Justin Williams

NHL Power Rankings: Looking at the top 2020 free agents

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are going look ahead to the 2020 free agent class and the top players that could be available.

This is a tough one at the moment because the remainder of the 2019-20 season — as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs — is still uncertain on both if and when it will resume. That will obviously dictate the free agency timeline. Not only in terms of when it begins, but also what it will might like financially.

This year’s potential class of free agents is your typical group with a couple of big names at the top, some big-time risks, some bargains, and some wild cards.

We take a look at the top-15 names, as well as a few wild card options. Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

1. Alex Pietrangelo, St, Louis Blues. It is hard to imagine him playing anywhere other than St. Louis. He is the captain, he helped bring a Stanley Cup to the city, and he is still their top defenseman and one of their top overall players. In an ideal world he stays right where he is. But the salary cap complicates things and this is probably going to be Pietrangelo’s last chance to score another big contract from the highest bidder. Still a bonafide top-pairing defender.

2. Taylor Hall, Arizona Coyotes. The best forward that will be available on the open market. Hall can still be an impact player, should still have some big years ahead of him, and will no doubt be looking for a place where he can have a chance to win. He has played in just five playoff games in his entire NHL career. The Coyotes said from the beginning they would explore a new contract with him when the team is right — no numbers have been exchanged, but the two sides have talked — but that decision will ultimately come from Hall.

3. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins. Krug does not get as much recognition around the league as he should. He is one of the most productive blue-liners in the league and helps drives possession for what has been one of the league’s best teams. He could command a significant price tag on the open market. Can — or will — the Bruins match that?

4. Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights. He has been one of the league’s most productive goalies for two years now and should be able to get a multi-year deal after settling for one-year contracts the past two summers.

5. Evgenii Dadonov, Florida Panthers. He has done nothing but produce like a top-line player since returning to the NHL three years ago. He is a little older, and that will definitely carry some risk when it comes to a free agent contract, but he is a 25-goal, 60-point forward and there is no reason to expect him to drop off the cliff in the next year or two. Beyond that, it could get a little risky.

6. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom is not one of the league’s elite goalies, but he has become a rock in net for the Canucks since taking over the starting job. He may not steal you a lot of games, but he is not going to lose them for you, either. There is a lot to be said for that.

7. Tyson Barrie, Toronto Maple Leafs. Expectations were sky-high for him in Toronto at the start and it almost seemed as if his play was never going to be enough. He has had a better season than he gets credit for having and can still be a very good top-four defenseman on a contender.

8. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. Not the best all-around player, but he can score. A lot.

9. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Unless he takes a huge discount it is hard to see him remaining with the Capitals. Ilya Samsonov is not only the future, he also might be their best goalie in the present. At his peak Holtby was one of the league’s best goalies and a game-changing talent. His play has rapidly declined the past couple of years, and when combined with his age there is a fairly significant risk there.

10. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks. Probably the most underrated player of the Blackhawks’ dynasty. Crawford can still be an outstanding goalie when healthy. There are some injury concerns over the past couple of years and he turns 36 next season. Still the potential for a short-term impact.

11. T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames. Brodie’s spent most of his career playing alongside Mark Giordano (and in his shadow) but has carved out an outstanding career for himself. Decent offensive production, solid defensive play, and a good all-around player.

12. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning. After what can probably best be described as a frustrating tenure with the New York Rangers, Shattenkirk signed what amounted to a one-year “prove it” contract in Tampa Bay. He has been outstanding. Maybe he is not a No. 1 defender, but he showed this season with the Lightning that he can make an impact on a contender.

13. Tyler Toffoli, Vancouver Canucks. Never a big-time scorer, Toffoli is an intriguing player because his underlying numbers have always been sensational and has never really played on a team where his offense could shine. He has 10 points (including six goals) in his first 10 games with the Canucks and could shine in the right situation long-term.

