Khudobin, Barzal, other NHL free agents thriving during Stanley Cup Playoffs


With the NHL salary cap flat for the near future, a lot of pending free agents are kicking themselves. (Sorry, Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo.)

But the “free agent frenzy” can still inspire teams to open their wallets. Heck, the Wild just handed $42M to defensive defenseman Jonas Brodin.

You know what gets the wallets cracking even more? Thoughts of adding that clutch piece. That logic can really fly out the window when a player drives his team’s playoff success, especially when that ends with a raising of the Stanley Cup. Let’s look at top free agents from the remaining teams in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: which Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning free agents might be bumping up their value?

Of course, Anton Khudobin is as prominent as a sliding Semyon Varlamov here. Let’s start with the team we already know is headed to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Key Stars free agents heading into Stanley Cup Final

Khudobin, Barzal, other NHL free agents thriving during Stanley Cup Playoffs Lehner
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Anton Khudobin

Even Khudobin’s boosters would’ve been surprised to see him share headline space with Mathew Barzal, but here we are.

As covered recently, Khudobin’s built an impressive resume as something of a super backup. It’s difficult to place what kind of contract would be appropriate, and even what contract Khudobin should set his sights on.

While it’s not ideal that he’s 34, he at least wouldn’t count as a dreaded 35-plus contract. His save percentage with the Stars is impeccable (.926 in 71 games played over two regular seasons), and his career save percentage is better than most hand-picked NHL starters (.919).

You may have heard this during various broadcasts as Khudobin’s workload piled up, but he also hasn’t really carried a big burden very often in his career. Khudobin set a career-high with 41 games played with Dallas in 2018-19, and he boasts four other seasons of 30-plus appearances (including a stout showing this season).

So, the ideal fit is probably still a platoon situation. Could that boil down to staying with the Stars? Ben Bishop is on the hook for about $5M in cap space per season through 2022-23, so that would entail a lot of money wrapped up in goalies. (Khudobin falling anywhere near his current $2.5M cap hit would be a fireable offense for his agent.)

With quite a few names likely to hit the free agent market, it’s that much tougher to forecast what’s ahead for Khudobin. Except you’d almost be certain it’s a raise.


Young restricted free agents such as Hintz, Faksa

After Roope Hintz made a splash during the 2019 postseason, many pictured a breakthrough for the occasionally bulldozing forward. But like with Denis Gurianov and other young forwards, the Stars have been reluctant to take the training wheels off of Hintz, including dropping the 23-year-old’s postseason ice time considerably from last year (16:06) to this run (14:02).

If you’re a Stars fan who’s been frustrated by this, that’s understandable, especially since Hintz managed 19 goals this season despite tepid use. But at least that might keep his earning power down?

  • At the other end of the spectrum, Radek Faksa is a low-scoring, high-leverage forward, and has been for some time for the Stars. The 26-year-old is arbitration-eligible, so that could be interesting to watch.
  • Speaking of Gurianov, he’s an RFA, as well. Gurianov followed a 20-goal (albeit with just nine assists) regular season with what’s been a productive postseason. As hot-and-cold as his production has been, Gurianov sits at 17 points (8G, 9A) in 21 playoff games.

Grizzled veterans

  • Corey Perry suffered through a lousy regular season, and his playoff numbers don’t jump off the page. Yet, even so, it wouldn’t be surprising if Perry, 35, gets snatched up by a team looking for a scrappy veteran who can draw penalties.
  • Speaking of scrappy veterans, Andrej Sekera may be over his significant, career-threatening injury issues. We’ll see if he’s done enough to get another look as a depth piece in the NHL.

Closing Stars salary cap thoughts

All things considered, the Stars are in a fascinating spot to possibly exploit a chaotic market, much like their pals in Colorado. Having an estimated $15.5M in cap space might encourage them to overextend to keep Khudobin, which is understandable since this team is very goalie-reliant. (Also: Bishop gets hurt about as often as he plays extremely well, which is a real bummer.)

