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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    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

    Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

    Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

    Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

    Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

    The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

    Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

    Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

    Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

    Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

    In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

    Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

    Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

    Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

    Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

    Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

    Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

    The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

    The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

    Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

    He found a little of both.

    The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

    “I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

    Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

    His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

    The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

    “It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

    The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

    Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

    Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

    “That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

    Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

    Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

    “We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

    Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

    Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

    “It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

    UP NEXT

    Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

    Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.