14. Ilya Kovalchuk, Washington Capitals. His return to the NHL after his KHL stint did not start as he wanted. Los Angeles was a terrible fit for him given where they are in their development and the talent around him, and once he got out of there he started to play like he was expected when he came back to the league. Put him in the right spot where he can excel offensively and he still has something left in the tank.

15. Brenden Dillon, Washington Capitals. Do not expect much offense from him, but Dillon is as solid as you will find defensively. A stay-at-home, defensive defenseman for the modern era.

The Wild Cards

These players are free agents but their long-term future is in doubt. Retirement is on the table, and their potential destinations seem limited. 

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks. Thornton was a little disappointed a trade did not work out at the deadline to give him a shot at the Stanley Cup. Technically he is a free agent and returning to San Jose seems like most logical, but there is always a chance he could make a move for one more great shot at the ring. Can still be a good third-or fourth-line center.

Patrick Marleau, Pittsburgh Penguins. Back to San Jose or retirement? Tough to say that given he has played in Toronto and Pittsburgh in recent years, but seems likely.

Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes. Williams can still play, and based on what we saw this past summer it seems like he is going to play in Carolina or nowhere.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. The chances of him playing elsewhere seems remote at best. If he plays anywhere next season, it seems 99.9 percent positive it is in Boston.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild. The long-time Minnesota captain just turned 37 years old, and while he is not the offensive player he once was he can still play a strong two-way game. Is it Minnesota or bust?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

What is the long-term outlook for the Hurricanes?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This has the potential to be one of the best long-term situations in the league given their collective age (one of the youngest teams in the league), the talent and potential on the roster, as well as the fact that so many of the key players are already signed to long-term deals.

The Montreal Canadiens did them a huge favor this offseason by signing Sebastian Aho to an easily matchable offer sheet, locking him in place for the next five years.

Meanwhile, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce are all signed to long-term deals for at least the next two seasons. Several of them signed beyond that, while only two of those players (Aho and Staal) count more than $5.5 million against the salary cap individually.

Add in the fact that Dougie Hamilton is signed for another year, while Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas are both still on their entry-level deals and will not be eligible for unrestricted free agency for another six seasons and all of the most important players are locked in place.

Out of that core group, Staal is the only one over the age of 30 (currently 31), while the majority of them are still age 26 or younger. That means they are all either in the prime of their careers right now, or are just about to reach their prime years in the coming seasons.

Aho, Svechnikov, and Necas are already outstanding players, and all might still have their best days ahead of them.

Long-Term Needs

Goaltending has been the single biggest question mark for this team for almost a decade now, and that still might be the case.

That is not meant to be a knock on the current duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. They have been solid this season when healthy, and a team could certainly do worse than having those two as their regular goalie tandem.

Given the overall strength of the team — and especially the defense when it is healthy — they do not need a game-saving superstar between the pipes to give them a chance. They simply need solid, steady, consistent play. They are getting that.

The question comes from the fact that I just do not know if either one is a true long-term solution in net, and if they have that solution somewhere else in their organization right now.

Both players are signed through the end of next season.

Other than maybe finding a potentially better long-term option in net, there are not a lot of truly pressing needs here. As mentioned above, their core group is locked in place and the addition of Trocheck from the Florida Panthers just before the trade deadline adds what could be an ideal long-term fit in the second-line center spot.

Long-Term Strengths

This current core has been built around its young defense, and that is still by far the team’s biggest strength both now and in the immediate future.

Slavin, Pesce, Skjei, and Gardiner are all signed through at least the 2022-23 season, while the former three all go through the end of the 2023-24 season. Add in Hamilton, who is signed through the end of next season, and that is as good of a top-five as you will find in the NHL right now. They are all in the prime of their careers, they are all outstanding players that fit the modern NHL game with their mobility and puck skills, and they are the backbone of what has been one of the league’s best teams when it comes to limiting shots and scoring chances over the past four years.

