Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Sports

Five top story lines of free agency

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The big fish — the Lightning's Steven Stamkos — is gone, so teams will circle around other targets when free agency opens today.

Here are five things to know about free agency, which begins at noon:

Plan B

The Sabres, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and rest of the league that lost the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes will circle back to new candidates such as wing Kyle Okposo, 28 and a three-time 20-goal scorer whom the Islanders are letting walk over salary cap issues. No player will benefit more from Stamkos' $68 million, eight-year deal than Okposo, but Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer and David Backes could sign early after the market opens.

Loving Lucic

After drafting left wing Jesse Puljujarvi last week and trading Taylor Hall to the Devils, the Oilers are the heavy favorites to land Lucic, a 6-foot-4 power forward who had 20 goals and 35 assists with the Kings last season. Lucic played for Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli when both were with the Bruins.

Contenders lay low

Many of the top teams have so little cap space left that they won't be a major factor, including the Stanley Cup champion Penguins and the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals. The Blackhawks are in that group, too, though defenseman Brian Campbell, likely exiting the Panthers, could take a discount to return to Chicago, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Thin goalie market

James Reimer is the top option available, which says a lot about the pool's quantity and quality. Reimer was a starter at one time for the Maple Leafs and backed up Martin Jones on the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup final. Beyond him are backups.

Thin blue line

Because defensemen Keith Yandle (Panthers) and Alex Goligoski (Coyotes) are signed and Brian Campbell has a defined focus on which team he'd like to leave the Panthers for, that leaves Dan Hamhuis, Kris Russell and Jason Demers as the top options. Most general managers know they won't find a top-four defenseman in this class.

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