GM Julien BriseBois will have his work cut out for him when Tampa Bay's series against Dallas comes to an end. Subscribe to Yardbarker's Morning Bark, the most comprehensive newsletter in sports. Customize your email to get the latest news on your favorite sports, teams and schools. Emailed daily.
With free agency now less than a month away, many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. New Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams will certainly have his work cut out for him as more than half of the Sabres players are in need of new contracts in the coming weeks.
F Sam Reinhart – Two years ago, the Sabres elected for a bridge contract to see if Reinhart had another gear in him. While he hasn’t quite reached a point-per-game level, he has emerged as a capable and consistent top-liner. He has reached at least 50 points in three straight seasons and had an outside shot at 60 had it not been for the pandemic, which will help his arbitration case as will his increase in usage to over 20 minutes a night. He’s two years away from unrestricted free agency so this is the time when a long-term pact should be the focus for both sides. There aren’t a lot of core forwards in Buffalo right now beyond Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, but Reinhart is certainly one of them.
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F Victor Olofsson – It was a breakout season for the 25-year-old, who went from being predominantly a minor leaguer to one of the top rookie scorers in the league with 22 goals and 20 assists in just 54 games. His lack of NHL track record makes it difficult to find possible comparables, which could make his arbitration case a little more interesting. Normally, a bridge deal for a player in this situation coming off his entry-level deal would make sense, but because he’s an older rookie, a two-year pact would walk him right to unrestricted free agency. There’s no doubt that Olofsson will get a substantial raise on his salary from this season, which was less than $800K, but Adams is going to have to decide if he’s ready to commit to a long-term deal or if a one-year contract is the better way to go.
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The 18-year-old is among the most polished defenders available in the draft and scored 41 points in 68 games during the 2018-19 season. While those numbers fell as he dealt with the blood clot issue this year, Barron was still considered a strong prospect that would be snatched up quickly in the draft.Subscribe to Yardbarker's Morning Bark, the most comprehensive newsletter in sports. Customize your email to get the latest news on your favorite sports, teams and schools. Emailed daily. Always free! Sign up now ▸More must-reads:Lightning captain Steven Stamkos out for Game 4 vs.
G Linus Ullmark – Ullmark has been Buffalo’s possible goalie of the future for a while, but it has yet to materialize into a goalie of the present situation. Even with Carter Hutton struggling mightily, head coach Ralph Krueger saw fit to platoon the two so Ullmark only played in 34 games. While he has played in five separate NHL seasons, he still doesn’t have 100 games under his belt. At 27, he’s a year away from UFA eligibility so another one-year contract that kicks the can down the road isn’t an option anymore. The Sabres may not be ready to commit a long-term deal, but a two- or three-year pact that buys a bit of team control and has a price tag around the $3M mark might be palatable for both sides; it’d more than double his salary from this season without pricing themselves out of bidding for a starter down the road.
D Brandon Montour – It wasn’t that long ago that Montour appeared to be a part of the team's long-term plans to the point where Buffalo gave up a first-rounder for him. However, he struggled a bit under Krueger, and his ice time fell as a result. Add that to the flattened salary cap and there are questions about whether or not the Sabres should tender him his $3.525M qualifying offer. He’s also a year away from UFA eligibility, but it’s at least possible that he hits the open market earlier than originally planned. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in trade discussions in the coming weeks as a result.
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F Wayne Simmonds – The decision to take a one-year deal came with mixed results for Simmonds. While he landed more than he would have on a multi-year contract, he didn’t rebound like he or New Jersey hoped for and didn’t improve upon being moved to Buffalo. While he’s only 32, he has shown signs of slowing down considerably the last couple of years and should now be looked at as more of a depth player than the top-six option he has been for most of his career. He should still have no difficulty landing a contract this offseason, but it will be much cheaper than the $5M he made this season.
F Jimmy Vesey– Last summer’s trade to the Sabres didn’t kick-start his offense. Instead, his production took a nosedive as his nine goals and 20 points were both career lows; even had the pandemic not hit, that still likely would have been the case. Instead of entering the market as a possible second liner, he’s going to have to seek out an opportunity where he can play on an offensive-minded third line and hope to play his way up the lineup. At 27, there should be a fair bit of interest, but the flattened cap may limit his chances of beating his $2.35M salary from this season.
Free-agent focus: Who stays, who goes for San Jose Sharks?
