With the NHL's 2007-08 campaign in the books, the drama now shifts from the ice to the front office as the league's 30 teams begin their mad scramble to prepare for next season.
As of Friday, half a dozen teams are still in need of a new head coach, with the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Thrashers, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators conducting searches. And the list of 'free agent' bench bosses is impressive to say the least.
Names being circulated over the last month include recently-fired head coaches Ron Wilson, John Tortorella, Bob Hartley, Paul Maurice and Joel Quenneville, not to mention veterans Pat Quinn and Pat Burns.
Wilson, who was fired by the San Jose Sharks last month, is the front-runner for the head coaching job in Toronto as interim GM Cliff Fletcher has given him a Monday deadline to accept or reject the team's offer. Wilson's old job posting in San Jose could also be filled in soon, as general manager Doug Wilson has already asked the Tampa Bay Lightning for permission to speak to Tortorella. Quenneville has also been mentioned as a potential candidate.
In Florida, general manager Jacques Martin has reportedly pared down his list of candidates, with former Leaf coach Paul Maurice and New York Rangers assistant coach Perry Pearn among the favourites.
All of the aforementioned clubs hope to have their vacancies filled by June 20, when the league conducts the 2008 Entry Draft (TSN, 7pm et/4pm pt).
While the Tampa Bay Lightning plan to select consensus No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos with their top selection, a deep and promising talent pool could rest of the class of 2008 could be up in the air. Other solid blue-chippers include Russian forward Nikita Filatov, OHL blueliners Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.
"This is a very strong year up top and we've got a tough decision to make, but in the end it's a good problem to have," Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi told TSN. "With 'Stammer' gone, it's almost like we have a No. 1 (overall) pick, and I think we have a lot of good players to choose from. We feel confident we're going to get a good player."
The draft could also provide an exciting backdrop to some trades. The Anaheim Ducks, who hold the 12th overall selection thanks to Edmonton's signing of restricted free agent Dustin Penner, are already looking at multiple scenarios ranging from moving up or down in the draft to dealing a player.
"All I did at the GM meetings (in Detroit) was plant the seeds," Ducks general manager Brian Burke told the L.A. Times this week.
Where other player movement is concerned, the league's free agent signing period - which begins July 1 at Noon et - has almost built up as much attention as the annual mid-season trading deadline. With the eligibility parameters for free agency eased a bit more each year, the league has seen some pretty big names change hands on Canada Day.
This offseason's UFA crop - though not as deep as previous summers - could feature impact players like Mats Sundin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Brian Campbell, provided that they don't re-sign with their former clubs by July 1.
But thanks to some interesting moves by the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers over the last two years, the real intrigue could come from an arguably deeper class of restricted free agents. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and former Flyers GM Bob Clarke raised more than a few eyebrows by signing Penner, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Kesler, leaving everyone in the hockey world wondering if the market for Group II players will be more active this season.
And with this year's RFA list including Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Anaheim Ducks sniper Corey Perry, Flyers centre Jeff Carter and Washington Capitals blueliner Mike Green, it could be tempting for any executive to jump in with the dreaded 'O' word - offer sheet.
General manager Ray Shero, whose Penguins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, may be the busiest executive in the league over the next few months, with Hossa, Fleury, Malone and Brooks Orpik hitting their respective markets and Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal entering the last year of their entry-level contracts.
Click on to TSN.ca all summer long for full coverage of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, along with daily news and updates on the latest offseason transactions.