Free agency is one of the best parts of professional sports. From the athletes’ perspective, it gives them a chance to earn what they are truly worth on the free market. From the teams’ perspective, it gives them a chance to build their organization without losing assets in a trade or the uncertainty of the entry draft. From the fans’ perspective, it is an entertaining time to guess where players will end up and for them to hope that their favourite team lands the biggest fish in the pond. Another fun thing for fans to do is to look ahead to the future of their teams. This article will combine the two, looking ahead to the free agent class of next offseason and predicting where the top players will end up. For a player to fit with a team there must be a need for someone of a certain role, cap space, and often a close-to-home factor. The following predictions take these, and more, into consideration. Happy reading!
15 Rick Nash
Rick Nash is certainly past his prime. With that being said, the 32-year-old is still one of the most dangerous snipers in the league when he is on his game. Nash currently holds a deal with the New York Rangers that will pay him $8.2M for the 2017-18 season. After that, the Brampton, Ontario native is sure to see his pay drop to a fraction of what it is now. Nash will likely try to join a contending team in order to win his first Stanley Cup in the twilight of his career.
The perfect place for Nash to sign is the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are young, ever-improving, and have the cap space to fit him in. Nash spent the best years of his career as a Blue Jacket and would likely enjoy capping it off with one final tenure with the club.
Landing Spot: Columbus Blue Jackets
14 Cam Fowler
Fowler is a strong defender for the Anaheim Ducks. He was drafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to the to the team and has been with them ever since. He was amongst the top 10 point-holders for the club in the 2016-17 season. After his entry level contract, he signed a 5-year, $4M/year deal with the Ducks. He has had a great run with the squad, posting 217 points in 494 games as a defender. Although he has had a splendid young career with the Ducks, they are perennially tight on cap space. When his current contract is up, Fowler is going to have to look elsewhere. He will land with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Like others on this list, Fowler is a Canadian-born player who lived near the Toronto area. He most likely had a dream to play for his beloved Leafs while in his junior career. After the 2017-18 season, the Leafs will be in need of a solid defender who is experienced enough for coach Babcock, but also young enough to fit in with the dynamics the organization is striving for. They will have the cap space to sign Fowler, who will fit into the first D-pairing perfectly alongside Morgan Rielly.
Landing Spot: Toronto Maple Leafs
13 Paul Stastny
Paul Stastny, like his father and uncles before him, has produced a solid NHL career. The Quebec-born playmaker is the prototypical 2nd-line centreman. Over his 11-year career, the 31-year-old has consistently produced at a 55-65 point pace and he is solid in the faceoff circle, winning almost 54% of his career draws. Stastny has fit right in with the St. Louis Blues, though his contract is slightly steep, with a cap hit of $7M for the 2017-18 season.
When his current deal expires, it makes sense for Stastny to stay where he is. He, like Nash, will likely take a pay cut because of his age, but the Blues are perennial contenders and Stastny fits into his role perfectly with the club.
Landing Spot: St. Louis Blues
12 Mikael Backlund
Mikael Backlund is the most underrated player on this list. The Swede is still in the prime of his career at just 28 years old and he consistently scores at a 50-point pace, playing a vital role for the young, speedy Flames. He is versatile, as he can play both centre and left wing effectively. The lefty will bring in $3.575M for the 2017-18 season and will likely earn a raise (even if it's slight) for his next deal.
The ideal place for Backlund to sign at that point would be with the Edmonton Oilers. The club is in need of solid middle-six forwards, has the cap space, and provides Backlund with a team that will be Cup contenders for many years to come. Backlund can remain in the province that he now calls home, and the transition from the Flames to the Oilers makes more sense from a team role perspective and from a cap space point of view.
Landing Spot: Edmonton Oilers
11 Evander Kane
Evander Kane is actually a decent player whose abilities have sadly been overshadowed by his seemingly endless off-ice antics. The left winger has put up a respectable 300 points in 496 career games, spent with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and now the Buffalo Sabres. Despite his obvious ability, Kane has been earmarked as a cancer in the dressing room. He has a bad attitude and has been accused of assault, sexual assault, and harassment. There was also the infamous picture of him holding up a stack of money to his ear like a phone. Kane regularly spends time in Las Vegas during the offseason, further adding to his bad boy image.
