T.J. Brodie

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.

Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

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 Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Friday full of NHL upsets

Bernier leads Red Wings to one of NHL upsets Friday The Buzzer
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NHL upsets on Friday

It’s not every day (Fri-or-otherwise) where the Red Wings and Devils both win. Not in 2020, at least. Upsets were close to a theme on Friday, though, highlighted by the Devils ending the Blues’ eight-game winning streak.

Also, the Red Wings squeaked by the Blackhawks. Maple Leafs fans were left steaming mad (especially at Mitch Marner) after the Ducks frustrated them. While they count as milder upsets, the Canucks beat the Avalanche, and the Jets shut out the Golden Knights. Finally, the Flames beat the Coyotes, which was at least upsetting in the sense that the loss really, really hurts Arizona’s dwindling chances.

One knock against the upset angle: all six home teams won.

Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

Tkachuk generated an assist on all three goals in Calgary’s narrow, regulation win against the Coyotes.

Really, it’s not surprising that the pesky star thrived in a playoff-type game. Two of Tkachuk’s three assists were of the primary variety, including the game-winner by T.J. Brodie. Tkachuk improved his 2019-20 totals to 38 assists and 60 points in 68 games. It doesn’t look likely that Tkachuk will match his career-high of 77 points from last season, but he might be able to set a new mark for helpers, as he generated 43 in 2018-19.

Taylor Hall was involved in all of Arizona’s scoring, generating a goal and an assist. Being traded from New Jersey made for more relevant hockey, but Hall will need draft lottery-level luck to appear in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The pattern generally continues: when the Jets succeed, Hellebuyck is usually leading (blocking?) the way. Hellebuyck stopped all 29 of Vegas’ shots for his league-leading sixth shutout of the season. Reaching six shutouts also ties a career-high for the 26-year-old.

It’s unclear if Hellebuyck will win the Vezina for 2019-20, but if another goalie’s been more important to his team, it’s not by much.

There were other strong goalie performances on Friday, which shouldn’t be surprising since upsets and strong netminding often go together. Cory Schneider made 31 saves, Jonathan Bernier generated 32, Cam Talbot had 32, and John Gibson produced 26 — just to mention the standout winners.

Only Hellebuyck finished with a shutout, however.

3. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

Bernier deserves a nod as the best goalie behind Hellebuyck from a Friday of NHL upsets … probably. (Again, there was some sharp goaltending.)

Despite playing well in his past two appearances, Bernier took the “L” each time. In fact, he’s been in the loss column quite a bit lately, with Friday’s win being merely his second since Feb. 11. Only Patrick Kane could score against Bernier on Friday.

The Blackhawks’ already slim playoff hopes took a big hit thanks to Bernier’s brilliance.

Highlight of the Night

Speaking of Bernier, he flummoxed Alex DeBrincat during this exchange:

The Push for the Playoffs after Friday heavy in NHL upsets

East:

East standings after Friday
via NHL.com

West:

West NHL standings after Friday
via NHL.com

Scores

NJD 4 – STL 2
DET 2 – CHI 1
WIN 4 – VGK 0
CGY 3 – ARI 2
VAN 6 – COL 3
ANA 2 – TOR 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kassian says Tkachuk ‘messed with the wrong guy,’ hypes Oilers-Flames rematch

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Fans of “old-time hockey” should be delighted by the boiling disdain between Zack Kassian and Matthew Tkachuk. Kassian spoke with the media following his two-game suspension on Tuesday, and the trash talk keeps getting better. Kassian tossed out plenty of gems, including that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy” and that the pest will “get his.”

The media also latched on to a glorious bit of scheduling symmetry. The Edmonton Oilers host the Calgary Flames on Jan. 29 … Kassian’s first game back from that suspension. If bloodthirsty fans aren’t sated, realize this: the two teams meet again in Calgary on Feb. 1.

You can observe Kassian’s full press conference in the video above this post’s headline.

Kassian says Tkachuk will need to ‘answer the bell’

Consider a few of the best cuts amid Kassian’s many gems:

  • While Kassian said he respects the NHL’s decision, he also said he’d do it again.
  • The NHL did not suspend Tkachuk for two controversial hits on Kassian, with ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski receiving the league’s explanation that the hits were legal. Kassian referenced George Parros deeming Tkachuk’s hits as legal multiple times, particularly begging for ominous music to play in the background.

After speaking with Parros on the phone he explained why the hit is not dirty. That cleared up a lot and gave me some clarity on what you can and can’t do, and I put that in the memory bank,” Kassian said, via Jason Gregor’s transcript at Oilers Nation. ” … To me those are two dangerous hits.

