By STEPHEN WHYNO
The Associated Press
It’s hard for Duncan Keith to say goodbye to yesterday.
Pekka Rinne, too. Even more difficult for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter because it wasn’t their call.
Moving on from the past is an early theme of the NHL offseason. Chicago traded Keith after 16 seasons that included three Stanley Cup titles. Rinne retired following 13 full seasons goaltending in Nashville, and Minnesota announced buyouts for Parise and Suter nine seasons into their 13-year contracts.
Consider it like summer cleaning before most of the jumbling for the 2021-22 season happens after the Seattle expansion draft next week.
“These things always have to happen,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said Tuesday. “You see teams constantly changing. You have to try to get better.”
Some of the getting better means getting worse in the short term. That’s the gamble the Wild took in buying out Parise and Suter. Same for the Blackhawks in trading Keith to Edmonton for defenseman Caleb Jones and a third-round pick.
The Predators hope they have their Rinne replacement in Juuse Saros, who got 35 games to the elder Finn’s 21 this past season and was the playoff starter.
“We’re really happy we have Juuse,” GM David Poile said. “He’s played really well behind Pekka, played exceptional this year. I think ‘the torch has been passed’ is the expression here. But who’s not going to miss Pekka?”
Keith will miss Chicago and vice versa after he was one of the most important players of this championship era. But at almost 38 and after going long stretches without seeing his 8-year-old son, Colton, Keith asked for a trade to Western Canada and landed with the Oilers.
“It’s a sad day on one end to be leaving Chicago but also an exciting time to be moving to a new team with new teammates,” Keith said Monday night. “I want to be at my best. In Edmonton, it’s going to be a competitive environment and I’m going to do everything I can to earn the respect of my new teammates and the coaching staff and the organization.”
Parise and Suter will get that chance somewhere once free agency opens July 28. Before then, expect a flurry of moves after the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft picks are revealed July 21 leading up to the July 23-24 draft and beyond.
Plenty of conversations are ongoing this week to set the table for that potential frenzy. Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher — who was with the Wild when they signed Parise and Suter in 2012 — said he has been busy working the phones this week to lay some groundwork.
“It seems like more teams would prefer to wait until after Seattle makes their decisions,” Fletcher said. “But there is a lot of dialogue. Teams are, I think, trying to get a read of the room right now and see who’s available, what other teams are trying to do and what options we all may have once we get closer to the draft and free agency.”
The busiest GM in the league is Seattle’s Ron Francis, who will get to pick one player from the unprotected lists of 30 other teams. Vegas is exempt after the Golden Knights rode their 2017 expansion draft to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
Like George McPhee then, Francis is listening in case colleagues want to sweeten the deal to save or get rid of a certain player.
“My sense right now is unless you’re probably talking to Ron Francis, there’s probably not a lot of chatter,” Oilers GM Ken Holland said. “It’s teams that might be in a difficult spot (and) are maybe trying to figure out ways to do a deal with Seattle.”
The back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning are absolutely involved in those conversations. Fresh off another boat parade that ended with the Stanley Cup dented and sent off for repairs, GM Julien BriseBois said “a lot of that work going on right now” is preparing for expansion.
“This Seattle situation, it’s adds a nice wrinkle to our challenge this offseason,” BriseBois said. “Will there be deals before that? I would think there might be. We may be one of those teams, maybe not.”
It’s all part of a big waiting game in hockey right now. Fletcher doesn’t believe Keith going to Edmonton will set other trades in motion, and Rinne retiring and Parise and Suter getting bought out likely won’t have immediate ripple effects, either.
The ramifications of the Kraken’s expansion draft sure will.
“Once the expansion draft is over, I expect things would heat up,” Holland said.