Joe Pavelski

PHT Power Rankings: Top NHL free agents to sign, and ones to avoid

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It almost upon us.

Those few days in early July where 31 NHL general managers prepare to dive head first into the free agency pool looking to add the final missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. It can be an exciting time, until everyone realizes less than a year later that the pool was too shallow for such a dive and everyone is left with a bunch of headaches because they are paying top dollar for players that have almost always played their best hockey for someone else.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the 20 top free agents available and try to separate them into the players that are going to be worth the big money they are going to get, the players that might get overpaid but still be useful, and the players that are going to carry a significant amount of risk and should probably be avoided.

To the rankings!

Best values

1. Artemi Panarin He will not be cheap but he is a superstar talent, one of the most productive players in all of hockey since he arrived in the NHL, a game-changing player, and still at an age where he should have several years of elite production ahead of him. If you can sign him, you should definitely sign him because you will not regret it.

2. Joe Pavelski During his peak Pavelski was one of the best goal scorers in the league and a criminally underrated player. As he started to get further into his 30s the goal-scoring started to decline because, well, that’s what happens when you get older. That aspect of his game saw a resurgence this past season with 38 goals in 75 games for the Sharks. That is great. What is not great is that resurgence was driven almost entirely by a 20.2 shooting percentage that was not only the highest of his career, but also way above his career average (12.5 percent). If you are expecting him to duplicate that in his age 35 season you are going to be in for a massive disappointment. Still, if he averages the same number of shots per game this upcoming season and simply shoots at his career average you are looking at around 25 goals. Combined with everything else he brings to the ice you are still getting a hell of a player, and because he is not likely to get a 5-7 year contract given his age, there is still probably a lot of value to be had here.

3. Jake Gardiner A couple of bad Game 7s will ruin his reputation among some in Toronto, but it would be idiotic to define his career (or define him as a player) based on that. He is the top defender on the market now that Erik Karlsson has re-signed in San Jose.

Boom or Bust

4. Sergei Bobrovsky We need to put Bobrovsky on a tier all to himself because he has the potential to be a worthwhile signing, while also maybe being an overpayment that also carries some significant risk. I just don’t feel strongly enough about any of those tiers to comfortably put him in one.

He has been one of the best goalies of his era and has two Vezina Trophies and an elite save percentage to prove it.

He has, at times, carried the Columbus Blue Jackets through the regular season.

He has also flopped spectacularly in the playoffs and is going to be 31 years old at the start of the 2019-20 season.

He is the best goalie available (and one of the best players available) and is probably going to end up in Florida with a HUGE contract.

His career probably is not going to just immediately crumble because he is 31 years old, but how many more years of elite play does he have in him? It is a worthwhile question to ask.

Potential overpays (but still good)

5. Matt DucheneDuchene might be the second biggest “name” on the market after Panarin, and if this were a ranking of just pure talent and who could make the biggest impact this upcoming season he would probably second or third on the list. But when you sign a free agent you are not just getting that player’s current level of production. You get the contract, the age, the likely decline, and everything that comes with it.

My biggest issue with Duchene is he seems likely to get a $9 or $10 million salary on a long-term contract and I am not sure he is a $9 or $10 million player for another six or seven years. Or even for one season. He does not drive possession, he has never really been an elite point producer, and he is not a cornerstone player that your team will be built around. He is still an excellent player and a great complementary piece, but will probably have a contract that is a tier above what he actually is (and will eventually be in the future) as a player. Such is life in free agency.

6. Gustav Nyquist — He was still a great possession-driving player on some forgettable Detroit teams the past couple of years and he is going to score 20-25 goals for you. Will you pay more than you want for him? Probably, but he is also going to help your team.

7. Mats Zuccarello He is coming off a productive season when he was healthy, and he is still a creative playmaker, but he is set to enter his age 32 season and anytime you are dealing with players on the wrong side of 30 on the open market you run the risk of overpaying both short-term and long-term, especially when they are not truly elite in any one area.

8. Anders LeeAn outstanding net-front presence on the power play and a total wrecking ball around the crease. But how confident are you in a seven-year (or eight-year if it is the Islanders that re-sign him) contract for a 29-year-old forward that plays a physically demanding style and may not age gracefully given his skillset? You might get a couple of 30-goal seasons out of him but he also might be a buyout candidate before the contract ends.

9. Robin Lehner He was never as bad as his final season in Buffalo looked, but if you pay him based on the season he had this past season for the Islanders you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.

