NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to the upcoming class of restricted free agents for the 2022 offseason.

Specifically, we are looking at the most intriguing RFA situations that need to be settled.

Just to emphasize this at the front: These rankings are not a ranking of the best RFAs in terms of who is the better player or the best players. They are a ranking of the most interesting situations regarding team salary cap space, what type of contract the player might be looking for, how much the team should (or can) invest, whether or not a trade is an option, no qualifying offer, or even potentially an offer sheet. Yeah, that is a very subjective ranking. But these are the NHL Power Rankings after all.

Which restricted free agents are we most intrigued by this summer?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!!

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. How the Flames navigate this offseason is going to be fascinating to watch because they have some major players up for new contracts including Tkachuk (RFA), Andrew Mangiapane (RFA), and Johnny Gaudreau (UFA). How are they going to navigate all of this? Gaudreau and Tkachuk were one of the best duos in the league this season and completely dominant together on the Flames’ top line. Tkachuk should be in line for a major extension, but with only $26 million in cap space to fill half of a roster how can they pay him and still manage to keep Gaudreau and build a deep team around them? Going to be aa challenge.

2. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild. Speaking of challenges, say hello to the Minnesota Wild. Fiala has been one of the Wild’s best players since coming over in a trade with Nashville and he is due for a new contract this offseason as an RFA. But the Wild’s salary cap situation is a mess for the next couple of years and is going to take some major creativity to keep the players they want. Do they deal somebody else (Matt Dumba?) to keep Fiala? Or does Fiala get dealt to somebody else that has more salary cap space to pay him?

[Related: Wild can survive salary cap crunch, but can they thrive?]

3. Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have a pretty good long-term outlook with Cole Sillinger, Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, and another top-six pick this season as a potential long-term core. Laine is the guy that can really be a game-changer for them. He rebounded in a huge way this season and started to again look like the superstar he was on track to be early in his career. But can the Blue Jackets get him signed to a long-term deal? If they can, that is one heck of a building block for your core.

4. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets. Like Laine (the player he was traded for), Dubois had a nice bounce back season in Winnipeg and is due for a new contract this offseason. Contract talks have reportedly not begun yet leading to some speculation that he could be on the trade block again. His size, skill, and age make him an intriguing player because he has No. 1 center ability.

5. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are a fascinating team this offseason because nobody really knows what direction they are going in. They were much improved under Bruce Boudreau, but they still have some salary cap complications and have an entirely new front office that might want to shake things up. Boeser was reportedly on the trade block at times this past season. Could he be there again this summer?

6. Jason Robrertson, Dallas Stars. The intrigue here: How much is he going to get? Robertson has become the engine that drives the Stars and he is already blossoming into one of the league’s must-see star talents. Dallas should be locking him up now.

[Related: Jason Robertson is engine that drives the Stars]

7. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. What are the Capitals going to do in goal? They have tried the Samsonov-Vitek Vanecek duo for two years now with unspectacular results and both are restricted free agents this offseason. Samsonov was supposed to be the goalie of the future but things have simply not worked out that way at all. What sort of investment do you even make here?

8. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers. Puljujarvi has become an excellent player for the Oilers that does everything reasonably well. Every line he plays on is better with him on it. The only problem: He does not actually score a lot of the goals himself. That can still change, and if it does, the Oilers have another star on their hands. This might be a case where a long-term deal could end up being team-friendly for the Oilers in the future.

9. Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames. Mangiapane has gotten progressively better each year he has been in the league and had a breakout season this year for the Flames. He is one of their many players due for a new contract this offseason and will further complicate their offseason. This is a situation where if offer sheets were more prevalent he would be a good target.

10. Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars. Oettinger ended up taking over the Stars’ No. 1 goalie spot and was their best player in the playoffs, nearly stealing a series against the Calgary Flames. His track record to this point is still relatively limited. How bold do the Stars get here with a new contract?

[NHL Power Rankings: Top potential 2022 unrestricted free agents]

11. Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks. Strome has become a solid player for Chicago, but the Blackhawks short-term outlook is such a mess you really can not be sure that anybody on the roster is safe from a trade. Is he somebody that Chicago thinks can still contribute to its next playoff team? Or does he have more trade value this offseason than actual on-ice value on a new contract?

12. Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins. All of the talent, and the Penguins have invested a ton of resources and assets in him, but the production is just not consistent. He came on strong late in the season and the playoffs, but was that enough to get him a qualifying offer and new contract in an offseason where the Penguins have some major decisions to make?

13. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. One of the many young players in Carolina with high upside that has helped make them one of the best teams in the league. Basically I just want to see Montreal and Carolina continue their offer sheet battle with another one this offseason.

14. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Igor Shesterkin is obviously the guy in New York (duh), but what is Georgiev’s future? He has a ton of talent, but his production was not there this season. Could he still be a starter for somebody? Does he have trade value to the Rangers?

15. Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings. Zadina just has not quite put it together for the Red Wings, and he is starting to reach an age where it is going to have to happen sooner rather than later. Is he still part of their long-term future? And in what role?

16. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. When Gurianov is on the ice good things tend to happen. But the Stars do not usually put him on the ice as much as they should. I want to see what he can do with a fresh start somewhere else. Update: Gurianov re-signed with the Dallas Stars on one-year, $2.9 million contract on Tuesday afternoon. 

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

17. Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils. Bratt has been a good young player for the Devils for a few years now, but he really took a massive step forward this season. Are the Devils confident he is going to be that player going forward? If they are, this is the time to sign him long-term.

18. Arturri Lehkonen, Colorado Avalanche. Lehkonen is an absolutely perfect fit for the way the Avalanche play and has been a wonderful addition to this roster. But Colorado has a ton of free agents this offseason (both restricted and unrestricted) and has to figure out how to juggle all of that. Where does Lehkonen fit in that mix beyond this season?

19. Joshua Norris, Ottawa Senators. Norris has become a key part of the Senators’ core and is helping to make the Erik Karlsson trade look like a significant win for them. They have locked up several of their young players to long-term deals. Norris should join that group, and it should not be a problem to make that happen.

20. Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings. After scoring at a 10-15 goal pace over the first few years of his career, Kempe was one of the Kings players to break out this season with a 35-goal effort to help drive them to a surprising playoff berth. He is still 25 years old, right in his peak years for production, and the Kings have taken a step forward and should be consistent playoff contenders. The question for the Kings is can they count on him to consistently score 30 goals, or was this season an outlier?

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    Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

    Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

    “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

    The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

    And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

    “I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

    The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

    “Drop the puck,” he said.

    DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

    “I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

    Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

    “We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

    Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

    Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

    Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

    Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

    “There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

    The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

    Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

    Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

    Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.

    Sabres sign Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnston to 2-year rookie contract

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy wait by signing Ryan Johnston to a two-year, entry level contract more than a month after the defenseman completed his senior college season at Minnesota.

    Johnston will report immediately to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, whose best-of-seven Eastern Conference final playoff series against Hershey is tied at 1.

    From Southern California, Johnston is listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds and was selected 31st in 2019 draft.

    His puck-moving skills fit Buffalo’s style of play, Johnston finished his college career with nine goals and 59 points in 143 career games, including four goals and 18 points in 40 games this year. He reached the NCAA’s Frozen Four in each of his final two seasons, with the Gophers losing in the semifinals last year, followed by a 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the championship game last month.

    He also had a goal and three assists in seven games representing the U.S. team that won gold at the 2021 world junior championships.

    Johnston, who turns 22 in July, had the option to wait until August when he would’ve become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with any team. Because Johnston was first-round pick, the Sabres would’ve been compensated with a 2024 second-round selection had he signed elsewhere.

    Both sides are banking on the player’s age and college experience to enable Johnston to make the jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. The Sabres will still control Johnston’s rights as a restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires.

    Joe Pavelski scores on OT power play, Stars beat Golden Knights 3-2 to avoid West sweep

    stars golden knights
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    DALLAS — Joe Pavelski admits that he probably appreciates the big playoff goals more the later he gets in his career. But they all still feel just as good, and his latest kept the season alive for the Dallas Stars.

    “Just really living in the moment,” Pavelski said. “A tremendous feeling for sure, and glad we could play another game, and go from there and try to extend it.”

    The 38-year-old Pavelski scored on a power play at 3:18 of overtime – a one-timer from the middle of the left circle to the far post – and the Stars avoided a sweep in the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Jason Robertson scored twice for his first career multigoal playoff game for Dallas, which played without suspended captain Jamie Benn.

    “We’re looking for goals and that’s kind of my responsibility I put on myself,” Robertson said. “I know these playoffs have been tough. … I was able to get the bounces that we needed tonight.”

    Jake Oettinger had 37 saves, two nights after the 24-year-old Stars goalie was pulled 7:10 into Game 3 after allowing three goals on five shots.

    The Stars had the man advantage in overtime after Brayden McNabb‘s high-sticking penalty on Ty Dellandrea. Fifty seconds into the power play, Pavelski scored on a pass from Miro Heiskanen. They won for the first time in their five OT games this postseason – Vegas won the first two games of this series past regulation.

