NHL offseason dominoes: Moves that could create chaos

In the NHL, one thing always leads to another. Trades, signings and draft picks are never made in a vacuum. One move has reverberations leading to others, like a stone tossed in the water or dominoes tumbling into each other.

Please recall last summer, when the Pittsburgh Penguins traded defenseman John Marino to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round pick. That was to open up a roster spot and salary space so GM Ron Hextall could trade for 34-year-old Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry.

The dominoes kept falling. Marino was great for the Devils, helping to make Damon Severson expendable, who then signed a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets after the Devils traded him there earlier this month. Hextall, who made the Petry deal, is now the Penguins' former GM.

This offseason will bring more chain reactions, some in close proximity to each other and others down the line.

The following five scenarios are presented for maximum chaos. Take them under consideration as possible outcomes in the multiverse of madness that is the NHL offseason, rather than firm predictions. In each case, the fallout will be as interesting as the catalysts.

Here are some offseason dominoes we'd like to see fall in the NHL:

The Bruins trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois

In 1991, the actress Sean Young coveted the role of Catwoman in "Batman Returns," to the point where she crashed a casting session with director Tim Burton in a full homemade costume, which she then wore during talk show appearances to further lobby for the part that inevitably went to Michelle Pfeiffer.

For over a year, Pierre-Luc Dubois has been "Sean Young in a Catwoman suit" with his desire to play for the Montreal Canadiens. His agent, Pat Brisson, said in a radio interview that "Montreal is a place, a city he'd like to play in." Dubois recently spent time with Cole Caufield at a Montreal F1 event. He's done everything but post pictures of himself wearing a Habs jersey on his Instagram.

But trying to manifest something into existence doesn't mean it'll exist. I've heard from multiple sources that Dubois, a restricted free agent, is open to destinations beyond his preferred one in case things don't happen between the Winnipeg Jets and the Canadiens.

So to paraphrase the old saying: If you can't join them, beat them.

The Boston Bruins enter the offseason tending to their wounds -- both literal and metaphorical ones -- following a playoff disaster against the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. Their top two centers on the current depth chart are Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle, with both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci unrestricted free agents. The consensus seems to be that Bergeron could be back while Krejci retires. Assuming that's the case, the Bruins need a center now and for the post-Bergeron years. Dubois could be that guy.

The Winnipeg Jets aren't running a charity, so there's the cost of acquisition to consider. The Bruins don't have much in the way of draft capital, so a deal might start with a top prospect, like forwards Fabian Lysell or Georgii Merkulov. If the Connor Hellebuyck era is ending in Winnipeg, perhaps there's a fit with 24-year-old restricted free agent Jeremy Swayman. And while the Bruins would obviously rather keep him around, defenseman Brandon Carlo is cost controlled through 2026-27, which is music to the Peg's ears.

The Bruins will have cleared out a little cap space in the deal but obviously need a bunch more of it -- not only for a new Dubois deal but for other business. Taylor Hall, signed for two more years at $6 million annually, would seem like an obvious candidate to go.

He's got a full no-movement clause ... but he did also show a lot of interest in becoming a member of the Colorado Avalanche back when he was a free agent in 2020. With Gabriel Landeskog on the shelf for all of the 2023-24 regular season, the Avs could fill a left wing need with a salary-retained trade with the Bruins for Hall.

Saros, Hellebuyck hop on the goalie carousel

There are two different goalie markets this offseason. There's the unrestricted free-agent pool, filled with a collection of familiar names of advanced age, some intriguing question marks like Tristan Jarry and Joonas Korpisalo, and whatever one makes of Stanley Cup champion Adin Hill. Then there's a much more tantalizing collection of trade possibilities, which makes that free-agent pool look like a neglected, algae-filled motel swimming pool by comparison.

Among the trade possibilities: Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators, the Jets' Hellebuyck and John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks was available earlier this year, but the team pulled him back -- although with the Canucks in a state of change, who knows what the summer will bring?

There are several teams theoretically in need of a goaltender upgrade. Teams like the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes don't have a No. 1 starter under contract. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights have one goalie signed. (We'll include Vegas, because who knows what's up with Robin Lehner?) The New Jersey Devils have Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid, but given how the playoffs went, perhaps they want an upgrade, too?

Of that group, the Kings should be one of the most aggressive teams in seeking a solution in goal, given how close they're inching toward true Stanley Cup contention. Acquiring Saros would help with that progress.

