With the tentative agreement in place, and on the presumption that both sides ratify it, there are some big questions that need answering, some short term, some long term.
First up, is how will players who were unsigned RFA’s under the old and expired CBA be treated under the new one. Some of those players have a significant amount of talent, and their hitting the free market and relocating could change the shape of the NHL. Michael Del Zotto and P.K. Subban are two blueliners who fit the bill, and Jaime Benn has stud written all over him up front.
Will the product that lands on the ice in three weeks or so be worth the wait? Some teams like the Minnesota Wild added a lot of new bodies on top of shuffling the roster running up to the trade deadline. With some players having played in Europe, some having played in the AHL, and others not at all, chemistry and fitness will vary far more widely than a normal early season game.
For markets that were struggling before this lockout, is it already too late? While all eyes have been on Phoenix since Atlanta went defunct, they are hardly the only team to struggle. The Blue Jackets may not be around to get their make up All Star game if they don’t get fans to return to a Nash-less team. I don’t recall as single season when both Florida teams made the playoffs. Then too there are the New York Islanders who could be playing in Brooklyn, Kansas City, Seattle or Quebec City in the next year or two. One can’t forget that the New Jersey Devils who lost Zach Parise about the same time the lost the Stanley Cup were losing their shirt before anyone was convinced they would even make the playoffs.
Are either expansion or contraction a part of the current NHL CBA? With the proximity of the three New York and New Jersey teams, and two of them in financial peril, it might be prudent to combine two of them. Other teams could face being permanently shuttered as well. More exciting though is the idea of expanding to more Canadian and northern markets like Seattle or Portland, Madison or Green Bay, or Ann Arbor. The KHL hasn’t been shy about expansion, and with the foothold they were allowed into North American minds by the lockout, expansions might be needed as a defensive measure as much as being market driven.