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PHT Power Rankings: The top 20 NHL free agents

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The start of the NHL’s free agent signing period is less than a week away and already two of the biggest names available have been taken off of the list, thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk‘s signing with the Los Angeles Kings and defenseman John Carlson re-signing with the Washington Capitals.

That does not mean there are not still quality players ready to hit the open market on July 1.

In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the top-20 free agents available, starting with what could be — potentially — one of the biggest UFAs to hit the open market in recent history.

1. John Tavares, C — This is a no-brainer for the top of the list. Tavares is not only by far the best free agent available this summer, he is one of the best players in the NHL. Whether or not he actually gets to the open market remains to be seen. Usually players like him end up re-signing right where they are, and the New York Islanders still seem to be the favorite to get him back. But he has a lengthy list of teams he is speaking with during the open interview period and he would help make any of them an instant contender. (Signed: seven years, $77 million – John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs to live ‘childhood dream’)

2. James van Riemsdyk, LW — van Riemsdyk does one very important thing and he does it really, really well — he scores goals. A lot of goals. He is coming off a career-high 36-goal performance for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and over the past two years has been one of the top-15 goal scorers in the entire league. Along with that he has also scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons (he scored 11 in 40 games in the other year). Not a superstar, not a player that is going to change the fortunes of your franchise, but there are not many players in the league that can put the puck in the net the way he has over the past five years. That is a valuable commodity. (Signed: five years, $35 million – James van Riemsdyk signing could spell end for Simmonds with Flyers)

3. Paul Stastny, C — Stastny ended up being one of the most impactful players to change teams at the trade deadline and is going to be a popular player on the open market. The Winnipeg Jets would love to keep him but they have a lot of work to do under the salary cap to make that happen. He is going to turn 33 this season but he has still been a remarkably steady 20-goal, 50-point center that posts strong possession numbers in recent years. He is not a No. 1 center, but if he is centering your second or third line your team is in pretty good shape. Given the lack of depth on the free agent market after Tavares and van Riemsdyk he is in a great position to get one more big pay day in his NHL career. (Signed: three years, $19.5 million with Vegas Golden Knights – Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights)

4. Joe Thornton, C — This is a challenging one. Big picture, Thornton is one of the best players of all-time and a truly dominant two-way center. A slam dunk Hall of Famer. I would argue he would probably should have won the Hart Trophy two years ago when the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup Final. Now that he is just days away from turning 39 his play has obviously declined from that level and he is coming off of an injury-shortened season in 2017-18. The injury is going to be a concern. The age is going to be a concern. But here is the thing about Thornton: When he was healthy this past season he was still really good. He was on a 62-point pace over 82 games, still driving possession at an elite level, and still making an impact all over the ice. He would almost have to be a one-year deal at this point because anything more than that would probably be too much of a risk, but he can still help somebody right now. Health permitted. (Re-signed: One year, $5 million with the San Jose Sharks.)

5. James Neal, LW — Very similar to van Riemsdyk, only maybe not quite as productive. In the end you are going to get 25 goals and a forward that “plays with an edge.” Edge” meaning that he is probably just one shift away from taking a bad penalty or doing something that flirts with crossing the line into dirty territory. Good, productive player that has a lethal shot and will add some offense.

6. Rick Nash, LW — He had another difficult postseason showing in 2018, this time as a member of the Boston Bruins, but he is still a really good two-way player that can help in all phases of the game. He is probably only a 20-goal winger at this point but he can kill penalties, drive possession and just be a solid all-around player. You can knock his playoff production in recent years if you want — and you wouldn’t be wrong, it is what it is — but he is going to help somebody a lot this year. (Nash unsure about NHL return next season)

7. Mike Green, D — He is not a top-pairing defenseman anymore but he can still help your power play and add some offense from the blue line. The drawback: You have to assume he is going to miss at least 10-15 games and while he was never as bad defensively as his critics have always wanted you to believe, he probably gives up a little more in the defensive end than he once did. Now that Carlson has re-signed with the Capitals he is probably the most attractive option for a team looking to add some scoring punch from its defense. (Re-signed: two years, $10.75 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

8. David Perron, LW –– Based on the way he played in 2017-18 as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, he would be one of the top players available this summer (and to be fair — he still kind of is). But when you’re signing a free agent you’re not signing them for what they did a year ago, you’re signing them for what they are going to do for you this season. There is very little to suggest that Perron is going to duplicate his 66-point in 70-game performance. In other words, he is probably not as good as his regular season point production from this past season would indicate, and not as bad as his postseason struggles (resulting in him being a healthy scratch on occasion would indicate. (Signed: four years, $16 million – Blues bring back Perron yet again)

