With the NHL trade deadline in the rearview mirror, free agency talks simmer on the back burner as the playoffs approach. Some moves were expected, with Ben Bishop leaving the Lightning, and Kevin Shattenkirk leaving the Blues. Others were slightly surprising, even with the relatively low rate of activity on March 1.
At the same time, both Bishop and Shattenkirk will become unrestricted free agents this summer if they don’t re-sign with their new teams. There are several other players who are in the final year of their respective contracts, and will seek new pastures this offseason. These veterans could include Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Marleau, and Justin Williams.
Sure, some of those guys might retire at season’s end, but it’s always interesting to speculate on where they and other top free agents might sign on July 1. Joe Thornton needs a new deal. So does Ryan Miller. For other impending free agents like Martin Hanzal and Drew Stafford, strong playoff performances can significantly impact the deals they sign this summer. Alex Radulov has exceeded expectations and clearly deserves a new contract. It is unknown whether Montreal will give him that contract (he’s reportedly asked for an eight-year extension).
Taking these points into account, this list also takes a look at some of the NHL’s top free agents this summer and where they could sign. Some will remain on their current teams, while others will go elsewhere. Here are some early predictions where these 20 free agent players could sign.
20. Justin Williams – Washington Capitals
Justin Williams signed a two-year contract with the Capitals in 2015. He made the move back East after winning two Stanley Cups in seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. The 35-year-old, nicknamed “Mr. Game Seven” holds the record for points in those winner-take-all games. Williams has 19 goals so far this season, and seems primed to pass his total of 22 from last season. However, the 35-year-old might not surpass his 56 points from last season, given that he has 36 thus far in 2016-17 with roughly one month left in the regular season.
He is due $3.25 million this season.
Despite that, the Capitals would love to bring him back on a cheaper one-year deal. He has proven to be clutch in the playoffs, something the Capitals have struggled with in the Alex Ovechkin era.
“The most important thing to me was finding a place where my family would be happy and I’d be on a great team that would be contending,” Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 2016. The Capitals are certainly contenders, so expect Williams to re-sign on a one-year deal.
19. Shane Doan – Los Angeles Kings
Shane Doan has been the face of the Coyotes franchise since their inception in 1996. As the team captain since 2003, and holds franchise records for goals, points, and games played.
I penned an article last month predicting Doan would stay in the desert for the entirety of his career. It seemed that despite his desire to win a Cup, his life and family were too entrenched in Arizona to ever go anywhere else. However, after the trades of Ryan White and Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild at the deadline, I may have to revise that stance.
Doan was clearly upset at the Hanzal deal, telling Fox Sports Arizona, “You can’t really replace him, and … the fact that we just continue to seem to go—I don’t know…I mean, you understand people’s hands are tied. Just don’t get it.”
It’s still hard to imagine Doan in another uniform, but his disappointment at the deal may force him to head to a contender for the final year of his contract.
If he’d really like to stay out West, since he knows the conference, he could wind up on a team like the Los Angeles Kings to provide third or fourth line center depth.
18. Jarome Iginla – Edmonton Oilers
Iginla was dealt away from the lowly Avalanche in a trade deadline deal to the Los Angeles Kings. Despite joining a better team, Iginla is struggling to produce on a level consistent with his career pedigree.
He has scored 29 and 22 goals in each of his past two seasons, but has just 10 goals so far this season. His minus-25 rating is also an anomaly.
Iginla’s contract expires at season’s end, and he could retire. However, if he doesn’t hang up his skates, and wants one final shot at a playoff run, he might finish his career in his hometown and sign with the Oilers on a cheap one-year deal.
Sure, signing with Calgary would be a feel-good story. He spent the majority of his career in Calgary, and is beloved by fans and management. Yet, Iginla has ties to Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli from his days in Boston, and he knows Milan Lucic. The Oilers are a young team with plenty of cap space to sign Iginla for cheap. The Flames may come calling, but the Oilers seem the most likely destination at the moment.
17. Patrick Marleau – Los Angeles Kings
Patrick Marleau has enjoyed a revival of sorts this season. The 38-year-old got off to a slow start, managing just 16 points through December 31. Fortunately, Marleau has regained his scoring touch since then. He has 22 goals and 38 points on the season so far, and is drawing renewed free agency interest as his three-year contract ends.
While Marleau probably won’t earn close to the $6.6 million he is due this season, he is clearly still valuable. Head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters in early March that Marleau has “a lot of gas left in the tank.”
It’s no guarantee that he stays in San Jose, though. The team seems more likely to keep Joe Thornton, who will also be a free agent this summer. That leaves Marleau on the open market. At his age, expect him to stay out West. The Kings and Ducks might be division rivals, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine him on either team.