It would not surprise anyone if Kane signed with the Vegas Golden Knights when his $5.25M deal with the Buffalo Sabres ends in 2018. As mentioned, he has a summer residence there and he is also a party animal. The deal makes sense money-wise as the Golden Knights will likely have lots of cap space and will be willing to take a chance on a player that is very useful when he is performing to his abilities. Don’t be surprised to see Evander Kane in the black and gold, making $5M-plus, for the 2018-19 season.
Landing Spot: Vegas Golden Knights
10 Mike Green
Mike Green was, for a few seasons, the Erik Karlsson of the NHL. The Calgary native was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2004 draft and put up 205 points in 225 games from 2007-2010 - as a defenceman! He tailed off slightly after that and signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in 2015. Still an above-average point-producer as a defenceman, the 31-year-old will be making $6M in the final year of his current deal.
Once that deal is expired, expect to see Green heading back to his old stomping grounds in Washington. The Caps will not be able to hold on to all of their current D-core and will likely need to sign a reliable, top-four guy at a bargain price - something they’ll be able to do with a past-his-prime Mike Green. Green can finish off his career where he first made his name and the Caps can benefit from his solid production.
Landing Spot: Washington Capitals
9 James Van Riemsdyk
JVR is one of only a few remaining Leafs players born before 1990. The left winger has put together a respectable 8-year NHL career thus far and is a fan favourite in Toronto. With all of their upcoming youngsters needing upgraded contracts in the coming years, though, Van Riemsdyk is going to be the odd one out. He will likely command something similar to (or even higher than) the $4.25M he is making in 2017-18 and the Leafs just won’t have room for him.
Funny enough, JVR’s brother, Trevor, will be a free agent in 2018 as well and there is a possibility that the two will make a homecoming to New Jersey as members of the Devils for the 2018-19 season. The club has room for them, and will likely be on the road to contendership with the solid prospects they are collecting and their upcoming 1st-overall selection. JVR’s offense and TVR’s defence will help to round out the up-and-coming New Jersey Devils.
Landing Spot: New Jersey Devils
8 Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Vlasic has been one of the league’s most underrated defensive defenseman for the past five years. The 30-year-old has played for the San Jose Sharks his entire pro career. His current contract is very team-friendly, as the Sharks only owe him $4.25M for the 2017-18 season despite him consistently being one of the most reliable players in the game.
The Montreal native is due for a raise when his current deal is up and it would make sense for his current employers to be the ones giving him that raise. Vlasic will stay with the Sharks. They have an aging team and with big-money contracts like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau’s off their books, they will have lots of room to hang onto their top-line stud, keeping their formidable pairing of Burns and Vlasic together for years to come. There is no reason why Marc-Edouard Vlasic shouldn’t stay with the San Jose Sharks.
Landing Spot: San Jose Sharks
7 Cam Atkinson
Atkinson is a late bloomer who has finally blossomed into a star with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Connecticut native has led the Jackets in points each of the past two seasons. He, like Vlasic, is on a very team-friendly deal, costing Columbus just $3.5M for the 2017-18 season. He is likely due a raise on his next deal, though it shouldn’t be too significant.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be a great fit for the diminutive right winger. By next offseason, they will likely be rid of a few of their aging forwards’ contracts, such as Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen. They will have the room, roster-wise and money-wise, to sign Atkinson. Atkinson will have a chance with a legitimate Cup contender, though that is not a huge issue at this stage of his career. The 28-year-old and the Pittsburgh Penguins both need each other, and the match will be finalized in the 2018 offseason.
Landing Spot: Pittsburgh Penguins
6 Martin Jones
Jones is an NHL goaltender who has been fairly underrated in his pro career. During his time with the San Jose Sharks he has been a solid goalie who posted a 2.40 GAA in his most recent season with the squad. When he was traded to the Sharks from the Boston Bruins, he signed a 3-year, $3M contract. He has been a starting ‘tender during his time in California but the aging squad is likely not going to be fitting for this 27-year-old after his contract is up in 2018.
