It's Dec. 1 and while I wish we could be talking about season projections and making bold claims about what will be coming when puck drops, the fact is we are left floating in an uncertain time with many questions still to be answered.
The main discussions in NHL circles right now are all about financials. How much will players be paid, how much escrow will be clawed back, and how much salary will be deferred to future seasons. These topics aren't what NHL fans get excited about.
But, once this all gets sorted (and there remains plenty of optimism it will eventually) there are a number of unfinished storylines still to resolve — and playing armchair GM to a few of them gets the blood flowing again. Rosters are still being constructed for the coming season and more than a few notable contracts still have to be signed. The World Junior Championship is coming up in a few weeks and if NHL training camps aren't open soon, a few more players could be added to that event.
So, even after the business between the NHL and the NHLPA is resolved, there will still be a lot of team and player business to get to.
As we await further news on what a 2020-21 season might bring, here are some other unresolved storylines that will rise to the top again at a later date.
REMAINING FREE AGENTS
In any normal season the unrestricted free-agent class would be mostly bare this long after the market opened, but for many reasons there are still a handful serviceable and impactful players available to sign.
Because of the flat cap at $81.5 million, 16 NHL teams are either over the regular-season ceiling or within $2 million of it. Because of those tight squeezes, other players could still be available at a discount via trade, which is another market for teams who hold cap space to target.
The conditions for the remaining UFAs couldn't be much worse. As the NHL and NHLPA negotiate over financials for the coming season, it's not clear what players will owe in escrow, or how much more salary they will have to defer. Those factors could also play a role in salary structure. The most motivated buyers — those with cap space and a clear mandate to win now — have mostly already spent their money and made their investments for the 2020-21 season. For the most part, the remaining teams first want to make sure there is a season and, once that is settled, will likely be active to fill out their rosters and get a boost. And there certainly are some interesting names available to them.
Mike Hoffman: The best scorer left in unrestricted free agency, Hoffman was well on his way to back-to-back 30-goal seasons when the pandemic halted the regular season, finishing with 29 in 69 games.
Travis Hamonic: The right shot defenceman led all Calgary Flames blueliners in average shorthanded ice time last season and would be a great add for anyone needing a shutdown player. His offensive upside is low, with just 12 points last season, but this acquisition would be made with an eye to improving on defence.
Sami Vatanen: For a little more offence from the back end, right shot Sami Vatanen is still available. The New Jersey Devils' leader in average power play ice time from the blue line had a strange season, where he was traded while injured at the deadline to the Carolina Hurricanes, but only played seven games with them in the summer playoffs.
Mikael Granlund: Maybe a good buy-low target, Granlund is just two seasons removed from scoring 67 points and did score 17 goals in 63 games with the Nashville Predators in 2019-20.