10. Justin WilliamsAge is obviously a concern but you know what you are getting. What you are getting is great two-way play, 20-goals, 50-points, and a durable player that is going to be in your lineup every night. Eventually father time beats everyone, but Williams has not really shown any sign of slowing down. Yet.

11. Ryan Dzingel It all depends on the term. He should be a good second-line player and does not turn 28 until March, so you are still getting a player that is somewhat closer to his peak level of performance than most of the free agent forwards available.

12. Micheal Ferland He is more than just a big body that delivers hits; he can play and he can score some goals and he can do a lot of really good things on the ice. But there is at least one team out there that is going to look at the St. Louis Blues and think they have to pay a premium to get bigger and more physical just for the sake of getting bigger and physical.

13. Brett Connolly A good player coming off a career year in a free agent class where he will be somebody’s Plan B once the top players get signed. That is a recipe for a bad contract.

Risky signings

14. Marcus Johansson If he is healthy you are getting a productive top-six forward, but injuries have derailed his career the past two years. The recent history of head injuries is concerning.

15. Anton Stralman At one time, not that long ago, he was the perfect shutdown, defensive-defender for the modern NHL. But he is going to be 33 years old and coming off an injury-shortened season. How much does he have left in the tank?

16. Wayne Simmonds During his peak he was probably one of the two or three best power forwards in the league. He is no longer that player and the decline is very real. If you can get him for a cheap price to be a bottom-six depth player you might still be able to squeeze some value out of him.

17. Corey Perry — The Ducks pretty much had no other choice but to buy out the remainder of his contract this offseason. He is a shell of his former self and is coming off an injury-shortened season where his production completely disappeared. Is there any chance for a rebound? Maybe, but do not expect much of one.

18. Alex Chiasson He scored 22 goals, but almost all of them came as a result of getting some significant ice time alongside Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl. They are not coming with him to his new team.

19. Tyler Myers He is not a bad player, but he is the exact player that a desperate general manager trying to save his job with a bad team will give a long-term contract to in free agency, leaving it for the next general manager to try and get rid of.

20. Patrick Maroon Always beware of the free agent role player coming from the current Stanley Cup champion that scored a few big goals during that playoff run.

Current team or bust 

Joe Thornton Thornton still has something to offer a team, but let’s be honest, there is only one team he is going to be playing for (the San Jose Sharks) so it really does not make much sense to rank him with the rest of the class given that there is virtually zero chance he plays for somebody else.

Niklas Kronwall Take everything we said about Thornton and simply replace “San Jose” with “Detroit.”

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.

Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension

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For the San Jose Sharks, priority No. 1 has been checked off their offseason to-do list.

That bit came on Monday morning when the Sharks re-signed defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year deal worth what reports suggest will be $92 million once the team makes it official.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for one of the game’s premier rearguards, and rightly so. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson has game-breaking capabilities from the back end. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NHL.

But behind the elation general manager Doug Wilson is feeling at the moment, there also has to be a bit of trepidation.

With Karlsson’s contract expected to be in the $11.5 million AAV region, that leaves the Sharks with roughly $13 million in cap space remaining and only 16 players signed, including 11 forwards.

It’s safe to assume that the end of an era is coming for someone in the Bay Area.

Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are both unrestricted free agents come July 1. Thornton has signed one-year deals with the club for several years now. Pavelski enters the free agent arena for the first time in five seasons after completing the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal.

[MORE: Sharks give Karlsson eight-year extension]

Both are integral parts of the Sharks. And the Sharks may have to let them walk this time.

At 39, Thornton’s on-ice play isn’t worth the $5 million he made last season. He’s the de facto leader of the team, but the Sharks simply can’t afford him at that price point again. If they want him back, a low-salary, bonus-laden contract could be an option.

Losing Pavelski, their captain, would also be a blow.

Despite being 34 (35 next season), Pavelski had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. Not bad for $6 million, and perhaps he goes the Thornton route for a few years and signs one-year deals that allow the Sharks some breathing room.

Does Pavelski deserve a longer-term commitment? Sure. But the Sharks are once again going all-in with the Karlsson signing and this might be Pavelski’s best shot at a Stanley Cup ring as a captain of the team.

Aside from the two superstars, the Sharks need to make sure they lock down some of their younger talent.

Joonas Donskoi is set to become a UFA, as is Gustav Nyquist — a trade deadline pick up who meshed well with the team.

Nyquist is likely the odd-man out here. Going by Evolving Wild’s free agent model projection, Nyquist, 29, could earn a six-year deal in the $5.7 million range. That’s too rich if you’re planning on keeping Thornton and Pavelski around.

