Even though the 2022-23 NHL season is entering its stretch run with the Stanley Cup Playoffs just around the corner, it is still never too soon to crank up the hot stove and look ahead to the offseason.
There are some moves this offseason that just seem inevitable. We should be pretty confident that Connor Bedard is going to be the first pick in the draft. Big trades will get made. General managers and coaches will get fired. More than one team will make a regrettable move in free agency that ultimately ends in a buyout or salary-retained trade in the future.
We have already look at free-agency questions and predictions for each team, so let's take a broader look at the offseason as a whole and make a few more early predictions.
Let's get to it.
The Erik Karlsson Trade Happens
The San Jose Sharks are clearly entering what should be a very significant rebuild, having already traded away Brent Burns and Timo Meier over the past year.
Erik Karlsson is the next logical player to go.
It simply makes sense for everybody involved. Karlsson is still looking for the last checkmark he needs on an already Hall of Fame resume by winning the Stanley Cup, and he is not likely to get that in San Jose any time soon.
The Sharks need to keep adding future assets and prospects to their cupboard, and Karlsson's value has reached its peak thanks to a bounce-back year that has seen him put up historic numbers as a defenseman.
This is the time for everybody to make a move.
There were rumblings that he could have been moved prior to the trade deadline, but given his significant contract (four full years remaining at $11.5 million per season), salary-cap restrictions for contenders and the complex nature of such a trade, it was always a long shot to get done in-season. This is an offseason type of move because it gives teams more time and flexibility to figure out their salary-cap situations, and it can get more teams involved in the bidding.
Karlsson has a full no-movement clause in his contract and can dictate where he goes, but if he wants to get that Stanley Cup, he should approach the process with an open mind.
Ron Hextall Gets Fired
The Ron Hextall situation will be the first big test for the Pittsburgh Penguins' new ownership group. So far, Fenway Sports Group has been quiet and mostly hands off when it comes to running the Penguins since buying the team in December 2021, but they have a serious problem with their general manager.
The Penguins core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel are still great and, most importantly, signed to below-market contracts against the cap. That sort of situation should be a dream scenario for winning, especially with some big money potentially coming off the books this summer.
Tristan Jarry, Jason Zucker and Brian Dumoulin are all unrestricted free agents, and the team has few key restricted free agents to worry about.
But almost every move Hextall has made for the past two years has seen him fumble every bit of cap space he has had while bringing in older players who do not fit the team's needs. The trade-deadline move to acquire Mikael Granlund's contract (two more years at $5 million per season) was an especially appalling decision after he managed to clear cap space by dumping Kasperi Kapanen and Teddy Blueger.
The Penguins still have a core capable of winning with contracts that should allow it.
They can not waste another year of what's left of their time in Pittsburgh with Hextall fumbling the opportunity. He has to go.