Given the Kings’ shaky center depth beyond Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, perhaps they give Marleau a shot on a one-year deal with incentives worth roughly $4.5 million.
16. Sam Gagner – Carolina Hurricanes
The former 2007 first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers is enjoying a season consistent with his draft position. He is signed a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer. He has 18 goals and 44 points through 67 games played, a nice rebound from his injury-plagued eight-goal, 16-point campaign from 2015-16. He could surpass his career-high of 49 points set back in his 2007-08 rookie season.
Despite the Jackets being in prime playoff position, they may not afford to keep Gagner past this season. They have more than $67 million committed to next year’s payroll. The team still needs to re-sign young defenseman Alexander Wennberg and ring-winger Josh Anderson.
Gagner will be 28 years old at the start of the 2017-18 season, and can provide consistent production on the second or third line. He could sign a four or five-year deal with a team like the Carolina Hurricanes. Depth centers Derek Ryan and Jay McClement both hit free agency this summer. Gagner provides a younger option for the Hurricanes should they lose either Ryan or McClement.
15. Jaromir Jagr – Pittsburgh Penguins
Jaromir Jagr is 45 years old, and is one season removed from a 27-goal, 66-point campaign. He helped the Panthers to the Atlantic Division title last season.
This season is another story, unfortunately. Jagr has just 14 goals and 37 points thus far this season, as the Panthers are on the outside looking in on a playoff spot.
The Panthers expressed initial interest in bringing Jagr back on a one-year deal. Jagr may enjoy the sense of freedom and lack of pressure in Sunrise, Florida as well.
At the same time, he probably has 1-2 years left as a meaningful contributor. Could Pittsburgh, where he won two Stanley Cups in the early ‘90s, come calling?
With Matt Cullen likely leaving in free agency, it’s a feel-good story for Jagr to return to the Penguins for one final run at a championship. He can come much cheaper than the $4 million he is due this season.
14. Karl Alzner – Pittsburgh Penguins
The 28-year-old former top 10 pick is having another solid season. He gives the Capitals roughly 21 minutes per night, and is a combined plus 53 over the past three seasons. He had 207 shot blocks last season, and is one of the Capitals’ most reliable defenders.
Alzner earns $2.8 million this season, and is due for a nice raise this summer. The Penguins should take a run at him, given that Trevor Daley and Mark Streit will likely be on the way out.
Alzner would provide a steady, stay-at-home defenseman to join Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Ian Cole as part of Pittsburgh’s defensive corps. If Justin Schultz and Brian Dumolin are re-signed as well, then the Pens will have a formidable backend.
13. Kris Russell – Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli made several moves to upgrade the Oilers’ defense last season. He traded former number-one pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson, but that wasn’t the only defensive upgrade. Chiarelli also signed veteran defenseman Kris Russell to a one-year, $3.1 million contract in October.
Since then, Russell has proven to be a reliable presence on the Oiler blueline. As of March 12, he leads the NHL with 2.96 blocked shots per game and ranks fourth overall in total shot blocks with 157
Kris Russell will be 30 by the time free agency hits this summer. David Staples at The Edmonton Journal reports preliminary interest in the Oilers re-signing Russell.
Given the defensive woes Edmonton has become known for, Russell appears too important a piece to let walk in free agency. They would opt to re-sign him instead of the 37-year-old d-man Andrew Ference.
12. Drew Stafford – Philadelphia Flyers
Stafford was traded to Boston at the trade deadline in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick in 2018. Just days into Stafford’s Bruins tenure, he was playing on the team’s second line with Peter Cehlarik and David Krejci. He scored 21 goals last year playing on the Jets’ second line with Mark Scheifele.
Stafford’s 38 points from last season were lower than his 43 from 2014-15, but the 31-year-old is still a valuable second/third line winger who can win faceoffs.
Stafford is due $4.35 million in 2016-17. Given his decreased production, he might not get that much in free agency this summer. Restricted free agents David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner are due for nice raises, so odds are that Stafford signs elsewhere.
Stafford could fit on a team like the Flyers, who need wingers this offseason. Stafford also played for Flyers coach Dave Hakstol while at the University of North Dakota.
11. Radim Vrbata – Boston Bruins
Radim Vrbata returned to Arizona this season after a two-year stint in Vancouver. At 36 years old, his best days are likely behind him, but he can serve an important depth role on a young team. His 16 goals so far this season are already more than his 13 tallies last season. His minus-17 will scare off some teams, but he is only due $1 million this season. Next season, he’ll come even cheaper for a team looking for veteran depth.
There were reports on deadline day that the Bruins expressed interest in Vrbata before acquiring Drew Stafford. Boston makes some sense. They have almost $17 million in cap space.
