Grading each star RFA’s new contract

Talk of this summer's star-studded horde of restricted free agents was inescapable. There were rumblings of historically rich contracts, offer sheets, and extended holdouts. In actuality, it was a whole lot of waiting around until a flurry of deals came to fruition once training camps started.

The drama finally ended Sept. 28 when Mikko Rantanen and Kyle Connor became the final members of an unfathomably deep group of young phenoms to put pen to paper. With the biggest story of the offseason finally settled, let's take one last look at each RFA deal and hand out some grades before these players take the ice to do what they do best.

Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

What we projected: 8 years, $82 million ($10.25M AAV)
What he signed for: 5 years, $42.27 million ($8.54M AAV)

Aho was the lone recipient of the vaunted offer sheet as the Montreal Canadiens attempted to poach him with a contract the Hurricanes quickly matched. Aho reportedly wasn't getting the offers he wanted from Carolina, so he leveraged his way to a richer deal while leaving the door open for another lucrative contract before his age-27 season.

One could easily make the case Aho is worth much more than $8.54 million per season, and he'll almost certainly be considered a bargain as this deal progresses. We can't give the Hurricanes full marks, though, since it was technically Montreal that created his very reasonable cap hit.

Grade: B+

Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

Jeff Vinnick / National Hockey League / Getty

What we projected: 7 years, $51.45 million ($7.35M AAV)
What he signed for: 3 years, $17.625 million ($5.875M AAV)

We figured Boeser would get a long-term deal, but the Canucks didn't have the cap room to swing a big-ticket extension without moving bodies. So, the two sides agreed on a feasible bridge settlement as negotiations lingered into September.

Paying a 30-plus-goal player less than $6 million per year is a win for the team, but there's a good chance the Canucks face some serious financial headaches when it's time to re-sign Boeser. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will need new contracts before his next deal, while presumptive captain Bo Horvat will be eligible for an extension come 2022.

Grade: B-

Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

What we projected: 6 years, $43 million, ($7.167M AAV)
What he signed for: 7 years, $50 million, ($7.14M AAV)

Connor earned one more year than we anticipated, but the cap hit is nearly the same. The seventh year is a big positive for the Jets, who bought three UFA seasons for a player who's emerged as a major piece of their future.

The 22-year-old has scored 30-plus goals in each of the past two seasons and has a good opportunity to hit another level of production if he keeps his spot beside Mark Scheifele. At just over $7 million a season, this one could age very nicely for Winnipeg.

Grade: A-

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

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What we projected: 7 years, $54.6 million, ($7.8M AAV)
What he signed for: 2 years, $13.5 million, ($6.75M AAV)

A stronger contract year from Laine might have seen the Jets back up the Brinks truck for the Finnish sniper. But inconsistency down the stretch last season made a bridge deal the only sensible resolution for each side.

Make no mistake: Laine's 50-goal potential is still there, and betting on himself with a two-year pact could make him a very rich man in the summer of 2021. That said, Winnipeg did the right thing in making him prove it.

Grade: B+

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

What we projected: 6 years, $55.5 million, ($9.25M AAV)
What he signed for: 6 years, $65.358 million, ($10.893 AAV)

This negotiation was easily the most talked about, and once Marner put pen to paper, the rest of the class quickly followed suit. Marner came in considerably higher than we projected, but he wanted to be paid like teammates Auston Matthews and John Tavares, and he earned that right after leading the club in scoring two years in a row.

The Maple Leafs may have overpaid, but it's better to reward stars than depth pieces, and the six-year term ensures all the club's big forwards are locked in long-term. If Marner goes out and puts up another 90-point season, complaints about his cap hit will quickly fade. They're sure to reappear in future offseasons, however, as Kyle Dubas delicately maneuvers around a salary-cap structure with minimal wiggle room.

Grade: B-

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

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What we projected: 7 years, $54.6 million, ($7.8M AAV)
What he signed for: 3 years, $14.9 million, ($4.9M AAV)

Death, taxes, and the Bruins paying their star players peanuts. McAvoy has missed significant time in each of his first two seasons, which likely made Boston wary of committing big dollars long-term, but $4.9 million per season for a player of his caliber is a steal.

At only 21 years old, McAvoy is already the complete blue-line package, and the sky is the limit over the duration of this deal. He's the Bruins' No. 1 defenseman of the future and Boston will have plenty of room to compensate him adequately when it's time to pay him again in 2022. It's hard to find any flaws in this contract.

