Summer is every hockey fan’s least favorite season. The Stanley Cup Finals end in mid-June, leaving fans, players, coaches, and reporters to endure nearly three months of offseason monotony. However, there is one exception to this struggle. There is one day that offers a respite from the dog days of summer: July 1. The day all NHL teams court and sign free agents to new contracts.
Many star players’ contracts expire at the end of this season. Likewise, many players are heading into their contract years, increasing the chances of an offseason trade this summer. After all, you don’t want to let these players walk away for nothing.
The upcoming NHL expansion draft adds another dynamic to this offseason. Many veteran players may not return to their current squads if they aren’t protected in the draft. Guys like Semyon Varlamov, Michael Grabner, or Marc-Andre Fleury could be drafted to the fledgling Vegas Golden Knights for their inaugural season.
Also, the NHL trade deadline is fast approaching. With stars like Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Duchene on the trade block, it remains to be seen whether they will be shipped out before season’s end.
This list looks at impending free agents, as well as players rumored to be dealt this year, and whether or not they will stay with their respective teams. I’ve also included a few players heading into the final years of their contracts, as they, too, could be traded to a new team in the coming year.
Will they stay or go? Have a read and find out.
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15 Stay: Sam Gagner
It took Sam Gagner almost a decade, but he is finally on a team with a legitimate shot at a deep postseason run. The former 2007 first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers signed a one-year $650,000 deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
He was happy to do so, having been on three different teams from June 2014 to June 2016. He played 53 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2015-16, and suffered through a career-worst eight-goal, 16-point campaign. He looked at Columbus as a chance to rebound, and rebound he did.
“It’s nice to have a solidified position that allows you to get comfortable,” Gagner told the Columbus Dispatch last summer. “That’s one of the things Columbus could offer, a chance to play up the middle."
Gagner has enjoyed a rebound campaign scoring 14 goals and 34 points through 55 games this season. With the Jackets in prime playoff position, expect Gagner to stick around Columbus for next season.
14 Leave: Jarome Iginla
With all the rumors surrounding Matt Duchene, it's easy to forget that Jarome Iginla is drawing trade interest of his own. The Avalanche forward is mired in a scoring slump, with just seven goals and eight assists in 54 games thus far this season. With the Avalanche struggling mightily this year, the 39-year-old deserves a shot at the Cup in what we can assume may be his final years in the NHL.
Eric Duhatschek at the Globe and Mail reported two possible destinations for Iginla, including Edmonton or Los Angeles. Yes, Flames fans heads will explode at that possibility, but Edmonton could use a veteran forward. Plus, Iginla knows GM Peter Chiarelli and Milan Lucic from his days with the Boston Bruins. Of course, going to L.A. would reunite him with former coach Darryl Sutter, who led the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
Keep an eye on whether Iginla is dealt at the deadline, or if he waits until the offseason to ink a deal.
“Absolutely, it’s still the dream,” Iginla said of winning a Cup.“I think it’s still possible. We’ll see what happens. I would love it. I would really appreciate it."
13 Stay: Steve Mason
Gagner is a former Flyer currently with the Blue Jackets, while Mason is a former Blue Jacket currently with the Flyers. The 28-year-old goalie has 16 wins in 38 starts so far this season, and only one shutout. He was also ranked 14th on TSN reporter Frank Seravalli's list of "20 players most likely to be traded before the March 1 trade deadline." However, the impending unrestricted free-agent should stay in Philly. He has assumed the starting job ahead of Michal Neuvirth, who isn't any younger. Both goalies will hit the free-agent market this summer. The Flyers should keep Mason in favor of Neuvirth, just by virtue of production and reliability. Neuvirth has nine wins in 17 starts with an underwhelming .897 save percentage. Mason's save percentage is .900 and at 6-foot-4, he can fill out the net in a more imposing manner.
12 Leave: Martin Hanzal
Shane Doan could stay in Phoenix, but Martin Hanzal might get shipped elsewhere. Why? The 29-year-old center is set to become a free agent this summer after his five-year deal expires. Elliotte Friedman reported on initial trade talks between the Canadiens and Coyotes late last month. The alleged asking price for Hanzal was Michael McCarron and two draft picks (one a first-rounder). That seems like a lofty asking price for Hanzal, who has never topped 41 points in his career.
At the same time, the Coyotes do not have a ton of tradeable assets, as they would prefer to keep youngsters like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, and Anthony Duclair. Hanzal told The Arizona Republic that he "can't control" trade speculation, but remained opened-minded. "If they want me, I'd be happy to stay. But if not, I've got to move on."
With the Habs still expected to contend into next season, expect them to court Hanzal if they can.
