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Best remaining free agents by position

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Most of the big money has already been spent in free agency. Names like John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny and James Neal have all found new homes. Although there aren’t many big names left on the market, there are still some quality players left that can help make a team better.

Here’s the best of the rest by position:

Center

Joe Thornton: Everyone expects Thornton to return to San Jose, but as of right now he’s still an unrestricted free agent. The 39-year-old is coming off a knee injury. He had 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games last season. Thornton isn’t the same player he once was, but he can still be a complementary piece on a good Sharks team.

Antoine Vermette: The veteran isn’t as productive as he once was, but there’s still likely going to be in demand over the next couple of days. The 35-year-old had just eight goals and eight assists in 64 games with Anaheim last season.

Daniel Winnik: The 33-year-old plays a very specific kind of role, as he’s an energy forward and penalty killer. Winnik had six goals and 23 points in 81 games with Minnesota last year. There probably won’t be a rush to sign the veteran, but he can still be a useful asset. He’s also capable of playing center and wing.

As you can probably tell, the center market is pretty thin.

Wing

Rick Nash: He’s the only 20-goal scorer left on the market now that James Neal has landed in Calgary. The  problem is that the 34-year-old isn’t sure if he wants to keep playing hockey. Nash suffered another concussion after he joined the Bruins, so that’s got to be weighing on him and his huge decision.

Patrick Maroon: The rugged winger split last season with Edmonton and New Jersey and he remained relatively productive, as he accumulated 17 goals and 43 points in 74 games. There probably would have been more interest in his services if he wouldn’t have had to undergo back surgery this offseason. Maroon will still find a nice landing spot in the next few days.

Anthony Duclair: Since he scored 20 goals and 44 points back in 2015-16, Duclair’s career has been a bit of a disappointment. The Coyotes gave him every opportunity to succeed after they got him from the Rangers, but things just never materialized. The 22-year-old was shipped to Chicago last season, but that didn’t help ignite his career either. But he’s still young and a team should roll the dice on his upside.

Defense

Calvin de Haan: The 27-year-old isn’t an offensive juggernaut by any means, but he’s on the right side of 30 and he’s fully capable of serving as an effective number four or five defenseman on a solid team. De Haan was limited to just 33 games last season, but he played in 82 contests the year before that.

Luca Sbisa: Like de Haan, Sbisa also missed a significant amount of time last year. The 28-year-old had two goals and 14 points in 30 games with the Golden Knights. Sbisa is a bottom-pairing defenseman that is capable of moving the puck a little bit.

Dan Hamhuis: The 35-year-old is a defensive defenseman that averaged over 20 minutes of ice time with Dallas last season. He had three goals and 24 points in 80 contests last season, which isn’t awful considering the style he plays.

Alexei Emelin: The Russian blueliner went from being Shea Weber‘s defense partner in Montreal two years ago to being a bottom-pairing defender in Nashville. Emelin doesn’t give his team much when it comes to offense or moving the puck up the ice, but he’s a hard-nosed defender that can lay people out.

Goalies

Steve Mason: After signing with the Jets last season, Mason was moved to the Montreal Canadiens late last week. The Habs, who had a ton of cap space, opted to buy out the netminder, so that’s why he’s on the market right now. The 30-year-old had a rough year in Winnipeg. He was plagued by injuries and never really settled into his new city. Some added playing time will do him some good.

Robin Lehner: At 26 years old, Lehner still has time to develop into the number one goalie many expected him to be, but he’s going to have to do it soon. He had a 14-26-9 record with a 3.01 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage with Buffalo last season. Playing on a decent team could benefit him in a big way.

Kari Lehtonen: His days of being a big money goaltender are over. The 34-year-old hasn’t posted decent numbers in a while, so he’s more of a backup netminder at this point of his career. Finding his next home won’t be easy given his recent performances and age.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

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Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill confirmed that the team will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Zach Parise notches pair, Wild down struggling Stars

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Four points separated the Minnesota Wild and two teams chasing them in the Central Division coming into Thursday’s action.

