By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
As New York Rangers players cleaned out their lockers after a second-round playoff exit, all the talk was about impending change.
That’s just getting started — for the Rangers and the rest of the NHL.
Big moves leading up to and at the draft by the Rangers, rival New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks and others set up a potentially crazy week to come going into free agency. Teams could begin talking to pending free agents Sunday and can sign them starting Saturday afternoon, and in between there could be plenty more movement now that the Vegas expansion draft is over and the foundation has been laid for trades.
“Everyone had a lot of doubt moving into (the expansion draft) because they didn’t know who will be on their team,” Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “I think more teams will be aggressive in that regard because they know what they have.”
The Golden Knights are expected to flip at least a couple more players selected in the expansion draft, the Islanders are looking for a No. 2 center and no one knows what the Panthers and Coyotes will do next. The Rangers cleared significant cap space by buying out Dan Girardi and trading Derek Stepan to Arizona and could take a run at defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and other top free agents available.
“The Rangers feel that we had some really good hockey teams, we were really close, but in order for them to take that extra step over the hump, they have to make some moves,” Stepan said.
After the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons, the Rangers aren’t alone in trying to keep up. While Shattenkirk, Montreal winger Alexander Radulov, Washington veteran Justin Williams and Pittsburgh defenseman Trevor Daley are among the top free agents available, players like Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Vegas’ Marc Methot or Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk could be traded first and change the course of the market.
Here are some things to watch for this week:
New York already acquired winger Jordan Eberle from Edmonton for Ryan Strome and traded defenseman Travis Hamonic to Calgary for picks, but no one believes Garth Snow is done. Captain John Tavares can be an unrestricted free agent in a year and Snow said he’d like the star center to retire with the Islanders — and there’s some work to do to get back into playoff contention.
That’s why Snow said it’s very possible the Islanders use draft picks they got from the Flames for Hamonic “as a currency in a future player transaction.” Duchene would fit the bill, but he won’t come cheap, and the Avalanche won’t have a shortage of suitors.
Within the past 10 days, Arizona has traded starting goaltender Mike Smith, told captain and face of the franchise Shane Doan they’re moving on, parted ways with coach Dave Tippett and traded for Stepan, Rangers backup Antti Raanta and Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. The youth movement is on for the Coyotes, but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2012 and new sole owner Andrew Barroway isn’t afraid to shake things up.
The only question is, what comes next? Arizona has roughly $25 million in cap space and can make some splashes with more deals or free agent signings.
IT’S ALWAYS A GOALIE CONTROVERSY IN PHILADELPHIA
The goaltender carousel has stopped spinning after Carolina acquired Scott Darling, Dallas landed Ben Bishop, the Flames picked up Smith and the Coyotes got Raanta. That leaves the Philadelphia Flyers, no strangers to goaltending predicaments, as the only potential playoff contender in search of a starter.
The Flyers could run it back with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, inquire with Vegas about 27-year-old Calvin Pickard or look to sign someone such as Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott or Mike Condon.
RE-DO IN FLORIDA
Since Tallon reassumed control of Florida’s front office, he has taken steps to undo a lot of what former GM Tom Rowe did last summer and put his own stamp back on the Panthers. Tallon cleared $5 million cap space by trading Reilly Smith to Vegas and said he’ll be “aggressive moving forward” and attack July 1 with a defined plan in place.
PENGUINS MARCH ON
Changes are afoot in Pittsburgh with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury already gone to Vegas and Daley, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Ron Hainsey set to be unrestricted free agents. With Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary among those needing new contracts, GM Jim Rutherford told free agents to test the market and come back to him, so the Penguins could look very different just three weeks after another Cup parade.
SHATTENKIRK SHOULD GET PAID
The Capitals committed big money to winger T.J. Oshie with a $46 million, eight-year deal, but they’re unlikely to re-sign Shattenkirk, Williams, Karl Alzner and Daniel Winnik. Shattenkirk, 28, wants to be a No. 1 defenseman and is a good bet to sign the richest contract of any free agent Saturday.
“I’ve kind of done it all and I want the opportunity to do it consistently,” Shattenkirk said. “I have to prove myself and get that opportunity and run with it, but hopefully it’s out there.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Sunrise, Florida, contributed.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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