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NHL teams motivated to make moves, 'all trying to get better'

Stanley Cup champion Blues are proof 'you can turn it around quick'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

VANCOUVER -- We've already had trades. We've already had buyouts. And at least some NHL general managers say there is more talk than usual of potential moves.

Discussions usually intensify leading up the NHL Draft. A lot often don't come to fruition. But teams feel particularly crunched by the salary cap this offseason, and at the same time feel particularly motivated by the parity the cap creates.

Teams don't know the specific salary cap limit for next season yet, and the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft is here Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN). Free agency begins July 1.


[RELATED: Complete 2019 NHL Draft coverage]


But teams have a good idea of where that cap will be, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he hoped the number would be announced by Saturday after the NHL Players' Association signs off on it.

Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said the cap was expected to be somewhere from $81 million to $83 million, up from $79.5 million this season.

"I think there has to be moves because of the cap," Nill said. "It's going to happen. You've got no choice. You're trying to sign players. Players are taking raises. The numbers don't add up.

"We know that teams have to make changes. And then there's other teams, we're trying to add things. We're all trying to get better. We're all very competitive. It's the most competitive league around.

"It's just the system. It's the way it is."

Video: Sedins welcome fans to 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver

Asked if the increased trade talk was because of the cap, New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said, "I think in some cases it is, and I think a lot of people, a lot of teams, are looking around trying to shake things up a little bit.

"I think that parity in the League is giving everybody a look at how quickly they can turn it around, hopefully, and maybe a couple moves here and there can be the difference next time we're in the playoffs."

Look at the Stanley Cup champions.

The St. Louis Blues missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. But they had a solid core and added four players from July 1-9: forwards Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon, Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.

The Blues started poorly and changed coaches Nov. 19, replacing Mike Yeo with Craig Berube; were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 and gave goalie Jordan Binnington his first NHL start on Jan. 7; and rallied to make the playoffs by finishing third in the Central Division.

"I think they were a team that was out of the playoffs for so long and nobody knew what was going to happen with them, and all of a sudden they made a few changes in a couple positions that are key -- coach and goalie -- and next thing you know we have a Stanley Cup champ," Gorton said. "So I think it gives hope to a lot of teams that maybe we're not as far away as we thought."

The Blues won two six-game series and two seven-game series, tying the NHL record for most games in the playoffs (26).

"Honestly, I think this should give a renewed sense of, this can happen to anybody," said Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, whose Jets were eliminated by the Blues in the Western Conference First Round. "It's such a fine, fine line. So I do think that the Blues winning is something that every market should relish and understand. Never give up on your team, and you know what? Anything can happen."

The Blues defeated the Stars in double overtime of Game 7 in the second round before eliminating the San Jose Sharks in six games in the conference final and the Boston Bruins in seven games in the Cup Final. It was that close.

"I think the St. Louis Blues are our league," Nill said.

How many teams in the NHL feel they have a solid core and could win the Cup if they make a few moves and get some breaks?

"Oh, it's three quarters of the League and maybe more," Nill said. "Really, our league now … I keep telling people. Our league, we're all four to five wins from each other. This league, you can turn it around quick. It doesn't guarantee it's going to happen, but you can turn it around quick."

The Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team. They had 128 points, 21 more than anyone else. But the next 12 teams ranged from 107 to 98 points, and the Lightning were swept in the Eastern Conference First Round by a 98-point team that made a series of moves before the NHL Trade Deadline: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Calgary Flames, who led the Western Conference with 107 points, were eliminated in five games in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche, a 90-point team.

The Blues had 99 points.

"It's a tight league," Flames GM Brad Treliving said. "You get in, you've got a chance."

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