Saros, 28, is everything the Kings need, which is why they were after him before last season's trade deadline. He's a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie who has led the NHL in games played for the past two seasons. He's on a $5 million AAV deal for the next two seasons without any trade protection. The Kings are a team that has been searching for a solution in goal since Jonathan Quick aged out of stardom. Saros could be it.

He won't come cheaply. Former Predators GM David Poile reportedly asked for two first-round picks from the Kings for Saros. What would new GM Barry Trotz want from the Kings? It's tough to say, given that the only move he has made is hiring coach Andrew Brunette. But that might clue us in on his philosophy: Trotz said he wants Nashville to play "an entertaining, offensive brand of hockey that the fans would enjoy watching."

So how about 21-year-old winger Arthur Kaliyev, dynamic but injury-prone center Gabriel Vilardi and a conditional first-round pick for Saros?

Kaliyev had a strong second full season (28 points in 56 games). Vilardi had a breakout season (41 points in 63 games) ... but again, it was 63 games. The Kings don't have a first-rounder this summer, but own theirs for 2024 and 2025. Lottery protect it for 2024.

The Predators would only trade Saros because they've got Yaroslav Askarov on the way in their system. But he needs more time. So how about stop-gapping it with Kevin Lankinen (already signed through next season) and free-agent goalie Frederik Andersen, most recently of the Hurricanes? He'll be 34 when the season starts. While his regular-season performance wasn't ideal, he was effective in the playoffs (.927 save percentage, 1.83 goals-against average in nine starts). But again, that was behind the Hurricanes' defense.

Many goalies have looked great behind coach Rod Brind'Amour's scheme, but how many great goalies have been Hurricanes under his watch? To that end: Connor Hellebuyck has been great for a lot of Winnipeg teams, but how many of those Winnipeg teams were great defensively in front of him?

For the sheer curiosity of how good he'd be on a Brind'Amour team, how about Hellebuyck to the Hurricanes?

The Canes have other needs -- particularly in the goal-scoring department -- but this solidifies their net. He'd solve their tandem issues, as one of the NHL's biggest workload goalies.

Carolina has a ton of draft capital to get this deal started, but completing a trade for Hellebuyck is the sticky part. Would either Brady Skjei or Brett Pesce sign an extension with the Jets, as they're one year away from unrestricted free agency? Would the Hurricanes have to part with someone like Seth Jarvis in the deal? Can they balance a Hellebuyck trade with what they'd need to move for scoring help, as the free agent solutions are few and far between?

One last question: If Hellebuyck plays behind the Canes' defensive system, is it possible to award the Vezina Trophy before the season?

Anaheim drafts Matvei Michkov No. 2 overall

Connor Bedard is the most talented offensive player in the 2023 NHL draft class. He's a franchise-altering prospect whose presence encouraged teams to tan- ... I mean, obviously no one in the NHL would ever create a less-than-competitive roster in the hopes of securing better draft lottery odds. What an outlandish concept! Anyway, congrats to Chicago on winning the draft lottery.

Adam Fantilli is considered a lock at No. 2 for the Anaheim Ducks, as the national player of the year out of the University of Michigan is a hulking center one can build a team around. Also, he can play next season instead of having to wait until at least 2026. Which is the problem with Matvei Michkov.

NHL draft pundits drool over the 18-year-old Russian's ceiling. He's a dynamic winger who could be the second-best pure talent in the draft. It's just that he has three years remaining on his KHL contract with SKA St. Petersburg. Drafting him means waiting for him.

And the Ducks can wait. Trevor Zegras is 22, Mason McTavish is 20 and Jamie Drysdale is 21. That's not even mentioning pipeline players like defenseman Olen Zellweger and center Nathan Gaucher. GM Pat Verbeek could play a long game here if he wants. That luxury, combined with some depth at center already, could mean the Ducks draft Michkov at No. 2.

If that happens, the Columbus Blue Jackets pounce on Adam Fantilli like he's the last hors d'oeuvre at a wedding. GM Jarmo Kekalainen has been searching for a franchise center for his entire tenure. They've either not manifested as one (Ryan Johansen) or were only there for a moment (Matt Duchene) or only really wanted to play in Montreal (Pierre-Luc Dubois). Fantilli is the player for whom he has been waiting.

With Michkov off the board, the San Jose Sharks likely go with Leo Carlsson, a big center for the future, at No. 4. Which means Cole Caufield will have an American buddy in Montreal, as the Canadiens draft center Will Smith (the other one) at No. 5.

