Report: Stars let Souray, other free agents test the market

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The Dallas Stars are about to enter an intriguing off-season. Much like the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, they might just rise from budget prison to give their roster some much-needed “oomph.” Yet before GM Joe Nieuwendyk makes any big additions, he’ll need to decide who to bring back.

Obviously, re-signing restricted free agent (and stealth star) Jamie Benn is the top priority. Still, the team has plenty of periphery choices to make – just take a look at their Cap Geek page – and Mike Heika reports that the team will give depth free agents such as Sheldon Souray the chance to test the market.

Stars not expected to make offers to UFAs Souray, [Adam] Burish, [Jake] Dowell, [Toby] Petersen, [Radek] Dvorak before July 1. Door still open once free agncy settles.

Again, Souray stands out in that group because of his flamethrower of a shot, his obvious name recognition and the redemptive season he had in 2011-12. Considering the barren market for defensemen – particularly ones with a standout feature like his slapper – it wouldn’t be shocking if Souray garnered some mid-level attention. Granted, some might look at his time with the Edmonton Oilers (or flaws such as a perceived lack of foot speed) and discount him considerably. Still, it’s hard to imagine him failing to find a spot.

The Stars would be wise to at least consider bringing him back. On a power play that struggled mightily, Souray’s shot was a rare weapon.

Nieuwendyk made a savvy buy-low move when he signed Souray for $1.65 million last summer. If Souray’s contract offers aren’t too far above that, it might make sense for Dallas to give him another try.

Sanheim gets two-year bridge contract with Flyers

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The Philadelphia Flyers took care of one of their restricted free agents on Monday when they announced a two-year contract with defenseman Travis Sanheim.

It is a bridge deal for Sanheim that will still keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and will pay him $3.25 million per season.

“We are very pleased with the progress Travis has made in his young career,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher in a team statement. “He is a skilled, two-way defenseman with excellent size and mobility. He is a big part of our present and our future.”

The 23-year-old Sanheim just completed his second season in the NHL, appearing in all 82 games and finishing with nine goals and 26 assists. His 35 total points were second among the team’s blue-liners, finishing behind only Shayne Gostisbehere‘s 37 points.

The Flyers still have some pretty significant restricted free agents to come to terms with, including Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

Where Sanheim fits in the Flyers’ plans this season remains to be seen as Fletcher has spent the early part of the offseason reshaping his team’s defense by trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen, and also acquiring Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks. With Niskanen and Braun in the mix, the Flyers will have eight NHL defensemen under contract this season once Provorov gets signed.

More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: Top NHL free agents to sign, and ones to avoid

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It almost upon us.

Those few days in early July where 31 NHL general managers prepare to dive head first into the free agency pool looking to add the final missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. It can be an exciting time, until everyone realizes less than a year later that the pool was too shallow for such a dive and everyone is left with a bunch of headaches because they are paying top dollar for players that have almost always played their best hockey for someone else.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the 20 top free agents available and try to separate them into the players that are going to be worth the big money they are going to get, the players that might get overpaid but still be useful, and the players that are going to carry a significant amount of risk and should probably be avoided.

To the rankings!

Best values

1. Artemi Panarin He will not be cheap but he is a superstar talent, one of the most productive players in all of hockey since he arrived in the NHL, a game-changing player, and still at an age where he should have several years of elite production ahead of him. If you can sign him, you should definitely sign him because you will not regret it.

2. Joe Pavelski During his peak Pavelski was one of the best goal scorers in the league and a criminally underrated player. As he started to get further into his 30s the goal-scoring started to decline because, well, that’s what happens when you get older. That aspect of his game saw a resurgence this past season with 38 goals in 75 games for the Sharks. That is great. What is not great is that resurgence was driven almost entirely by a 20.2 shooting percentage that was not only the highest of his career, but also way above his career average (12.5 percent). If you are expecting him to duplicate that in his age 35 season you are going to be in for a massive disappointment. Still, if he averages the same number of shots per game this upcoming season and simply shoots at his career average you are looking at around 25 goals. Combined with everything else he brings to the ice you are still getting a hell of a player, and because he is not likely to get a 5-7 year contract given his age, there is still probably a lot of value to be had here.

3. Jake Gardiner A couple of bad Game 7s will ruin his reputation among some in Toronto, but it would be idiotic to define his career (or define him as a player) based on that. He is the top defender on the market now that Erik Karlsson has re-signed in San Jose.

