NHL Free Agency: Isles’ Barzal, Lightning’s Cirelli among top RFAs

NHL Restricted Free Agents: Islanders' Barzal, Lightning's Cirelli, other top RFAs
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When the “free agent frenzy” arrives on Oct. 9, much of the attention will go to UFAs, rather than restricted free agents (RFAs). Being that all 31 NHL teams (theoretically) have a chance to sign UFAs, it makes sense that they dominate our attention compared to RFAs.

But, amid a challenging economic climate, could NHL GMs target RFAs with offer sheets a bit more often than we interact with unicorns in the wild? Being that plenty of NHL teams are going to see money challenges — from the flat salary cap, internal budget constraints, and sometimes both — this would be quite the time to launch a strike more precise than the Canadiens’ half-hearted efforts to land Sebastian Aho on certain RFAs.

Offer sheets or not, there are plenty of NHL RFAs to watch, and many restricted free agent situations that may leave teams with restricted room to breathe.

Defending champion Lightning’s cap troubles also involve big RFAs

Honestly, the Lightning were heading into salary cap headaches even when it looked like the flat $81.5M salary cap would rise. Now? Gulp.


Both Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev rank as Lightning RFAs who are easily worth Tampa Bay’s currently estimated $5.33M in cap space. Cirelli finished fourth in Selke voting this season, while Sergachev showed plenty of flashes of the brilliance he could be capable of.

Frankly, the Lightning are a bit fortunate that those two RFAs haven’t been able to get the opportunities to prove their full value yet. But even while fighting for limelight, it’s abundantly obvious that both Cirelli and Sergachev deserve big raises. (No more waiting tables for Cirelli?)

With Erik Cernak also lingering as an RFA, Julien BriseBois will need to pull off some real GM of the Year wizardry to make this all work.

Mathew Barzal tops Islanders’ challenges

Let’s be honest; if Mathew Barzal ended up eating all of the Islanders’ near-$9 million in cap space, would that be out of line? (Evolving Hockey’s contract projection tool puts an eight-year pact for Barzal, 23, at a $9.581M cap hit.)

Yet, Barzal’s just the biggest piece of the Islanders’ RFA puzzle. A decent chunk of the hockey world got a better look at how vital Ryan Pulock, 25, really is to the Isles. And 26-year-old Devon Toews has been a nice find for their defense, too.

Soon we’ll learn what sort of tricks “Loophole Lou” Lamoriello has up his sleeves. After all, threading this needle might require a little magic.

RFAs, Khudobin set complicated stage for Stars

After falling two wins short of a Stanley Cup, the Stars approach a fork in the road.

With almost $15.5M in cap space to work with, the Stars could get creative and aggressive during the off-season. But not without clearing up some questions.

Do they give Anton Khudobin a raise, possibly making for an expensive (and old) tandem with Ben Bishop? Either way, Denis Gurianov, Radek Faksa, and Roope Hintz should eat up a chunk of that $15.5M.

Being that Miro Heiskanen‘s rookie contract expires after 2020-21 (and John Klingberg will no longer be sorely underpaid at $4.25M after 2021-22), Dallas also must pencil in big money to keep its defensive advantages intact. Could be tricky, but there are also opportunities, especially in “rentals” (either in free agency or through trades).

NHL Restricted Free Agents: Islanders' Barzal, Lightning's Cirelli, other top RFAs Hintz Gurianov
(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rangers risk buying high on their RFAs?

Ryan Strome quietly put up one of the most productive seasons of any pending RFA, scoring 59 points (just one behind Barzal’s 60). Anthony DeAngelo also produced plenty of offense, collecting an eye-popping 53 points in 2020-21.

Do the Rangers really want to pay up to keep Strome and DeAngelo, though?

Being that Strome played the majority of his even-strength minutes with Artemi Panarin, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assert that Strome’s numbers were vastly inflated. And, for all of DeAngelo’s offensive prowess, he struggles in his own end (and sometimes, off the ice).

If the Rangers are cutthroat enough to buy out Henrik Lundqvist, who knows what could happen with RFAs who might command too heavy a price?

You may also find it interesting that both Stromes are RFAs, as Dylan Strome needs a new deal with the Blackhawks. This seems like a useful segue to jump into other noteworthy restricted free agent situations, while those looking for a truly comprehensive RFA list should head here.

