As we near the end of the calendar year, every NHL team has a wish list. Though many teams will make tweaks during the season, the biggest changes tend to come in summer.
For this week’s power rankings — voted on, as always, by a panel of ESPN experts — we glanced at the biggest contract quagmire looming for each team after the season, whether it’s a pending restricted free agent, unrestricted free agent or a mix of both.
Previous ranking: 1
The Lightning are committed to taking care of restricted free agent Brayden Point. Since the beginning of last season, only Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon have more even-strength primary points than Point. How do you squeeze another massive contract in while Steven Stamkosmakes $8.5 million and Kucherov will be at $9.5 million? This will take some creativity.
Previous ranking: 3
Auston Matthews‘ next contract feels like the easy one; just give the center max money. Mitch Marner, who is on pace to shatter 200 points on his entry-level contract, is the trickier dilemma. The cap crunch, especially if Marner is paid appropriately, is a dangerous line for new GM Kyle Dubas to toe.
Previous ranking: 2
It should be autopilot mode for the Predators, who likely will give new contracts to pending RFA depth forwards such as Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala — unless this team implodes in the playoffs yet again. Then GM David Poile might do something drastic.
Previous ranking: 6
The Jets are going to need to pay Patrik Laine, and it’s going to be a lot of money. Considering Kyle Connor is due for a new contract too, the cap-strapped Jets likely can’t sign both Jacob Trouba (RFA) and Tyler Myers (UFA) to deals they deserve.
Previous ranking: 8
Winger Matthew Tkachuk told us on ESPN on Ice this week that he followed the William Nylandernegotiations closely. Nylander’s $6.9 million cap hit was a boon for pending restricted free agent Tkachuk, who is now on pace to be Calgary’s highest-paid player ever (and will certainly surpass Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau).
Previous ranking: 5
The Caps are going to have to make a big decision on Andre Burakovsky, whose qualifying offer would be $3 million but who has underwhelmed in his contract year. (The 23-year-old has just eight points in 29 games and was a healthy scratch Tuesday.) Could he be traded before the season is up?
Previous ranking: 4
There’s no question on whether to give Mikko Rantanen a big contract; the question is how big. The young Finn is playing like he deserves a max deal. But with star linemate Nathan MacKinnon on a bargain $6.3 million, will it be awkward if Rantanen makes well north of $8 million?
Previous ranking: 7
Jeff Skinner is tearing it up on Buffalo’s top line (21 goals in 31 games) thanks to chemistry with Jack Eichel. The 26-year-old will have many suitors this summer. Would familiarity and a contract worth roughly $8 million per year entice Skinner to stay?
Previous ranking: 12
The Bruins likely will dole out another short-term deal for soon-to-be 42-year-old Zdeno Chara, but Boston also has five important RFAs (Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Danton Heinen) to consider.
10. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 10
It’s not really their decision to make, but the Erik Karlsson contract situation is a tenuous one, and fascinating to follow. He hasn’t performed quite as expected in his new hockey home thus far; however, that doesn’t mean the Sharks won’t try to lure him to stay long term.
11. Minnesota Wild
Previous ranking: 9
The renaissance man Eric Staal scored 42 goals in his age-33 season. He’s due to dip a bit this season, but he’s still a top-producing center and has said he’d like to stay in Minnesota. The question is, are the Wild willing to pay more than the $3.5 million he’s making now?
Previous ranking: 14
In one of the most anticipated arbitration cases in recent memory, William “Six-to-43-Goal” Karlsson and Vegas agreed on a one-year, $5.25 million contract. Karlsson’s shooting percentage has calmed, but he’s still on pace for about 25 goals. What does a new contract look like for him?