Grade: A

Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks

What we projected: 6 years, $37.8M, ($6.3M AAV)
What he signed for: 4 years, $24 million ($6M AAV)

Meier quietly signed a nice extension amid the free-agent flurry of July 1, coming in at only $6 million a year following a breakout season in which he posted 30 goals and 36 assists as a 22-year-old.

The Sharks were right up against the cap this summer and succeeded in keeping Meier's number stomachable. The young winger will still be an RFA when this deal expires, but San Jose should be in good shape to hand him a considerable raise should he maintain his superstar trajectory.

Grade: A

Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

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What we projected: 5 years, $42.5 million, ($8.5M AAV)
What he signed for: 3 years, $20.25 million, ($6.75M AAV)

Point is arguably the best player of the bunch - a two-way stud fresh off a 41-goal, 92-point season in the final year of his entry-level contract. We figured he'd earn a five-year deal, but the Lightning have a ton of long-term money tied up already, and a lengthier pact likely would have put Point in the same cap-hit stratosphere as teammates Steven Stamkos ($8.5 million per year) and Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million annually).

That wouldn't work within the confines of the Bolts' books, and a bridge doesn't hurt Tampa in the slightest. The Lightning are still Stanley Cup favorites, and a three-year window in which their top-line pivot earns less than $7 million a season is a successful outcome any way you slice it.

Grade: A-

Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

What we projected: 8 years, $80 million, ($10M AAV)
What he signed for: 6 years, $55.5 million ($9.25M AAV)

The Avalanche needed term and security on Rantanen's deal, and they got both by locking him in for six years. Colorado is a young, exciting squad on the rise, but it won't have cap room forever; Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Gabriel Landeskog will all need fresh contracts over the course of Rantanen's new pact.

A $10-million cap hit makes Rantanen the 16th-highest-paid forward in the league, but he's proved he's worth the dough after seasons of 84 and 87 points on the Avs' top line. Colorado is widely expected to grow into a contender quickly, and Rantanen will be a huge part of that.

Grade: A-

Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

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What we projected: 6 years, $51 million, ($8.5M AAV)
What he signed for: 3 years, $21 million, ($7M AAV)

Tkachuk's contract is the richest three-year bridge ever signed, surpassing the deal Point inked two days prior. We projected Tkachuk would get a long-term pact, but the cap-strapped Flames opted for a shorter agreement with the gritty winger in order to keep their current roster intact.

Getting Tkachuk under contract before the start of the campaign was an undeniably huge priority for Calgary, but moving a body to lock him up for a few more seasons might have been the better course of action in the grand scheme of things. Tkachuk's new deal expires in 2022, the same year Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano are scheduled to hit free agency. The Flames better make the most of their current window.

Grade: B-

Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

What we projected: 8 years, $66 million, ($8.25M AAV)
What he signed for: 3 years, $15 million, ($5M AAV)

After the summer's mass exodus of star players, we figured the Blue Jackets would pony up big for a long-term commitment from Werenski - one of the game's most promising young defenders.

They opted instead for a three-year bridge, with Werenski's $5-million annual cap hit providing Columbus a nice temporary discount for his services. Werenski has been a staple on the Jackets' blue line since entering the league as a 19-year-old in 2016, and he's only going to get better. Given the club's current salary-cap picture, there should be no issues locking him down long-term on his next deal.

Grade: B

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Watch: Sharks, Golden Knights get heated in chippy preseason finale

This just in: the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks don't like each other very much.

The bad blood between the Pacific Division rivals was on full display in the third period of Sunday's preseason finale, with the two sides engaging in numerous scrums.

The first incident started when Sharks goalie Aaron Dell gave Mark Stone an elbow as he skated by.

It led to this scuffle:

Shortly after, Evander Kane was ejected for abusing an official after a mix-up with Deryk Engelland. As the official worked to separate the two players, Kane's stick made contact as he shoved the ref.

Overall, Sunday's contest featured 114 penalty minutes.

Animosity may have carried over from last season's first-round playoff series, which infamously ended in Game 7 thanks to an unfathomable Sharks comeback that featured four goals on a power play that never should have been awarded.

It won't be long before the Sharks and Golden Knights renew hostilities, with the two club's facing off twice in the opening week of the regular season.

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Stars’ Perry to miss 2 more weeks with foot fracture

Corey Perry will wait a bit longer to make his Dallas Stars debut.

The veteran winger will be out for two more weeks, Stars head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters on Sunday, according to Mike Heika of the team's website.

On Sept. 13, Montgomery said Perry suffered a small foot fracture and the forward would be re-evaluated in two weeks.

At that time, Perry said he planned to be ready for the season opener against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3. However, missing an additional two weeks pushes his return closer to mid-October.

Perry signed a one-year, $1.5-million contract with the Stars as a free agent on July 1 after the Anaheim Ducks bought him out. He spent all 14 of his previous NHL seasons with the Ducks.

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Each Canadian team’s greatest challenge in 2019-20

A Canadian team hasn't hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1993, but a few clubs north of the border have serious chances to end the drought in 2019-20.

No season comes without its obstacles, however, and each Canadian team enters the campaign facing a unique challenge it must overcome to maximize its potential.

Flames: Establish reliable goaltending

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The Flames are strong in nearly every area of the ice. The only real question mark is between the pipes.

Is David Rittich ready to take the reigns as a full-time starter? Can Cam Talbot bounce back and become a reliable option after consecutive down seasons? Calgary needs answers as quickly as possible.

Rittich was satisfactory last season, but the Czech puck-stopper's numbers waned in the latter half as a knee injury plagued him from the start of 2019 onward:

Oct. 3 - Dec. 29 22 2.25 .924
Dec. 31 - April 3 23 2.92 .899

Come playoff time, veteran Mike Smith stole the show and Rittich didn't play a minute of action. It remains to be seen if he can shoulder a starter's workload over the course of a full campaign.

Talbot, meanwhile, finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting after a sensational 2016-17 campaign but hasn't looked anything like a starting netminder since then: The 31-year-old has a 3.15 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage over his last 102 appearances.

The Flames have serious Stanley Cup aspirations, but the quality and consistency of their goaltending will define their ceiling.

Oilers: Live up to playoff pressure

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Few teams face more pressure to make the playoffs this season than the Oilers, who will have to adjust to a new regime as quickly as possible.

Connor McDavid looks healthy after a scary leg injury sustained in Edmonton's final game of 2018-19 kept him off the ice for most of the summer. Having the league's top talent miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five campaigns would be nothing short of a disaster, but the Oilers didn't add much on the ice this offseason to move the needle.

A new and experienced voice behind the bench in head coach Dave Tippett should benefit the club. But with the team pressed against the cap, general manager Ken Holland may have to wait until next summer to really put his stamp on the roster.

The Oilers will be hard-pressed to compete for a divisional playoff seed in the top-heavy Pacific, but a wild-card berth is certainly attainable if they can get off to a strong start.

Canadiens: Keep pace in tough Atlantic

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The Canadiens have too much skill not to compete for a playoff spot, but their talent runs thin compared to the juggernauts atop the Atlantic Division.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins are practically locks to make the postseason, while the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres both made improvements this summer. An all-world season from Carey Price will go a long way, but the offense needs to be firing on all cylinders if the Habs are to stay competitive.

Montreal will need more from its top offensive talents - especially with the man advantage. Last season, the Canadiens' power play posted the league's 30th-ranked percentage (13.2%) while scoring the fewest total goals (31). Defenseman Shea Weber, who missed 24 contests due to injury, led the club with five power-play markers.

Several young talents including Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, and Jake Evans could all force their way into Montreal's lineup at some point this season. If a playoff berth is firmly out of reach come February, the Habs will be faced with a decision: Run it back again in 2020-21, or enter a slight rebuild to give their younger talent more exposure.

Senators: Instill winning habits

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It's highly unlikely the Senators shock the hockey world and step into playoff contention this season, and that's just fine. The club's focus for 2019-20 should be giving its promising young talent as much NHL exposure as possible.

D.J. Smith, a rookie himself as a first-time NHL head coach, will play a key role in this team's development. Ottawa may lose more often than not, but Smith understands a strong work ethic is paramount in building a winner.

"Instil the mentality that we won't be outworked," Smith said in an August interview with Sportsnet's Wayne Scanlan. "We're just not going to be easy to play against. We're not going to win every game, but it can't be easy to come here and get two points. When you play Ottawa, people need to know we're coming to play."

Defenseman Thomas Chabot and forwards Brady Tkachuk and Colin White represent a bright future for the Senators. If that trio can take some major steps in this season, consider it a productive campaign in Ottawa.

Maple Leafs: Keep Frederik Andersen fresh

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The Maple Leafs enter 2019-20 boasting arguably their strongest roster of the millennium, but it may not matter come playoff time unless they lighten Frederik Andersen's workload.

Since joining the Leafs in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks ahead of the 2016-17 campaign, no goalie has started more regular-season games (192) or played more minutes (11,198) than the 6-foot-4 Dane.

