Unlike 2016, the 2017 NHL free agent class is loaded with a group of stars and game-changers.
There are a pair of established number one goalies, some future Hall of Famers and legitimate top-pairing defencemen on the open market. A handful of teams could be one free agent signing away this Canada Day from being a bonafide Stanley Cup contender. Seriously, this is going to be a fun free agent class to follow.
Of course, the tough part is wondering who the best fits are for the top free agents. All NHL teams have a number of weaknesses, and free agency is the best chance to take care of that long-term. Expect this to be a record-breaking year when it comes to general managers handing out money in free agency.
But what about the fun part? Where shall we expect the top free agents to sign? I did some research from what the experts are saying to try to find answers. Here’s a look at where the top 15 free agents should, could and perhaps will sign in this offseason.
15. Patrick Sharp: Minnesota Wild
The three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks was dealt to the Dallas Stars for salary cap reasons. Patrick Sharp scored 20 goals and 55 points in Dallas last season, but injuries have limited him to 12 games and two points so far this season. It’s safe to say the 35-year-old is on his last legs.
The Minnesota Wild struck gold by adding Eric Staal – a seemingly washed up veteran, in free agency. They could look to take another chance on the veteran in hopes he can put together one or two more 20-goal seasons. Sharp would provide some nice Stanley Cup experience to a fairly inexperienced Wild team.
Sharp could land a friendly deal for both sides, signing with Minnesota for two years worth $9 million.
14. Drew Stafford: Toronto Maple Leafs
Drew Stafford is a four-time 20 goal scorer and provides stability, speed and consistency. He’s the ideal second-to-third line winger and has 30-goal potential if he’s suited with the right centre.
Enter Auston Matthews.
You see, the Maple Leafs rebuilding plan has worked to perfection so far. They’re right in the playoff race and have enough young talent already in Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly. The Leafs can speed up this rebuilding process by adding a veteran or two.
Stafford won’t command a high price tag and could get a deal around three years, $15 million. Matthews is already an established number-one centre. He and Stafford could be a great fit, and the Leafs are known for throwing money around on July 1. Look for them to do it again on Stafford.
13. Jaromir Jagr: Montreal Canadiens
The Florida Panthers will likely miss the playoffs this season, and chances are Jaromir Jagr will want to sign with a contender to win the Stanley Cup (given how no team is going to pay him that much at this point).
Jagr was reportedly close to signing with the Canadiens in 2013, and Jagr has talked about how much he loves playing in Montreal and how great their fans are. Jagr would certainly not cost more than $4.5 million on a one-year deal. The Habs do need more size and toughness to compete with the top powerhouses in the Eastern Conference.
Jagr is 6-3 and though he’s lost his speed, he can control the puck around in the zone like there’s no tomorrow. The Habs and Jagr have come close to a marriage before, and they’ll look to do it again in 2017. Only this time, it’ll actually happen.
12. Andrei Markov: St. Louis Blues
The long-time Montreal Canadiens defenceman can still play top-four minutes and is reliable as a powerplay quarterback. However, his age (38) and injury history make Andrei Markov a major risk in free agency. Nobody is going to give him a lot of cash, and you have to think he’ll want to go to a contender.
Spoiler alert: The St. Louis Blues are likely to lose Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. Their Stanley Cup window is closing fast, and they’ll have to find a suitable replacement right away. A 38-year-old Markov isn’t even close to what Shattenkirk is now, but he can replace some of the offence and experience.
Alex Pietrangelo is going to need a new defensive partner, and Markov is the best fit for him. Look for the Blues to sign Markov to a one-year deal worth $4 million.
11. Mike Fisher: Stays with Nashville Predators
I tried finding a contender that could take a chance on the veteran who’s good to put up 10-20 goals a season while playing slick defence. But unfortunately for Mike Fisher, most of the elite teams are loaded at centre (Chicago, San Jose, Montreal, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington, for example) and/or lack the salary cap space.
Fisher will be 37 in the offseason and is already starting to slow down. He absolutely loves playing in the Music City, as his wife Carrie Underwood is also a country music singer. It’s the perfect place for him and his wife to raise their family.
Also, the Predators are already a Stanley Cup contender and would be happy to bring Fisher back. Provided his asking price isn’t insane (it won’t be) it’s hard to see him and Nashville agreeing to a divorce.