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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 Buzzer: Gibson’s shutout ends losing skid; Campbell finally gets support

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Three stars

1. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Gibson was simply sensational, stopping all 37 shots he faced, including 10 on the power play, as the Ducks finally stopped their losing streak at 12 games in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

Gibson’s in a race for the Vezina, and he’s been fantastic this season — one of few, if any, constants with the Ducks. The run support he’s received throughout the season, or lack thereof, just highlights further how important Gibson has been. Anaheim has just 116 goals for this season, ranking 30th out of 31 teams.

There are other cases to be made, but Gibson might just have the strongest one.

2. Jack Campbell, Los Angeles Kings

It’s a shame injury got in the way of Jack Campbell playing more. He’s been one of best backups in the NHL, despite missing nearly two months due to a meniscus tear.

His record might not reflect it, but never mind that: just check out his save percentage.

Consider this: In his past three starts coming into Thursday, Campbell has come out winless despite save percentages of .929, .979 and .972.

Campbell got the goals he needed at the other end of the ice and stopped 29 shots in a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars.

3. Sami Niku, Winnipeg Jets 

Niku has gone from seventh-round pick to the AHL’s Defenseman of the Year and into the limelight on Winnipeg’s blue line in pretty short order.

Niku played his best game as a pro on Thursday as the Jets came into Nashville and embarrassed the Predators 5-1. Niku was a big part of that, doing it all on Winnipeg’s eventual game-winner with an assist and then grabbing his second assist of the night when his point shot was deflected past Pekka Rinne.

Injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot have put Niku into the lineup and he’s thrived in the opportunity, so much so that he’s made a case to stick in the lineup even when the blue line returns to health.

Highlights of the night

Steeeeretch:

Body bag, indeed. What a hit:

Saad smacks this one in out of mid-air:

Vasilevskiy just being himself:

Factoids

Given their long and storied history, this is impressive:

Scores

Rangers 4, Blackhawks 3
Islanders 4, Devils 1
Bruins 5, Blues 2
Maple Leafs 4, Lightning 2
Jets 5, Predators 1
Ducks 3, Wild 0
Kings 2, Stars 1


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

The bleeding ends: Ducks finally halt record losing streak

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The agony is over.

The Anaheim Ducks have won for the first time in 2019 (and the first time since a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 17), snapping a 12-game losing skid that earned the title of a franchise record.

Yes, the bleeding has ended, due in large part to John Gibson, who has been the one constant during the winless stretch. Gibson stopped 37 shots, including 10 on the power play for the shutout in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks got goals from Adam Henrique, Brian Gibbons and Rickard Rakell.

Devin Shore, who the Ducks picked up earlier this week in a trade that sparked the first of four in the span of 72 hours, added an assist. Derek Grant, who the Ducks traded for in a flurry of deals late Wednesday, played 16:21.

While Bob Murray’s moves didn’t dent the scoresheet too much, they certainly sent a message to the locker room. To be fair to the Ducks, they had been playing better as of late, only to have a couple games slip through the cracks, including a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets and a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that should have been an Anaheim win if not for an epic implosion.

But that’s all history now with the losing streak coming to an end.

The Ducks won six of their first seven games in December and still sit in a three-way tie for the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. With Gibson’s Vezina-caliber season so far, and the fact that a lot of teams in the West seem disinterested in distancing themselves from one another, the Ducks have as good a chance as any to sneak in the backdoor.

Breaking that losing streak was the start. What happens over the next few weeks is the next test.


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

Rangers hold on, win second straight after Quinn’s call-out

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The New York Rangers are 2-0-0 now after head coach David Quinn put his team on blast this past Sunday.

Sometimes the truth hurts, and Quinn destroyed his team in his post-game comments after losing 7-5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The response? A 6-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and a 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on NBCSN on Thursday.

You’ve got to pick your spot sometimes, and the rookie NHL bench boss seemed to find the right time to light the spark.

The Rangers probably aren’t going to be challenging for a playoff spot this season, but setting a tone going forward is exactly what Quinn needs to do with his group of youngsters. And despite getting down early in Thursday’s game, it’s likely Quinn enjoyed his team’s response and then its resiliency.

The Blackhawks took the early lead in this one, with Brandon Saad making a sweet play off a rebound for a 1-0 Blackhawks lead.

That lead would be relinquished later in the period when Filip Chytil notched his eighth, and before the period was out, Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead.

After Chris Kreider scored his 22nd of the season to put the Rangers ahead 3-1 with the only goal in the second, Alex DeBrincat continued his stellar season to bring the Blackhawks back within one with his 24th just 1:40 into the third.

Mika Zibanejad ended up scoring the eventual game-winner with 38 seconds left in the game. His goal went into the empty net, to put the Rangers up 4-2. But with 1.5 seconds left, Dominik Kahun pulled the Blackhawks to within one, albeit with not enough time to do anything else.

Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, picking up 445th NHL win to tie him for sixth place on the all-time list with Terry Sawchuk.

The Rangers are now 3-6-0 in their past nine games.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have lost five straight.


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

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks visit Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last season was the first since 2003-04 in which both the Blackhawks and Rangers failed to make the postseason. The Blackhawks had made nine straight postseason appearances prior to last season, while the Rangers had made the postseason in 11 of the previous 12 seasons prior to last year. However, both teams continue to struggle this season.

The Blackhawks have lost six of their seven games in the new year (1-3-3), including four straight losses (0-2-2). Since Jeremy Colliton took charge on November 6, Chicago has lost 23 of their 33 games under their new head coach (10-17-6) after going 6-6-3 in 15 games under former head coach Joel Quenneville. The Hawks are coming off a disappointing 8-5 loss at New Jersey on Monday, which included an eight-goal second period in which Chicago was outscored 5-3.

Chicago has won four of their last six on the road (4-1-1) after winning just four of their first 18 away games this season (4-12-2). Recent notable road wins have come at Colorado (Dec 29) and at Pittsburgh (Jan 6). The Blackhawks will look to continue this good away run, with four of their next six games coming on the road.

After losing six of seven games, the Rangers were called out by head coach David Quinn, who called the team’s performance in a 7-5 loss against Columbus “a freaking joke,” saying the team “failed miserably.” They responded with a 6-2 win vs Carolina on Tuesday, led by a four-point night from Mika Zibanejad (2G-2A). It was the Rangers’ most goals scored this season and their biggest win since November 21.

Mats Zuccarello has seven points in his last five games (3G-4A), after having just six points in his previous 19 games. The forward is currently on a three-game point streak (3G-3A), and is coming off a three-assist performance against Carolina, which included this no-look through-the-legs pass for Zibanejad’s second goal. Zuccarello has been the Rangers’ top scorer each of the past three seasons, but has been rumored with a trade away from New York as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday, Jan. 17, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAlex DeBrincat
Drake CaggiulaDylan StromePatrick Kane
Chris KunitzArtem AnisimovBrendan Perlini
David KampfMarcus KrugerDominik Kahun

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Henri Jokiharju – Brent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Filip ChytilRyan StromeJesper Fast
Jimmy VeseyBoo NievesVladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodBrett HowdenPavel Buchnevich

Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Ryan Lindgren – Kevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

John Walton (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden.