In what AAV (average annual value) region do you see San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier's contract this summer? Breakout season so far and dominant performance with forward Logan Couture in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. -- @MeierGilles
It's a great question because Meier might be the Sharks' most important free-agent-to-be. That's a loaded claim, I know, because the list includes defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Gustav Nyquist, among others. Each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, when Meier can become a restricted free agent. Meier, though, is 22 years old and on the upswing in his career. The Sharks should expect to get his best seasons in his next contract. They can't say the same about Karlsson, Pavelski, Thornton or Nyquist.
Meier is an established pro now, a 30-goal scorer this season, and his 66 points in 78 games nearly were double the 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) he had in 81 games last season. He's been elite in the playoffs too, with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 16 games entering Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS). He has 13 points at even strength, tied with Couture for the Sharks playoff lead.
My hunch is the AAV on Meier's next contract will fall in the $6-$7 million range. A comparison is Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who got an AAV of $6 million by agreeing to terms on a seven-year, $42 million contract Oct. 4, 2017, after he had 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 82 games in 2016-17. I can see Meier getting closer to $7 million because the class of RFAs coming off entry-level contracts this season is strong, including Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner, Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen, Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho and Jets forwards Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine.
In my estimation Meier is a step behind some of the other pending RFAs in his category like Tkachuk, Aho, Boeser and Connor, since Meier's big jump in production came this season, rather than earlier like Tkachuk, Aho, Boeser and Connor. That means they may get more than Meier in their second contract, but not by much.
Video: STL@SJS, Gm1: Meier dekes to backhand for great goal
Does Kaapo Kakko's performance so far at the 2019 IIHF World Championship change anything for the New Jersey Devils' plans for the No. 1 pick? It seems like the general consensus is that it'll be Hughes, but Kakko has been dominant so far. -- @BenAscone
No one knows for sure how the Devils are leaning, but what happens in Slovakia is unlikely to change their minds. If the think Kakko is their guy, the forward's performance for Finland in the World Championship has to solidify that stance. He has five goals in three games and looks like he will have zero problem assimilating into the NHL next season. Jack Hughes doesn't have a point in three games and has been the center on a third line on a more veteran United States team, while Kakko has stood out on a Finland team that has two players who skated in more than 35 NHL games this season, defenseman Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks) and forward Juho Lammikko (Florida Panthers).
Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is not as big or as powerful as Kakko (6-2, 194), and he's three months younger. It could take him longer to develop into the player he's supposed to be in the NHL because of his size. If they're leaning toward Hughes, it's likely because they see a future of Nico Hischier and Hughes as their top two centers for the next 10-plus years. It would be their version of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Teams can't win without center depth. The Devils could build the rest of their team around Hischier and Hughes. They wouldn't be able to do the same with Kakko because he's a left-handed shooting right wing. Even Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, one of the greatest wings in NHL history, needs elite centers around him.
What do you think the Washington Capitals do with their forward situation? Do they trade somebody like defenseman Matt Niskanen to sign both forwards Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin? Do they acquire another forward? -- @HarrisonB927077
Trading Niskanen is a reasonable thought, especially considering the Capitals acquired defenseman Nick Jensen in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline and signed him to a four-year, $10 million contract.
Niskanen has two seasons remaining on the seven-year, $40.25 million contract he signed July 1, 2014. If traded, the Capitals likely would go with John Carlson and Jensen as their top two right-handed defensemen, and Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny as their top two lefties. That's barring any unforeseen changes of course. Trading Niskanen also would mean they'd move out his salary cap charge of $5.75 million, which could be allocated to Connolly with a good enough amount left over for a contract for Hagelin too. Connolly, who turned 27 on May 2, could get a contract in the $3-$4 million per season range. If Hagelin, who will be 31 when next season starts, wants to stay in Washington he might have to take less than that.
However the Capitals have other considerations that might prevent them from keeping Hagelin. They have to re-sign forward Jakub Vrana, who broke out with 47 points (24 goals, 23 assists) this season but can be a restricted free agent July 1. Look for Vrana to get a long-term contract. The Capitals also have to determine the future of forward Andre Burakovsky, who also can become an RFA. Burakovsky had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 76 games this season after he had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 56 games last season. The Capitals would have to give Burakovsky a qualifying offer of $3 million (matching his salary for this season) to retain his rights, which could be more than they'd like to spend. Perhaps the Capitals could convince him to take a contract with a lower AAV but for more seasons. Short of that, it's either $3 million or he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Either way, trading Niskanen opens options for the Capitals.
Video: WSH@TOR: Niskanen scores on deflection in front
In your opinion, what is the Minnesota Wild's No. 1 priority this summer? Get a "gamebreaker" like Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin? -- @TJRinger1
That would be a good thing, yes. The Wild don't have that type of dynamic player and it's a problem for them. They lack that level of excitement, that player who can pull fans out of their seats, who puts some fear into the opposition. Panarin would be perfect, but I don't think he's that player. Duchene isn't a gamebreaker but he's an elite center who is excellent at controlling the puck down low and making plays coming off the wall. He would be a good fit too.
Most importantly, the Wild have to establish an identity. What is their style? Who are they? It's been a question asked about the Wild for far too long. That to me is the biggest offseason priority, for general manager Paul Fenton and coach Bruce Boudreau to establish an identity for the Wild and cater any offseason moves around that identity. Are they going to be a big, physical, grinding team? They can be. Are they going to be a fast, skilled team? They have enough already in the cupboard to go in that direction too. But they need to pick a direction and go with it. I think they started in the direction of fast and skilled this season by acquiring forwards Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala in separate trades. Center Joel Eriksson Ek and defenseman Matt Dumba fit that model. So go in that direction, make moves accordingly and consistently try to be that team, even if it comes with growing pains. Identity is key. The Wild need to establish one.
What is the latest on John Davidson, Artemi Panarin and the New York Rangers? -- @rgarofalo1968
On Davidson, all indications are the current Columbus Blue Jackets president is the Rangers' top candidate to replace Glen Sather as president. Davidson's history with the Rangers as a player and a Hall of Fame broadcaster gives him knowledge of the New York market, owner James Dolan and the people at Madison Square Garden that no other legitimate, qualified candidate has. He has done well in his career as an executive working with general managers, not trying to be one himself. He sets the agenda and the tone and lets the executives who work under him do their job.
As for Panarin, who will be an unrestricted free agent, nothing can happen until he can start meeting with teams after the draft, which is in Vancouver on June 21-22. He can't sign until July 1. I think the assumption is that if the Rangers get Davidson it would give them an upper hand at getting Panarin. Why? Panarin isn't going to choose his next team based on the president of hockey operations, even if he has a pre-existing relationship with Davidson from Columbus. Panarin is going to choose based on money, term, fit, style, teammates, location and the chance to win.
I think he's going to the Florida Panthers. They can give him a big contract, and they might be able to sign Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky too. They will play an up-tempo style with coach Joel Quenneville, who had Panarin with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Panthers also have forward Evgenii Dadonov, who is one of Panarin's close friends. And he can play on a line centered by Aleksander Barkov or Vincent Trocheck. Pls there's the South Florida weather is great.