Rumblings on the Oilers, Panthers, Mitch Marner, Jake Guentzel and more from the NHL combine

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NHL’s scouting combine isn’t just about the prospects. It’s also about the general managers and agents, gathered here this week to do business.

So many eventual trades and free-agent signings have their seeds planted in conversations at this event, with so much of the hockey world in the same place ahead of the draft and free agency.

Having said that, we begin things with someone who won’t be in Buffalo this week, Jeff Jackson. The Edmonton Oilers’ CEO of Hockey Operations is a little busy getting ready for the Stanley Cup Final.

But the reason I reached out to Jackson was to ask him how the Oilers were dealing with this reality: If the Cup Final goes seven games, Edmonton will wake up the next day on June 25 three days away from the NHL Draft on June 28 and 29 and five days away from the July 1 opening of free agency.


It’s a lot on Jackson’s plate, not the least of which is that Ken Holland’s contract as general manager expires June 30, so people are naturally wondering the Oilers’ potential succession plan.

“We’re not dealing with any of that until we’re done the playoffs,” Jackson told The Athletic on Monday. “It can’t be any sort of speculation or discussion that’s going to be a distraction from the team. We’re operating day to day. The hockey-ops group is very in-sync and together all the time. We’re on the road having dinner and doing what we do. And being with the coaches. We’re not going to change any of that, because it’s working.

“The timing of everyone is unfortunate just because it’s all jammed up the way it’s played out this year. But I’ll deal with that. And it’s a good problem to have.”

Bill Zito, president of hockey operations and GM of the back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers, echoed the sentiment.

“If somebody would have asked me before the playoffs how I would have felt about possibly having a short window to prepare (for the draft and free agency), I would do anything to be in a position to have that short window,’’ Zito told The Athletic on Monday. “Are you kidding me? If that’s the biggest problem we have this month, I’ll be the luckiest guy on earth.”

Yes, I can think of 30 other teams who would have liked to be jammed up the same way.

The Panthers are going to hold pro scouting meetings in Florida at the same time as Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final. Zito said they’ve stayed on top of that work all season, so they have a good grasp of things.

The big matter ahead for Florida, of course, is trying to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent Sam Reinhart (among other free agents on their roster) in such a short time frame after the Cup Final. Zito would not comment on that situation, but all along, the party line from both the organization and Reinhart has been that there’s a strong mutual desire to find a way to an extension. Still, they will have days to get it done.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are holding pro meetings next week when the Cup Final shifts to Edmonton for Games 3 and 4. They’ll talk about free agency and players they need to re-sign and all that stuff.

“We’re working in parallel with the playoffs, plus things we have to get done and the preparation that we have to do for the draft,” Jackson said. “But yeah, I’m comfortable with the fact that it’s a ‘problem’ but it’s a good one, in that we’re still playing and trying to win the Cup. Once the season is complete, hopefully with a win, we’ll deal with the other stuff.”

Other rumblings Monday in Buffalo:

The Hurricanes, as reported before, have shown strong interest in trying to re-sign pending UFA winger Jake Guentzel. And those conversations with agent Ben Hankinson continue.

But all things being equal, it very much sounds as though the most likely outcome at this stage is Guentzel going to the July 1 market while at the same time keeping Carolina as an option.

The one carrot the Hurricanes have is to go eight years on a contract. Guentzel can only get seven on the open market. But whatever salary figures have been exchanged so far, the sense right now is that Hankinson most likely wants to hear from other teams as well on July 1. Again, without ruling out Carolina.

Mitch Marner

Despite the immense interest in Mitch Marner’s future from Maple Leaf fans, there’s really nothing new at the moment.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Marner camp led by agent Darren Ferris isn’t putting together a list of teams for a potential trade. The focus for Marner, who has a full no-move clause, is on honoring the remaining year of his contract and seeing where things go from there.

That also means I don’t think there’s an appetitive to talk extension, either, come July 1. The preference from the Marner camp is to start the season and see where things go from there. Perhaps there are talks on an extension eventually, but I don’t believe there’s a strong desire to get into that this summer.

There was no scheduled meeting between Ferris and Leafs GM Brad Treliving here this week, although one assumes they will run into each other. It’s a fishbowl environment here with NHL people all in the same place.

Ferris is also the agent for pending UFA defenseman Joel Edmundson, and my understanding is there’s mutual interest from the team and the player in getting an extension done. Edmundson enjoyed playing for new Leafs coach Craig Berube in St. Louis, winning a Cup together in 2019, and that’s a factor to be sure.

But the Leafs are juggling a lot, roster-wise. So it’s no slam dunk a deal with Edmundson gets done.

Speaking of the Leafs, there’s been no conversation between the Leafs and John Tavares’ camp, led by agent Pat Brisson. But either way, should the Leafs ever ask, Tavares — a 2025 UFA with a full no-move clause — doesn’t want to waive to go anywhere.

Perron, Drouin and Kane

Veteran agent Allan Walsh represents pending UFA wingers David Perron and Jonathan Drouin and indicated Monday that he expects to meet with Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman on Perron and Avalanche GM Chris MacFarland on Drouin here sometime this week.

There’s mutual interest from both team and player in both cases in staying put, but of course that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen.

Obviously, Nathan MacKinnon wants his pal Drouin to stay put. The complication in Colorado is how the Avs navigate the Valeri Nichushkin situation, not to mention uncertainty with captain Gabriel Landeskog. But all things being equal, I think the Avs get Drouin signed.

The Red Wings have RFAs to get signed, and I suspect Yzerman wants to get a good idea about that whole picture before deciding where Perron could fit again in that puzzle.

Meanwhile, agent Pat Brisson, who represents pending UFA Patrick Kane, said Monday that he expects to meet up with Yzerman this week here. Brisson’s CAA Hockey group also represents Lucas Raymond via agent J.P. Barry, and it’s also expected Yzerman will meet with Barry regarding the restricted free agent.

(Photo of Mitch Marner: Derek Cain / Getty Images)

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