A list of the top-25 unrestricted free agents for 2016 plus  the latest on Ryan Johansen in your NHL rumor mill. 

Top-25 NHL UFAs.

ESPN.COM: Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien topped Craig Custance’s list of the top-25 NHL unrestricted free agents for 2016. Other notables include St. Louis’ David Backes, the Rangers’ Keith Yandle, Carolina’s Eric Staal, Boston’s Loui Eriksson and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo. In pretty much every case, there’s no indication these players are close to being re-signed yet by their respective teams, though Kopitar and the Kings appear to be “inching” toward a deal.

Are the Kings and Anze Kopitar getting closer to a deal?

Are the Kings and Anze Kopitar getting closer to a deal?

TSN: Bob McKenzie examined the holdup in the Kopitar and Stamkos contract negotiations. He believes Kopitar’s new deal with the Kings is expected to be the maximum term (eight years) while the annual cap hit could be close to $10 million. McKenzie speculates the wording/terms of a no-movement/no-trade clause is likely behind the delay in getting a deal completed for Kopitar.

As for Stamkos, McKenzie claims it doesn’t appear his negotiations are as far along as Kopitar’s. With Stamkos’ agent and Lightning management agreeing to keep negotiations out of the media, it’s leading to wild speculation over his status. While both sides want to get a deal done, the Bolts could be anxious about committing big money to one player, while Stamkos could be waiting to see how this season plays out before committing to a long-term deal.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Another factor is the uncertainty over how much cap space teams will have to work with next season. The reduced value of the Canadian dollar (which accounts for over one-third of league revenue) will affect next season’s cap limits. With an unusually high number of quality talent eligible next summer for UFA status and a lot of teams carrying limited cap space for next season, I suspect general managers are waiting for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s usual December cap projection before getting down to serious contract talks. Even then, some could wait until next June, when they’ll know for certain what the cap limits are, before attempting to re-sign their top UFAs. 

Johansen unfazed by trade rumors. 

TSN: Frank Seravalli reports Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen said his name popping up in a recent trade rumor surprised his parents in Vancouver. He also denied a rift with management, claiming they have a “great relationship” and insisting he loves playing with the Blue Jackets. He said he hasn’t been contacted by the front office since the rumor was first reported on Tuesday. He also said he gets along well with head coach John Tortorella.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Johansen’s contentious contract talks, his expensive salary for next season ($6 million),the high price to qualify his rights before July 2017, his demotion to fourth-line duty in a recent game against San Jose and the Jackets’ struggles this season are among the factors prompting some observers to speculate over his future in Columbus. However, he’s also their first-line center. Dealing him away could leave a big hole in their forward lines.

If the Jackets are listening to offers, it’ll take a significant one (a package deal including a quality player, a first-round pick and a top prospect) to pry him out of Columbus. As I noted yesterday, that type of deal usually doesn’t happen during the regular season. If the Jackets fail to reach the playoffs this season, however, management will be forced to evaluate their roster. Johansen’s future will undoubtedly be part of it.