The Panthers trade for Erik Karlsson

The Panthers ended their stunning run through the Eastern Conference with a five-game loss to the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. They ran out of gas, ran out of healthy bodies and ran into a team that peaked at the right time. It happens. So what do they do to get even better?

Perhaps they trade for Erik Karlsson.

The Sharks defenseman is likely going to win his third Norris Trophy (2012, 2015) next week at the NHL Awards. He's coming off a dominant offensive season for a team that didn't score much, with 101 points in 82 games, including a career-high 25 goals. But he's 33 years old. He has four years left on a contract that counts $11.5 million against the salary cap per season -- he's owed $39 million in actual salary over the next four seasons.

It has been established that Karlsson and the Sharks are seeking a trade for him, a process complicated by age, injury history, cap hit and his full no-movement clause. I've heard from those who know Karlsson that he would be open to a move to a Floridian team. Obviously, a spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning with friend Victor Hedman would be a preference. But given the Lightning's cap situation, the math would require a number of roster-reshaping moves they probably aren't making for a player who turns 34 next May.

The Panthers, however, are in a different space. They have just over $10 million in open cap space -- not quite enough to absorb Karlsson's cap hit. But the bigger issue is what they could send back to San Jose. They don't have a first-round pick for the next three drafts.

How do they get one?

Karlsson plays the right side, same as Panthers assistant captain Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, who had 73 points in 80 games for Florida this season. Ekblad is signed through two more seasons with a full no-movement clause. Montour is signed through this coming season but goes unrestricted next summer, when he'll be 30 years old.

So how about this: The Edmonton Oilers trade their 2024 first-round pick for Montour. He bolsters their blue line with an offensive presence on the right side, which is their area of need. They'd just need someone to take Kailer Yamamoto ($3.1 million AAV) off their hands to fit Montour ($3.5 million) in.

The Panthers would get their first-rounder. Send that pick, their second-rounder this season and forward Eetu Luostarinen to the Sharks for Karlsson. And if they ask for Anton Lundell instead of Luostarinen, you hang up. Immediately.

Karlsson would absolutely thrive in the Panthers' system and would give a team on the rise another rock star to pair with Matthew Tkachuk. That is, if the Karlsson-aissance continues.

The Rangers trade for Alex DeBrincat

When I attended New York Rangers breakdown day, the recurring theme was the need for the team to get a bit faster and add more offensive pop to the lineup -- especially with the expected departure of trade deadline rentals Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko to free agency.

This was a direct result of the Rangers losing to the Devils in the first round of the playoffs. So was firing coach Gerard Gallant after two seasons -- well, along with some reported friction with GM Chris Drury -- as they replace him with Peter Laviolette. So will any further overreactions by the Rangers this offseason ... like if they trade for DeBrincat.

The diminutive winger has above-average speed and tremendous finishing skills; while his goal total dipped to 27 tallies in a down year for the Senators in 2022-23, the 25-year-old has two 41-goal seasons to his credit with Chicago.

DeBrincat is one-and-done with Ottawa. He's a restricted free agent whom they've taken to arbitration -- his salary was $9 million this season, which gives you a good idea of what his next contract might look like.

The Rangers have just over $11 million in cap space, but they also have to give new contracts to both K'Andre Miller and Alexis Lafreniere. So how do they get a DeBrincat trade done? It starts with including Filip Chytil in the deal. The Senators need centers. They also need players who are locked into playing in Ottawa for some time. Chytil makes $4,437,500 against the cap through 2026-27. He's ideal.

Could the trade involve two Kid Line members? I don't think the Rangers are going to give up on Lafreniere. I'm less convinced they feel the same way about Kaapo Kakko. He's coming off a promising 18-goal season. I think they can unload here to clear even more space.

Can they get it done with those two alone? That really depends on the other offers out there for DeBrincat and his willingness to get something done contractually with those suitors. If -- and this is a big if -- the Rangers can hold onto their 23rd overall pick in a DeBrincat trade, perhaps they could package it and forward Barclay Goodrow ($3,641,667 AAV through 2026-27) for a replacement at center. Maybe Radek Faksa of the Dallas Stars, who has two years left on his deal?

The Stars could use a first-rounder, if only to potentially package it with a player they might want to move on from. Do they still have faith in Mason Marchment? Is it time to have the conversation with Jamie Benn, who has two years left at $9.5 million AAV and would absolutely need a sweetener and salary retention if they ever were to trade the captain?

The dominoes can sometimes fall in unpredictable directions.