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No time for Stanley Cup hangover as NHL off-season is already here

The Stanley Cup was still on the ice when Patric Hornqvist offered up a sobering thought surrounded by former teammates and other family revellers holding cans of beer during the celebration.

The newly crowned champion Florida Panthers had work to do already because the off-season is already here for them and the NHL's other 31 teams.

The buyout window opens Wednesday, the draft is Friday and Saturday and the start of free agency is Monday, squeezing a flurry of activity to prepare for 2024-25 into a tight window.

“It’s crazy,” said Hornqvist, a two-time Cup-winning player who's now in Florida's front office. “A quick turnaround.”

The season stretching into summer and the final between the Panthers and Edmonton Oilers going the distance to Game 7 set up this quick turnaround.

Less than 12 hours after the Cup was awarded, Colorado re-signed forward Casey Mittelstadt for three more years and Winnipeg extended defenceman Dylan DeMelo.

Some teams did not wait to take care of business. Boston and Ottawa made a major goalie trade finalized Monday night sending 2023 Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark to the Senators for Joonas Korpisalo, depth forward Mark Kastelic and a first-round pick.

The Bruins will be making that selection Friday at the Sphere in Las Vegas long after San Jose leads off the draft with the expected choice of Macklin Celebrini with the first pick. After the Sharks' trying year in the NHL basement, they are eager for the draft, trade and free-agent frenzy to get underway.

“Kind of a little bit scrambling and busy time, but I think everyone’s been doing their homework and people will be prepared,” general manager Mike Grier said. "This is a rewarding week for the franchise and for our scouts, who have done a ton of work. … It’s an exciting time. We’re looking forward to it. It’s busy, but it’s a fun time in the end.”

It should be fun for players such as 57-goal scorer Sam Reinhart, who also got the Cup clincher, and others such as Jake Guentzel and 2023 playoff MVP Jonathan Marchessault who are set to cash in as pending free agents. Less so for those on the trade market and potentially on the move, from Anaheim's Trevor Zegras to Toronto's Mitch Marner.

There are also teams with more difficult off-season tasks than others. The Oilers, fresh off losing in the final, don't even have a GM under contract beyond this week and are in danger of serious roster turnover if a handful of free agents depart.

The New York Rangers could also be active and attempting to retool after getting knocked out by the Panthers in the Eastern Conference final. They already cleared salary cap space by waiving Barclay Goodrow, who was claimed by San Jose.

Formerly the Arizona Coyotes and relocated to Salt Lake City, the Utah Hockey Club has roughly $40 million to spend to the cap under new owner Ryan Smith and his group, but don't expect a signing bonanza from GM Bill Armstrong.

“There’s a little bit of a chess game for us where we have to bring in some players, but we don’t plan on using all that money and spending right out the window and locking ourselves in for the next seven years,” Armstrong said Tuesday. “We want to be smart about how we use our money.”

The buyout window is one of the first dominoes to fall, opening Wednesday to give teams the opportunity to shed unwanted contracts. The cap is also going up to $88 million, a bigger jump than expected thanks to revenue outpacing projections during a memorable season that no one has time to reflect on yet because there is so much work to be done in a short period of time.

“It happens fast,” Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams said. “You’ve got to be ready.”

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press