    It was only the second Vegas penalty of the game, both high-sticking calls against McNabb. His penalty on Pavelski late in the first period set up the power play when Robertson scored his first goal with some nifty stickwork.

    Pavelski, in his 15th NHL season and still looking for his first Stanley Cup, scored his ninth goal in 12 games this postseason, but his first in five games. He has 73 career postseason goals – the most for U.S.-born players and the most among all active players.

    “He’s ageless. … I’ve seen that movie over and over again. Never gets old,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He lives for those moments and he wants to be in those situations. Always has, and delivers almost every time.”

    Benn was suspended two games by the NHL on Wednesday for his cross-check with his stick landing near the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in the first two minutes of Game 3 on Tuesday night. Benn also will miss Game 5 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

    William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Vegas. Adin Hill had his five-game winning streak snapped. He made 39 saves, including a game-saver with his extended left leg without about two minutes left in regulation on rookie Fredrik Olofsson’s swiping try in his first career playoff game.

    “Our effort wasn’t good enough. Closing a series is probably the hardest game in a series, right, so it just wasn’t good enough from our group,” Marchessault said. “It was still a one-goal game in overtime. It was right there for us.”

    Karlsson and Marchessault are among six of the original Vegas players still on the team from the inaugural 2017-18 season that ended with the Knights playing for the Stanley Cup, though they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals after winning the first game.

    Vegas missed a chance to complete a sweep, a night after the Florida Panthers finished off a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Vegas took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period when Marchessault, after whacking his stick on the back of Ryan Suter in front of the net, scored on a pass between the Stars defenseman’s legs from McNabb, another original Golden Knight.

    Robertson’s tying goal late in that period came on a ricochet off the back board just seconds after he had another shot hit the post. That was the fourth goal of this series, and sixth in the playoffs, after this regular season becoming the first Dallas player with a 100-point season.

    On his first goal late in the first that tied it 1-1, Robertson deflected Heiskanen’s shot from just inside the blue line up into the air. As Hill was trying to secure the puck into his glove, Robertson knocked it free and then reached around and swiped the puck into the net with his stick parallel to the ice.

    With former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and wrestling great Ric Flair both in the building wearing Stars jerseys Dallas was avoided being swept in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 against St. Louis in the second round. This was the Stars’ 21st playoff series since then.

    The Golden Knights scored first again – though not like those three quick goals in Game 3 that led to the earliest exit ever for Oettinger.

    Karlsson pushed the puck up and skated to the front of the net after passing to Nicolas Roy, whose pass through traffic went off a Dallas stick before Reilly Smith got it just inside the right circle and took a shot. Karlsson’s deflection past Oettinger only 4:17 into the game was his eighth goal this postseason.

    “There were a lot of rush chances,” said Smith, also with Vegas since the beginning. “I don’t think we did a good enough job of making it difficult on them. So we get another opportunity in two days.”

    Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

    panthers stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina, again.

    The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers – a hockey punchline no more – are again going to play for the game’s grandest prize.

    Tkachuk got his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds left, lifting the Panthers past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

    The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

    “This was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

    Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series – four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically in sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins were in overtime, and this one may as well have been.

    The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team in, the longest of long shots – which is consistent with their history, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

    And now, beasts of the East. Tkachuk arrived last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

    “It’s amazing,” Bobrovsky said. “We showed the resilience … and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

    NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was the one tasked with presenting the Prince of Wales Trophy. After some photos, Aleksander Barkov – the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winner – grabbed it, and skated it away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. A few of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t pass it around.

    That’ll wait for the big prize.

    “It’s hard to explain right now. Everything just happened so quick,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does. … It hasn’t been easy and nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

    Added Tkachuk: “We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

    Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

    Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off after getting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to set off a wild celebration.

    “Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s really cool. No doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

    Toy rats – the Panthers’ tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests from Florida’s old arena in 1996 – sailed down from the stands, and the goal needed to survive an official review. But the rats were picked up, the goal was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

    Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen stopped 21 shots.

    “Everyone’s going to say, ‘You got swept.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games. We got beat, but we were right there. This could have went the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

    That wasn’t sour grapes. He was right. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have gone much differently.

    But Bob was his best. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over. And Florida is as close to a Cup as it has ever been; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

    Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.

    Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

    Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

    “It’s been unbelievable since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this amazing year.”


    Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. … Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs – extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. … Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. … Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring – banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.


    Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 – and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.