NHL Power Rankings: Looking at the potential 2021 free agents

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are looking ahead to the potential 2021 unrestricted free agent class.

Not all of these players will make it to the open market — many will be re-signed before then — but all of them are entering the final year of their current contracts and would be eligible to become UFAs next offseason.

There are some significant names on the list, from the NHL’s greatest all-time goal-scorer, to a No. 1 goalie, and a couple of top-line forwards.

Who stands out the most?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He is one of those players that is going to be re-signed before free agency, because barring some unforeseen, crazy, and insane development you have to think he is a Capital for life. But, he is still entering the final year of that monster 13-year contract (we are all getting so old) and would be a UFA next offseason. Fascinating contract here because he is still the best goal-scorer in hockey but will be 36 years old when his next contract begins. Do the Capitals give him a short-term blank check?

2. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. His contract has been a steal for the Avalanche. Among players that have a realistic shot of reaching free agency (meaning: Not Alex Ovechkin) he should be the most sought after player given his talent, age, and production. Do the Avalanche have enough cap space to keep him?

3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes. Had he not been injured this season he would have had a great case for the Norris Trophy. Like Landeskog, his current contract is a steal that he has wildly outperformed.

4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. No idea what Rask’s long-term future is or what is plans are, but he is still an elite goalie that would make any team better.

5. Taylor Hall, Buffalo Sabres. This year’s free agent market did not turn out as expected given the … well … everything going on right now. (*gestures at the world*). So Hall is taking a one-year gamble in Buffalo in the hopes that next offseason is better. He should have a great year playing next to Jack Eichel.

6. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Nugent-Hopkins does not get a ton of recognition because he is a No. 1 overall pick that has not turned into a superstar. Even so, he is still a very good, very productive top-line player.

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

7. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. One of the most underrated players in the league. Drives possession and helps dictate the pace of play and you can pencil him in for close to 25 goals and 50 points at the start of each season.

8. David Krejci, Boston Bruins. Playing on a team that has had so many great players over the years has made it easy for Krejci to get overlooked, but he’s been a huge part of the Bruins’ success for more than a decade. Biggest concern with him as a UFA is his age (35 next April).

9. Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Feel like his stock could skyrocket over the next year playing in Tampa. An outstanding defensive forward that will also score you 20 goals. Huge value to that. His addition to the Lightning roster was a game-changer this season.

10. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. He bounced back in a big way after a down 2018-19 performance offensively. Strong two-way, possession driving player with top-six scoring ability.

11. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. A bright spot in New Jersey over the past few years. Palmieri has scored at a 30-goal pace per 82 games since joining the Devils.

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12. Brandon Saad, Colorado Avalanche. Saad never really became the star he seemed to be destined for early in his career, but he has some finishing ability and could be in line for a huge contract year playing on a stacked Avalanche team.

13. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Very durable goalie that has consistently produced at a better than league average rate for goalies. He needs to have a bounce-back season this year.

14. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. Binnington is very difficult to rate at this point. It is still such a small sampling of games and there has been such a wide range to his performance. We have seen him be excellent, we have seen him be average, we have seen him struggle (like in the playoffs). This season will go a long way toward determining his value.

15. Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers. This did not go as planned in Toronto but he gets to play a one-year “prove it” contract in Edmonton where he should get big minutes on the best power play unit in the league. That is good news for him.

16. Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes. His performance when healthy would put him higher on this list, because he can be excellent. But injuries have been an issue.

[MORE: NHL Offseason Trade Tracker]

17. Nikita Gusev, New Jersey Devils. Based on what we saw from him this year he could easily work his way up this ranking. He is still a bit of a mystery at this point since we have only seen him for one year in the NHL.

18. Eric Staal, Buffalo Sabres. Going to Minnesota gave his career a jumpstart the past few years, and he should help improve Buffalo’s lineup this season.

19. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks. Not a franchise player any longer and closer to the end of his career than his prime, but he is still a productive playmaker.

20. Paul Stastny, Winnipeg Jets. A lot of this will depend on what his 2020-21 season looks like. Still a very good player, but he will be 36 in the first year of his next contract.

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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.


The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.


The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.


Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”


With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.


This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.