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.
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15 Ryan Miller - Vegas Golden Knights
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports[/caption]
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.
10 Patrick Sharp - Chicago Blackhawks
Coming into this season, the Dallas Stars were supposed to be Cup contenders — but at 21-22-10, they’re far from it. There are many reasons behind their unsuccessful campaign and veteran Patrick Sharp is one of them. Making his way down south after spending 10 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Sharp’s first season in Dallas — in which he posted an impressive 55 points — was pivotal to their success in 2015-16. This season, however, Sharp doesn’t only have just six goals and six assists through 27 games but he’s been a frequent member of the injured list.
Because the 35-year-old can leave after this season, the Stars may look for takers on their alternate captain. And one name that may come calling are the ‘Hawks. In the midst of a playoff push themselves, Chicago is looking for an upgrade on the left side, and bringing Sharp back into the fold may revitalize his play. But even if he doesn’t get traded there this season, expect him to rejoin the organization in their quest for the Stanley Cup next season.
9 Karl Alzner - Edmonton Oilers
When looking at the defensive depth on the free agent market, Karl Alzner will be among the most highly sought-after. Currently skating on the first pair for the Washington Capitals, Alzner should be someone the organization keeps at all costs — unfortunately, however, defenseman get paid a lot of money, and a cap-conscious team like the Capitals can find themselves on the outside looking in if a bidding war takes place. Alzner won’t give you much in terms of offense (he has just three goals and seven assists in 53 games), but he’s one of the most underrated shutdown defensemen in the NHL.
There will be many teams interested in the 28-year-old’s services, as he’s firmly entrenched in the prime of his career. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Calgary Flames will all be looking for help on the blue line, so expect Alzner to head out to Western Canada next season. The Oilers seem like the best bet as they're the closest to Stanley Cup contention.
8 Alexander Radulov - Montreal Canadiens
It was pretty surprising that Alexander Radulov was able to land an NHL job this past offseason. Despite being one of the top offensive threats in the entire KHL, the former Nashville Predator’s contract demands were seen as too high for both a return to North America and another season in Russia. The Montreal Canadiens, however, decided to take a chance on Radulov to the tune of a one-year contract — and that has paid off handsomely for the organization. Currently sitting atop the Atlantic Division by eight points, one of the biggest reasons behind their success is due to Radulov’s play. Pacing the team with 28 helpers, Radulov has also chipped in 13 goals while skating on the team’s top line.
The 30-year-old will receive a much better contract that anyone would’ve expected, and the Canadiens must do everything in their power to retain him. Radulov has been a key member of the organization’s face lift and he’s someone that can help for years to come. Don’t be surprised if he stays put.
7 Michael Stone - Boston Bruins
After having surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL, defenseman Michael Stone has slowly but surely regained form this season. The Arizona Coyote struggled in the early stages of the season — but now into February, the 26-year-old looks like the player of old. Will he match his 36 point-campaign he had last season? No. But Stone’s right-handed shot has begun to see some life and his hard-nosed style in his own zone is becoming more and more apparent. His numbers aren’t gaudy and he’s definitely going to fly under the radar this offseason.
But while Kevin Shattenkirk will certainly garner all of the attention (we’ll get to him in a bit), Stone can be a nice fallback option. The Boston Bruins are a team that needs help on the blue line, and the youngster can immediately come in and give them top-four minutes.
6 Martin Hanzal - Los Angeles Kings
As the trade deadline nears, Martin Hanzal appears to be someone who is destined to suit up for another team as the postseason nears. Despite being an above-average player for the Arizona Coyotes throughout his career, the center has struggled thus far. Not only is he not putting up points at the clip fans are used to (nine goals, 19 assists, 43 games) but Hanzal’s +/- of minus-16 is a cause for concern as well. He can, however, turn it on at a moment’s notice, so a trade to a team like the Chicago Blackhawks could put them over the edge.
But let’s look past this season and into the offseason; the Coyotes could sell their veteran, gain draft picks, and potentially bring him back in the offseason. But there will be plenty of teams in line for the services of the 30-year-old center, and a bidding war could certainly take place. The Los Angeles Kings need help at center and depth is an issue, making Hanzal a logical fit in LA.
