Although the NHL is still at the beginning stages of the season, it is never too early to look at the upcoming free agency class. This offseason is a bit strange because although there are some big names available, a lot of them are solely remembered for what they have done in the past rather than the present. A lot of the players available are definitely past their primes, but may end up scoring another NHL contract because of the popularity they have brought to the game. The NHL is a league that definitely displays a lot of young talent and they are starting to dominate the game.
With all that said, in this article, we will be looking at ten NHL players who will receive massive pay cuts this offseason and five that will cash in. The players on this list all happen to be older and that makes a lot of sense. It is very hard for NHL players to remain consistent as they age because, as previously stated, younger players are the beasts of the league. With that said, a lot of these players can still play in the NHL, while others most likely are in their last seasons. The five players that will receive big contracts all are players who definitely can be classified as in their prime, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be perfect for their deals. A lot can change in a few short seasons.
Nonetheless, let’s look at the ten upcoming free agents who will receive a large pay cut and the five who will cash in.
15 Pay Cut: Rick Nash
Rick Nash was one of the most prominent scorers in the NHL during his prime with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers. When the Rangers acquired him from the Blue Jackets, many thought that he would be the player to carry them to the Stanley Cup. As Nash is about to complete his tenure with the Rangers, they still have yet to win and that appears like it will not happen soon.
Rick Nash is no longer an elite forward in the NHL and age has finally caught up to him. After scoring a career high 42 goals in the 2014-15 season, his stats have completely plummeted and he has failed to hit 40 points each season. With all that said, Nash will see himself getting a big pay cut this offseason, as he is no longer a $7 million dollar player.
14 Pay Cut: Mikhail Grabovski
Grabovski was coming off a very strong tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals when he signed with the Islanders. As a result of this, Grabovski was handed a four year, $20 million deal and was expected to be the Islanders’ number two centre.
Grabovski managed to play better than Nikolai Kulemin (who they also signed that year) during his tenure with the Islanders, but Grabovski dealt with an abundance of injuries with the club. In fact, he sat out the entire 2016-17 season with concussion symptoms and has yet to play a game this season for the Golden Knights, the team who acquired him. It is unlikely that Grabovski will receive an NHL deal ever again, so that qualifies as a significant pay cut.
13 Cash In: Evander Kane
Buffalo Sabres fans must be elated with the fact that Evander Kane is finally reaching his potential with the club. Kane is currently the leading scorer on the Sabres and arguably is playing like he is the best player on the team. This is a spectacular sight to see because Kane has faced a lot of criticism for being dramatic in the locker room, but it is great to see things changing.
Although Kane is playing very well, the Sabres are likely to lose him this offseason because he is a free agent. It is unlikely that Kane will be willing to stay in Buffalo because of the many trade rumours he has been a part of. With that said, Kane will definitely get a big contract this offseason because not only is he a star player, but he is also young and has size.
12 Pay Cut: Jason Garrison
Jason Garrison became a very wealthy man when he signed a six year, $27.6 million dollar deal with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2012 NHL offseason. Since signing that deal, Garrison has not possessed the same dominance as he did as a member of the Florida Panthers. Garrison has played for two other teams after the Canucks since this contract started as well.
Today, Garrison is currently playing for the Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. The fact that Garrison is not a member of the NHL is going to hurt his chances of receiving a big contract with any NHL club. Now, that is not to say that Garrison will never play in the NHL again, but there is no way he will be getting a multiyear deal and that kind of money again.
11 Pay Cut: Valtteri Filppula
During the 2013 NHL offseason, Valtteri Filppula signed a five year, $25 million dollar with the Tampa Bay Lightning and at the time, it made a lot of sense. The Lightning needed a top-6 centreman behind Steven Stamkos and for the majority of the deal, Filppula was a very productive player. Yet, due to money issues, the Lightning traded him away to the Philadelphia Flyers last season.
The past few seasons have shown signs that Filppula is dropping in skill and as a result of this he is very likely to receive a pay cut this offseason as a free agent. Filppula is still an effective NHL player, but he no longer is a top line presence and is better fit on a team’s bottom-6. As a result of this, Filppula should find another NHL home, but it will be at a smaller price.
10 Cash In: James Neal
James Neal is having a fantastic season this year and now will be known as the first ever star of the Vegas Golden Knights. Neal is the main reason why the Golden Knights are one of the top teams in the Western Conference right now because of his ability to score clutch goals. It is apparent that the Nashville Predators miss him on their roster because of this.
Although the Golden Knights are very fortunate to have James Neal on their roster, it is important to note that he is a free agent after this season. It is very likely that Neal will opt to test the free agent market because, as a veteran, his primary goal is to win a Stanley Cup and the Golden Knights are not going to be there for quite some time. Neal will get a big deal because of his play and will cash in immensely.
9 Pay Cut: Tobias Enstrom
For about a decade, Tobias Enstrom was one of the top defensemen for the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization. Enstrom was a rare bright spot on a team that struggled for years, and for that he will always be respected by their fans. Yet, as the Jets are finally showing the league that they are a top team, Enstrom is now expendable and age is catching up to him.
Tobias Enstrom is no longer a top tier defenseman in the NHL and there is no way that he will make as much money as he has been over the past few years. Now, it should not be very challenging for Enstrom to find a contract because he still can be a bottom pairing guy. Enstrom’s leadership skills and experience will land him a contract this offseason, but it will be cheap money.
