joe Sakic is arguably the league's best GM. If anybody can replenish the depth the team is about to lose, it's him.