NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations

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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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    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

    METROPOLITAN DIVISION

    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

    ATLANTIC

    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

    CENTRAL

    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

    PACIFIC

    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”