After he concludes his last season with the Sharks, Jones will likely look to sign with the Vancouver Canucks. This Vancouver native will have a chance as a starter with the squad because of the stats he produces compared to their future goalie Jacob Markstrom. Moving back to his home in Vancouver would be a great fit for this goalie who is just entering his prime and it will likely mean a raise, which the Canucks have the space to give him.
Landing Spot: Vancouver Canucks
5 Kyle Turris
Turris has been a solid centreman for the Ottawa Senators in the past five seasons. The playmaker was drafted by the then-Phoenix Coyotes in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He played with the squad on and off before being traded to the Sens, where he signed a five-year contract worth $3.5M per year. In the past season he was in the top three point-holders for a very successful Sens squad. The 27-year-old centerman is likely going to sign an extension to his contract - with a raise - prior to it ending.
This Canadian-born player is likely going to stay with the Sens if the desired raise is satisfied. He is one of the squad's top players and has been for a few seasons now. The Sens are just reaching the height of their potential, having a mature team with prospects on the way, and making it to the third round of the Stanley Cup finals this past season.
Landing Spot: Ottawa Senators
4 James Neal
Neal has been a reliable player with every team he has played for during his pro career. During the 2014 Entry Draft, Neal was traded from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Nashville Predators. The Preds took on Neal’s remaining $5M contract. Neal was a top-10 point-holder for the Preds this past 2016-17 season. After his contract concludes, he is likely not going to return to the squad - the San Jose Sharks are a much wiser choice for the 29-year-old winger.
The Sharks are a mature team that would be perfect for Neal. They will be seeking a developed player who can excel on the ice to replace the departed Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. His history of having a good plus-minus makes him a perfect candidate for the Sharks. Not only will they have the space, but they will have the chance to give him the salary he seeks, similar to the one he has now worth $5M.
Landing Spot: San Jose Sharks
3 John Carlson
Carlson is a hard-working defender for the Washington Capitals and has been ever since he made his major league debut with the squad. He has played with the Caps for eight seasons now and is currently signed to a six-year, $8M annual contract with them. Among the team’s D-men, he was second in points. He has had a great time as a defender for the Caps but there hasn't been much accomplishment for the team as a whole.
Carlson would be a great fit for the aging Boston Bruins. The Bruins have some older players on the squad that do not fit the rebuilding stages of the team, but Carlson would be a great fit since he is still young and has ample experience in the league, which the Bruins will be lacking on the blueline come 2018-19. Carlson was also born in Boston, Massachusetts, making the Bruins' turf his true home. He would love to reside back where everything first started, making this a great location both personally and professionally.
Landing Spot: Boston Bruins
2 Carey Price
This amazing goalie has been the backbone of the Montreal Canadiens for ten seasons. He has been with the Habs from the start of his career, over which he has posted a 2.40 GAA and .920 SP in 509 games. His stats have been outstanding over the years. Following the 2017-18 season, Price is going to be a free agent and will certainly command a large raise. He currently gets paid $2M less than Henrik Lundqvist, who posted subpar stats compared to Price.
With an increase salary, Price is definitely going to stay with the Canadiens. This has been his home for ten seasons and he is likely going to be until he retires. He will hold the position as starting goaltender, there is no reason that he would leave his beloved squad since he has been part of many life changing experiences with the team. The Habs will not let their star ‘tender go and will likely sign him to an extension before the season even ends.
Landing Spot: Montreal Canadiens
1 John Tavares
John Tavares, like Steven Stamkos last summer, is a huge fish in the free agent pool. Not very often does a superstar hit unrestricted free agency while still in the prime of his career. Tavares has been a star player for the New York Islanders for eight seasons. He has posted great stats during his time in the NHL, being among the top point-holders on the Islanders during every season with the squad. This Mississauga-born player’s contract of $6M will expire at the end of the 2018 season. Tavares won’t likely return to New York because the team is in terrible shape.
Like Fowler and other children growing up around the Toronto area, he had a dream of playing for the Maple Leafs. The Leafs have a pretty young team but need someone who can lead them. Tavares is a 26-year-old who has ample experience as a leader, being the captain of the Islanders since he was 22. In the 2017-18 season, the Leafs will the have the room to sign Tavares with a potential salary increase. If given the opportunity, this free agent will sign with the Leafs, fulfilling his childhood dream.
Landing Spot: Toronto Maple Leafs