Stone expects contract discussions to begin over next 2 weeks

Ottawa Senators right winger and pending unrestricted free agent Mark Stone expects contract discussions with the club to begin in the next two weeks, according to Postmedia's Bruce Garrioch.

Jan. 1 marks the first day Stone's eligible to negotiate an extension with the Senators after he signed a one-year, $7.35-million contract with the club in August, narrowly avoiding arbitration. The 26-year-old said he wants to remain with the club, a stance he affirmed multiple times over the past year.

Stone is the team's leading scorer, managing 18 goals and 43 points in 40 games this season along with a 14.6 relative Corsi For percentage and over 20 minutes logged per night.

Ottawa is projected to have $35.3 million in cap space for next season, according to Cap Friendly. The team's other expiring contracts include unrestricted free agents Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, and restricted free agents Colin White and Cody Ceci.

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Calder Power Rankings: Svechnikov beginning to make his mark

In the third edition of theScore's Calder Trophy Power Rankings, we have the same face at the top, but the top two picks from 2018 continue to rise. You can read the previous installment here.

5. Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators

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Tkachuk has slowed from the point per-game pace he managed in our last edition, but is still sitting at a solid 20 points through his first 29 NHL contests. The 19-year-old is averaging 15:34 per game while playing on the Sens' top line on the opposite flank of Mark Stone, and is among the team leaders in Corsi-For percentage at 52.7.

4. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

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Heiskanen continues to eat up big minutes for the Stars, and still leads all rookies with an average of 23:00 played per night. He also ranks second in shots with 88, and sixth in points with seven goals and 10 assists through 40 games.

3. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes

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Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in last summer's draft, started off his NHL career relatively quietly, but is beginning to show signs of his offensive talent with six goals in his last 15 games. His ice time has fluctuated all season, but Svechnikov still leads all freshman with 106 shots, and controls 58.5 percent of all attempts at even strength for the Corsi-heavy Hurricanes.

2. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

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It's tough to stand out in the NHL as an 18-year-old defenseman, but Dahlin does thanks to incredible poise with the puck and swift skating ability. He continues to look increasingly comfortable at the pro level, and is up to 20 points in 40 games, good for third among rookies.

1. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

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At this point, Pettersson's got a vice-like grip on the Calder, and he's one month closer to ending his outstanding debut season with some hardware. The Canucks' phenom sits at 39 points in 36 games, which out-produces the likes Taylor Hall, Mathew Barzal, and Tyler Seguin to this point. Pettersson is already as pure of a sniper as the NHL has to offer, but still regularly dazzles with his quick hands and playmaking ability.

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Stars to pick opponent for 2020 Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl

The Dallas Stars will host the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday, according to John Shannon of Sportsnet.

The opponent has yet to be decided, but the Stars will have the chance to pick their adversary, according to Sean Shapiro of The Athletic.

Until the end of 2009, Cotton Bowl Stadium was the host venue for the annual college football playoff game, the Cotton Bowl Classic. However, in 2010, the bowl game was moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, which doubles as the full-time home of the Dallas Cowboys.

The 2020 event, to be held on Jan. 1, will be the southernmost in the league's history. Of the previous 11 Winter Classics dating back to 2008, the 2017 edition held at Busch Stadium was previously the most southern. Other outdoor games have also been played in warm weather venues such as Los Angeles and Santa Clara, Calif.

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5 bold NHL predictions for 2019

It's officially 2019, and is there a better way to kick off the new year than with some NHL predictions? Below, we've compiled five bold ones that could come to fruition over the next 12 months.

Five-plus 100-point scorers for 1st time since 2006-07

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Scoring is still up across the NHL near the midway point of the 2018-19 campaign, and 15 skaters are currently on pace to eclipse 100 points. The last time five-plus players hit triple digits was during the 2006-07 season (Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Joe Sakic, and Marian Hossa).

All 15 of this year's candidates maintaining their current clip over 82 games is unlikely. But few will bet against Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, or Connor McDavid slowing down if they stay healthy. Then there's Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Johnny Gaudreau, Brayden Point, and Patrick Kane, among others, who all have realistic shots at the 100-point plateau.

Tarasenko gets dealt in Blues' deadline teardown

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The St. Louis Blues surely didn't envision being at the bottom of the Central Division standings at the turn of the calendar after an offseason that included acquiring Ryan O'Reilly. Despite heightened expectations, the 2018-19 campaign is all but lost for the Blues, and they're primed to be sellers at the trade deadline.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been rumored to be drawing interest, is among St. Louis' most attractive trade chips. The 27-year-old is playing at a career-low 50-point pace, but his goal-scoring prowess will likely intrigue a playoff-bound team. He scored 30-plus goals in four straight seasons prior to 2018-19.

Tarasenko's no-trade clause kicks in next year for the final four seasons of his contract. So the Blues need to act now if they want to make a move.

Matthews maintains shooting percentage, wins Rocket Richard Trophy

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This one is the boldest of the bunch.

First of all, Auston Matthews has to stay healthy for this prediction to have a chance. Second, Alex Ovechkin currently holds a 10-goal advantage on the Toronto Maple Leafs sniper in the race for the Rocket.

However, Matthews has posted a sky-high 24.1 shooting percentage so far this season, which is no fluke considering he's converting at a 17.1 percent clip for his career and finished last season at 18.2 percent over 62 games. Factor in his key role on the Leafs' loaded top power-play unit, and it's hard to imagine Matthews slowing down for an extended period of time. Whether that's enough to out duel Ovechkin remains to be seen.

Panarin returns to Chicago in free agency

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With contract talks under wraps between Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the winger's future is completely up in the air. The Russian superstar headlines the unrestricted free-agent class of 2019, and we're predicting he heads back to where his career began and returns to the Chicago Blackhawks.

A source told The Athletic's Scott Powers in August that Panarin would strongly consider a return to the Windy City, where he ran rampant alongside Patrick Kane for two 70-plus-point seasons. Also, Chicago is projected to have $19.6 million in cap space for the 2019-20 season, per Cap Friendly, and the team doesn't have any prominent players to re-sign. The Blackhawks will have enough room to entice Panarin, who should get a major raise from his current $6-million cap hit.

The Blackhawks are in the running for the opportunity to draft Jack Hughes first overall, too, which would be a nice consolation price, or give them an even nicer one-two punch depending on where Panarin goes.

Star-studded crop of RFA's shift NHL's salary landscape

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While Panarin headlines the UFAs, the list of RFAs coming off entry-level contracts in 2019 is bananas:

Player (Pos) Team Proj. Cap Space
Mikko Rantanen (RW) COL $32M
Mitch Marner (RW) TOR $23M
Brayden Point (C) TB $6.3M
Matthew Tkachuk (LW) CGY $11.7M
Sebastian Aho (C/LW) CAR $34M
Auston Matthews (C) TOR $23M
Timo Meier (RW) SJ $24M
Patrik Laine (RW) WPG $23.9M
Brock Boeser (RW) VAN $32M

Those players are some of the best young talents in the NHL, and their contract negotiations could shake things up around the league. How much can each player demand? Will there be any offer sheets? Did William Nylander start a trend with his holdout?

Over the last few years, NHL teams have shifted away from bridge contacts in favor of securing young stars while they're under team control, and each team here faces a critical decision. Each player in the group above could haul in at least $7-8 million per year, with some possibly reaching eight digits.

Only 22 skaters league-wide have cap hits of $8 million or more, with just four signing their big-money deals fresh off their ELCs. This year's swarm of pending RFA's will change the way young players get paid and shift the balance of money in the league going forward.

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