For many general managers, it was an expected flurry of activity after a quiet first round Friday that featured one trade involving only draft picks.
It was also the start of what potentially could be a frenetic buildup to the opening of the free agent market July 1, especially now that the GMs know the NHL salary cap for next season will be $81.5 million, up $2 million from this season.
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"I think this next week, even going into free agency, we are going to see some more trades," Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "I think this next week we could see some more action."
The three trades were all made with salary cap implications in mind. The cap is expected to drive the rest of the market too, including for teams that have restricted free agents looking for significant raises, some off their entry-level contracts.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a prime example, with forwards Mitchell Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson all looking to re-sign.
The expected average annual value of each player's next contract, with Marner potentially in the $10 million-plus range, is why the Maple Leafs traded forward Patrick Marleau and his $6.25 million cap charge to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Video: Patrick Marleau traded to Hurricanes
Toronto, though, had to give Carolina a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to make the trade work, a significant price to pay to shed a cap charge.
The pick is top-10-protected, meaning the Maple Leafs would keep it if it falls in the top 10 next year and instead give the Hurricanes their first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Toronto also acquired a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft and gave Carolina its seventh-round pick in 2020.
"In our situation with our cap, we didn't want to do one of those trades where it was moving salary or a cap hit that was going to take somebody off our roster," Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. "So you start looking at your draft capital. When you start talking about a $6.25 million cap hit and $4 million in cash, you have to pay a hefty price, and that's what we've done."
There is a chance the Hurricanes will buy out the remaining season on Marleau's contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. Even if they do, the first-round pick was their prize for helping the Maple Leafs gain some cap relief.
"If we can get him to play, it's a bonus, but we understand what the deal was," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "It's a shot in the dark [for Marleau to play for the Hurricanes], and if it doesn't work out, that's not the big part of the deal."
The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators followed with the biggest trade of the day and potentially of the offseason. It too was all about the salary cap, necessary relief for the Predators and solid usage from the Devils.
New Jersey, which was flush with cap space, acquired defenseman P.K. Subban and his $9 million cap charge from the Predators for two draft picks and defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies.
Video: P.K. Subban traded to Devils
The Predators did not have to retain any of Subban's salary in the trade, significant because they need the cap relief for other moves, likely including re-signing defenseman Roman Josi, who has one year remaining on his contract, and beefing up their forward depth.
"There are certain things that happen and need to happen in a cap era, and our team was trending in a certain way with our contracts, and we needed to make some decisions going forward," Nashville GM David Poile said. "That's what we did today."
Pending unrestricted free agent center Matt Duchene has been linked to the Predators, who were last in the NHL on the power play this season (12.9 percent) and 0-for-15 in six games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But Poile threw a little bit of cold water on those reports.
"Today, I just cleared the space and I don't feel like tonight I just want to give it back," he said. "They say cash is king, and the Predators, for lot of years, have operated from that position."
The Tampa Bay Lightning needed cap flexibility to eventually re-sign pending restricted free agent center Brayden Point. They not only got it by trading forward J.T. Miller and his $5.25 million cap charge to the Canucks, but they also received a conditional first-round pick in the 2020 draft, a third-round pick that they used to select Swedish goalie Hugo Alnefelt, and goalie Marek Mazanec.
Video: J.T. Miller traded to Canucks
The first-round pick is lottery-protected, meaning it moves to the 2021 NHL Draft if the Canucks fail to make the playoffs next season.
The Lightning had until July 1 to trade Miller before the no-trade clause in his contract kicks in.
"It gives us a cushion," Lightning GM Julien BriseBois said. "It's a big-picture trade."
There will be more in the coming days, especially with the free agent interview period opening Sunday.
The general managers will have the longest runway they've had between the draft and July 1 to talk to pending unrestricted free agents and get a gauge on the market. For some, it will be to see what they might have to do to be a part of it. For others, it will be about how they can take advantage of it.
"I am not sure how it's going to play out, but safe to say most trades have a salary cap element to them," Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said.
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