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?
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.