Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Can you feel the draft?

After a long NHL season, it's time for picks and deals

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It was while watching Dustin Penner lift the Stanley Cup over his head Monday night for the second time in six years -- and then flash a championship grin that was short a tooth or two -- when yours truly was struck by this revelation:

Thank goodness the season is over, and for no other reason than this: If the final had stretched out a few more days, the Winkler product's playoff beard would have him more and more resembling one of the dudes from ZZ Top.

And that's not a good look for any man.

Yes, a campaign that began for the Kings last September with their first pre-season contest ended 264 days and 108 games later in front of more than 18,000 fans at Staples Center. It was a magical moment for the league and a franchise that captured its first title in 45 years.

But in a game/business that is our national obsession, there are few days off for those involved. So while the Kings get ready to celebrate their achievement on Thursday with a Stanley Cup parade, there is also this: The NHL draft goes next week in Pittsburgh and it's back to the grind for all 30 NHL teams.

With that, here are eight NHL storylines to track over the next few months:

1. AND THE 2012-13 SEASON BEGINS ON... ? ANYONE?

Talk of collective-bargaining agreements, revenue sharing and the give and take between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association will almost certainly dominate the hockey news over the summer. The current CBA expires Sept. 15, already prompting the cancellation of prospect tournaments usually held at that time of year. There is great concern the discussions will cost the NHL part of its 2012-13 season, much the way it did for the NBA, which didn't start until December and played a 66-game schedule, although commissioner Gary Bettman didn't seem worried when the Stanley Cup final opened.

"I don't understand all the speculation and negativity," Bettman said.

We do, especially in a market that just got its team back. A lockout of any kind does the game no good.

2. YAKUPOV, MURRAY OR... ?

The Edmonton Oilers have the first-overall pick for the third straight year (after Taylor Hall in 2010 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last June) and the consensus top talent is Russian right-winger Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting. But with a stable of young forwards already on the roster, the Oilers are said to be weighing moving down in next week's draft or taking defenceman Ryan Murray, who played with Everett in the WHL and with Canada at the recent world championship. If they keep the pick, the Oilers will become just the second team to pick first overall in three straight drafts, after the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 (Mats Sundin), 1990 (Owen Nolan) and 1991 (Eric Lindros).

3. A FLURRY OF DEALS?

There is lots of speculation that the days leading up to and including the draft will entail more blockbuster trades, just as happened last year when Philadelphia sent Mike Richards to L.A. and Jeff Carter to Columbus. The list of unrestricted free agents isn't deep, and teams may be busy via swaps in an effort to find missing pieces or, as with the Florida Panthers last year, who picked up Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky and then went crazy in free agency, make moves just to get to the salary-cap floor.

4. NEW HOMES FOR NASH AND LUONGO?

Further to the above, two potential pieces in any blockbuster deal would be Rick Nash -- the Columbus Blue Jackets' captain and all-time leading scorer -- and goaltender Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. Rumours that the Flyers would move to get Nash were circulating this week -- apparently held up because one of the pieces, James van Riemsdyk, may need surgery -- were quickly squelched by both teams. But Nash's name, so prominent at the trade deadline in February, will likely be on the lips of many GMs this week and next.

Not so sure how much Luongo's name will get play, given his age, 33, and his contract -- 10 years left with a $5.3-million cap hit. But he still put up decent numbers and there are teams out there -- hello, Toronto -- with goaltending questions/concerns.

5. PARISE AND SUTER: WHERE DO THEY LAND?

They are the two gems scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, and they both figure to land lucrative new deals.

Quite obviously, both the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators would like to hang on to their stars, but should they hit free agency, they will have to line up with every other suitor. Suter's name keeps being linked to the Detroit Red Wings, who are looking to find a replacement for Nik Lidstrom. Parise will be chased by a number of teams, especially the Minnesota Wild. And you can probably count the Winnipeg Jets among those who may kick the tires on Parise. After all, there's no harm in trying.

6. AND WHAT OF THE JETS IN FREE AGENCY?

They hardly made a big splash in the market a year ago, landing Tanner Glass, Randy Jones, Derek Meech, Rick Rypien and Kyle Wellwood, but do have some money to spend. Currently, the Jets have 14 players under contract, totalling just under $37 million. They have decisions to make on seven unrestricted free agents of their own: forwards Glass, Wellwood, Jim Slater and Tim Stapleton, defencemen Jones and Mark Flood and goaltender Chris Mason, and are also attempting to lock up key restricted free agents Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec.

7. BIG BUFF GOES TO COURT

The Jets' big defenceman will be in court July 23, barring any last-minute resolutions, to face boating charges and charges of refusing to take a blood or urine test. In April, Byfuglien's lawyer suggested to Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre that his client may have been a target because of his celebrity status or the colour of his skin.

8. THE ONGOING SOAP OPERA OF THE PHOENIX COYOTES

Prospective buyer Greg Jamison... Goldwater Institute... court cases... management fees paid by the City of Glendale... NHL wishes to keep the team in Arizona... We know we're supposed to be interested, but wake us when it's over, please.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2012 D1

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