The Sharks have to make decisions on several key free agents this offseason, including Kevin Labanc, Antti Suomela, Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson and Aaron Dell.F Kevin Labanc – The only significant restricted free agent the team needs to sign is Labanc, who surprised quite a few people when he signed a one-year, $1M bargain contract last offseason with many expecting he took a low deal with the assumption he would be rewarded with a long-term deal the following year. We’ll see if that’s the case, but Labanc’s production didn’t jump off the charts like many had hoped.
F Zemgus Girgensons/F Johan Larsson – I’ve lumped these two together as they’ve followed somewhat similar trajectories thus far aside from Girgensons’ voted in All-Star Game appearance. They even are coming off of near-identical contracts, $1.6M for Girgensons and $1.55M for Larsson. Both have spent seven years in Buffalo and have done well at times defensively, but their offensive games haven’t progressed much along the way. There is a spot on the fourth line either with Buffalo or elsewhere, but it may be hard to justify Adams bringing both of them back at similar price tags — but one of them re-signing could certainly happen.
Other UFAs: F Michael Frolik, D John Gilmour, G Andrew Hammond, D Matt Hunwick, F Taylor Leier, D Casey Nelson, F Vladimir Sobotka, F Scott Wilson
Projected cap space
With so many players needing new deals, there isn’t much on the books right now; the Sabres have about $47M tied up in 10 players, per CapFriendly. That gives them plenty of flexibility to work with if ownership is willing to spend to the $81.5M Upper Limit. After the Sabres re-sign their restricted free agents, they’ll have enough left to be players in free agency in the coming weeks.
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There are fewer honors greater for professional sports players than a team retiring their numbers, guaranteeing that no one else will ever wear it again. Just about every team in the league has at least a handful of retired or honored numbers, and now we are going to take a look at the next player for each NHL team who should have his jersey placed in the rafters. We are excluding players whose number retirements are scheduled for this season or next season and looking only at players who have not yet been announced.
When Getzlaf retires he is going to finish his career as the Ducks' all-time leader in games played, assists and total points while also being a Stanley Cup champion and longtime captain of the team. His peak may not have been as good as that of players like Paul Kariya or Teemu Selanne, but his overall resume is as complete as any other player the franchise has ever seen.
Playing in Arizona and on a team that has not made the playoffs often, it can be easy to overlook Ekman-Larsson. But he is an outstanding top-pairing defenseman and has been the Coyotes' best all-around player from almost the day he arrived. He is a constant threat to score 20 goals as a defenseman and is one of the most best offensive blue-liners in the entire league. At this point it still seems like a stretch to think he will one day have his number retired, but he might be the next logical choice in the future.
Bergeron is one of the best all-around players of his era and an all-time great Bruin. In his 16 years (and counting) with the team, he helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup, play in two other Stanley Cup Finals, won four Selke Trophies as the league's best defensive forward and was the driving force behind one of the best defensive teams in the entire league. He's a Hall of Famer and worthy of joining all of the Bruins' all-time greats.
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Buffalo Sabres: Dave Andreychuk (25)
Andreychuk is all over the Sabres' all-time leader boards, currently residing in the top three in goals, assists and total points, while also ranking sixth all-time in games played. He is a Hall of Famer and was a massive piece of several playoff teams in Buffalo throughout the 1980s.
No player has worn the No. 14 since Fleury last sported it during the 1999 season. So it is kind of a mystery as to why it has not actually been put in the rafters next to Mike Vernon's and Lanny McDonald's. Fleury helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup as a rookie during the 1988-89 season and then went on to be one of the most prolific scorers in franchise history.
It is easy to forget just how good Staal was in the early part of his career with the Hurricanes. He scored 40 goals two different times, was a dominant two-way player and helped bring the Stanley Cup to Raleigh during the 2005-06 season. He is the best player the franchise has had since it relocated to North Carolina and was the best player on the franchise's only championship team.
There are a lot of Blackhawks fans who think this should have already happened. He may not have the Stanley Cup clout that the current core of Blackhawks has (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith), but those players are all still active and years away from being in a position to have their numbers retired. Larmer is also one of the best players in franchise history and helped turn the team into a Stanley Cup contender in the early 1990s, including the 1991-92 season when it actually reached the Stanley Cup Final.