Comparing Andersen's playoff stats from his final two seasons in Anaheim - where he shared regular-season duties with John Gibson - to his postseason totals with the Leafs, the numbers speak for themselves:

Season Team GP (season) GAA (playoff) SV% (playoff)
2014-15 Ducks 54 2.34 .913
2015-16 Ducks 43 1.41 .947
2016-17 Leafs 66 2.68 .915
2017-18 Leafs 66 3.76 .896
2018-19 Leafs 60 2.75 .922

It's essential the Leafs separate themselves from the pack as early as possible in order to afford Andersen more rest. Veteran netminder Michael Hutchinson looks poised to assume the backup role, but the 29-year-old has started just 12 NHL games over the past two seasons and it remains to be seen how much responsibility he can handle.

Canucks: Find depth scoring

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Beyond Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat, the 2018-19 Canucks lacked serious scoring punch. The club ranked 25th offensively and didn't have a single player break 35 points besides those three talents. Vancouver's potential bottom-six forward group for 2019-20 contributed a combined 47 goals in 316 man-games played last season.

Loui Eriksson, the club's highest-paid forward, and 2014 first-round pick Jake Virtanen need to find the net at a more consistent rate. Swiss winger Sven Baertschi could also play a major role this season after an injury-riddled 2018-19 campaign. The 26-year-old has tallied four points in four preseason contests and will look to carry that momentum into October.

General manager Jim Benning attempted to address his team's offensive deficiencies this summer by bringing in forwards Micheal Ferland and J.T. Miller. The Canucks will also have Quinn Hughes in the fold for a full season, and the young blue-liner should be able to contribute right away. Will those additions be enough to help the Canucks establish some depth scoring and push themselves into the playoff picture?

Jets: Figure out the blue line

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The Jets' main priority is getting restricted free-agent forward Kyle Connor signed to a new deal. Assuming they succeed at some point in the near future, they still face another significant challenge - keeping pucks out of the net.

Dustin Byfuglien's future remains up in the air, leaving the club's opening-night blue line looking something like this:

Josh Morrissey Neal Pionk
Nathan Beaulieu Sami Niku
Dmitry Kulikov Tucker Poolman

Winnipeg ranked 15th in goals against last season, and that was with Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Byfuglien in the fold. The former three averaged a combined 61:50 of ice time per night, a number that jumps to 86:12 when Byfuglien's minutes are included. That's a remarkable amount of ice time to replace, especially considering this season's projected right-side trio has combined for just 156 career NHL games.

The 2018-19 Jets were slightly below average in terms of five-on-five possession (Corsi For 48.97%). Early in their careers, Neal Pionk and Sami Niku have been far below average when it comes to this metric, with respective Corsi For rates of 42.59% and 43.99%. Pionk played his first two NHL seasons with a weak New York Rangers team, though, so Winnipeg's elite forward group should help boost his number.

Winnipeg has $14.85 million in cap space without Connor signed, according to CapFriendly. If and when the Jets ink him to a new pact, they should still have some financial flexibility to explore bolstering the blue line.

(Analytics courtesy: Natural Stat Trick)

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Hurricanes name Jordan Staal captain

Jordan Staal will wear the "C" for the Carolina Hurricanes this season, with Jaccob Slavin and Jordan Martinook serving as alternate captains, the club announced Sunday.

Staal succeeds Justin Williams, who won't be with the team to begin the season while taking a break from the NHL. Staal previously served as Hurricanes co-captain along with the recently traded Justin Faulk in 2017-18.

Staal was an alternate captain for Carolina from 2012-17 and then again in 2018-19. He also wore an "A" during his last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2008-12.

His older brother, Eric - now a member of the Minnesota Wild - wore the "C" for the Hurricanes for seven seasons prior to that, including one campaign as co-captain with current head coach Rod Brind'Amour in 2009-10.

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Crosby day-to-day, being held out as precaution

Sidney Crosby's injury doesn't appear to be serious.

The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar is day-to-day, head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters on Sunday. The bench boss added that Crosby was held out from practice for precautionary reasons and "his status is encouraging."

Crosby skated briefly before practice, but he didn't take part in the session.

The Penguins captain left Saturday's preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres and didn't return after blocking a shot in the first period. He was spotted leaving the arena with a slight limp, but without a walking boot or crutches, according to the Tribune-Review's Seth Rorabaugh.

Pittsburgh opens its 2019-20 regular season on Thursday at home against the Sabres.

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