If they can manage to get Hamilton re-signed that would be another major piece in place.

Along with the defense, they also have what look to be two of the most important pieces for any contending team already in place with the duo Aho and Svechnikov — impact forwards that can carry the offense.

Aho is already a sensational player and a top-line star, while Svechnikov might end up being the best of the bunch. Aho’s contract could end up looking like a steal over the next four years, while Svechnikov still has one more year on an entry-level contract, giving them a huge advantage when it comes to adding pieces next season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes surprises and disappointments
• John Forslund tells his quarantine story

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Carolina Hurricanes: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Carolina Hurricanes.

What happened to Nino Niederreiter‘s offense?

From an overall performance standpoint this might be the single biggest disappointment for this year’s Hurricanes team.

The Hurricanes acquired Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild a little over a year ago for Viktor Rask, and it looked like an immediate steal. At the time he seemed to be an ideal bounce-back candidate and made an instant impact on the Hurricanes’ lineup during the stretch run of the regular season. He’s been a dependable two-way player for several years and along with strong defensive play and an ability to drive possession, he’s also been a near lock for 20-25 goals and around 50 points every season.

This season, though, his offense took a dive off the cliff.

While his underlying numbers remain outstanding, he managed only 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games. That put him on an 82-game pace for just 13 goals and 35 points. Just for comparisons sake, In 36 games with the Hurricanes a year ago after the trade he recorded 14 goals and 30 points. Given his career track record, as well as the fact that he is still an elite possession-driver, it’s possible that it’s just an outlier of a season driven by some bad luck and a poor shooting percentage. He seems to be a good bet to bounce back next season, but the overall production was still a bit of a disappointment.

Andrei Svechnikov takes a big step toward stardom

I don’t know if this is technically a “surprise” as much as it is the expectation, but the second-year forward (and 2018 No. 2 overall pick) looks like an emerging superstar for the Hurricanes.

After scoring 20 goals as a 18-year-old rookie, he came back in his sophomore season and was on track to hit the 30-goal mark while playing an advanced all-around game for his age.

As if that was not enough, he also brought the Lacrosse goal to the NHL. Not once, but twice.

Dougie Hamilton loses his shot at the Norris Trophy

This is one of those disappointments that is simply the result of bad luck. Nobody is to blame here.

In mid-January Hamilton was playing at a level that almost no other defenseman in the league could match and was starting to emerge as one of the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. He was leading the Hurricanes’ offense from the blue line, driving possession, and helping to form one of the league’s best defense pairings alongside Jaccob Slavin.

Then a broken bone in his leg sidelined him for months and not only robbed the Hurricanes of one of their best players, it took away his opportunity and winning a major piece of hardware to finally cement his status as one of the league’s best blue-liners.

Justin Williams returned and made an immediate impact

Williams was not with the team at the start of the season as he contemplated his future, but it always seemed inevitable that he was going to return at some point before the playoffs.

The question was always going to be how much he would have left in the tank at age 38 and after missing half of a season.

The answer: A lot.

In his 20 games after re-joining the team Williams played like he never took any time off. He scored eight goals, scored shootout winners, and was the same outstanding all-around player he has been for his entire career. It was like getting a significant in-season trade addition without having to give up anything and made an already deep roster just that much better.

The Jake Gardiner question

The Hurricanes added Gardiner to their roster just before the start of the season, signing him to a four-year, $16.2 million contract to add even more depth to an already loaded defense.

But has it really worked out as hoped or planned?

The traditional box score numbers paint a rather uninspiring picture. His offensive production is down from where it has been at its peak despite getting decent power play time, he is a team-worst minus-24, and has mostly played a third-pairing role in terms of his usage. Probably not what you want from a $4 million per year blue liner.

He has looked a lot better from the analytical side of things where his possession, scoring chance, and expected goal differentials are all quite strong. None of that is a new development for his career.

