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Five important signings to watch for as the off-season continues

The weekend has seen the Stars sign Jamie Benn to a monster eight-year deal and Blues and Lightning avoid arbitration by inking RFAs Jaden Schwartz and Alex Killorn, respectively. Here are five more signings to watch for in the coming weeks.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The past three days has seen three major signings of two distinct varieties, with each contract likely setting the bar for negotiations that will take place throughout the summer.

The biggest news, of course, was the gargantuan eight-year, $76-million deal signed by Jamie Benn that will see the Stars captain remain in Dallas for what looks to be most of his career. Benn’s signing — as well as deals inked earlier in the year by Anze Kopitar and Steven Stamkos — will set the bar for the contracts of star players going forward.

In addition to Benn’s deal were deals for St. Louis Blues winger Jaden Schwartz and Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alex Killorn, deals which helped the respective teams avoid arbitration with players who’ve become key parts of each team’s core group. Schwartz’s deal sees him paid $5.35 million per season, while Killorn’s cap hit comes at $4.45 million. Both could have an impact on the contracts signed by a number of restricted free agents who’ve yet to be locked up.

With salary arbitration cases coming soon and ongoing discussions between teams and their pending free agents continuing throughout the summer, here are five more contracts worth keeping an eye on as the off-season rolls on.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames, RFA (2016-17)

Gaudreau’s a scoring machine for the Flames and is already the best offensive player on the Flames’ roster just two seasons into his career. He debuted with a 24-goal, 64-point campaign and was a 30-goal, 78-point player in the second season of his NHL career. When it comes to offensive catalysts in Calgary, the conversation starts with Gaudreau. As such, signing him isn’t going to come cheap.

As it stands, the Flames have yet to lock Gaudreau up to a contract for the 2016-17 season. You can rest assured Calgary GM Brad Treliving is going to find a way to get the 22-year-old locked up, though.

Late last season there were reports that the Flames were set to make Gaudreau’s contract the richest in team history, and there’s no reason that can’t still be the case. Some consider the eight-year, $60-million deal handed to St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko a strong comparable for the contract Gaudreau could receive.

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames, RFA (2016-17)

The holdup with Monahan — and possibly with Gaudreau — could be related to rumors that the Flames duo could be seeking matching contracts. It’s not unheard of.

Back in December 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks signed their young, star duo, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to matching five-year, $31.5-million deals as they headed towards restricted free agency. Again when the duos contracts were nearly up, the Blackhawks announced both signings at once, locking up Toews and Kane to identical eight-year, $84-million deals. That could be the scenario Monahan and Gaudreau are looking for.

The issue with that is Monahan, 21, isn’t quite worth the what Gaudreau is. Monahan is a talented goal scorer and has 58 tallies in the past two seasons, but he doesn’t drive play as well as Gaudreau. That might not matter much to the Flames, though.

Monahan has become a leader for the Flames, taking over as an alternate captain this past season. Calgary might value Monahan’s leadership qualities enough that they’re willing to pair the Gaudreau and Monahan deals.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning, RFA (2016-17)

The Lightning’s seven-year, $31.15-million deal with Killorn make it incredibly clear that Kucherov is going to get paid. The 23-year-old ranks 14th in goals over the past two seasons with 59 tallies and there’s no sign that Kucherov will be slowing down any time soon.

It’s not hard to find a good comparable for what Kucherov is set to earn, either. Filip Forsberg signed a six-year extension with the Nashville Predators that pays him $6 million per season, and he and Kucherov have fairly similar numbers. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Forsberg has 59 goals and 127 points in 164 games. Kucherov has 59 goals and 131 points in 159 games over that same span.

The difference-maker, though, might be that Kucherov’s playoff performances have been very impressive in the past two seasons. In 2014-15, he scored 10 goals and 22 points as the Lightning won the Eastern Conference championship, and Kucherov netted 11 goals and 19 points en route to an Eastern Conference final appearance this past season.

Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers, RFA (2016-17)

Schenn’s deal may be the most interesting RFA contract on this list, if only because he’s set for arbitration and was one of the league’s hottest players in the back half of the past season. From Jan. 1 to the end of the year, Schenn scored 19 goals and 44 points in 46 games. That accounted for nearly 75 percent of his career-high 59 points, and Schenn could be looking to cash in on his stellar second half.

At 24, Schenn still has a lot of room to grow, too, and as a player who has scored roughly 20 goals per season over the past three years, Schenn has a case to see a big raise come his way. He carried a cap hit of $2.5 million on the two-year deal he recently finished, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him earning nearly double that on his next contract.

Schenn’s arbitration date is set for July 25. If he ends up without a deal by the time the hearing rolls around, maybe he decides to take a short-term contract in hopes he can continue his scoring pace from the late stages of the past season. Another tear like that could have him landing a deal worth upwards of $5 million.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins, UFA (2017-18)

Bruins GM Don Sweeney has said discussions with Marchand are already underway and it appears Boston wants to lock the feisty winger locked up to a long-term deal before he gets even close to hitting the open market as a free agent. It’s no wonder why, either.

Only 13 players have scored more than 60 goals over the past two seasons, and Marchand is among those players. A big part of that was his unbelievable scoring rate this past season. Marchand scored 37 times in 77 games this past season, blowing his previous career-high of 28 goals out of the water.

Marchand’s contract will be interesting in the sense that the Bruins have to find a happy medium between paying Marchand like the 40-goal scorer he was this past season and the 25-to-30-goal scorer that he’ll likely remain for much of the next several seasons. That he made $5 million in salary in 2015-16 means Marchand could be up to earn around $5.5 million per season on a new deal, and it’s hard to fathom the Bruins would want to get much closer to $6 million, let alone exceed it.

The Bruins project to have less than $20 million in cap space for the upcoming season with desire to add a top-four defenseman, free agent deals to sign for David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner and Marchand’s extension. Those four combined could eat a significant chunk of the Bruins’ cap space.

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