Canadians and Americans are getting ready for national holidays and the start of summer. But there won't be a lot of barbeques and parties among NHL front offices this weekend -- not with the start of free agency set for Sunday.
Dozens of players will become restricted or unrestricted free agents, eligible to sign with a new team at noon ET on July 1. For a lot of hockey fans, it's like Christmas in July, as they wait to see who their teams will sign to fill holes -- some of them left by players opting to join other teams.
Here are five things to keep in mind as we get ready for the start of free agency:
With the Stanley Cup decided for this year, the race to add talent for the future begins Friday night in Pittsburgh.
The NHL Draft is the place where the foundation of a championship team is built. Though trades and free-agent signings are important, no team can hope to win a Cup without a base of homegrown talent. The Edmonton Oilers will have the first pick, followed by Columbus, Montreal, the New York Islanders and Toronto. The first round (30 picks) will be held Friday; the remaining seven rounds will begin Saturday morning.
There's no consensus as to which player will be taken with the No. 1 pick. Russian-born forward Nail Yakupov of the OHL's Sarnia Sting is the top-rated skater in North America according to NHL Central Scouting, but there's no guarantee he'll go first.
Here are five things to keep in mind as we get ready for the NHL Draft:
For the first time in their history, the Los Angeles Kings reign supreme atop the NHL.
After blitzing through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 14 games, the Kings needed six more in the Final to beat the New Jersey Devils and secure their first Cup since entering the League as part of the first expansion in 1967.
L.A.'s 6-1 victory Monday night put an exclamation point on a postseason that saw 25 overtime games, 15 shutouts, two teams (Florida and Phoenix) enter the playoffs as division champions for the first time in their history -- and, ultimately, the Kings become the 18th franchise among the 30 now playing in the NHL to hoist the Cup.
Here are five things to keep in mind as we look back at the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
The Devils spoiled the party in L.A. on Wednesday and extended the Stanley Cup Final for at least one more game with a 3-1 victory in Game 4, avoiding the first playoff sweep in franchise history and forcing a fifth game at Prudential Center on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The odds are still stacked against the Devils -- only three teams in NHL history (and one in the Final, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs) have rallied to win a series after losing the first three games. The Kings are still just one win away from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise's 45-year history.
Eighteen years ago tonight, Mark Messier backed up his guarantee that the Rangers would avoid elimination with a third-period hat trick that rallied New York to a 4-2 win at New Jersey in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers went on to win Game 7 and then beat Vancouver to end a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
Fast-forward 18 years and the scenario is almost exactly the same -- the Rangers enter Game 6 of the conference finals in New Jersey needing a win to force a Game 7. A win by the Devils will move them into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2003.
We could know one of the two participants in the Stanley Cup Final by the end of the weekend.
The Los Angeles Kings have a chance to lock up their first trip to the Final since 1993 by beating the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals before what's sure to be a raucous sellout crowd at the Staples Center. The Kings' 2-1 win in Game 3 gave them the opportunity to complete a second straight series sweep and become the first team ever to beat the first, second and third seeds in the conference on the way to the Final.
If they get there, the Kings will have to wait a bit to find out who they'll play.
This weekend marks both a beginning and end in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as a pivotal Game 7 will determine the Eastern Conference Finals matchup just a day before the battle for Western Conference supremacy begins.
On the opposite side of the continent, Pacific Division rivals Phoenix and Los Angeles will kick off their Western Conference Finals series. After both struggled to even make it into the playoffs a bit more than a month ago, the Kings and Coyotes are playing their best hockey of the season when it matters most.