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 Offseason keys for Penguins, Canucks, Blues, Senators and Predators.

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance believes the Pittsburgh Penguins should enter the Mike Babcock sweepstakes, go young on defense and trade Rob Scuderi to free up cap space.

Have Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis played their final seasons with the Canucks?

Have Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis played their final seasons with the Canucks?

He feels the Vancouver Canucks should rebuild their defense (including shopping either Kevin Bieksa or Dan Hamhuis), trade a goalie (likely Jacob Markstrom) and add promising youngsters like Jake Virtanen and Sven Baertschi, even if it means trading a veteran like Chris Higgins to make room on the roster and create cap space.

Custance thinks the St. Louis Blues must take a hard look at their core players (like David Backes, who’s a UFA next summer) and decide if they’ll re-sign or replace coach Ken Hitchcock.

He suggests the Ottawa Senators should let Andrew Hammond walk if Robin Lehner has fully recovered from his concussion.

Custance believes the Nashville Predators should re-sign center Mike Ribeiro to a short-term contract, extend Mike Fisher and let Cody Franson walk.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Expect more speculation over the off-season plans of most of these teams in the coming days. The Penguins stated Mike Johnston will return as head coach so that rules out their getting into the Babcock sweepstakes. They have little choice but to go young on defense as I doubt they can afford to re-sign Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff. Trading the declining Scuderi, who has two more years at $3.375 million per season, is easier said than done.

The Canucks could shop Bieksa or Hamhuis this summer. Markstrom is likely a goner too.  It makes sense to move Higgins to clear cap space and bring up younger talent. After all, the Canucks are supposedly still in the midst of a rebuild…I’ll be shocked if the Blues don’t move out a vetera core player or two this summer. They need to do something as they’ve made no progress toward becoming legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Craig Anderson has definitely regained the starter’s job in Ottawa. As for The Hamburglar, he was a great short-term story but we don’t know if he’s capable of playing at that high level for an entire season… I think Ribeiro and Fisher return with the Predators, but Franson is definitely not coming back. He was a significant disappointment for the Predators after they acquired him from Toronto. 

More on the Penguins and Canucks.

ESPN.COM: Scott Burnside believes we should “expect discussion about whether a Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf or any number of skilled but expensive and/or problematic wingers would cure what ails the Pens.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kessel or Phaneuf to the Penguins? Only if the Leafs agree to pick up a big chunk of salary, or agree to take a toxic contract or two in return. The Penguins lack the cap space to take on their respective contracts, and I daresay the Leafs will want one of the Penguins’ top young defensemen in return. 

THE PROVINCE: Ed Willes and Jim Jamieson agree the Canucks priority this summer is to overhaul their defense corps. Willes also believes they must integrate more young players like Jake Virtanen and Hunter Shinkaruk into their forward lines plus bolster their size and grit. Jamieson suggests adding young rearguards like Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening to the blueline next season. He notes Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis both have a year left on their contracts with no-trade clauses but pointing out GM Jim Benning was able to convince Jason Garrison to waive his last summer.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Despite the Canucks reaching the playoffs this season, this was supposed year one of their roster rebuild. They exceeded expectations but there’s still improvement to be made. Their defense was shredded by the speedy Calgary Flames. Bieksa or Hamhuis could hit the trade block this summer as the Canucks bring in more youth.