Going far into the future here, but MacKinnon is probably going to be the next player to get this honor. The Avalanche have already retired most of the notable numbers from their championship era, and of the remaining core players from those teams (Chris Drury, Alex Tanguay) they probably did not play long enough in Colorado to warrant such an honor. MacKinnon, though, appears he is going to be with the Avalanche for the long haul and end up being one of the best players of his era. The Avalanche have a chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Denver in the very near future, and if MacKinnon helps deliver that he will be an Avalanche legend.
Nash does not get anywhere near enough credit for how good of a player he was. A former No. 1 overall pick, Nash became the Blue Jackets' first star player and finished as the league's leading goal-scorer in just his second season in the NHL. He was a yearly threat to score 40 goals and was an outstanding two-way player who also developed into one of the league's best penalty killers. The Blue Jackets were never really able to build anything significant around him, but it does not take away from the fact he is the best player the team has ever had.
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Dallas Stars: Derian Hatcher (2)
The Stars have already retired the numbers of Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen from their glory days, and Sergei Zubov will be joining them next season. The other top defenseman on that team was the rugged Hatcher, a player who probably best defined that era of the NHL and Stars hockey. A physical, shutdown defenseman who was part of the backbone of the team's only Stanley Cup winning club.
You could make the argument that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk should probably both get their numbers retired together given their importance between the 2006 and 2015 seasons. They were the backbone of one of the league's best teams and among the best two-way players in the league during that time. I will give Zetterberg the edge as the player who followed Nicklas Lidstrom as team captain and for his 2008 Conn Smythe winning performance.
McDavid is going to be the NHL's best and most dominant player for the next decade and beyond. If the Oilers do not screw it up, he should help bring the Stanley Cup back to Edmonton at some point too. He will be with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey among the franchise's all-time greats.
This might be a stretch because Bure spent only parts of four seasons in Florida, while several players have worn the number since he played there (including currently Brett Connolly). But there is no denying the impact Bure made. He was probably the most high-profile superstar to play for the Panthers and was the most dominant goal-scorer in the league during his time there. He finished as the league's leading goal scorer twice and averaged 0.70 goals per game with the Panthers (a 57-goal pace over 82 games). He did that during the lowest goal-scoring era in NHL history. Just for perspective, the next highest goal per game average in the NHL during that stretch was Jaromir Jagr at 0.57 goals per game (a 46-goal pace per 82 games).
Kopitar helped bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles during the 2011-12 season and then did it again two years later. While Jonathan Quick, Justin Williams and Drew Doughty got most of the accolades for those championship runs, Kopitar was the best player on all of those teams and has been the best player on the team since making his debut. He is one of the franchise icons for what he helped bring to Los Angeles.
Technically the only retired number for the Wild is No. 1 — for their fans. When it comes to finally retiring a number for a player, Koivu seems like he will be at the top of the list. He has spent more than 15 seasons in Minnesota and been a truly fantastic player. He is the franchise leader in games played, assists and total points and has been a complete all-around player every year as well as the team captain for 12 seasons and counting.
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Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price (31)
Pretty much every significant Canadiens player from the team's past has their number already retired or honored. So that leaves the current generation, and Price is the obvious no-brainer here. He has been an elite goalie throughout his career and at times has carried the franchise to levels it would otherwise have no business reaching. He won an MVP Award and a Vezina Trophy, and when he is at his best he can be one of the most game-changing and season-changing players in the entire league. He is an All-Star on and off the ice for the Canadiens.
The Predators have yet to retire a number, but if anyone is deserving of such an honor at this point it might be Legwand, the original Predator. He was their first draft pick and is still the franchise's all-time leader in every major category including games played, goals, assists and total points (all by a significant margin). He was never a superstar, but he was an outstanding player who helped build the Predators into a formidable NHL franchise. That counts for something.
Gomez does not get enough credit for how good he was in the early part of his career. Between 1999 and 2007, he was an elite playmaker and one of the best forwards on a multiple Stanley Cup winner in New Jersey. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias are the other key players from that era to have their numbers retired by the Devils, and Gomez was right there with them in terms of importance.
LaFontaine just missed the Islanders dynasty, making his debut with the team during the 1983-84 season (they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final that year), but he is still one of the greatest players in franchise history and one of the best American-born players of all-time.
