NHL Power Rankings: ‘Now It’s My Turn to Sign!’ Edition

mitch-marner-laughs-with-auston-matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitchell Marner (16) and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) laugh after Marner scored a goal. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Auston Matthews’s five-year, $58.15-million contract extension raised the bar and redrafted the rules regarding how much a star player can charge for his RFA years (all that dough only purchased the Toronto Maple Leafs one year of the centre’s unrestricted free agency).

GM Kyle Dubas’s sole focus is his club, which he now must guide all the way in Matthews’ six-spring window, but the precedent-setting AM34 deal will ripple league-wide.

He just got a monster payday and will be primed for an even larger one at age 26.

In our NHL Power Rankings: “Now It’s My Turn to Sign!” Edition, we single out the top contract priority on each of the 31 clubs.

As always, team are ranked according to their current awesomeness, and the write-ups focus on the signing file front and centre on their respective GM’s desk.

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1. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Brayden Point extension presents rookie GM Julien BriseBois with his first monumental challenge as the Lightning’s shot caller. Already worthy of some Selke chatter, Point, 22, is arguably a more complete 200-foot centre than Matthews—who rewrote the rules Tuesday. BriseBois will try his best to sell Point on taking less than leading scorer Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million AAV) and dangle the ol’ no-state-tax carrot. Also: the team is good.

2. Calgary Flames

Matthew Tkachuk is knocking his platform campaign out of the park. The likely successor to Mark Giordano as Calgary’s captain has already mashed a career high in points (57 and counting) and brings all the intagibles necessary to winning. Under a higher cap, it’s difficult to envision him not surpassing Johnny Gaudreau this summer and becoming the club’s most handsomely paid star.

3. Winnipeg Jets

Serious question: Is Kyle Connor more valuable to the Jets than fellow RFA Patrik Laine? Since Laine entered the league, only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals, but the flashy Finn has been especially streaky in his third pro year. His defensive game has earned him temporary benchings, demotions, and a team-worst minus-13 rating. Connor may never carry Laine’s international star power, but he’s making the case that he’s a safer bet for long-term team success.

4. New York Islanders

Anders Lee has led the feel-good-story Islanders to first place in the Metropolitan Division. The 28-year-old may never hit 40 goals again, but it’s critical that Lou Lamoriello extend this relationship and not lose two captains to free agency in a row.

5. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks have a litany of players set to become UFAs this summer, including captain Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, arguably the greatest player in franchise history. But there is no defenceman in the world quite like Erik Karlsson.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs

Dubas may try to keep Mitchell Marner‘s cap hit to seven digits, but Marner’s initial ask — whenever he decides he’s willing to negotiate — won’t be far off Matthews’. Expect the Maple Leafs to purposely stagger the expiry date of Marner’s deal and offer more term (six years?) so their two line-drivers don’t come due on the same date again. This one could get tricky.

7. Nashville Predators

David Poile, generally, is smart about getting a jump-start on negotiations. Captain Roman Josi — one of the biggest bargains in sport at $4 million — is eligible to ink a long-term extension as soon as July 1. Can the Preds afford to pay Josi what he’s worth while still addressing their biggest need, offence?

8. Montreal Canadiens

Artturi Lehkonen (RFA) has shown flashes of brilliance and a breakout year could be just around the corner. GM Marc Bergevin should be wise to keep young forward talent in place.

9. Boston Bruins

Charlie McAvoy should send his frenemy Auston Matthews a gift basket today. Zdeno Chara will be 42 when the 2019-20 season starts. So many of us are preoccupied with 2019’s deep class of RFA forwards, but McAvoy is the Bruins’ No. 1 defenceman of the future. We wonder if the blue liner’s health scares push him to take eight years of security.

10. Vegas Golden Knights

William Karlsson bet on himself last summer by taking just a one-year, $5.25-million deal… and pretty much lost. Even if he’ll never reach 43 goals and 78 points, as he did in 2017-18, Karlsson is a solid two-way centre in his mid-20s. Buy low, George McPhee.

11. Washington Capitals

The defending champs have an interesting choice to make on Nicklas Backstrom. The 31-year-old centre is eligible for another extension on July 1 and hasn’t fully let Evgeny Kuznetsov run away with the No. 1 pivot mantle. Backstrom’s defensive game should age well. Do the Caps let him start his walk year (2019-20) without a fresh extension in place?