Boom or Bust

4. Sergei Bobrovsky We need to put Bobrovsky on a tier all to himself because he has the potential to be a worthwhile signing, while also maybe being an overpayment that also carries some significant risk. I just don’t feel strongly enough about any of those tiers to comfortably put him in one.

He has been one of the best goalies of his era and has two Vezina Trophies and an elite save percentage to prove it.

He has, at times, carried the Columbus Blue Jackets through the regular season.

He has also flopped spectacularly in the playoffs and is going to be 31 years old at the start of the 2019-20 season.

He is the best goalie available (and one of the best players available) and is probably going to end up in Florida with a HUGE contract.

His career probably is not going to just immediately crumble because he is 31 years old, but how many more years of elite play does he have in him? It is a worthwhile question to ask.

Potential overpays (but still good)

5. Matt DucheneDuchene might be the second biggest “name” on the market after Panarin, and if this were a ranking of just pure talent and who could make the biggest impact this upcoming season he would probably second or third on the list. But when you sign a free agent you are not just getting that player’s current level of production. You get the contract, the age, the likely decline, and everything that comes with it.

My biggest issue with Duchene is he seems likely to get a $9 or $10 million salary on a long-term contract and I am not sure he is a $9 or $10 million player for another six or seven years. Or even for one season. He does not drive possession, he has never really been an elite point producer, and he is not a cornerstone player that your team will be built around. He is still an excellent player and a great complementary piece, but will probably have a contract that is a tier above what he actually is (and will eventually be in the future) as a player. Such is life in free agency.

6. Gustav Nyquist — He was still a great possession-driving player on some forgettable Detroit teams the past couple of years and he is going to score 20-25 goals for you. Will you pay more than you want for him? Probably, but he is also going to help your team.

7. Mats Zuccarello He is coming off a productive season when he was healthy, and he is still a creative playmaker, but he is set to enter his age 32 season and anytime you are dealing with players on the wrong side of 30 on the open market you run the risk of overpaying both short-term and long-term, especially when they are not truly elite in any one area.

8. Anders LeeAn outstanding net-front presence on the power play and a total wrecking ball around the crease. But how confident are you in a seven-year (or eight-year if it is the Islanders that re-sign him) contract for a 29-year-old forward that plays a physically demanding style and may not age gracefully given his skillset? You might get a couple of 30-goal seasons out of him but he also might be a buyout candidate before the contract ends.

9. Robin Lehner He was never as bad as his final season in Buffalo looked, but if you pay him based on the season he had this past season for the Islanders you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.

10. Justin WilliamsAge is obviously a concern but you know what you are getting. What you are getting is great two-way play, 20-goals, 50-points, and a durable player that is going to be in your lineup every night. Eventually father time beats everyone, but Williams has not really shown any sign of slowing down. Yet.

11. Ryan Dzingel It all depends on the term. He should be a good second-line player and does not turn 28 until March, so you are still getting a player that is somewhat closer to his peak level of performance than most of the free agent forwards available.

12. Micheal Ferland He is more than just a big body that delivers hits; he can play and he can score some goals and he can do a lot of really good things on the ice. But there is at least one team out there that is going to look at the St. Louis Blues and think they have to pay a premium to get bigger and more physical just for the sake of getting bigger and physical.

13. Brett Connolly A good player coming off a career year in a free agent class where he will be somebody’s Plan B once the top players get signed. That is a recipe for a bad contract.

Risky signings

14. Marcus Johansson If he is healthy you are getting a productive top-six forward, but injuries have derailed his career the past two years. The recent history of head injuries is concerning.

15. Anton Stralman At one time, not that long ago, he was the perfect shutdown, defensive-defender for the modern NHL. But he is going to be 33 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season. How much does he have left in the tank?

16. Wayne Simmonds During his peak he was probably one of the two or three best power forwards in the league. He is no longer that player and the decline is very real. If you can get him for a cheap price to be a bottom-six depth player you might still be able to squeeze some value out of him.

17. Corey Perry — The Ducks pretty much had no other choice but to buy out the remainder of his contract this offseason. He is a shell of his former self and is coming off an injury-shortened season where his production completely disappeared. Is there any chance for a rebound? Maybe, but do not expect much of one.

18. Alex Chiasson He scored 22 goals, but almost all of them came as a result of getting some significant ice time alongside Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl. They are not coming with him to his new team.