9. Thomas Vanek, LW — Vanek has entered the point of his career where he has pretty much become a short-term hired gun, having played for five different teams over the past three seasons. During that time he has scored at a 28-goal, 54-point pace per 82 games. (Signed: one year, $3 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

10. Tyler Bozak, C — Bozak’s career is an interesting one to look at. In the beginning he was viewed as a center that was mostly just riding shotgun along Phil Kessel and only racking up points because he played alongside an elite goal-scorer. To a point, that was kind of true because his production away from Kessel was barely that of a fourth-liner. But over the past few years he has become a much better player and even had some of his best years in the NHL over the past two seasons. (Signed: three years, $15 million with St. Louis Blues.)

11. Calvin de Haan, D — He was limited to just 33 games this past season for the Islanders. Do not expect a lot of offense from him, but he is a reliable defensive player that can move the puck out of his zone and be a steady player on defense.

12. Carter Hutton, G — The free agent goalie market is incredibly thin but Hutton is probably the one that is going to get the most attention. He was great for the Blues in limited work this season, finishing with a league-best .931 save percentage. That is the good news. The questionable news is he only played in 32 games. The other question mark: He turns 33 years old this season and we still don’t really know how good he actually is given that he has only played 138 games in the NHL. (Signed: three years, $8.25 million with Buffalo Sabres.)

13. Robin Lehner, G — Lehner was added to the unrestricted free agent market when the Buffalo Sabres decided not to tender him a contract as a restricted free agent. Could be a nice bounceback candidate for a team in need of goaltending help. He is coming off of a brutal 2017-18 season for the Sabres but in his first two years with the team was quite good while playing behind a terrible team.

14. Patrick Maroon, LW — Maroon is the type of player that can appeal to both old school hockey types and the analytics crowd. He is a big, physical player that also posts consistently strong possession numbers and pretty decent second-line production. He is probably never going to repeat his 27-goal effort from two years ago in Edmonton (and he didn’t this past season) but he still managed to finish with more points in fewer games in 2017-18.

15. Ian Cole, D — Cole played a fairly big role on two Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh but that probably did more to overrate him than anything else. He is really good third-pairing defenseman, a fearless shot-blocker, and a solid, if unspectacular player. If you go in with those expectations you will not be disappointed with what you get. If you expect him to significantly alter your defense or be anything more than that you will almost certainly be wondering what happened. (Signed: three years, $12.75 million with Colorado Avalanche.)

16. Michael Grabner, RW — When the New York Rangers went into rebuild mode this past season and started selling off their veterans Grabner became one of the most sought after players on the trade market. There is a lot to like about what he brings to the table. He is one of the fastest players in hockey, has scored 27 goals in each of the past two seasons, and can kill penalties. He will also probably be a source of frustration because based on the number of breakaways and odd-man rushes he helps create with his speed you will probably walk away from him wondering how he didn’t score 35 or 40 goals. (Signed: three years, $10.05 million with Arizona Coyotes.)

17. Riley Nash, C — A depth player for his entire career, Nash was fortunate enough to have a career year (15 goals, 41 points) in what was a contract year for him. He has consistently posted strong underlying numbers throughout his career so even though his goal-scoring spike this year mostly due to a spike in shooting percentage, there is still reason to believe he can be a useful depth player. (Signed: three years, $5.2 million with Columbus Blue Jackets)

18. Jonathan Bernier, G — While Nathan MacKinnon received a lot of attention for Colorado’s turnaround, one of the more underrated aspects of it was the simple fact their goaltending situation was not a raging dumpster fire all year. Bernier helped solidify the position by appearing in half of the team’s games and giving them league average goaltending, something he has done throughout his career. At this point that is pretty much what he is; a solid veteran that can be a good backup or platoon partner with another goalie that can get you through a season and fill in as a starter for extended periods of time. (Signed: three years, $9 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

19. John Moore, D — A thin crop of blue liners on the open market is going to probably be beneficial for players like Moore. The Devils leaned on him as a top-four defender the past three years, including for more than 20 minutes per night in 2017-18. He was solid in that role, but is probably best served as a third-pairing defender. (Signed: five years, $13.75 million with Boston Bruins.)