8 Pay Cut: Kari Lehtonen
A few seasons ago, Kari Lehtonen was considered an elite goaltender in the NHL and was playing spectacularly for the Dallas Stars. As a result of this, Lehtonen was given a five year, $29.5 million deal with the Stars during the 2013 NHL offseason. As the years have progressed, Lehtonen has dropped in skill immensely and now is at best an overpaid backup goalie.
There is very little chance that Lehtonen will receive an extension from the Dallas Stars because they need stability. Lehtonen is far too injury prone and that ultimately is what made his skill deteriorate so rapidly. There is even a chance that Lehtonen may not be on another NHL team after this season and if he does manage to get a deal, there is no way it will carry a cap hit of just under $6 million.
7 Cash In: John Carlson
John Carlson has developed into a very talented NHL defenseman for the Washington Capitals and is an integral piece of their core. Carlson has consistently been at the top of points by their defensemen over the past few seasons and this season is even showing signs of having a career year. The Capitals are working hard to give him an extension before it is too late.
If Carlson does end up hitting the open market, he will be one of the top free agents available. Carlson is a top-4 offensive defenseman and that is something that all teams are desperately looking for. It is likely that Carlson could even make over $6 million per season because not only is he a talented player, but he also is very young and has a handful of seasons left in his prime.
6 Pay Cut: Paul Stastny
When the St. Louis Blues signed Paul Stastny to a four year, $28 million deal during the 2014 NHL offseason it was viewed as a perfect contract because many thought the Blues found their top line centre. The term on the deal was also spectacular because it would last until the dying days of his prime and would not hurt them. Now as Stastny reaches the final year of his deal, he is no longer a superstar.
Paul Stastny will definitely get another NHL contract this offseason, but there is no way that it will carry a cap hit of $7 million. Stastny is having a very solid season this year and it is by far his best with St. Louis, but with his age and handful of down seasons, he is due for a pay cut. He could still make $5 million or so per year, but he no longer will earn elite money.
5 Pay Cut: Nikolai Kulemin
Back in the 2014 NHL offseason, Nikolai Kulemin signed a four year, $16.75 deal with the New York Islanders. At the time, the Islanders were looking to build a strong team around John Tavares and Kulemin was a very talented scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since signing the deal, Kulemin has yet to match his numbers from Toronto and has been injured frequently.
With all that said, there is no doubt in any hockey fan’s mind that Nikolai Kulemin will receive a massive pay cut following this season. In fact, it is extremely unlikely that he will even get another NHL deal with the emergence of the NHL being a younger man’s game. Kulemin may luck out and receive a PTO, but at the end of the day there is no way he will receive over $4 million per season ever again.
4 Cash In: James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk is having a very productive season this year even though his playing time with the Toronto Maple Leafs has decreased. JVR finds most of his success as an NHL player when he is parked in front of the net because of his shot and size. The Maple Leafs recognize that they have a very difficult decision when it comes to him because replacing him will be a huge challenge.
It is important to note that James van Riemsdyk has one of the best contracts in the NHL currently because it has a low cap hit. As a result of this, JVR will be seeking a huge payday and will receive it. The former second overall pick is also still in his prime and that will intrigue a lot of teams as well. Expect JVR to get at least $6 million per season for all of his efforts over the years.
3 Pay Cut: Sedin Twins
The Sedin brothers are still very talented hockey players, but they no longer are the elite players they once were. At the end of the day, the main reason behind this fact is that they are expected to do far too much as aging veterans and the Canucks are stuck in a rebuilding phase. Nonetheless, the Sedins should always be respected for all that they have brought to Vancouver.
The Sedin brothers currently each have a $7 million cap hit and that will not occur again with the way that they are producing as of right now. The Sedins are no longer point per game type of players and that is perfectly fine. They are definitely classified as old and are no longer in their primes. Yet, because they have been a huge part of the Canucks, they should be able to score another contract with them, even if it is for less money.
2 Pay Cut: Tomas Plekanec
During the 2016 offseason, the Montreal Canadiens committed themselves to another two years with Tomas Plekanec as their first line centre. This was a bit shocking because Plekanec showed numerous signs that his game was dropping, yet the Canadiens decided to still pay him $6 million per season. The results of this contract has not been very helpful to the Canadiens today.
It is important to note that Plekanec is not a bad hockey player by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, he no longer is a player who is worth that kind of money and if he does join another team, it will be at a far cheaper rate. Plekanec can still be a reliable bottom six centre on any NHL club, but with the NHL focusing on younger players today, there is a chance he may be overseas next season.
1 Cash In: John Tavares
This offseason is completely owned by John Tavares. Although there is still a chance that Tavares may elect to sign an extension with the New York Islanders, it is not necessarily a sure thing. Although Tavares is their franchise player and has been since his arrival in 2009, the Islanders have yet to see any significant improvement and that could ultimately make Tavares leave.
If Tavares hits the open market, it is very likely that he could receive a contract that will give him at least $10 million per season. NHL teams are desperate for a franchise type centre like Tavares and will do whatever they can to acquire him. Tavares currently only has $5.5 million dollar cap hit as well, so he very well could double if he chooses to go elsewhere or even stay put.