19. Tyler Myers He is not a bad player, but he is the exact player that a desperate general manager trying to save his job with a bad team will give a long-term contract to in free agency, leaving it for the next general manager to try and get rid of.

20. Patrick Maroon Always beware of the free agent role player coming from the current Stanley Cup champion that scored a few big goals during that playoff run.

Current team or bust 

Joe Thornton Thornton still has something to offer a team, but let’s be honest, there is only one team he is going to be playing for (the San Jose Sharks) so it really does not make much sense to rank him with the rest of the class given that there is virtually zero chance he plays for somebody else.

Niklas Kronwall Take everything we said about Thornton and simply replace “San Jose” with “Detroit.”

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

On Marner and teams paying the price for developing top talent

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Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe it’s time for the owners and the NHL to sit down and hash out something that makes sense so that the former doesn’t get punished when they draft and develop good players.

So that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have to worry about losing Mitch Marner because of cap problems.

So that the Winnipeg Jets don’t have to sell off assets, including perhaps some they’ve groomed since the day they drafted them, just to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor — also players born and bred in Winnipeg’s system.

The list goes on and on, from Brayden Point in Tampa to Mikko Rantanen in Colorado. There’s an endless drove of teams who have drafted great players and now have to potentially make their rosters worse just to afford them.

It all seems kind of backward.

Last week, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said something quite interesting while on TSN 1050’s OverDrive show, a sobering reminder to NHL teams right before the 2019 NHL Draft.

“If you draft good players and you develop good players, and they’re stars and they represent, basically, the future of your hockey club, you’re screwed,” he said.

We’re seeing that in Toronto right now. The Maple Leafs have had to pay millions to Auston Matthews — a draft pick — William Nylander — a draft pick — and now have to figure out a way to keep Marner — a draft pick — in the fold.

The argument there, of course, is that they didn’t have to go out and sign John Tavares in free agency. Or perhaps they should never have given Nylander what he wanted.

But teams have no choice these days. Drafted stars need to be supplemented with ones available through other channels to make a team competitive.

“These guys want to get paid,” McKenzie went on to add. “And there’s no external mechanism to settle a dispute between Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs other than him withholding his services with the Leafs giving him close to what he wants. You kind of have to pick your poison. It’s why [William] Nylander did what as well as did and it’s why [Auston] Matthews did what as well as did.”

Some of the rhetoric surrounding the Marner deal and others is that these players should take a friendlier contract to help the team out and give them the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Please.

[Is Marner really going to leave Toronto?]

There’s a business side to the NHL that is separate from a player’s drive to become a Stanley Cup champion. These guys have, or will have, families to feed, kids to put through college and a future to make sure is all set. They’re in a fortunate position where they’re among the greatest in the world at what they do and in a market that dictates that salaries are paid out in the millions.

But take away the money aspect for a second, that doctors should get paid more, or firefighters or whoever else may be in roles that come with more risk. Or this silly sentiment. It’s irrelevant anyway.

Strip it down to what it is. An employee is looking out for his own interests. He’s performed better than others and wants to be compensated as such. The pay scale suggests that the best get paid the best, regardless of seniority, and that every new raise is the benchmark for the next. 

So when it’s your turn to take a walk from the cubicle into your boss’ office, you aren’t going in there to tell him/her that you’ll take the minimum for the company’s sake. No. You want your fair share of the pie. And if you had an agent, you’d probably be pushing the upper limits of what is fair.

Why is this any different in the NHL? Because young players and their agents are greed machines capable only of working inflated, astronomical numbers? No. It’s because if they perform better than another player, they want to be compensated as such.

And don’t blame the player, as Ice T once said. Hate the game.

Marner owes Toronto nothing in negotiations. He’s merely following the flow set out before him.

And for fans: You can’t call one of your players the greatest thing since sliced bread one day and then put him on blast the next for asking to get paid like he’s the next big thing.

So circling back to the change bit, perhaps teams should be protected to some degree when it comes to players they draft and develop.

Something like teams getting cap relief on homegrown talent, maybe having their contracts only hit the team’s cap for half. Or maybe something along the lines of one or two special contracts that don’t hit the cap at all, an exemption of sorts.

These contracts would only be for players the team has spent time and money grooming since they drafted them. It would allow for top players to receive top money and teams wouldn’t have to worry about losing said players or having to perform roster surgery just to keep them.