20. Derek Ryan, C  — Ryan didn’t make his NHL debut until he was 29 years old but he has managed to begin carving out a nice career for himself. His underlying numbers are tremendous (he was a 57 percent Corsi player this season for the Carolina Hurricanes) and he has scored 26 goals over the past two seasons, including 15 this past season. (Signed: three years, $9.375 million with Calgary Flames.)

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Rantanen pushes Flames to brink; Pastrnak emerges from slumber

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  • Pastrnak awakes, scores twice as Boston even series 2-2
  • Roope Hintz scores a brace as Stars make it rain on Predators to even series 2-2
  • Mikko. Rantanen. Two goals, one to tie the game late in the third, a second to win it in overtime and give Colorado a 3-1 series edge 

Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 4 (Series tied 2-2)

The Bruins responded, just as they did in Game 2. David Pastrnak scored twice and Zdeno Chara became the second oldest defenseman in the NHL to score a playoff goal, one that stood as the game-winner as a 5-2 lead evaporated late for the Bruins. This series shifts back to Boston now.

Stars 5, Predators 1 (Series tied 2-2)

Four goals were scored in the opening 13:45 of the first period. Dallas, of course, scored all of them and Pekka Rinne‘s night was done early. That’s the story of this one as the Stars won the game in the first period and held the Predators at bay for the rest of the night.

Avalanche 3, Flames 2 (Colorado leads 3-1)

A wild third-period comeback. A wild overtime. One hell of a save. One hell of a penalty kill. And one epic comeback.

All these things converged to give the Avs a commanding 3-1 series lead on the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season. Mikko Rantanen starred, scoring the tying goal in the third period late and then converting in overtime.

Three stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

What can you say about the young Finn that hasn’t been said already?

A game-tying goal on the power play with 2:50 to go in the third period off an incredible pass from Nathan MacKinnon, and then an overtime winner to push Calgary to the brink of elimination.

2. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

‘Pasta’ picked a good game to start cooking with the sauce. He grabbed his first two goals of the series to put the Bruins up 4-2, and they held on to a 6-2 win to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

Like Pastrnak, Hintz, too, had a brace, scoring his first and second goals of the series as the Stars dropped the Preds 5-1.

Hintz nearly had a hat trick, but his shorthanded attempt rung off the iron.

Highlights of the night

Pastrnak show:

Grubauer with an epic save in OT:

Factoids

  • Old man Chara still doing things, like becoming the second oldest d-man to score a playoff goal. (NHL PR)
  • Pekka Rinne was pulled from a playoff game for the 10th time in his career. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Calgary has never won a playoff series where they’ve trailed 3-1. (Sportsnet Stats)

Thursday’s Games
Game 4: Capitals at Hurricanes (WSH leads 2-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 5: Blues at Jets (Series tied 2-2) 8:30 p.m. ET; USA, (Live stream)
Game 5: Golden Knights at Sharks (Vegas leads 3-1), 10 p.m. ET; NBCSN (Live stream)


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

Rantanen leads Avalanche in OT comeback win against Flames

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For most of Game 4, it looked like Flames goaltender Mike Smith would be the hero, but just as they did in Game 3, the Colorado Avalanche bombarded him and eventually it worked. Mikko Rantanen played an instrumental role, scoring the game-tying goal late in the third and then the overtime winner in Colorado’s 3-2 victory.

The Calgary Flames were tied for second in the league in goals scored during the regular season, but so far Smith has been their most important player. The 37-year-old goaltender earned Calgary’s only win of the series by posting a 26-save shutout. The Avalanche have made life too difficult for him lately though.

Just one game after the Avalanche managed to blowout Calgary by launching an overwhelming 56 shots at Smith, they sent another 52 shots his way Wednesday night. Smith held firm though for most of the game. His efforts combined with goals from Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan gave the Flames a 2-0 lead by 6:58 of the third period. That’s despite the Avalanche firing 17 shots in the first period and 15 in the second.

Eventually though, their persistence paid off. Barely a minute after Ryan’s goal, Smith made a great save on Matt Calvert, but J.T. Compher picked up the rebound to finally get Colorado on the board. It was a start, but that might have been as close as Colorado got if not for some late penalty troubles by Calgary. Mikael Backlund took a tripping penalty at 16:39 and Noah Hanifin was penalized for a puck over the glass at 17:23.

The Backlund penalty was the one the Avalanche capitalized on, courtesy of Rantanen shoveling a Nathan MacKinnon centering pass into the net. That pushed the game into an overtime period that lasted 10:23 minutes before Rantanen scored again to complete the comeback.

With that, the Colorado Avalanche have a 3-1 series lead despite dropping their playoff opener. At this point, the Flames would have to make franchise history to advance as they’re 0-8 when trailing a series 3-1.

In a Round 1 that’s already featured some major surprises, the Avalanche seem on course to deliver yet another. Of course, hope isn’t lost for the Flames yet, but if they are to bounce back, they’ll need to rely on Smith less. He’s already had to face 173 shots in this series, which is 28 more than any other goaltender.

Avalanche-Flames Game 5 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Friday night at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Stars chase Rinne early, win big to even series vs. Predators

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Four goals on eight shots in just under 14 minutes in the first period. In as tight of a series as it’s been between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, Wednesday’s aberration on the scoreboard was a byproduct of Dallas squad that simply took advantage of many of their opportunities in a 5-1 win.

Swiss-cheese goaltending and a porous defensive effort certainly didn’t help the Preds as Dallas evened the best-of-7 series 2-2, but Dallas played the game that helped them down the stretch in the regular season, and it was effective.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

The first three games of the series had been decided by a single goal, meaning every opportunity to fire one into the back of the net had a little extra meaning to it. Both Pekka Rinne, who was yanked after a terrible opening 14 minutes, and Ben Bishop had been superb, a continuation of their stellar regular-season play.

But when the dam cracked in the Predators crease on Wednesday, it didn’t take long before it all came crashing down.

Dallas imposed their will on the Preds from the onset.

In the first five minutes, they had drawn two penalties and converted on both of their power play chances (one by Roope Hintz, the other by Alex Radulov). Their suffocating style kept Nashville struggling to make it through the neutral zone.

Conversely, the Stars had no issues working their way into the Nashville end of the ice, with Andrew Cogliano‘s goal to make it 3-0 a prime example of a great break out and some lazy defending by the Predators. Mats Zuccarello‘s third of the series was another power-marker, a snipe job from the slot that ended Rinne’s night.

Hintz found the net for his second of the playoffs and second of the game in the second. Hintz nearly scored shorthanded, too, but his attempt ringed off the post to deny his hat trick.

Ben Bishop’s shutout bid ended nearing the mid-way mark of the third as Roman Josi sent a seeing-eye wrist shot past the Vezina candidate. It’s some consolation as the series shifts back to Tennessee this weekend, although Dallas mostly sat back on the lead they built in the final 20.

Stars-Predators Game 5 from Bridgestone Arena goes Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC


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

David Pastrnak breaks out, leads Bruins to 6-4 win over Leafs in Game 4

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One of the biggest concerns for the Boston Bruins through the first three games of Round 1 was David Pastrnak‘s lack of offensive contributions. On Wednesday, Pastrnak was the difference in Boston’s 6-4 victory over Toronto.

Down 2-1 in the series, the Bruins got an early opportunity in their quest to even the series when Connor Brown was sent to the sin bin for holding just 1:08 minutes into the game. Initially, the Bruins had trouble getting anything going in their power play, but the end result is all that matters and in this case it was a goal from Charlie McAvoy in the dying seconds of the man advantage. Just 3:35 minutes later, Brad Marchand pushed the Bruins’ lead to 2-0.

Toronto heated up late in the first though and was aided by a couple Bruins penalties in quick succession. Technically Boston killed off both penalties, but Zach Hyman found the back of the net through traffic mere seconds after the second power-play opportunity expired.

Auston Matthews evened the contest just 1:07 minutes into the second period, but that’s when Pastrnak woke up. He scored his first two goals of the series just 1:35 minutes apart to establish another two-goal lead for Boston.

Speaking of players who hadn’t scored yet in this series. Zdeno Chara managed to mash one past Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen at 5:39 of the third to expand the Bruins’ lead to 5-2.

That extra goal proved to be critical. McAvoy was caught hi-sticking. His previous penalty was the one that led to the Hyman goal, even if Boston technically completed its penalty kill just before Hyman scored. This time around Matthews needed just 10 seconds of power-play time to net his second goal of the game. With new life breathed into the Maple Leafs, Travis Dermott scored at 13:27 and suddenly Boston’s lead was just a goal.

It was enough to make the ending interesting, but not change the outcome. Boston held on and Joakim Nordstrom got the empty netter with just two seconds left to close out the game.

For the second time in this series, the Bruins have successfully responded to a Toronto victory. This win also put the onus back on the Maple Leafs to win another game at TD Garden. The Bruins haven’t had the series lead yet, but with two of the final three games at home, they’re the ones in the enviable position going forward.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 5 from TD Garden will be Friday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.