Donskoi, 27, is projected to get a three-year deal in the $3 million average annual value region.

And then there’s the restricted free agent crop.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc have become great pieces for the Sharks and both now need raises.

Evolving Wild has Meier taking a six-year deal with a cap hit close to $6 million while Labanc is more affordable at three years and around $3.5 million.

Remember, the Sharks have $13 million to play with following the Karlsson extension.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Pavelski gets $7 million and Thornton gets $5 million. That’s $12 million and roughly $1 million left on the cap.

See the problem? And how many extensions do the Sharks want to give older players? Logan Couture‘s six-year, $8 million AAV deal kicks in next season. He’s 30. Brent Burns, 34, has six more years left on a deal that’s paying him the same amount as Couture per season.

The Sharks only need to look further down on a California state map to see Los Angeles and the devastating effects handing big contracts to old players can have.

Still, banners fly forever and the Kings have two of them and the Sharks have zero.

The Sharks could sell off some assets, too, including a Justin Braun ($3.8 million, one year left) or a Brenden Dillon ($3.2 million, one year left) on the back end for some cap relief.

And the point of this exercise is that someone has to go.

The question now is, who?

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

What’s next for Karlsson, Pavelski, Thornton?

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The San Jose Sharks have had their share of heartbreak over the last decade, but their elimination loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final might sting a little more because it might force them into some significant roster changes.

Heading into the offseason, the Sharks have several players on expiring contracts. They include: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Donskoi and Erik Karlsson. That list doesn’t include restricted free agents like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier.

The Sharks are also without their first, second and fourth round draft picks this year, so making a trade without subtracting from the current team will also be difficult.

So, how will things shake out between the team and three of their key leaders?

Let’s start with Pavelski, who will be 35 years old by the start of next season. The veteran scored an impressive 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games during the regular season and he added four goals and nine more points in 13 postseason games.

As his teammates pointed out on numerous occasions during the playoffs, he’s more than just a goalscorer. After he went down with an upper-body injury in Game 7 of San Jose’s first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, it became clear that he’s an important figure in that locker room. But given his age, can they afford to bring him back at any cost? And where does he rank on the list of players they want to bring back?

He’s coming off a five-year, $30 million contract. Would the Sharks be willing to increase the money and would Pavelski be willing to bring down the term? Those are the biggest questions. In fairness to him, he’s been very durable throughout his career. Over the last eight seasons, he’s missed eight games but seven of those came in 2018-19.

No matter what the offseason brings for the Sharks, it would just feel wrong for us to see him in another jersey. They have to find a way to get him under contract before he hits the market.

As for Joe Thornton, the decision to return or not may be one sided. Thornton signed a one-year deal with the Sharks last summer, so agreeing on term shouldn’t be an issue. The big decision will have to be made by Thornton. Does he want to play another year?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Thornton would like to win a Stanley Cup before his career is over, but he also seems like a guy that’s come to terms with the fact that that might not happen.

Even though he’ll be 40 years old by the start of next season, he can still serve as an effective third-line center on this team. He just has to figure out if he’s up to it or not.

Now, let’s tackle the situation with Erik Karlsson.

Where to start?

Does he want to be back in San Jose? We don’t know. Details regarding his interest in re-signing have been few and far between. Assuming he’s open to returning, how much term and money would he be looking for? You’d have to think that he’d want maximum term. So if he goes back to San Jose that would be for eight years and if he hits the market he’ll be looking for a seven-year contract.

But the reality is, anyone giving Karlsson that kind of term is taking a huge risk. He’s only 28 years old, but his body has taken a pounding over the last few seasons. He played 82 games per season for three years between 2013 and 2016. Since then, he’s suited up in 77, 71 and 53 contests.

It was obvious during these playoffs that he was playing through an injury. He didn’t suit up in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and there was no guarantee that he could’ve played in Game 7 had the Sharks been able to force one. Since Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 (they made it to double overtime in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins) Karlsson has been playing banged up. He underwent a serious ankle procedure after that run and he’s been fighting through injuries ever since.

As of this moment, the Sharks have over $24 million in cap space. But as we mentioned before, there’s so many key players that need to be paid that it might not be possible for them to bring them all back. We know that Pavelski and Thornton would want to stick around, but there’s no guarantee Karlsson will be willing to take a discount.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy offseason for general manager Doug Wilson.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final: Blues vs. Bruins full schedule, TV info

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.

Blues face prime opportunity to return to Stanley Cup Final

When you have your opponent looking down and out in a playoff series you do not want to let them get back up.

You do not even want to give them the chance to get back up.