Of course, there would have to be rules attached to all of this. A set amount a team can pay certain players comes to mind. But it might be the first step in teams avoiding the “you’re screwed” part of the game just because you drafted well.

The draft shouldn’t come with a downside. Teams shouldn’t select a player knowing that in several years, they’ll have to make a choice on whether or not to keep that player or do harm to their team by selling off other pieces just to keep hold of them.

And those returns often become draft picks and the vicious cycle continues: Draft, develop, make another team better.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Seattle’s addition looms as part of draft weekend story

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — While the selections of Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kaako and the P.K. Subban trade all got their deserved attention during the NHL draft, one of the biggest crowds of the weekend surrounded a 59-year-old team executive and a Hollywood filmmaker.

More than six months after the NHL announced its 32nd franchise, what’s happening in Seattle remains a curiosity in the hockey community. With the draft in Vancouver, and Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke and part-owner Jerry Bruckheimer hanging out for the weekend, it amplified the questions about what is to come next for the yet-to-be-named franchise a couple hours to the south.

Seattle is still two years away from an expansion draft, its first league-wide draft and eventually dropping the puck on its inaugural season. Yet the healthy interest in what is happening there was a big part of the draft weekend.

What’s going to be the team name? What will the colors be? Is the arena timeline still on track so the building could host the 2021 draft as the Seattle group desires?

Maybe most important to the hockey operations side of the 31 other teams – who is going to be the general manager and when will that person be hired?

”I will say this, the rest of the league is so excited about Seattle,” Leiweke said. ”We’re going to bring the Pacific Northwest into the league. It’s a big territory. We’ve got Oregon, Washington, Alaska so I think the teams are really excited. They’re really friendly right now, I’m not so sure they’re going to be that way forever. For the time being they’re fantastic.”

Yes, teams are being helpful and welcoming of the Seattle franchise, in part due to the respect they have for Leiweke. His success in previous NHL stops when Minnesota was getting started and in revitalizing Tampa Bay has given him clout among the rest of the league. The other league executives know Leiweke will demand Seattle be an elite franchise from the start.

”He’s done this a lot,” said Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, who worked with Leiweke in Tampa Bay and was at one time thought to be a GM candidate in Seattle. ”He knows how to run a team, he knows how to build a building. He knows how to create an environment, the in-game presentation, everything about running the business side of a pro sports team he’s done it. His personality and energy and people skills, he gets it done.”

But franchises also are starting to take account of what their own rosters will look like two years from now when Seattle starts to pillage other teams under the same rules that helped make Vegas so successful in its first season.

GMs are smarter now and creative ways to potentially protect players are popping up. For example, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed center Kevin Hayes to a $50 million, seven-year deal, they included a full no-movement clause in the first three seasons to protect him from Seattle expansion. Hayes has a 12-team no-trade list in the final four years of the contract.

”It’s still early. Your roster is going to be different in two years and you have an outlook, but you know it’s coming,” Colorado GM Joe Sakic said. ”We didn’t worry about it last time (with Vegas), but we were the worst team in the league last time. If you have to worry you have two or three guys they might select, chances are you have a pretty good team.”

Whether Seattle can have the same expansion draft success as Vegas will largely depend on its GM and staff. While Seattle’s management was in Vancouver to learn some of the logistics of potentially hosting the draft in the future, the status of its GM opening remained a priority.

Seattle did make one addition, hiring Alexandra Mandrycky as the team’s director of hockey administration. Mandrycky was previously a hockey operations analyst for Minnesota.

”I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the faith Tod and the team have shown in me and their desire to use analytics to help build an outstanding team,” Mandrycky said.

Leiweke said there could be a GM hire this summer. Whenever it happens, it’ll be the first of many dominos over the next several months that’ll eventually include a nickname and colors.

”We’re prepared to make that investment if we land on the right candidate who says the right things, we’re prepared to do that,” Leiweke said. ”Part of what Jerry and I have been doing is having dinners and lunches and coffees with folks to get their take. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Nashville GM David Poile went through the expansion process with the Predators in 1998 and said while there was pressure with creating a new franchise, it also was freeing to try out new things and build a team from its infancy.

Whoever ends up being the GM in Seattle will have a similar experience.

”It’s one of those things where you get your handprints, fingerprints over everything that is being done in the franchise from hiring your scouting staff to coaches, to working on your rink, your dressing room, all those things,” Poile said. ”I thought it was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had.”

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports