The NHL season is far from over. As the trade deadline nears, multiple teams will shore up their rosters with the hopes that they can compete for the Stanley Cup come spring time.
But it’s always fun to look ahead, right?
When it comes to the offseason, there is nothing better than free agency. Rumors will swirl all over the internet, names will be linked to a variety of different organizations, and big money contracts will be gifted to a number of hockey players that deserve the pay.
The upcoming free agent class features a number of names that can take teams to the next level. There are young players who can join a core that can help create a potential dynasty. There are veterans that may be the final piece between a first round exit and a championship. There will be players who are underpaid, and some who receive way more money than they should have. Another interesting twist to this offseason is how the expansion draft in June will affect teams going into July 1st. Speaking of the Golden Knights, you can bet they’ll be looking to land at least one big name free agent come July 1st.
Where will the top free agents land? Let’s take a look at some early predictions.
15. Ryan Miller – Vegas Golden Knights
Ryan Miller isn’t the goaltender he was with the Buffalo Sabres and his early days with the Vancouver Canucks. But the 36-year-old veteran is still a quality netminder and could provide help for any team looking for a goalie on a short-term pact. Miller has played in 32 games thus far and his numbers are similar to what they’ve been in recent seasons. Despite sporting a 14-14-3 record over that span, he’s allowed just 84 goals in 992 shot attempts, good for a save percentage of .915 and a goals against average of 2.62 per game.
Jacob Markstrom may not be much of an upgrade over Miller but the Canucks can either make him their top option in 2017 or set their sights on a number of veteran free agent goalies this offseason. Either way, it seems like Miller is on his way out — and it shouldn’t shock anyone if he’s in net for the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.
14. Patrick Marleau – San Jose Sharks
It’s a rare occurrence to accomplish what Patrick Marleau has done thus far, as he’s spent his entire all 19 of his years in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks. A long-time face of the franchise, the star forward may be aging but he’s still performing at a high level. Currently skating on the second line with the Sharks, Marleau has 19 goals, 11 assists, and has a plus/minus of three, all the while chipping in five goals in power play situations. Sure, he’s 37 years old, and with a number of young forwards on the cusp, it could be wise for the Sharks to move on.
But at the same time, seeing Marleau wearing any other jersey but teal and black would be an odd sight. Don’t be surprised if this situation mirrors the Dan Boyle situation from a couple of years back — if Marleau is willing to take a one-year, incentive-laden deal, he’ll remain in San Jose. If he wants a long-term pact, he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2017-18.
13. Justin Williams – Washington Capitals
Throughout his 18-year career, winger Justin Williams has never been considered a legitimate superstar. He is, however, as clutch as they come, as evidenced by his nickname “Mr. Game 7” and his consistent heroics in the playoffs. Whether it was with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings, and now the Washington Capitals, Williams is the definition of a two-way forward due to his success as a scorer, playmaker, on the forecheck, and on special teams play.
When looking at his stats (18 goals, 30 points, +10), he’s still playing strong at age 35. But when you watch Capitals games closely, it’s clear the miles on Williams’ body are starting to catch up to him. Either way, Williams will only be playing for a Stanley Cup contender next season. His current team seems like a logical fit as they’re atop the Metropolitan Division once again.
12. Andrei Markov – Montreal Canadiens
When you look at potential free agents, a 38-year-old defenseman is typically not a top option. When it comes to Andrei Markov, however, he’s an exception. The long-time Montreal Canadien continues to excel — even in the latter stages of his career — which will bode well when he’s searching for his next contract in the upcoming offseason. Despite struggling with injuries this season, Markov continues to fill the stat sheet in a major way. Currently playing in over 21 minutes per game, the top four defenseman has added an impressive 20 assists — including eight on the power play — to go along with a +/- of nine, 23 hits, and two goals. Like Marleau, Markov has spent his entire career in Montreal. Expect him to stay put and finish his career there.
11. Brian Elliott – Arizona Coyotes
Was Brian Elliott ever a star goaltender? No. But he was a viable option for the St. Louis Blues and helped lead the team to multiple playoff runs in recent memory. That’s why the Calgary Flames — an organization that was starving for a starting netminder — surrendered two high draft picks for him. Unfortunately, however, his play hasn’t warranted the package. Not only has Elliott struggled mightily in Calgary (11-13-2, 2.85 GAA, .895 SV%), but Chad Johnson — who entered the season as the backup — has cemented himself as the number one option in net. Both Elliott and Johnson are impending UFAs, but by the looks of things, the Flames will stick with the latter option — which makes it a near certainty that the former will be looking for a new job.
Reuniting with his former club could’ve been an option but it appears as though the Blues are heading towards a rebuild. One team that could make sense is the Arizona Coyotes, as they have a young core, an oft-injured starting goalie in Mike Smith, and could use a playoff veteran to help take the team to the next level.