Plenty of other RFA situations worth watching around the NHL

  • Pierre-Luc Dubois (Blue Jackets): Columbus has a handful of situations to address, which might force banged-up winger Josh Anderson out of town. The biggest concern involves locking up their promising, punishing young center in Pierre-Luc Dubois.
  • Max Domi (Canadiens): As messy as this situation is, would Montreal really get much out ot trading Domi as an RFA? It wouldn’t be shocking if they hash out a “bridge” deal instead, but what will that look like?
  • Sam Reinhart and other Sabres: Kevyn Adams faces a busy time. Finding a good price for RFAs such as Reinhart and Victor Olofsson would go some ways in maybe keeping Jack Eichel from an open revolt.
  • Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi (Red Wings): Pretty much all of the Red Wings’ focus is on the future. Even so, Bertuzzi and especially Mantha represent significant pieces for both the present and future. Locking them both up to team-friendly, preferably long-term deals will be key.
  • Jake DeBrusk (Bruins): The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa reports that the Bruins may listen to trade offers for DeBrusk (sub required). DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk rank as the most prominent Bruins RFAs, but the UFAs are bigger fish to fry. Is Torey Krug really on his way out, and will Zdeno Chara retire? Combine those factors with the Bruins’ urge to get better while their Stanley Cup window is still open, and you have the makings for some serious intrigue.
  • Other supporting cast players: the Sharks likely won’t get another sweetheart deal with Kevin Labanc. Andre Burakovsky needs a new deal with the Avs, while Vince Dunn ranks as the other free agent defenseman of note for the Blues.

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

Crosby reaches 30-goal mark, Penguins knock off Avalanche 5-2

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DENVER – Sidney Crosby wasn’t even aware of reaching yet another milestone. He’s simply locked in on helping the Pittsburgh Penguins make a 17th straight postseason appearance.

Jeff Carter had a pair of goals, Crosby scored on a nifty backhand shot in the second period to reach the 30-goal mark for an 11th season and the Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

Crosby moved into a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux for the most 30-goal seasons in Penguins history. Another milestone reached – it came as news to him.

“I think the most important thing for me is just try to be consistent and if that reflects that great,” said Crosby, who turns 36 in August.

Even more, Crosby’s the first player in league history to post a 30-goal campaign at 18 years old and again when he was 35-plus, according to NHL Stats.

“It means I’ve been in the league for a while,” Crosby cracked. “That’s been the thing that’s driven me since since I got into the league – in your first year, you want to prove that you belong. Even at 35, I still think you want to prove you belong, because it is a younger league.”

Jake Guentzel also scored and Bryan Rust added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game slide and moved back into a wild-card spot in the East.

“It’s definitely a big one for us, for sure,” Guentzel said. “Defending champs, coming to their building, you know how good they are. Top to bottom, we defended hard and that’s what we have to do at this time of the year.”

Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 28 shots in improving to 11-4 this season against teams from the Western Conference.

J.T. Compher and Devon Toews had goals for the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak was halted. Nathan MacKinnon had an assist to extend his home points streak to 18 games.

It was a missed opportunity for Colorado, which could’ve pulled into a three-way tie with Dallas and Minnesota in the Central Division with a victory.

“We knew they were going to play with urgency,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But I didn’t feel like there was any reason why we couldn’t, either. … We didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get another one.”

Alexandar Georgiev made 40 saves, including several critical ones in a second period controlled by the Penguins, who outshot the Avalanche by a 21-9 margin. It could’ve been more than a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period.

Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 with 9:32 remaining. But Carter wrapped up the win with his first multigoal game in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2022.

“I’m thrilled for him. We’re all thrilled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Carter. “He cares about the Penguins. He wants to win, and he wants to contribute in helping us win so we couldn’t be happier for him.”


Bednar was appreciative of the three-year extension he signed Tuesday that goes through the 2026-27 season. In his seventh season, he’s the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Sullivan (December 2015).

“It’s not a forgiving league or sport, for the most part, but obviously that’s part of the reason why I’m so grateful and thankful,” Bednar said. “Because there were times over my tenure that got a little hairy and management could have made another decision. But obviously they didn’t.”


Avalanche D Cale Makar missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. “I still have him as day-to-day,” Bednar said. … F Darren Helm returned after missing 64 of 69 games this season with a lower-body injury. … Penguins D Jeff Petry (upper body) skated in the morning but sat out his third straight game. … The Penguins are 11-1 against the Central Division this season. … Penguins standout Evgeni Malkin assisted on Guentzel’s goal to reach the 50-assist mark for a seventh time in his career.


Penguins: At Dallas on Thursday night.

Avalanche: Host Arizona on Friday night.

Report: Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed jerseys

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CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against Vancouver because of security concerns involving a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country.

The decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

The Blackhawks have worn Pride warmup jerseys previously and donned special warmup jerseys on some other themed nights this season. There had been ongoing conversations about a Pride jersey with the players, according to the person who talked to the AP, but the organization made the decision to hold Pride Night without the jerseys this year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in December that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country. Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country.

The decision by the Blackhawks comes after San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys. The New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

Russians Nikolai Knyzhov and Alexander Barabanov wore the Pride-themed jerseys for the Sharks on Saturday.

While Chicago will go without Pride warmup jerseys this year, the team has planned a variety of activities in conjunction with Sunday’s game. DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.

Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2.

Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

“That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

“Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

“Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

“Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

“I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

“We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

“It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

“I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

“We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.