Let the free-agent frenzy begin

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The word “off-season” implies a time of rest, but the NHL and NBA have been working overtime since awarding the Stanley Cup and the Larry O’Brien Trophy to their playoff champions. Over the last couple of weeks, both leagues welcomed a generational prospect as the No. 1 pick in their draft and made headlines with some big-name trades.

Now, it’s time for free agency. Here’s the background you need to know and what to expect in the days ahead:


Connor Bedard officially arrived last night when Chicago selected the 17-year-old Canadian phenom with the first pick of the draft in Nashville.

With the second choice, Anaheim went slightly off script by taking Swedish forward Leo Carlsson over Canadian Adam Fantilli, who went next to Columbus. San Jose grabbed American forward Will Smith before Montreal picked Austrian defenceman David Reinbacher to round out the top five. Russian forward Matvei Michkov, considered by some the second-most talented player in the draft, slid to Philadelphia at No. 7 amid worries that his contract with the Russian-based KHL could delay his NHL arrival.

No trades were completed during the first round — the first time that’s happened since 2007. But, hours before the draft, Vegas sent forward Reilly Smith to Pittsburgh for a third-round pick, clearing the way for Vegas to re-sign rugged forward Ivan Barbashev to a five-year, $25-million US contract.

WATCH | Chicago picks Connor Bedard with top pick of 2023 NHL draft:

Chicago selects Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard 1st overall in NHL Draft

22 hours ago

Duration 2:45

17-year-old Connor Bedard from North Vancouver, B.C., is selected by Chicago with the first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Earlier this week, Winnipeg sent would-be restricted free agent forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to Los Angeles in a sign-and-trade deal that saw Dubois land a new eight-year, $68-million US contract. Calgary, in the midst of an organizational shakeup, shipped leading scorer Tyler Toffoli to New Jersey while Boston traded former MVP Taylor Hall to Chicago, where he’s expected to play on a line with Bedard.

As the draft concluded today with rounds 2 through 7, Chicago traded for Islanders forward Josh Bailey and the rights to Lightning forward Corey Perry, who can become a free agent in two days. Edmonton cleared cap space by trading forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin to Detroit for future considerations. Read about today’s deals here.

The best player remaining on the trade block is San Jose defenceman Erik Karlsson, who wants to be moved to a contender after winning his third Norris Trophy this week. Ottawa forward Alex DeBrincat and Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck are also among the impact players thought to be available.

Free agency opens Saturday at noon ET. This year’s unrestricted class is lacking in franchise-altering stars, but the helpful players available include some big names on the wrong side of 30.

Toronto’s Ryan O’Reilly, 32, remains a dependable two-way centre who won the Selke and Conn Smythe trophies four years ago. The Rangers’ Vladimir Tarasenko, 31, hoisted the Cup with O’Reilly in St. Louis and was a point-a-game player as recently as 2021-22. Patrick Kane, 34, won three Cups and an MVP with Chicago before getting traded to the Rangers last season, but will likely miss the start of the season after hip surgery. Kane’s longtime Chicago teammate Jonathan Toews, 35, might still be able to help someone if he doesn’t decide to retire after battling health issues the past few years.

Safer choices at forward include Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn, 33, who helped Tampa Bay to back-to-back Stanley Cups before scoring a career-high 27 goals this season; and Boston’s Tyler Bertuzzi, 28, who potted 30 goals with Detroit two seasons ago.

The consensus top defenceman on the market is Dmitry Orlov, 31, who had 36 points in 66 games for Washington and Boston last season. Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, 28, could also cash in as a younger alternative.

The free-agent goalies could include Stanley Cup winner Adin Hill, though Vegas is reportedly closing in on a deal to keep him. There’s also oft-injured Frederik Andersen of Carolina and Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry. Read more about the top NHL unrestricted free agents here.


A week before Bedard’s NHL coronation, the NBA welcomed its own new generational talent when 19-year-old French sensation Victor Wembanyama was drafted first overall by San Antonio.

We’ve also seen some big trades since the Denver Nuggets captured their first championship. The Phoenix Suns grabbed a new star to play alongside Kevin Durant and Devin Booker by acquiring guard Bradley Beal from Washington in a deal involving future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. Washington then flipped Paul to Golden State for a package including talented guard Jordan Poole. Also, Boston sent 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart to Memphis in a three-team deal that netted the Celtics skilled big man Kristaps Porzingis from Washington.

Another similarity the NBA shares with the NHL right now: this year’s free-agent class isn’t particularly strong, but some aging big names are available when the market opens Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Those include former MVP James Harden, 33, of the Philadelphia 76ers; supremely talented but maddeningly flaky guard Kyrie Irving, 31, of the Dallas Mavericks; former Defensive Player of the Year and four-time champion Draymond Green, 33, of the Golden State Warriors; and skilled forward Khris Middleton, though the 31-year-old is expected to re-sign with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Toronto Raptors could be on the verge of losing star guard Fred VanVleet, who’s expected to command several big offers. The 29-year-old, who helped Toronto to the NBA championship in 2019 and averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists this season, could come close to doubling his $21.25-million salary if he’s willing to leave Toronto.

The Raptors are reportedly hoping to re-sign VanVleet for around $30 million per year while also retaining free-agent centre Jakob Poelt, a good rebounder and defender who averaged 13 points this season. Read more about the NBA’s top free agents here.

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