11 Stay: Gabriel Landeskog
The Avalanche forward dominated trade rumors earlier this season. Landeskog has underwhelmed thus far in 2016-17, notching just 11 goals and 23 points through 44 games this season. He is well below his 50-60 point-per-season pace, and is on track to finish with the lowest point total since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Avs GM Joe Sakic’s reportedly commands a top-level defenseman, and a first round pick, in exchange for the 24-year-old. The rumor, initially reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger in early January, is a bit much for the underperforming Swedish forward. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Boston Bruins turned down Sakic’s request for talented young defenseman Brandon Carlo.
For these reasons, expect Landeskog to stay in Colorado as a key piece to the team’s young core. After all, he is the team captain, and can still recapture the 65-point potential he harnessed back in 2013-14. Colorado should not give up on him just yet.
10 Leave: Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr just turned 45 years old, and is still playing consistent minutes in the NHL. He recently surpassed Mark Messier as the second-highest point scorer in NHL history, and is working hard to keep the Florida Panthers in the playoff race.
The Czech forward enjoyed a 27-goal, 66-point campaign last season, and holds nearly every scoring record for a European-born player. Despite his struggles this season (10 goals through 55 games), Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement any time soon. At the same time, he hasn’t committed to any future plans. Jagr’s one-year, $4 million contract expires this summer. Although he seems comfortable in the smaller market of Sunrise, Florida, he could leave for a return to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jagr provides veteran leadership to the young Panthers’ forwards and is free of the pressures of a large-market team. At the same time, Jagr has 1-2 more years left in him, and will likely want one last shot at a Stanley Cup. As promising as the young Panthers are, they won’t be serious contenders until at least 2019.
9 Stay: Shane Doan
Few players in the NHL are as synonymous with one team as Shane Doan is with the Arizona Coyotes. Doan has served as Coyotes team captain since 2003, and holds franchise records for goals, points, and games played.
At the same time, the 40-year-old knows he isn’t getting any younger. He wants the chance to win a Stanley Cup, and spoke about the possibility of a trade to facilitate that opportunity.
“I never said that I wouldn’t go anywhere,” Doan said this past January. “There are so many different teams that could go on a run.” Doan may have thought about the idea of leaving Arizona, but realizes his life and family have deep roots in the community.
“I’ve talked about it with my family to make a decision on it if it was going to come up, but it’d have to be so perfect and so right,” Doan said. “That’s pretty hard for it all to line up perfectly…that just doesn’t happen in our sport too often.”
It’s always nice to see a veteran retire as a Cup Champion, but Doan will be a career Coyote.
8 Leave: Marc-Andre Fleury
Fleury had a great 2015-16 season, boasting 35 wins, a .921 save percentage, and a career-best 2.29 goals against average.
However, after rookie netminder Matt Murray guided the team to the 2016 Stanley Cup, many questioned whether Fleury was still the franchise goalie. Despite being 32, suffering through recent concussion issues, and underwhelming totals this season (14 wins in 26 starts, a 3.17 GAA and .904 save percentage) GM Jim Rutherford expressed his desire to keep Fleury. Fleury has two years left on his deal with a $5.75 million cap hit, and provides insurance should Murray suffer a long-term injury.
With the 2017 expansion draft approaching, the Penguins have until June 17 to submit a list of protected players to the league office. They can only protect one goalie, and odds are they go with Murray over Fleury. ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun reported a rumor in early February of “preliminary” trade talks between Pittsburgh and Dallas involving Fleury.
Granted, the talks haven't materialized to anything concrete. There are plenty of teams that might love a veteran goalie like Fleury. The Penguins may have no choice but to expose him at the draft instead of Murray.
7 Stay: Cam Fowler
Fowler has been at the center of trade talks going back to last season. Speculation was rampant that he would be dealt on Draft Day 2016, but he stayed in Anaheim. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to deal Fowler now, as he is producing at arguably the highest level of his career.
Through 58 games this season, he has already doubled his goal total from last year (11 goals compared to 5). His 30 points are already two more than his point total last season, and 10 points away from his career high. That being said, the Ducks may still move some defensemen, including Kevin Bieksa or Hampus Lindholm. Colorado GM Joe Sakic attended the Feb. 3rd Panthers-Ducks game, supposedly scouting players. With Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene on the trade block, this comes as no surprise. However, Fowler has played himself into a secure role with the Ducks, at least until the end of next season, when his contract expires.
6 Leave: Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop has won at least 35 games in each of the past three seasons. However, the 30-year-old has also suffered his fair share of injuries in that time as well. Bishop, of course, is an impending free agent this offseason, and, with the recent extension of Andrei Vasilevskiy, doesn't exactly fit into Tampa Bay's long-term plans.