If they are clean, they are still predatorial, which is completely fine. I am a big boy, I love big boy hockey, but if you are going to play big boy hockey you have to answer the bell sometime.”

  • Kassian also used the phrase “answer the bell.” Quite often. As in, you almost expect a freeze frame where Zack Morris speaks to the studio audience about “The Battle of Alberta.” The real questions: which Flames/Oilers are Screech and A.C. Slater? (Maybe T.J. Brodie is A.C.?)
  • Kassian said he received about 20 text messages of support, some from people he doesn’t know. The implication is clear: lots of people don’t like Tkachuk. Shocking. You think Drew Doughty sent a few emojis Kassian’s way?

Will Tkachuk get the better of Kassian in the ways that matter — again?

Yes, Tkachuk got ragdolled. From a meathead perspective, it might have stung his pride.

But pointing at the scoreboard can be the best insult in sports at times, and Tkachuk could make that gesture. The Flames ended up scoring the decisive power-play goal on Kassian’s penalties. It’s classic pest one-upping: baiting an angry opponent into foolish mistakes. Tkachuk is talented and great at getting under opponents’ skin, to the point that it might be better not to engage.

That doesn’t seem to be the plan for Kassian … yet he’s aiming for better execution.

” … I have to be a bit smarter. I have to be on the ice in important games,” Kassian said, via Gregor. “Now that I know how the league sees hits … When you play Calgary it is a different rule book. You have to play the game within the game and sometimes you have to give them a taste of their own medicine.”

The thing is, if Kassian and Tkachuk both ended up in the penalty box for matching minor infractions, that would be great for Edmonton. The Flames need Tkachuk on the ice, tasking him with walking that line. Kassian failed in finding that balance, at least so far.

You have to wonder: should Oilers coach Dave Tippett try to steer Kassian in a smarter direction? If history repeats itself, the Flames would get the advantage again. Considering how close these teams are in the standings, Edmonton cannot afford to take penalties just so a pesky star “gets his.”

Kassian said that this rivalry is creating a buzz, and he’s right that this is fun. The Oilers risk feeling hungover when they look at the standings when the buzz wears off, though.

Oh, and guess what? The two teams also close out the regular season in Edmonton on April 4. The “Battle of Alberta” and Kassian vs. Tkachuk are wars that are just beginning.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL injury roundup: Nugent-Hopkins out; Letang, Brodie nearing returns

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Checking in on some injury news around the NHL on Sunday evening.

Oilers will be without Nugent-Hopkins for at least two games. Shortly before puck drop against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night the Edmonton Oilers announced that center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be sidelined for at least the next two games due to a hand injury. He has five goals and 15 total points in 25 games this season for the Oilers. While his overall numbers are down a little offensively this season he has been one of the team’s top offensive players the past few years and helps drive their second line. Without him an already thin forward group gets even thinner. Assuming the two-game time frame remains he would miss Sunday’s game against Arizona as well as Wednesday’s game at Colorado. He could be in line to return for a big home-and-home set with the Vancouver Canucks next weekend.

Letang to be game-time decision for Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been hit harder by injuries than any other team in the league, but are getting closer to getting one of their top players back in the lineup. Defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed the past eight games, will be a game-time decision for their game against the Calgary Flames on Monday night. In his first 15 games before injury Letang had been averaging more than 25 minutes per game and had already recorded 12 points (four goals, eight assists) on the season. With Justin Schultz also sidelined the Penguins have been playing with a patchwork defense but have still found ways to collect points. They are also currently playing without captain Sidney Crosby and forward Nick Bjugstad due to injury. Crosby, Letang, Schultz, Evgeni Malkin, Jared McCann, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Patrick Hornqvist, Alex Galchenyuk, and Bjugstad have combined to miss more than 70 man games due to injury. The Penguins are still 12-7-4 on the season while their underlying numbers in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals are among the best in the league. They also have one of the best goal differentials in the entire league.

Brodie will also be game-time decision for Flames. Some great news for Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie. As long as he gets medical clearance on Monday, he is expected to be back in the lineup when they visit the Penguins on Monday. Brodie has been sidelined after collapsing at practice more than 10 days ago. He was back skating by himself this past week as he continued to undergo tests to figure out what caused his collapse, but so far everything has come back negative and all indications in his recovery have been promising. The Flames snapped what had been a six-game losing streak on Saturday with a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

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.