NHL free agency buzz: Latest intel as the market gets set to open

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

The four days between the end of the draft and the start of free agency occur at a frenetic pace behind the scenes.

It’s crunch time for teams to sign their pending unrestricted free agents before they lose their coveted trump card: an eighth year on a contract. Front offices toggle between their wish lists and contingency plans while the trade market remains active.

Based on conversations I’ve had with front-office executives, agents and players, here’s the latest I’m hearing on what we will see unfold when free agency opens Wednesday (noon ET) — and for the rest of the summer.

Turnover time in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks’ rebuild is in full swing. Gone are Alex DeBrincat, a 41-goal scorer, and Kirby Dach, the third pick of the 2019 draft. Two other top-six forwards — Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome — are on the way out, too, as Chicago didn’t give them qualifying offers. In are prospects and draft picks.

Talk to people around the Blackhawks organization, and they’re prepared to have “a team of 21-year-olds” over the next two seasons.

While Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane haven’t asked for trades yet — and hold full control here, each with a no-movement clause — there’s a growing sense that could change soon. Keep in mind DeBrincat was Kane’s closest friend on the team. I’ve heard plenty of speculation that the New York Rangers — featuring Artemi Panarin, Kane’s favorite linemate of his NHL career — should be a team to watch, but there’s nothing concrete to report there yet. If Kane is available, there will be a market for him.

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