As mentioned above, the Bruins need to re-sign David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, but Vrbata will come cheap enough to fit all three under the cap. If Dominic Moore comes off the books, perhaps the Bruins give Moore’s $900,000 salary to Vrbata on a one-year deal.
10. Steve Mason – Calgary Flames
Mason has 19 wins so far this season, with two shutouts. Although the 28-year-old is due to surpass his 23 total wins from last season, he is also on pace to finish with his lowest save percentage (.905) since 2011-12. The Flyers have Michael Neuvirth (also set to become a UFA) as Mason’s backup. Young netminder Anthony Stolarz is also developing nicely.
Should Mason leave Philly, there are a variety of teams who could come calling. These include the Canucks, the Flames, the Avalanche, or the Islanders. Out of those four, the Canucks and Flames seem most realistic. Thomas Greiss appears primed to re-sign with the Islanders, and Calvin Pickard seems set to take over the starting role if (when?) Semyon Varlamov goes elsewhere in the expansion draft.
The Canucks may not re-sign Ryan Miller after this season, but they have 27-year old Jacob Markstrom ready to assume starting duties. The Flames’ two goalies (Brian Elliot and Chad Johnson) are both UFAs. If Mason signs elsewhere, it’ll likely be with Calgary, who will be looking for dependable goaltending if either Elliot or Johnson leaves.
9. Thomas Vanek – Anaheim Ducks
The Red Wings dealt Thomas Vanek to the Panthers at the trade deadline for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a third-round pick. With 15 goals and 38 points in 48 games, he was among Detroit’s leading scorers. However, with the Wings on the outside of the playoff bubble for what seems like the first time in decades, management needed a decent return for the 33-year-old winger.
Vanek provides solid secondary scoring, and is on track to surpass his 18-goal, 41-point performance from last season. He is owed $2.6 million this season, and could ask for as much as $4 million per season if he finishes strong.
Which team needs wingers? The Anaheim Ducks could use another strong winger to join Nick Ritchie and Andrew Cogliano. They have just under $4 million in cap space, but have Patrick Eaves and Nate Thompson likely coming off the salary books this summer. Keep an eye out to see if they take a run at Vanek.
8. Ryan Miller – Anaheim Ducks
Speaking of Anaheim, the Ducks should consider veteran goalie Ryan Miller for their backup spot next season. Jonathan Bernier and Jonas Enroth are both unrestricted free agents this season, and the Ducks will probably re-sign just one of them. Through 43 games this season, Miller has already matched his win total of 17 from last season. He also has three shutouts this season compared to just one last season.
It’s clear that Miller, who will be 37 when the 2017-18 season starts, can still play at a competitive level. With Jacob Markstrom being groomed as the Canucks’ goalie of the future, Miller should prepare to look elsewhere for work.
Miller is still capable of starting duties, but may be better suited to back up Ducks’ starter John Gibson, or at least split starts with the young netminder next season.
Plus, Miller will be closer to Los Angeles, where his wife works as an actress. Miller is owed $6 million (including incentives) this season, but can certainly be had for cheaper if the Ducks make a solid case for him to join the team.
7. T.J. Oshie – Vancouver Canucks
Oshie may have become internationally known as the shootout hero for Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics, but he has been around the NHL for several seasons.
The right winger has scored at least 19 goals and 51 points in each of his past four full seasons, and has proven to be a dependable winger for the Capitals. Despite recent concussion concerns, Oshie topped 25 goals again this season, and at just 30 years old, is still capable of peak production for at least another four to five years.
Given his age and skill set, Oshie will likely command a raise from his $4.2 million salary this season. A five-year deal at around $6 million per years isn’t out of the question. The Capitals need to sign their younger players, including Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky.
The Vancouver Canucks are shallow at the right wing position. Both Anton Rodin and Jack Skille are on injured reserve, and Alex Grenier is set to hit free agency. Oshie could provide some depth for the Canucks beyond Loui Eriksson and Jayson Megna.
6. Mike Fisher – Nashville Predators
The Predators captain is an integral part of both his team and his community. He and his wife, country music star, Carrie Underwood, donate to numerous local charities, and have become entrenched in Music City.
Fisher signed a two-year extension with the Predators in 2015, earning roughly $4.4 million per season. Fisher is enjoying another solid season, with 17 goals and 40 points through 65 games. He is on pace to set his highest point total since the 2013-14 season.
Mike Ribeiro, meanwhile, has just four goals and 25 points in 46 games this season. It’s likely that the Preds let Ribeiro walk and re-sign Fisher to another two-year deal so that the captain can finish his career in Nashville.
The Predators still need to re-sign impending restricted free agents Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson. Fortunately, the team has over $3.5 million of projected cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. If they let Ribiero, Vernon Fiddler, and P.A. Parenteau walk, then they will have enough to sign Fisher to a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $3.5-4 million per season.