But if the Stars decided to try some bold moves? That would be awfully interesting.

Islanders face challenges in fitting in restricted free agents Barzal, Pulock

Setting a high Barzal

If you look at Evolving Hockey’s contract projection tool, a $9.581M cap hit would be appropriate for eight years of Mathew Barzal’s services. While it wouldn’t be surprising if that projection tool received a(nother?) post-pandemic revision, it wouldn’t be outrageous to actually give Barzal that kind of money. He’s a special player, and would make gobs of dough on an actual free market.

But Barzal is a restricted free agent at 23, and Lou Lamoriello is likely to be about as yielding as a brick wall here. One can only speculate about the threat of an offer sheet, especially in this financial climate.

As of this writing, the Islanders hold about $9M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. There’s certainly room for wiggling (ever visited “Robidas Island,” Andrew Ladd?), but this won’t be easy. And it might make Lamoriello’s GM of the Year work feel like Belt Tightening for a Decade.

That’s because the Islanders have more than just a superstar to wrap up …

Khudobin, Barzal, other NHL free agents thriving during Stanley Cup Playoffs Cirelli
Barzal and Cirelli, two centers ready for raises. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Not just Barzal, either

The Islanders have a fascinating salary structure.

Forwards: Tons of term, varying degrees of quality.
Defensemen: Very little term, with Scott Mayfield being the “lifer” with three years remaining at $1.45M per.
Goalies: Semyon Varlamov for three more years, Ilya Sorokin as his understudy.

So, there are some key decisions looming.

  • Two very valuable RFA defensemen need new deals: Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. Pulock is the Islanders’ leader in average ice time (22:31) this postseason, while Toews has been a key contributor during this push (20:27). Locking those down, whether via “bridge” deals or contracts with term, will be tricky.
  • The Islanders paid a pretty penny to “rent” Andy Greene, and at 37 amid cap challenges, that’s probably it. Right?
  • You’d also think that they can’t make Matt Martin or Derick Brassard fit, but Lou and Barry Trotz both love Martin-type players, so who knows?
  • Thomas Greiss is virtually certain to be gone, and being that he’s provided Khudobin-like value for much of his career, could end up being dearly missed. (If I were a GM, I’d cross my fingers that Greiss slips under the radar and becomes an affordable platoon option.)

More dark salary cap arts from “Loophole Lou?”

Being that Lamoriello has had almost creepy tendency to “make things work,” I’m sure he has a plan. Frankly, I’m elated to find out what that is, because this is going to require some Houdini-like maneuvering.

Free agent losses likely for Lightning as they continue playoff push

Cirelli and Sergachev: biggest Lightning concerns

  • Most importantly, they need to find a way to fit Anthony Cirelli under the cap. The good news for the Lightning is that a) they keep getting bargains, over and over, and over and … b) Cirelli isn’t scoring like the star he could end up being.

The Lightning want to save every penny they can, but Evolving Hockey’s projection ($5.8M at a six-year term) would run parallel to Cirelli’s ascent to becoming recognized like Selke winner Sean Couturier (whose similar contract is a boon to the Flyers).

This is probably a good time to mention that you can file many Lightning problems under “problems almost every other NHL teams would like to have.”

  • It sure feels like Mikhail Sergachev could enjoy a breakthrough one of these seasons. That said, Tampa Bay’s bringing him along relatively slowly, which might help them suppress his value.

Even so, it wouldn’t be obscene if Cirelli and Sergachev commanded the Lightning’s cap space each. So yeah.

Cernak and others

  • There are other interesting players, chiefly another RFA in Erik Cernak. Don’t expect him to fall into a lofty range, but he’s a valuable young defenseman.
  • Beyond the bigger names, there are youngsters (Mitchell Stephens, Carter Verhaeghe) and veterans (Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon) who only add to the complications. OK, some do. It’s hard to imagine Shattenkirk not costing significantly more than $1.75M.

Closing Lightning salary cap thoughts

Cap Friendly places the Lightning’s cap space at $5.33 million. Uncomfortably, that’s based on $76.16M going to just 15 roster spots.

