It’s time to put a ribbon on the NHL free agency.

The Nashville Predators made the biggest splash in free agency with the signing of Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brady Skjei. This is in addition to the contract extension for starting netminder Juuse Saros. Nashville’s Cup window is now wide open; in fact, if all players stay healthy, the Predators are the second best team in the Central Division, behind the Dallas Stars.

Early projections have Stamkos and Marchessault on the second line, centered by either Tommy Novak or Colton Sissons. That’s an expensive second line, but it could be a very productive one as well. Look for the Predators to experiment with Ryan O’Reilly centering the two new acquisitions during the preseason.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights had their rosters plundered in free agency. As a result, they had to go out and sign depth players on the cheap. No disrespect to Calle Rosen, Erik Brannstrom, or Victor Olofsson – I’m sure they are fine players and good guys – but they are brought in to outperform their contracts and get these teams back to the playoffs. Colorado has thirteen forwards signed right now: one was on LTIR last season (Gabriel Landeskog) and one is suspended until at least November (Valeri Nichushkin).

This is why a great “capologist” and a great scouting team are necessary in the salary cap era. Teams like Edmonton and Toronto, who have four or five players that make up 50% of the cap, have to constantly find effective depth players at a bargain basement price, and hope to keep them by winning.

For example, look at the Golden Knights. They have nearly $48 million tied up in six players right now.  That leaves 17 spots to fill with the remaining $40 million of cap room. That’s why players like Marchessault, Alec Martinez, and Logan Thompson are thrown overboard. Vegas has a Cup for its efforts, but eventually, the bills have to be paid.

The top two picks in the draft – Macklin Celebrini of the Sharks and Artyom Levshunov of the Blackhawks – both signed three-year entry-level contracts this week. This means that they are ineligible to return to college.

Although these players are probably the most NHL-ready picks from this draft, I would have advocated for both players to return to college. They both just finished their freshman seasons, so they would have three years of eligibility left. More importantly, both the Sharks and Blackhawks are going to be terrible this season. They are trending in the right direction, but neither team will finish higher than seventh in their respective divisions. That’s a lot of losing for two players who are accustomed to winning. Let them cook in college while San Jose and Chicago go through more growing pains, and then bring them up in 2025-2026.

I’ll take the rest of the summer off from hockey coverage unless significant news breaks. September will be here before we know it, and camps will be rocking!

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You may have heard TJ on Out Of Bounds, The Prison Chronicles, MixTapes Podcast, or Break It Down Show, he lost a bet and is now stuck with us. TJ currently hails from Mira Loma, CA with his wife and their 6-year-old aspiring princess, along with two dogs.