5. Patrick Sharp – Chicago Blackhawks
The Dallas Stars were sellers at the trade deadline this year. They shipped Jordie Benn to Montreal, Johnny Oduya to Chicago, and Patrick Eaves to Anaheim. Winger Patrick Sharp was expected to be trade bait as well, but remained on the team. Why? General manager Jim Nill revealed that Sharp would have season-ending surgery for an undisclosed injury.
Sharp had been struggling through one on the worst seasons of his NHL career, putting up 18 points through 41 games. His -16 is also a career-worst. Sharp has expressed initial interest in returning to Dallas. However, his surgery could affect his chances at a new deal. According to Nill, the Stars want to see how he recovers post-surgery.
The Stars have around $51 million in payroll, so Sharp might have to take a pay cut from his $5.9 million current salary. Would he return to Chicago on a cheaper deal to have a shot at his fourth Stanley Cup? That seems a more likely option, rather than returning to the rebuilding Stars.
4. Alexander Radulov – Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens made a high-risk, high-reward move in signing Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal last summer. It’s safe to say that deal has proven to be more “reward” than “risk.”
Radulov has shown he still can still succeed at the NHL level after several years overseas in the KHL. He has 15 goals and 47 points in 65 games thus far this season. Last November, Radulov’s agent told La Presse newspaper that his client would be willing to extend his contract.
“He likes Montreal and the fans have quickly adopted him,” he said. “I don’t see why this relationship can’t continue.”
Radulov is 30 years old and will likely command a long-term deal. With Andrei Markov likely taking a pay cut, and Alexei Emelin ($4.1M AAV) expected to be traded, GM Marc Bergevin should have extra cap room to give Radulov a decent raise this offseason. Expect a four or five-year deal at around $6 million per year.
3. Ben Bishop – Vancouver Canucks
*Update: The Kings traded the rights to Ben Bishop to the Dallas Stars in exchange for a 4th round pick in 2017. The Stars have signed Bishop to a six-year, $29.5 million deal.
It wasn’t all too surprising when Bishop left Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. Andrei Vasilevskiy had assumed the top goalie spot from Bishop this season. The former Vezina Trophy candidate posted 16 wins with just one shutout prior to his pre-deadline trade cross-country to Los Angeles. Bishop’s trade was hardly a shock, even if Los Angeles was an unexpected destination.
However, Jonathan Quick made a strong comeback after suffering a groin injury earlier this season, and is still the Kings’ number-one goalie.
Bishop should command at least $5 million in free agency, so he is too valuable to be a backup. Perhaps he joins the Vancouver Canucks as their starter if Ryan Miller leaves and Jacob Markstrom is not quite ready for a starter’s role. Bishop could help push Markstrom and form a formidable 1-2 goalie punch.
2. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks
Marleau and Thornton are both 37 years old, and are the longest-tenured members on the Sharks roster. We discussed how Marleau might look elsewhere for a one or two-year deal this summer. Thornton, meanwhile, seems more likely to stay.
Pierre Lebrun of ESPN reported in January of Thornton’s desire for a new three-year contract at season’s end. The Sharks would want a one-year deal, according to Lebrun. Darren Dreger of TSN echoed this report.
Although talks have been quiet so far, the Sharks should be able to settle with their star pivot on a deal cheaper than his $6.75 million cap hit this season. They already locked up defenseman Brent Burns. Marleau’s potential departure would free up over $6 million in cap room.
The team might also cut ties with struggling fourth-liners Michael Haley and Tommy Wingels. This frees up space to re-sign Thornton to a two-year deal, at roughly $5.5 million per, which would be the perfect compromise for both sides.
1. Kevin Shattenkirk – New York Rangers
No player faced more trade speculation this season than Kevin Shattenkirk. The 28-year-old defenseman had put up 11 goals and 42 points through 61 games this season in St. Louis before being shipped to Washington in late February.
While the move certainly makes the Capitals favorites to represent the East in this year’s Cup finals, Shattenkirk is nothing more than a rental for Washington. He is in the final year of his contract, and carries a $4.25 million cap hit. He will command a hefty raise this season, and the Capitals still need to re-sign Karl Alzner, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Brett Connolly.
I’ve said in previous articles that the Rangers were hot on Shattenkirk all season. They have solid enough depth at forward and defense to shed a few players and free up some cap space. J.T. Miller is very promising, but with Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash not getting any younger, the Rangers are in win-now mode. They need a puck-moving defenseman, and Shattenkirk fits the bill.
While it would be painful to see a forward like Miller go, it may need to be done. They could also try and dump Dan Girardi’s hefty cap hit on another team to free up some room. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but the Rangers seem primed to make a run at Shattenkirk this summer.
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