Lundqvist's short-term future with the Rangers remains in doubt beyond this season, but here is what is not in doubt: He is the best goalie the team has ever seen and has been the best goalie of his era. The only disappointing part of his tenure with the Rangers is that he did not win a Stanley Cup with the team. He did lead the Rangers to one Stanley Cup Final during the 2013-14 season and helped carry the team to contention almost every year he was their starting goalie.
A true superstar during his time with the Senators, Karlsson won two Norris Trophies, was a runner-up two additional times (probably should have won the award in each of those seasons, too) and at his peak, he was the most impactful defenseman the NHL had seen since the days of Bobby Orr. He was that good in Ottawa. His best stretch came during the 2016-17 season when he almost single-handedly carried the team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final...while playing injured. He was so good that postseason that he actually earned a Conn Smythe Trophy vote even though his team did not reach the Stanley Cup Final. That is respect. It is also dominance.
It might be a little late in the game for this one since 16 different players have worn the number since Leach last did, but he was a pretty significant part of Flyers history. Leach owns the franchise record for goals in a season (61) and won the Conn Smythe Trophy during their most recent Stanley Cup win in the 1974-75 season.
This has to happen. There was some bitterness with the way Jagr left the Penguins two decades ago, and he was still active playing for opponents as recently as a couple of years ago, but there is no way the Penguins cannot retire this number. Jagr helped bring two Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh and was one of the two or three best players in the league (sometimes the best) for his entire tenure with the team. At worst he is the third-best player in franchise history behind only Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.
Both Marleau and Joe Thornton (19) are going to have their numbers retired at some point by the Sharks. It seems like a given. But Marleau might get that honor first because he was drafted by the team and is the franchise leader in games played, goals and total points. He never won the Stanley Cup in San Jose, but he did help the team reach the Stanley Cup Final during the 2015-16 season. Not only is he one of the Sharks' franchise legends, he is one of the most underappreciated players across the league for his era.
Pietrangelo has been a rock on the Blues defense for more than a decade and was the captain of the first-ever Stanley Cup winning team in franchise history. That is exactly the type of player who gets a number retired by a team. He will one day join Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger among the team's all-time great defensemen who have their numbers retired for the Blues.
Stamkos has been the second-best goal scorer of his era, trailing only Alex Ovechkin. He is already one of the greatest players in Lightning history and is one of their biggest superstars. The only thing his resume is missing at this point is a Stanley Cup. He has been close. If he gets over the hump he might be the greatest player in franchise history.
The Maple Leafs have either retired or "honored" several numbers of former players and have included pretty much every noteworthy player from their past. So we will look far into the future and go with Matthews, who has already shown that he is one of the best goal-scorers in the league. If he helps bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto, his status among the team greats will forever be cemented.
Edler has never really received a ton of national attention during his career, but he has been one of the best defensemen in the history of the franchise and a key piece during one of the most successful eras the Canucks have ever seen. Now that Henrik and Daniel Sedin have had their numbers retired, Edler might be the next logical choice in the future.
When the Golden Knights acquired Fleury in the expansion draft he immediately became their franchise player. He has been the cornerstone piece of the team both on and off the ice in its first three years and helped backstop the team to the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence. He was one of their first players. He is their first superstar. He will be their first retired number.
In the future you know Alex Ovechkin will have his No. 8 retired. That is a given. But that is still probably a decade or so away from happening, as Ovechkin still has several more dominant years ahead of him in the NHL. In the meantime, another Capitals superstar from their past is probably long overdue for having his number go to the rafters — Bondra. He is a 500-goal scorer and was an absolute superstar for the Capitals throughout the 1990s. He won two goal-scoring crowns for the Capitals and was one of the league's most dominant goal scorers between the 1990 and 2002 seasons. Given how great he was, it is kind of a surprise his number is not already retired by the Capitals.
The current version of the Jets (the one that moved from Atlanta in 2012) has not retired any numbers, but they do have one obvious candidate for that honor in the future. Wheeler has been one of the league's most underrated players this decade and one of the top point producers in the league. He has been the face of the franchise, their captain, their leader and the team's all-time leading point producer. Seems like a slam dunk in the future.
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Free-agent focus: Dallas Stars
All things considered, the Stars should have at least $16.2 million in flexible cap space heading into the offseason. This will be plenty to extend Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov while leaving room to explore the free agent market. Subscribe to Yardbarker's Morning Bark, the most comprehensive newsletter in sports. Customize your email to get the latest news on your favorite sports, teams and schools. Emailed daily.