Gaudreau, Kadri, Kuemper among potential UFAs set to cash in this summer

NHL Free Agency
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It has been a great year for a lot of the NHL’s pending unrestricted free agents as some perfectly time career years (and some players displaying continued excellence) should result in some major paydays over the coming weeks and months.

Even though some of these players might end up re-signing with their current teams they are still positioned to cash in.

Let’s take a look at 10 players who have done the most for themselves on their next contracts.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

The Flames’ great season is going to come at a significant cost this summer as they not only have to deal with the restricted free agency of Matthew Tkachuk, they also have to figure out if there is a way to keep Gaudreau. They have been the NHL’s most productive forward duo this season, absolutely dominating their opponents. Both players have topped the 100-point mark and are among the NHL’s top scorers. They are going to cost a fortune.

Gaudreau is the fascinating one because players like him, coming off of a season like this do not typically enter the open market. Not only because most teams tend to keep elite scorers, but also because players do not typically have seasons this good going into free agency. You have to go all the way back to Brad Richards in 2010-11 to find the last time a top-10 scorer entered the unrestricted free agent market. Gaudreau has been a top-scorer before but this season represents a massive jump from what he did the past two seasons, while he turns 29 this offseason. Elite talents tend to maintain a lot of their production into their 30s, so he should still have a few great years ahead of him (especially if he stays in Calgary with Tkachuk). He could get $9-10 million on the open market.

Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators

There was some discussion as to whether or not Nashville would trade Forsberg before the trade deadline, but that clearly did not happen as the Predators push toward a playoff spot. Forsberg has had a career year by topping the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career and showed what he is capable of over a full season where he is (mostly) healthy. The Predators have a ton of salary cap space to play with and no other major expiring contracts so paying Forsberg his market rate should not be an issue. If they want to. And if he wants to stay. His current salary cap hit is $6 million per season and there is no reason to think he can not get at least $8 million.

Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche

Kadri has been a good fit in Colorado from the moment he arrived, but this season his game went to another level entirely. He has scored at a 100-point pace over 82 games and been a complete two-way force in the middle of the Colorado lineup. The big question here: Would he do that on a team that is not as obscenely loaded offensively as Colorado is, and in a situation where he has to be the top guy over a full season? He will also be 32 at the start of next season. There is some risk here.

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche

Colorado is actually a pretty great place to be a goalie. You get to play behind the best defensive lineup in the league while getting incredible goal support. You also rarely need to steal games. Philip Grubauer turned his success in Colorado (where he was a Vezina Trophy finalist in his contract year) into a six-year, $35.4 million contract with a no-trade clause. Kuemper stepped in to replace him and is currently one of the best performing goalies in the league. A goalie-needy team will no doubt throw money at him.

Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues

Here is a complete wild card of a player. Husso was awful as St. Louis’ backup goalie a year ago, entered this season as the backup to Jordan Binnington after he signed a massive contract extension, and ended up playing his way into the starting job. And he has been legitimately good, arguably helping to save the Blues’ season and take them from “good playoff team” to “possible Stanley Cup contender.” But his track record as a starting goalie is so limited it seems almost impossible to project him long-term. The last time aa team signed a goalie like that away from St. Louis the Buffalo Sabres ended up with Carter Hutton, which did not work out well for anybody (Hutton or the Sabres). He makes just $700,000 this year and will be getting a significant raise from somebody, whether it is the Blues or somebody else.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Blues sneaking under radar; Kings take care of business]

Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

Rust has become such a valuable player for the Penguins, and it really came out of nowhere. He was an unheralded prospect, got a chance late in the 2015-16 season, scored some big goals on the way to a Stanley Cup, and over the years has turned himself into a legitimate top-six winger that can impact the game in all three zones and every phase of the game. He can play up and down the lineup, play with elite players, kill penalties, and do a little bit of everything. He is one of three key free agents for the Penguins this summer (along with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin) but the one that is probably least likely to sign. This is his one opportunity at a significant pay day and he would be crazy not to take advantage of it.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

If the Penguins are going to re-sign just one of their pending free agents, Letang should be the priority because he is still sensational even in his age 34 season. He is one of the top offensive defenseman in the league and can still control the pace of the game and play major minutes. He is in fantastic physical shape, can still skate at an elite level, and is having one of the best seasons of his career. He has been the most underappreciated of Pittsburgh’s core over the past decade-and-a-half, but also one of the most valuable.

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

I imagine his minus-27 rating is going to be a red flag for some people, but Klingberg’s underlying numbers from a scoring chance and expected goal perspective are still strong, he can still produce in the offensive zone, and after Letang it is a pretty thin market for defenders.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

This is a wild card because there are a couple of questions here. Does he want to retire? Is it Boston or bust? Would he entertain the idea of playing elsewhere? If he plays and stays in Boston the Bruins have a way of getting their top players to sign laughably below market contracts. But if he wanted to entertain the idea of playing elsewhere and cashing in he could absolutely do that because even though he is in his mid-30s he is still an elite two-way center that can score a top-line rate and play masterful defense.

Andrew Copp, New York Rangers

Copp was a huge addition for the Rangers at the NHL trade deadline and is the type of player that could really boost his value in free agency if he has a big playoff run. He has been great since joining the Rangers, is very good defensively, and is having a nice breakout year offensively that has seen him to 20-goals and 50 points. If he plays well in the playoffs teams are going to lineup to throw money at him in the offseason. His salary cap hit is $3.64 million this season. On the open market he probably easily tops $5 million on a long-term deal with the season he has had.

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    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.