Clearly, the Lightning are going to need to shift some units here. Considering the circumstances, they might need to go beyond the obvious, such as moving Tyler Johnson‘s $5M.

Much like “Loophole Lou,” the Lightning keep finding ways to make this work. Even when it hurts, like seeing J.T. Miller thrive in Vancouver. (Though that first-rounder will soothe some wounds … or maybe help them buy their way out of some problems?)

Either way, players like Barzal, Khudobin, and Cirelli face more chances to up their value even more as the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs go on. One of them will even get to mention that they’re Stanley Cup champions, pandemic-permitting.

• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.

Pastrnak scores twice, Bruins top Hurricanes 4-3 in shootout

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James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. — David Pastrnak’s milestone performance with the Boston Bruins came with additional responsibility.

Minus a couple of key players, Pastrnak moved to the forefront and eclipsed the 50-goal mark by scoring twice and the Bruins won their seventh game in a row by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in a shootout Sunday.

Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand didn’t make the trip with the NHL-leading Bruins, so Pastrnak boosted his contributions.

“I’ve been learning from those guys,” Pastrnak said. “You recognize when they’re not here that you have to take a step forward.”

Pastrnak posted the 12th 50-goal season in Bruins history.

“With Bergeron and Marchand back at home, you can see his leadership skills really come out,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “I think he put the team on his back and played the right way.”

Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk scored in the shootout in a matchup of Eastern Conference division leaders.

Jakub Lauko also scored for the Bruins, who earned their 57th victory and are five wins shy of matching the all-time NHL record with nine regular-season games to play. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Jeremy Swayman made 34 saves.

“We’ve had a lot of character wins in a lot of different fashions,” Montgomery said.

Boston tied the franchise record for wins in a season. That’s special in Montgomery’s opinion.

“Especially when you think about all the great Bruins teams,” he said.

Jack Drury, Brady Skjei and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, who won three of their previous four games. Brett Pesce had two assists and Frederik Andersen stopped 35 shots.

Carolina wiped out a two-goal deficit to secure a team point.

“It wasn’t our best game, but I thought the third period we certainly came on,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of those games where you say it’s probably a good point to get considering how it was looking.”

Pastrnak’s 50th goal of the season came 4:43 into the game. He received a pass from McAvoy and skated half the length of the ice on a breakaway, though lost full control of the puck and still beat Andersen.

Pastrnak was on track for 50 goals in March 2020, but he ended up with 48 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an early end to the regular season.

“You never know what can happen,” Pastrnak said.

Drury, set up in the slot, scored his second goal of the season off a pass from Jalen Chatfield at 7:44 of the second.

Just 1:28 later, Pastrnak’s second goal came on a power play when he blasted a shot from the left side just inside the post. Lauko’s fourth goal extended the lead at 11:46 of the second.

Carolina pulled even at 3-3 when Skjei and Aho scored in the first four minutes of the third period.

“We knew that was coming,” Montgomery said. “There’s no need to panic. We knew they were going to come with a push.”


Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm was scratched along with Bergeron and Marchand with what Montgomery referred to as nagging injuries. The trio has accounted for 57 goals this season.

“It shows the depth that we have,” Swayman said. “I think all of us thrive on the energy in a building like this.”

Carolina’s only significant lineup adjustment came with center Paul Stastny in the lineup in place of Jesse Puljuharvi, who had played in eight straight games since making his debut with the Hurricanes. Puljuharvi arrived in a trade from Edmonton in late February.

NOTES: The Bruins won two of three meetings with the Hurricanes, securing the first victory in overtime. Carolina eliminated Boston in last spring’s playoffs in seven games. … The Hurricanes maintained their string of securing a point in all seven games across different seasons while wearing green Hartford Whalers-inspired jerseys. The franchise began as the Whalers before relocation in 1997.


Bruins: Host Nashville on Tuesday.

Hurricanes: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

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Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

“His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

“It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

“It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Not this season.

While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

“I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.