Best remaining NHL free agents after Hall, Pietrangelo sign

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Now that Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo both landed in unexpected spots in as NHL free agents, teams and fans must be wondering: who’s left?

As different as things are right now, with 2020 NHL Free Agency in October, some things haven’t changed. By that I mean: there aren’t a whole lot of valuable NHL free agents remaining. Once you get past the cream of the crop, you’re left with … well, dented cans of creamed corn.

OK, that’s not totally fair. There are still some premium items to rummage through. Granted, some might be the hockey equivalent of paying way too much for items at Whole Foods, but there are still a few interesting players left in 2020 NHL Free Agency.

In particular, teams might find some interesting options at forward. Beyond a Hail Mary or two, they might be better off going the trade route for defensemen, though.

This post focuses on the best remaining 2020 NHL Free Agent options who are UFAs. If you’re arguing that teams could make the biggest splashes with RFAs like Mathew Barzal, you’re right. But you also probably realize that NHL teams are extremely hesitant to rock the boat in that manner. Maybe 2020 will be different in that way, too?

Who knows, but let’s focus on unrestricted free agents NHL teams might consider.

Best players left in 2020 NHL Free Agency

Prominent Forwards

  • Mike Hoffman: Hoffman, 30, is the sort of player teams were likely to spend foolish money on in previous NHL free agent years. That’s not to say he brings zero value, but some understandably view him as an “empty-calorie” goal-scorer.

If he’s holding out for a James Neal-type deal, that could be bad. Hoffman could be awfully interesting if the market’s simply sour on him, though. Goals are goals.

Although you could say that for many NHL free agents, Taylor Hall being off the market could help Hoffman in particular.

  • Evgenii Dadonov: While Dadonov scored 25 goals (after two straight 28-goal seasons), his underlying numbers have dropped considerably since an outstanding return to the NHL in 2017-18.

Already 31, Dadonov could be a risky long-term investment. Perhaps his asking price would be reasonable after lingering on the NHL free agent market?

  • Joe Thornton: At 40, it’s fair to wonder how much “Jumbo Joe” has left. It’s also fair to ask how comfortable he really is with the idea of leaving San Jose.
  • Mikael Granlund: If Granlund was ever going to be a “sexy” pick, he isn’t now. That lack of sizzle might actually make the 28-year-old a nice bargain, much like fellow former Predator Craig Smith.
  • Anthony Duclair: Carries some of those Hoffman-like “empty calorie” concerns. But he’s also fast and young for a UFA at 25 after the Senators strangely balked on handing him a qualifying offer.
  • Corey Perry: Honestly, if it weren’t for a mini-resurgence during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Perry would be in the next section. Another low-risk deal would make sense for the 35-year-old pest.

Other notable forwards

Defensemen

  • Zdeno Chara – In Chara’s case, this almost certainly boils down to re-signing with the Bruins or retiring. But he must at least be mentioned.
  • Sami Vatanen – It’s been a tough stretch for the 29-year-old. Could that make him a value pick-up, though?
  • Travis Hamonic – Also 29, also a defenseman who’s seen his stock drop dramatically. And also could be beneficial if a team can sign Hamonic to a “show-me” deal.
  • Andy Greene – Comes with obvious risks at 37, yet maybe those limitations would pave the way for a value contract? Delivered considerable rental value for the Islanders.
  • Dmitry Kulikov – Hey, I didn’t get it when the Jets gave him quite a lot of money. Who’s to say someone else won’t talk themselves into Kulikov?
  • Cody Ceci – Another not very good defenseman who NHL teams insist on employing.
  • Trevor Daley – Have to admit, I thought he retired.
  • Ron Hainsey – Similar energy to Daley. He’s also a fellow former Penguins defenseman, and Jim Rutherford clearly loves remembering guys.

Goalies

Not many spots left, but teams might be able to find a diamond in the rough if they need a backup.

  • Ryan Miller – Would be kind of cool if he returned to the Sabres, wouldn’t it?
  • Aaron Dell – Early in his Sharks days, Dell looked like an elite backup, peaking with a .931 save percentage over 20 appearances in 2016-17. One could argue he was propped up then, yet now Dell’s agent might argue that the Sharks’ defense hangs goalies out to dry. At 31, he’s younger than many other options. Would he take on a third goalie role to try to rehab his career? (Dell might not have a choice.)
  • Craig Anderson – Tough to imagine the 39-year-old drawing much interest, unless he’s open-minded about a 3G gig too.
  • Jimmy Howard – Rotated a sneaky-fantastic 2018-19 with an apocalyptic 2019-20. At 36, his options are limited. That said, if you had to bet on anyone on this list, it’d probably boil down to Howard or Miller. (Goalies are strange, though, so it will probably be Mike Condon storming on the scene or something.)

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.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

Terms of the deal were not released.

The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.