Gardiner has always been a polarizing player because the analytics always seem to like his performance more than the eye test does. That creates some strong extremes in the narrative surrounding his career and allows him to become either extremely overvalued or undervalued depending on which side of the fence you reside on.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes long-term outlook
John Forslund tells his quarantine story

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 38-25-5 (68 games), Fourth place in Metropolitan Division; first Wild Card spot in Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: Sebastian Aho 66 points (38 goals, 28 assists)

In-season roster moves

  • Acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils for Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson, and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
  • Acquired defenseman Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers for a 2020 first-round draft pick.
  • Traded for Vincent Trocheck by sending Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen, and Chase Priskie to the Florida Panthers.
  • Veteran forward Justin Williams returned mid-season after using the first half of the season to contemplate his future.

Season Overview

After their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final during the 2018-19 season, expectations were sky high for the Hurricanes at the start of this season.

The results so far have been a bit of a mixed bag.

At the time of the NHL’s hiatus the Hurricanes occupied the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference but were in the middle of an intense fight alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Florida Panthers for those two playoff spots. They still seem to have the inside track for one of them, but the overall results may not be exactly as good as they hoped given their success last year and the improvements they attempted to make to the roster in the offseason (additions of Jake Gardiner, Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel) and internal improvements from young players like Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas.

One of the biggest things that has held them back — injuries.

Specifically, the injuries to top defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce.

Prior to breaking a bone in his leg in mid-January, Hamilton was not only having a Norris Trophy caliber season, he may have been the best all-around defensemen in the NHL this season. It was a completely dominant performance and one that was not going to be easy to replace.

When Pesce was injured a month later — along with James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, the teams top two goalies — it put a pretty significant dent in their greatest overall strength.

They attempted to address the defense at the trade deadline by acquiring Vatanen and Skjei in separate trades, while also adding another potential impact forward in Trocheck. The latter joins an already impressive core of forwards that includes Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen.

Assuming everyone on defense is healthy, that is a potentially imposing roster.

Highlight of the Season

What else could it be other than 42-year-old David Ayres, a zamboni driver by day, entering a game and getting the win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

MORE:
Hurricanes’ biggest surprises and disappointments
Hurricanes long-term outlook
John Forslund tells his quarantine story

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers continue ascension with eighth straight win

The Philadelphia Flyers have flown under the radar this season but now sit atop the Metropolitan Division alongside the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals lost in overtime to the New York Rangers but currently own the tiebreaker due to one additional victory in regulation and overtime. Each team has 87 points to date in 67 games this season.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sean Couturier scored 26 seconds apart in the third period and the Flyers extended their winning streak to eight games after a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday.

Ivan Provorov and Michael Raffl also scored as Philadelphia swept a set of back-to-back games against divisional opponents.

Justin Williams netted the Hurricanes’ lone goal, but they fell for the fourth consecutive game. Carolina trails the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders for the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Newly acquired Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei turned the puck over behind his own net and Aube-Kubel took advantage to expand the Flyers’ lead to 3-1 early in the third period. Shortly after, Couturier buried a rebound to put the game out of reach.

Alex Nedeljkovic made 28 saves in his second start of the season for the Hurricanes.

Provorov opened the scoring when he collected his own rebound and deposited a backhand 18:23 into the first period. Flyers defensemen have scored an NHL-best 44 goals this season.

Raffl doubled the Flyers’ advantage midway through the second period. Scott Laughton picked up his second assist of the night on the play.

Injuries piling up

Prior to the game, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell announced Brett Pesce underwent surgery on his right shoulder. The defenseman is expected to be sidelined for the next four to six months.

He originally injured his shoulder against the Toronto Maple Leafs February 24.

In addition to Pesce, Sami Vatanen had a setback Thursday morning and is not expected to make his debut for Carolina in the near future.

“This is a tough injury. He came off (the ice early); that’s not good,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters this morning. “We were hoping to get him closer to playing. Now it looks like he’s further away.”


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.