You want to eliminate them when you have the opportunity and remove all doubt, avoiding what would be an all-or-nothing Game 7 on the road.

That is the position the St. Louis Blues find themselves in heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) when they will host an injury-riddled San Jose Sharks team.

The Blues have won the past two games, including a thoroughly dominant performance on Sunday, they are at home, and they are facing a Sharks team that is without two of its best players and potentially a third that will almost certainly not be 100 percent if he does play.

Everything has fallen in the Blues’ favor for this game, and it is hard to imagine a better opportunity to close out a series than this.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just look at everything that is sitting in the Blues’ corner for this game.

  • Their best player, Vladimir Tarasenko, has gone on a tear and is riding a five-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s game. He was always going to be one of the biggest factors in this series and has found his scoring touch at just the right time.
  • The Sharks will not have Erik Karlsson, one of their most important players and a defender that can single-handedly change a team and a game when he is in the lineup. This series started to shift in the Blues’ favor when Karlsson’s groin injury resurfaced, limiting his ability to make an impact. He was obviously less than 100 percent in the Blues’ Game 4 win and barely played in Game 5 on Sunday. The Blues have outscored the Sharks by a 7-1 margin in those two games. Even though the Sharks still have another Norris Trophy winner (and a Norris Trophy finalist this season) in Brent Burns in their lineup, they are definitely a weaker team when one of them is out of the lineup.
  • The Sharks will also be without Tomas Hertl, currently their second-leading goal-scorer. With Hertl and Karlsson out it means the Sharks will be playing a must-win game without two of the top-six scorers in the playoffs and two players that have been involved in an overwhelming majority of their offense. At least one of Hertl or Karlsson has been on the ice for 39 of the Sharks’ 57 goals, while one of them has scored or assisted on 25 of them. When neither one is on the ice the Sharks have averaged just 2.22 goals per 60 minutes (all situations) in the playoffs. Not a great number.

So, yeah, this is a huge opportunity for the Blues and a game where it would probably be in their best interest to take care of business.

A loss on Tuesday night not only sends them to a Game 7 in San Jose where anything can happen, it also leaves open the possibility that one of those two key Sharks players (or even both of them) could be available. Yes, the Blues have been great on the road in these playoffs, but there is no guarantee that continues, especially in a win-or-go-home situation.

Even without Hertl and Karlsson the Sharks still have plenty of talent on their roster, so this game is far from a cake-walk for the Blues. But this is definitely the weakest lineup they are going to face in this matchup and there is never going to be a better opportunity to end a 49 year Stanley Cup Final drought than this night.

If they are going to do it, this seems like the game for it to happen.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Karlsson, Hertl out for Game 6; Pavelski game-time decision

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If the San Jose Sharks are going to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues they are going to have to do it on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream) without a couple of their most important players.

Coach Pete DeBoer announced after the morning skate that defender Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl are not available for Game 6 against and that they did not even accompany the team on the road trip to St. Louis.

Both players exited the Sharks’ Game 5 loss on Sunday due to injury.

Karlsson has been hampered by a nagging groin injury that has resurfaced in the playoffs, while Hertl had to leave the game after he was on the receiving end of a high hit from Blues forward Ivan Barbashev. There was no penalty called on the play and Barbashev was not disciplined by the league.

Captain Joe Pavelski also exited Sunday’s game with an injury and did not take part in the morning skate on Tuesday but is a game-time decision according to DeBoer.

Pavelski had previously missed the first six games of the Sharks’ Round 2 series against the Colorado Avalanche after he was injured in their Game 7 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. He has five points (two goals, three assists) since returning to the lineup.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

While Pavelski at least seems like a possibility to play, the losses of Karlsson and Hertl are going to be significant for the Sharks.

Even though Karlsson has been limited by injury for much of the season he has still been an impact player and played a huge role in the team’s Round 1 comeback against the Golden Knights. He has 16 total points in 19 games and is the league’s fifth-leading scorer in the playoffs. It was obvious he was struggling in the Sharks’ Game 4 loss but still attempted to play in Game 5. It did not go well as he was clearly unable to play up to his normal level and logged just 10 minutes of ice time, with only three of those minutes coming after the first period.

Hertl, meanwhile, has been one of the Sharks’ most dynamic forwards and has scored some of their biggest goals this postseason, including a game-winning shorthanded goal in double overtime to help the team fight off elimination in Round 1, and one of the power play goals in their come-from-behind Game 7 win against the Golden Knights.

He has 10 goals (third among all players in the playoffs) and 15 total points.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.