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Barzal, Dubois top list of unsigned NHL restricted free agents

It has been a busy couple of days in the restricted free agent market (Mackenzie Blackwood, Erik Cernak, Casey Mittlestadt have all re-signed this week) and that is only going to continue in the coming weeks as the 2020-21 NHL season gets closer.

As of Thursday morning there are still 15 unsigned restricted free agents.

Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent names.

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

With Johnny Boychuk headed to the LTIR list for the season it should give the Islanders enough cap space to re-sign their franchise player. The only question is what sort of deal it is going to end up being? Short-term bridge or long-term mega contract? Barzal is the Islanders’ best player and is just now entering what should be his peak years of production in the NHL. His speed, playmaking, and possession-driving ability make him a complete player and a great cornerstone for the Islanders to build around for years. If they are able to agree to a long-term deal, they will not regret it.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen continues to insist that a deal is going to be completed before the start of the season, and there is no reason to believe that will not happen. It might just come down to the wire. The Blue Jackets have a history of dragging their RFA negotiations out until the bitter end, and it usually ends with a short-term bridge deal. It would be a mild surprise if Dubois ends up with a longer term deal based on that precedent. He is already an outstanding two-way player and is coming off a huge postseason performance. Dubois, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones should be the foundation of this team for years ahead.

Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

This is a fascinating one because we have been watching the Lightning’s salary cap situation all season to see how they are going to fit everybody under the cap. Nikita Kucherov missing the entire regular season due to hip surgery is going to open up $9.5 million in salary cap space which will help them get Cirelli re-signed. They still may need to make a trade to become totally cap compliant before the season, but the situation is looking a lot clearer than it did a couple of days ago. If there was ever an offer sheet candidate during an NHL offseason, Cirelli’s ability and Tampa Bay’s cap situation made this seem like the perfect storm for it to happen. It never did.

UPDATE: The Lightning have re-signed Anthony Cirelli to a three-year, $14.4 million contract.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks

There is still some mystery as to what exactly Strome is as a player and what he can become. Arizona gave up on him fairly quickly, and while he may never become a superstar he has still managed to produce at a very strong rate in the NHL. Especially since joining the Blackhawks. In parts of two seasons with Chicago he has scored at a 60-point pace over 82 games. His 89 total points over the past two seasons are fourth-most on the Blackhawks during that stretch, even though he has only played in 116 of the team’s 152 games.

He is one of the young players the Blackhawks are hoping can take a step forward this season and solidify themselves as part of the long-term core. The trouble for the Blackhawks is two of those other players (Alex Nylander and Kirby Dach) have injury issues this season. Nylander is likely out for the season, while Dach was just injured on Wednesday at the World Junior Championships.

Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues

Dunn has not yet had the biggest role in St. Louis, but he has always played extremely well in the role he has been given. His underlying and possession numbers are fantastic, and he has proven to be a solid contributor on the power play when he gets an opportunity. He is entering his age 23 season and should be ready to take on a bigger role this season. The Blues may have lost Alex Pietrangelo in free agency, but with the addition of Torey Krug and the return of Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella, and Dunn the Blues are still bringing back an excellent defense.

Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils

Bratt has turned out to be a great find for the Devils after being selected in the sixth-round of the 2016 NHL draft. He may not be quite on the same level as Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes in terms of upside and potential, but he still has a shot to be a 20-goal, 50-point player based on what he has already shown in the NHL. He is the last of the Devils unsigned restricted free agents following the re-signing of Blackwood this week.

Luke Kunin, Nashville Predators

He is the one player the Predators added from outside the organization this offseason that has a chance to make an impact offensively. With the departures of Nick Bonino (traded for Kunin), Kyle Turris (buyout), and Craig Smith (free agency) a lot of offense left the Predators’ lineup this offseason. They did manage to get Mikael Granlund re-signed, but this is still a team that has some significant issues in the goal scoring department.

The other unsigned restricted free agents

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.