The Bolts are out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture as of mid February, but Bishop has improved his play as of late. This could re-ignite simmering trade rumors surrounding the goaltender. Bishop has a $5.95 million cap hit for this year, and will command a raise this offseason. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman likely won't give him that raise, so odds are he deals him before he hits free agency.
A deal could happen even sooner, though. The Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames are suffering through goaltending woes and could make a play for Bishop at the trade deadline.
Either way, Bishop's days in Tampa Bay are numbered.
5 Stay: Rick Nash
Despite my dedicated Rangers fandom, I have gone back and forth on my opinion of Rick Nash. The former Columbus Blue Jackets captain arrived in New York via trade in 2012, and many fans were ecstatic.
Unfortunately, Nash's level of play hasn't matched his elite performance in Columbus. Since 2012, Nash has only registered one 40-goal season, and 2015-2016 marked a career-low in points (36 in 60 games). Perhaps most frustrating were his no-shows in the playoffs. During the Blueshirts’ Stanley Cup Final run in 2014, Nash scored just 3 goals and 7 assists in 23 games.
Nash rebounded in the 2015-16 postseason (2 goals and 4 points) but the Rangers were ousted by the Penguins in five games. Nash is enjoying a bounce-back season this year, but it still doesn't justify his $7.8 million cap hit. His contract is up at the end of next season. Although Nash's name has been floated in possible trades, the Rangers likely won't be able to find a suitor for Nash this summer. He will play out to the end of his contract, if the Rangers don't deal him at some point next season. Right now, though, it appears Nash will stay in New York.
4 Leave: Matt Duchene
The Avalanche are cellar dwellers in the Western Conference this season. They sit dead last with just 15 wins as of February 16, 2017. They have worst goal differential in the NHL this season, and will likely be in full fire-sale mode come the March 1 trade deadline. Franchise center Matt Duchene is among the names that have been floated as trade pieces. Don't expect him to be moved so easily though.
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman debated Pittsburgh as a possible trade destination for Duchene. Kypreos suggested three pieces - a top draft pick, a prospect and a top defenseman - for Duchene. However, aside from Derrick Pouliot, the Pens will not want to move any of their younger players for the $6 million Duchene.
The Islanders will probably make a play for Duchene as well. Having a linemate like Duchene would certainly entice captain John Tavares to stay in town. Getting rid of Duchene would also free up more cap room for Colorado than trading a guy like Gabriel Landeskog or Nathan MacKinnon would.
3 Stay: John Tavares
With the news that the New York Islanders might get booted from the Barclays Center in a few years, fans are hoping for some semblance of structure. It's hardly comforting, then, when John Tavares' name keeps popping up in trade rumors. However, the team captain has drawn interest from several Canadian teams, including Toronto and Montreal. Tavares hasn't exactly denied the speculation either, suggesting he may bolt for another team if management can't find suitable linemates for him. Garth Snow would be wise to keep his star center, but if he wants out, then Snow needs to find the best package for him. Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Sergachev, and a first rounder perhaps from the Canadiens?
Arthur Staple at Newsday said there will be "no hometown discounts for Tavares." Any offseason contract talks will be long term (eight years and round $85 million, according to Staple.) It'll be interesting to see whether he takes the money or seeks new pastures. If the Islanders can land a guy like Matt Duchene from Colorado, Tavares would certainly stay in Long Island.
2 Leave: Kevin Shattenkirk
Kevin Shattenkirk is not ignorant to the trade rumors that have dogged him for the better part of two years. He knows they exist. “It’s a very nerve-wrecking time,” he told NBC Sports recently. “There are a lot of rumors going around, a lot of speculation.”
At just 28 years old, Shattenkirk is on pace for a career year. He has scored 11 goals and 39 points through 57 games so far this season. He is certainly on track to surpass last year’s 14 goals and 44 points. He is in the final year of his contract, and is due $4.25 million. While he may break his career-high in points, he could also break the bank in free agency.
However, the Blues may trade Shattenkirk before then. Nick Kypreos at Sportsnet floated out 12 teams that the stud defenseman could end up with after the trade deadline. Among these were the Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
The Leafs, with eight picks in the first three rounds of the 2017 and 2018 drafts, have plenty of assets. The Rangers could also work, as they need a steady puck-moving defenseman, and have some talented young forwards to spare.
Any way you slice it, it doesn’t seem Shattenkirk will remain in St. Louis for much longer.
1 Stay: Alex Radulov
The Montreal Canadiens took a risk by signing Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal last summer. I wrote an article before this season, predicting the enigmatic Russian would crumble under the pressure of Montreal. Boy, was I wrong. Radulov has proven he can still succeed at the NHL level after several years in the KHL. He has 14 goals and 42 points in his first 56 games this season.
He has found great success playing with the likes of Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty. 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." At 30 years old, Radulov might prefer to settle down with one team. He has proven a worthy piece to the Habs' success.
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