12. Pittsburgh Penguins

Jim Rutherford’s core is one of the league’s most secure. That said, Teddy Blueger (RFA) is the latest forward with flair to make enough noise in Wilkes-Barre that he could command a new deal this summer and fill an affordable hole on the Penguins’ roster.

13. Dallas Stars

The cap space freed up by Jason Spezza’s expiring contract should make extending RFA defenceman Esa Lindell relatively easy.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets

So many teams would kill for a defenceman with No. 1 potential. The Blue Jackets have two. A silver lining of saying sayonara to Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky is not having to worry about cap space when locking up your one-two blue line punch of Seth Jones and RFA Zach Werenski.

15. Carolina Hurricanes

When new owner Tom Dundon assumed control, he announced no one was safe on Carolina’s roster except for Sebastian Aho. Contract extension chats with last off-season’s key RFAs, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, turned into trades. That can’t be the case with Aho, who should become the franchise’s highest-paid player.

16. Buffalo Sabres

We wouldn’t be surprised to see veteran Jason Pominville to find work elsewhere, but after all the goals Jeff Skinner has poured in since moving to Buffalo, GM Jason Botterill will do his damnedest to keep a young scoring winger alongside Jack Eichel.

17. Minnesota Wild

Cap-strapped Minnesota would rather shed some big contracts than add more, but 2015 first-rounder Joel Eriksson Ek will be restricted. Big things were hoped for the prospect, who’s been unable to stick in the NHL. It will be interesting to see how his future is handled.

18. Colorado Avalanche

19. Philadelphia Flyers

Besides some obvious calls — rent Wayne Simmonds to the highest bidder, carefully store Carter Hart in bubble wrap between starts, never feed Gritty after midnight — the Flyers’ roster could be in for a shake-up. We think there’s a real player in RFA Travis Konecny. Re-sign him.

20. St. Louis Blues

With the Blues’ goaltending faith shifting yet again, this time from Jake Allen to 25-year-old Jordan Binnington, they might as well sign the impending RFA. He’s a cheaper option than the UFA gambles that will be available.

21. Vancouver Canucks

Brock Boeser is 21, his shot is frighteningly accurate, and he’s struck quick chemistry with centre Elias Pettersson. He’s an essential component of a core that will return Vancouver to playoff regular again.

22. New York Rangers

While the sense in the resetting Rangers are willing to part with their pending UFAs, 23-year-old right-shot defenceman Neal Pionk‘s breakout sophomore season is proof that he should be solidified as part of the new core.

23. Florida Panthers

GM Dale Tallon has been overt about his intentions to be aggressive in the open market this summer. The Panthers’ top signing priority is Artemi Panarin.

24. Arizona Coyotes

Clayton Keller doesn’t become a restricted free agent until 2020, but he’s eligible for an extension on July 1, and Arizona can’t afford to let young talent walk out the door. The sooner they start working on keeping Keller a Coyote, the better.

25. Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers’ signing priority is crystal clear: an experienced, shrewd general manager to clean house and start with a fresh voice and vision.

26. Chicago Blackhawks

If the Blackhawks have any shot of an encore during the Patrick Kane–Jonathan Toews era, Alex DeBrincat will be part of it. He doesn’t turn RFA until 2020, but the young scorer is eligible for an extension as early as July 1, and GM Stan Bowman must start thinking ahead.

27. Detroit Red Wings

The notion that Jonathan Bernier (.898 save percentage) might be a logical successor to Jimmy Howard (UFA) as the Red Wings’ top goalie has lost all steam. It’s worth the effort to see if Howard can re-sign short term.

28. New Jersey Devils

The Devils need plenty of pieces, but if they don’t re-sign Taylor Hall (UFA 2020) early this summer, the speculation that he’s going to walk will be relentless.

29. Los Angeles Kings

Any team as thirsty for youth and speed as the Kings are cannot afford to let RFA Adrian Kempe get away.

30. Anaheim Ducks

A month ago, we’d say re-upping Jakob Silfverberg should take priority (and discussions are reportedly underway). But the way the Ducks have spun into a disaster, signing one of the best head coaches out there (Alain Vigneault? Joel Quenneville?) might be the more urgent play.

31. Ottawa Senators

If the Senators fail to re-sign Mark Stone, whatever shred of hope fans are clinging to might be lost.

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