The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2016 – UPDATED

Matt Larkin
Steven Stamkos.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

A few prominent unrestricted free agents have come off the board over the past week, most notably Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski, but plenty of big names remain in a rich 2016 class. My top 30 UFAs:

1. STEVEN STAMKOS, C
Age: 26
2015-16 cap hit: $7.5 million

Never has a talent of his caliber hit the open market so young. Could flirt with a record deal unless the blood clot scare drops his price. SIGNED: Eight years, $68 million with Lightning

2. KYLE OKPOSO, RW
Age: 28
2015-16 cap hit: $2.8 million

More productive than Andrew Ladd or Milan Lucic in recent years. Okposo less of a name brand and lacks Cup ring, so might come cheaper. SIGNED: Seven years, $42 million with Sabres

3. DAVID BACKES, C
Age: 32
2015-16 cap hit: $4.5 million

More mileage than most at his age. He’ll still strike it rich as a big, mean center with excellent two-way skills. SIGNED: Five years, $30 million with Bruins

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Mock draft: how will the first round go down in Buffalo?

Ryan Kennedy
Jakob Chychrun (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

We are achingly close to the 2016 draft in Buffalo. The first round is Friday night and there is a lot of anticipation about what might happen. While Auston Matthews will still get his coronation in Toronto, late speculation was casting doubt upon what would follow. Is Winnipeg hot on Jesse Puljujarvi? Does Columbus want to trade the third pick? Personally, I don’t believe any draft rumors that happen in the final week – especially when so many people in the industry were partying in Las Vegas last night – but hey, the draft is unpredictable. Here’s what I see happening in the first round, assuming no trades are made (ha ha, like that’s realistic).

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Top 10 trade candidates at the 2016 NHL draft

Matt Larkin
Marc-Andre Fleury. (Getty Images)

Draft day has usurped trade deadline day and free agent day as the NHL’s most exciting off-ice event, and it’s not because of the drafting. The last weekend in June has become a lightning rod for blockbuster trades because, unlike at the trade deadline, almost every franchise is a theoretical suitor for any available player. The market doesn’t necessarily split between buyers and sellers. Every team has winning in mind, albeit some make moves for the short term and some trade for long-term assets.

Last June gave us the jaw-dropping Dougie Hamilton deal on draft day, and that was just the beginning. Milan Lucic, Martin Jones, Ryan O’Reilly and Carl Hagelin, among many others, also changed teams over the weekend. Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad followed days later.

It’s a virtual guarantee some marquee names move next week in Buffalo, with all 30 GMs scurrying around the First Niagara Center’s floor. Who are the top 10 draft-day trade candidates? Ponder these players, ranked from least to most likely.

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Game 4 notebook: Sharks need to get an early lead, Tomas Hertl won’t play

Tomas Hertl (Nick Lust/NHLI via Getty Images)

SAN JOSE – Going into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held the lead for 69 minutes and 20 seconds of the 194 minutes and 53 seconds that have been played in the series. The San Jose Sharks, by contrast, have held the lead for zero minutes and zero seconds.

The reality is that the Sharks have been chasing this series since the opening faceoff in Game 1 and that will have to change if they have any designs on winning the series. A win in Game 4 would help their cause to be sure, but a decisive win where they jump out into the lead and keep it would really change the complexion of the series.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is well aware of this development. His team has won 13 games in the playoffs and has scored first in 10 of them. “I think early in the playoffs, it was a huge part,” DeBoer said. “I think the L.A. series, we had the lead almost every game, maybe other than one. It’s a big part. The scores show that. The team that scores first usually wins. We get it. We’ve got to find a way to get it going. It’s not like this has been an issue throughout the playoffs. I think we’ve actually been pretty good at getting the first goal throughout the playoffs.”

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That ‘other’ big line could be key to Penguins Stanley Cup chances

Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust. (Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – It bodes well for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup chances if the term “big line” applies to any number of their forward trios. Sidney Crosby between Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist? Sure, that’s a big line, by virtue of Sid playing on it. The ‘HBK’ line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has been the talk of the playoffs.

But the line du jour giving opponents fits? Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Chris Kunitz. Rust has scored in three straight games dating back to the Eastern Conference final, including a breakaway dagger in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, both goals in a 2-1 Game 7 victory and the first tally of the night in Game 1 of the final against the San Jose Sharks. Each of those Rust goals was assisted by Malkin or Kunitz.

And this line could hold the key to the rest of the final – because its fate could go in so many different directions.

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Advanced stats vs. the eye test: models split on who will win Stanley Cup

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The long road to the Stanley Cup final is finally over and depending on your outlook, the two teams playing are either very surprising or exactly what you expected.

From the East we’ve got the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team with a sketchy D-corps and – at the start of the playoffs – an injured starting goalie. A team that has disappointed a few times in past playoff seasons despite their talent.

From the West we’ve got the San Jose Sharks, a team not many would believe could actually go far in the playoffs without actually seeing it for themselves first. A team that has choked year after year.

I can see why some people would be surprised.

Before the playoffs began, we here at THN previewed three different sets of predictions: one based on stats, one based on the eye test, and a combination of the two.

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