NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines heading into NHL Free Agency

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look ahead to the start of free agency on Wednesday and the top storylines that will unfold over the next few days.

Will Johnny Gaudreau reach the open market? Will Pittsburgh find a way to keep Evgeni Malkin? Just how low will the Chicago Blackhawks go in their rebuild? How about that goalie market?

We take a look at all of those stories and more.

What are we paying attention to most?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Will Calgary get Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk signed long-term?

Gaudreau and Tkachuk were one of the most dominant duos in the NHL during the 2021-22 season, and there is a very strong and convincing argument to be made that they were the most dominant duo. When those two were on the ice the Flames were a runaway freight train that steamrolled over everybody they played. They are both in need of new contracts this offseason, with Gaudreau still eligible for unrestricted free agency and Tkachuk a restricted free agent. Gaudreau will have no shortage of suitors if he reaches the open market and would seem a lock to sign the biggest contract this offseason. The Flames’ ability to re-sign him and work out an extension with Tkachuk will go a long way toward determining what their next few years will look like.

2. Will Evgeni Malkin be back in Pittsburgh?

The Penguins have already re-signed two of their top unrestricted free agents by agreeing to long-term deals with Bryan Rust and Kris Letang. Malkin still remains a mystery with the start of free agency just days away. The main sticking point seems to be term, with the Penguins seemingly preferring a two-or-three year deal and Malkin wanting a four-year deal. The concerns with Malkin are fair. He is going to be 36 years old, he has had major knee injuries the past couple of years, and he is going to start slowing down. In all honesty, he already has. The counterpoint to that is that he is still almost certainly a better option than any potential replacement the Penguins can bring in this offseason.

[Related: Penguins re-sign Kris Letang to six-year, $36.6 million contract]

3. What is Toronto going to do in goal?

This is starting to get interesting. Talks with Jack Campbell do not seem to be progressing, and the goalie market has dried up significantly over the past week with Marc-Andre Fleury, Alexandar Georgiev, and Ville Husso all going off the market. Can they afford Darcy Kuemper? Do they trade for Matt Murray and hope he can rebound? This is a big question mark that still needs to addressed and the options are getting thin.

4. How deep will Chicago’s rebuild go?

Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Hagel, and Kirby Dach are gone. Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome seem unlikely to get qualifying offers. Brett Connolly is getting bought out. This team already stinks and it is going to get dramatically worse. The only next logical steps are trading Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They will almost certainly have to eat salary to make those moves happen, and Toews’ value is probably in the tank, but there is really no point in keeping them around at this point given the direction this team is clearly taking.

[Related: Blackhawks trade Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa Senators]

5. What will Edmonton do with its newfound salary cap space?

Thanks to Duncan Keith’s retirement and the trade to dump Zack Kassian’s remaining salary the Edmonton Oilers are actually entering the offseason with some salary cap flexibility. Despite their success this past season it is still a team in need of some major improvements regarding its depth and goaltending. How much are they willing to pay Evander Kane? Can they get Kuemper in free agency?

6. How much will John Klingberg get?

With Letang re-signed in Pittsburgh, the already-thin UFA defense market gets even thinner. It is basically Klingberg, and then a pretty gigantic gap to the next best player. That is bad news for everybody except John Klingberg. He can still bring plenty of offense and is not just the best option for a team in need of a top-four defenseman in free agency; he is probably the only option in free agency.

7. What will the Canucks do with J.T. Miller?

He has been on the trade rumor mill for more than a year. He has just one year remaining on his contract, and it remains to be seen whether or not they can get him re-signed. He has been outstanding with the Canucks and is coming off a career year that saw him record 99 points. He is an impact player, but do not get high hopes for a massive trade return. These deals never bring back what you expect.

8. Who can Colorado keep?

There is no downside to winning, but if there were a downside it would probably be the fact your players get more expensive and you can not keep everybody. Darcy Kuemper is already done, but Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Nazem Kadri are all unrestricted free agents, while Arturri Lehkonen is a significant restricted free agent. They do not have the salary cap space to keep everybody. Nichushkin in particular seems like he might be able to really cash in after his playoff run.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Signing Tracker]

9. How does Tampa Bay solve its salary cap crunch?

The Lightning enter the offseason with no salary cap space and have already traded Ryan McDonagh. Most of the roster remains under contract, but Ondrej Palat is a pretty significant unrestricted free agent. Can they move somebody like an Alex Killorn to create more flexibility?

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

10. The Bruins offseason

All signs point to Patrice Bergeron returning, but nothing is official yet. There is speculation that David Krejci could return, but that is far from a given. There is also the looming David Pastrnak contract extension that needs to be settled. They could either still look like a strong contender, or take a pretty significant step backwards depending on how all of those play out.

11. Offer sheets?

This is typically a waste of time to discuss because it is rare to see them signed, and even rarer to see them not get matched. But we have seen more of a willingness to go that route in recent years, at least as far as Montreal and Carolina are concerned. Could Calgary be vulnerable to an offer sheet for Andrew Mangiapane if they re-sign Gaudreau and Tkachuk? Would Toronto try to get bold and go for Jake Oettinger? Is there somebody in Carolina (Martin Necas) that Montreal could target to continue their RFA back-and-forth? Somebody might want to look at Arturri Lehkonen in Colorado is the Avalanche have a salary cap crunch.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations]

12. What do the Rangers do?

The New York Rangers had a great playoff run, but there was nothing about it that seemed sustainable. They still need to get better and that might be a challenge. Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Ryan Strome are all unrestricted free agents and will need to be replaced while also making the necessary improvements to take the next step. As of Monday they have about $10 million in salary cap space to do all of that.

13. Does Detroit have another big move?

It is time for the Red Wings to take the next step in their rebuild. They have some great young core players, made a big move for a goalie (Husso), but they are still facing an uphill battle in that division.

14. How do the Islanders get better?

Speaking of New York teams needing to get better, what about the Islanders? It is pretty clear they think they can still compete and that the 2021-22 season was a fluke (and maybe it was), but they have got to add some offense somewere. Alex DeBrincat and Kevin Fiala have already been traded. Filip Forsberg re-signed in Nashville. Johnny Gaudreau seems like a pipe dream. Could they put together enough of a trade package for J.T. Miller? They need to do something because the team as constructed is not close to good enough.

15. What is the market for the big names that are declining?

Specifically, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, and P.K. Subban. Of the three, Giroux is probably still the most productive, but how much is a team willing to give him? Could he return to Philadelphia? Re-sign with Florida? Maybe go closer to home to a suddenly improving Senators team? Kessel is also intriguing because even though his goal scoring has dried up, he remains a solid playmaker that could still produce in the right role.

16. Capitals questions

They still have Ilya Samsonov in net, but is he the answer? How do they find a complement to him? Also what are their plans at center with Nicklas Backstrom’s injury situation? Will he back? Do they LTIR him and find a replacement?

 

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

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.