5 Jaromir Jagr - New York Islanders
It’s hard to deny that Jaromir Jagr is an absolute treasure to NHL fans across the globe. He may be almost 45 years old, but the 27-year veteran continues to play at a high level. Just one year ago, Jagr scored 27 goals, chipped in 39 assists, and was the driving force behind the Florida Panthers’ regular season success and playoff berth. While his stats have taken a hit in 2016-17 (52 games, nine goals, 20 assists), the future Hall of Famer continues to skate in a top-six role and is a tremendous asset as a playmaker and defender.
It’s unknown if he will stay in Florida in the long-term, but seeing as though he’s spent all but 34 games on the East Coast (he’s played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils), don’t be surprised if Jagr continues that trend. The New York Islanders continue to be on the cusp of something special but their failure to surround captain John Tavares with top-level talent has hurt the organization. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Jagr join them during the offseason.
4 Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks
When Joe Thornton was traded from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks, it seemed like a match made in heaven for the California squad. Sure, they had a number of top players already in tow, but adding the captain of an Original Six franchise was supposed to put them over the edge. That match, however, began to look rocky, as Thornton was eventually stripped of his captaincy, something that hardly happens in the NHL. The veteran, meanwhile, took it in stride and continued to perform at a Hall of Fame level with the Sharks.
Noted for his passing ability, defensive instincts, and power style of play, Thornton has become one of the game’s elite centers, and he continued that trend last year as he poured in 82 points in as many games. While the Sharks came up short in the Stanley Cup Final, Thornton was the focal point behind their success. There will be a number of teams vying for his services but it’s a near foregone conclusion that he will remain in San Jose.
3 T.J. Oshie - Washington Capitals
When T.J. Oshie was traded to the Washington Capitals before last season began, many expected the organization to take it to the next level with two bonafide goal scorers in their lineup. While they haven’t won a Stanley Cup, the Caps are a consistent force atop the Metropolitan Division, and that has a lot to do with the addition of Oshie. This season has been no different, as the 30-year-old Olympic hero has potted 20 goals, 35 points, and a +/- of plus-22 in 44 games.
As mentioned in the Karl Alzner slide, it’s going to be hard for the Capitals to keep all of their pieces intact. But if they want to stay at this pace, Oshie must stay in the Nation’s Capital. He’ll be skating next to Ovi and the gang come next season.
2 Ben Bishop - Dallas Stars
It wasn’t long ago when the Tampa Bay Lightning were arguably the hottest team in all of the NHL. Nowadays, however, things couldn’t be further from that narrative — and that’s why moving their franchise goalie is more and more of a reality. The 6’7” giant has dealt with injuries and has also been hurt by an inconsistent defense but Bishop has struggled in his own right. The 30-year-old is a subpar 12-12-3 on the season, is allowing nearly three goals per start, and has a lackluster .904 save percentage. But just because Bishop is struggling doesn’t mean he can’t revitalize his play if he were to move elsewhere.
When it comes to the Dallas Stars, both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have underwhelmed in net, and bringing in new blood could do wonders for the organization. With Andrei Vasilevskiy looking like the future for the Lightning, Bishop will be taking his talents to another club — and that very well could be Dallas.
1 Kevin Shattenkirk - New York Rangers
When it comes to the free agent market, there will be no hotter name available than St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk — and that’s for good reason. A staple on the organization’s blue line, the 28-year-old is one of the most well-rounded defenders in the NHL as he’s a force in his own zone, can shoot and move the puck on offense, and can be the quarterback of the power play. The New York-native has ling been linked to the New York Rangers, and that’s for good reason; once known for their incredible defensive depth, age and injuries has ravished the group.
The organization desperately needs a right-handed shot and puck mover to pair with captain Ryan McDonagh on the top unit, and that’s exactly what Shattenkirk and his 11 goals and 24 assists bring to the table. Shattenkirk won’t be changing colors, but at this time next season, he’ll be a Blueshirt, not a Blue.
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