NHL Power Rankings: The best salary cap bargains

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some players around the NHL that have been on team-friendly contracts under the salary cap. At least for now. Because given the way they all play they will not be bargains for much longer.

The benefit of these deals on a team level, especially for the star players, is that it enables them to build stronger teams around them. When the Avalanche have a top-three player in the league with the 92nd largest cap hit (as they do with Nathan MacKinnon), it gives you a lot of flexibility to build around that play.

The Avalanche have three of the top-six players on the list, while a Panthers duo also cracks the top-five.

It is also important to note that players on entry-level contracts are excluded from the list. Has to be players that have at least signed a second contract in the NHL, and contracts that are at least three years in length on the day they were signed.

Who else makes the cut for this week’s NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the only players in the league that have more total points than MacKinnon over the past four regular seasons. He is the focal point of the league’s best line, and the key building block for what might be the league’s best team. And his salary cap hit is the 92nd largest in the league on a contract that runs for two more full seasons. It gives the Avalanche a ton of salary cap flexibility and has allowed them to build a ferocious team around him.

2. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers. A top-10 scorer and a Selke Trophy level defender. That is the type of player you can build a contender around, especially when their salary cap hit is under $6M ($5.9M) for another full season after this year.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. An identical salary cap hit to Barkov, only his contract runs for another season beyond. Getting these two players, with this level of production, for less than $12M combined should give the Panthers a massive advantage over most other teams in the league when it comes to roster construction. No reason for them to not be a contender with this duo at that price.

4. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. A goal scorer, a top-five scorer, a great defender, and an agitator that will knock anybody off of their game. And he is signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the league at a salary cap hit of $6.125M per season (98th in the league).

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5. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. Whether he re-signs in Colorado or goes somewhere else he probably will not be on a list like this much longer. Landeskog has been a steal for the Avalanche for years, counting just $5.5M against the salary cap over the past seven seasons. He has been Colorado’s captain and a dominant two-way player that has played a major role on that top line. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

6. Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche. The forgotten player in Colorado, lost in the shuffle of All-Star forwards and elite defenders. Since joining the Avalanche and becoming their starting goalie three years ago, Grubauer has been one of the league’s most productive goalies. Of the 59 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games the past three seasons, Grubauer ranks 9th in all situations save percentage and eighth in even-strength save percentage. This season he is a Vezina Trophy finalist. His $3.3M salary cap hit is the 33rd highest among NHL goalies and 317th among all players. Like Landeskog, he is also a UFA after this season. So he will not be a bargain for much longer.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. A top-pairing defender, a possession driver, and a big-time point producer from the blue line. Klingberg has been a steal for the Stars over the past six years, counting just a little more than $4M against the salary cap. That is 74th among all defenders in the league and 248th among all players. He still has one more year remaining on that contract.

8. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. One of the NHL’s best goal scorers and a top-line center with the 165th largest salary cap hit in the league.

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9. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes. Hamilton has been underappreciated his entire career, but when you get right down to his on-ice impact he is one of the best defensemen in the entire league. Scores at a top level, is one of the best possession players in the league, and is simply a Norris-level defender every year. His $5.75M salary cap hit is 136th in the league.

10. Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning. Coleman is not quite on the same level as the other players on this list in terms of star power, but do not overlook his impact. His arrival in Tampa Bay a year ago helped give the Lightning yet another dominant line that can control games and take over. He is one of the players that helped put the Lightning over the top thanks to his 20-goal ability, penalty killing, and defensive play. His current contract pays him under $2M per year when he is probably easily worth more than $4-5M based on his contributions. He might get that this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

Others just missing the cut with their cap hits: Patrice Bergeron ($6.875M), Sean Couturier ($4.33M), Jake Guentzel ($6M), Tyler Toffoli ($4.25M), Craig Smith ($3.1M), Devon Toews ($4.1M), Brett Pesce ($4.025M), Jaccob Slavin ($5.3M).

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.