The Wild, who had lost two straight in overtime, weren’t in must-win mode by any means on Thursday. They’re holding down the third spot in the division and have for a while now. But the two points on the line would help them create some space between themselves and the idle St. Louis Blues (three points back, in the first wildcard) and the (also idle) Colorado Avalanche (four points behind, currently outside the playoff line).

So a 5-2 win against a division rival was just the thing the Wild needed against the Dallas Stars.

The Stars have lost nine of their past 10 games and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs at this point.

Basically, for the Stars to make it, everyone else fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference has to lose and the Stars need to win their last four games.

They’re five points back with four games to play. For Dallas, it appears to be all over except for the mathematical formality.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Stars began the game on the right foot, with Jamie Benn scoring a quick goal 2:51 into the first period for a 1-0 lead.

Instead of building off that momentum, however, they let Minnesota score late in the period to tie it shorthanded, a goal that began a series of three unanswered from the Wild.

Dumba’s power-play goal to make it 2-1 was pretty, a clean one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen with precision. Lehtonen struggled, allowing four goals on 21 shots.

Devin Shore brought the Stars back to 3-2 on a deft little top from the slot, the type of goal that could ignite a possible comeback.

But a late power play for Minnesota turned into a late marker for Jason Zucker, who made it 4-2 on a one-timer with 11 seconds left in the second period.

Devan Dubnyk made 29 of 31 saves for the win.

Parise scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal it for the Wild.


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

WATCH LIVE: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild

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Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin / Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark / Radek Faksa / Tyler Pitlick

Remi Elie / Devin Shore / Brett Ritchie

Antoine Roussel / Jason Spezza / Gemel Smith

Esa Lindell / John Klingberg

Marc Methot / Stephen Johns

Dan Hamhuis / Greg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen

[Stars – Wild preview]

Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker / Eric Staal / Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise / Mikko Koivu / Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Greenway / Matt Cullen / Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik / Joel Eriksson Ek / Marcus Foligno

Ryan Suter / Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin / Ryan Murphy

Nick Seeler / Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

The Buzzer: Jets clinch; McDavid hits 99

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Players of the Night:

Jordan Weal, Philadelphia Flyers: Weal finished with a goal and two assists in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon. This was the 25-year-old’s first multi-point performance of 2017-18.

Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh Penguins: Schultz registered three assists, including two of the primary variety. The Pens blue liner had no points in his previous seven games before the clash against the Flyers.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: “Sid the Kid” gave his team a 4-3 lead in the third period before picking up the primary assist on Bryan Rust‘s game-winner in OT. Crosby has 83 points in 76 games this season.

Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets: Connor’s three-point effort (one goal, two assists) helped the Jets clinch a playoff spot on Sunday night. He’s racked up nine points in his last six contests.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators: Not only did Ellis accumulated a goal and an assist, he also played almost 27 minutes in his team’s shootout loss to the Jets. He’s been a huge piece of Nashville’s defense since returning from injury.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: Mr. Clutch has now scored five of Boston’s six overtime goals this season. The 29-year-old has 33 goals and 80 points in 60 games.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Just another day at the office for McDavid, who had a goal and two assists against the Ducks. The things he’s able to do at top speed with a hockey puck just aren’t fair. The Oilers captain has 39 goals and 99 points.

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique’s two third-period goals helped the Ducks overcome a two-goal deficit before Hampus Lindholm netted the game-winner.

Highlights of the Night:

Another sweet goal from Crosby:

Kari Lehtonen is gonna want this one back:

It’s Tuukka Time:

Who says the Canucks have nothing to play for?

Now you see it, now you don’t. Connor McDavid is special:

Factoids of the Night:

This seems good:

The Jets clinched a spot in the postseason (as if it was ever in doubt):

Daniel is in elite company:

Scores:

Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Canucks 4, Stars 1
Jets 5, Predators 4 (SO)
Bruins 2, Wild 1 (OT)
Ducks 5, Oilers 4 (OT)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.