The sporting world is truly vast, but here in North America, sports fans are especially lucky, because we can essentially watch and participate in every single sport known to man. Even with all of the different options available, the North American sporting landscape is still dominated by four major sports: football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, and each one has its own professional league. These leagues all produce billions of dollars in revenue every single year, and that is because they all feature the best players that the world has to offer, players who generally do not stay with the same team for the entirety of their careers.
In the past, whether it was the NFL. MLB, NBA, or NHL, a lot of players would start and finish their career with the same team, but with all the money now in pro sports, free agency has completely changed the game. Granted, free agency is the main reason why players change teams, but it is not the only one, as players often switch teams because their current team wanted to make a trade, either because the team is selling off assets, or because the player has had problems with teammates or the coaching staff. This happens in every league, and now that the NHL's 2017-18 season has come to an end, teams are now preparing for next year, which means quite a few players will be changing teams, and this article will focus on 15 players who will find themselves wearing different jerseys next season.
15 James Van Riemsdyk
If you were to ask hockey insiders which team is bound to have a long period of success, many of them may say that that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs, because of their core group of skilled young forwards. Unfortunately, the Leafs need to pay those young players in order to keep as much of their core intact as possible, and with multiple forwards looking for new contracts this year, the team is definitely going to have to let a few players go. James Van Viemsdyk is one of the players becoming a free agent this summer, and after putting together a 36-goal, 54-point season, he will be looking for a new deal that pays him at least $5 million a year.
Possible Destinations: Florida Panthers; Arizona Coyotes
There is little doubt that Van Riemsdyk will get that money elsewhere, but given the price tag, the team that signs him may not be an immediate Stanley Cup contender, which is why teams like the Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes would be the obvious choices. Both teams need help in the scoring department, and both will have enough cap space to sign him, but of the two, Florida may be the most enticing, mainly because of the low taxes offered by the state.
14 Gustav Nyquist
For 25 straight years, the Detroit Red Wings found themselves in the playoffs, but that streak finally came to an end in 2016, and now, the team has missed the playoffs for two consecutive years. During that playoff run, the Wings were considered to be one of the league's best run franchises, and they have the championships to show for it, but the team has run itself into some big trouble when it comes to its roster. By today's standards, the Wings are an old team, and thanks to the salary cap, they need to make a lot of moves in order to make sure that their young players do not get signed by other teams. At this year's trade deadline, they started to address this issue when they traded Thomas Tatar to Vegas, but they were also shopping another forward, Gustav Nyquist.
Possible Destination: Edmonton Oilers
Detroit drafted Nyquist in 2008 with the 121st pick, and since joining the roster, he has scored 109 goals and 246 points in 419 games, and he is now entering the final year of his 4-year $19 million contract. Since Detroit needs the cap space, it will not be surprising to see the team move the winger sometime this summer, and if they do, the Edmonton Oilers could be a nice fit, as they are looking for a winger who can play with Connor McDavid.
13 Erik Karlsson
The 2019 offseason is going to be very interesting, especially if Erik Karlsson is allowed to become a free agent, because the franchise defenceman will be looking for a new contract that will pay him at least $10 million a year. When he is healthy, Karlsson is indeed worth the money, and based on how good he really is on the ice, and how important he is for the franchise, you would think that the Ottawa Senators would do anything to keep him with the team. Karlsson has been with the team since they drafted him 15th overall in 2008, and since then, he has become the team's captain while also scoring 126 goals and 518 points, and he has won the Norris Trophy twice.
Possible Destination: Vegas Golden Knights
Despite being a Canadian team, the Sens do not play in a big market, which means that the team may not be able to re-sign their best player, and thanks to Karlsson's now strained relationship with the team's owner, it is looking more and more likely that he will not sign with the team even if they offer him a contract. Ottawa's best option is to trade Karlsson, to make sure that they at least get something in return for letting him leave, and the Vegas Golden Knights are probably the best trade option as they have draft picks to spare, and the cap space to re-sign the blueliner.
12 Paul Stastny
The Winnipeg Jets might have not made it to the Stanley Cup Final this year, but they still managed to get to the Western Conference Final, where they were considered to be the heavy favorite. The Jets were able to put together such a good season because of their roster, which was incredibly deep, but as deep as the team was, they still added a significant piece at this year's trade deadline. Paul Stastny has been in the league since 2006, and it is because of his performance in Colorado and St. Louis that the Jets were eager to attain his services. Stastny has an incredible hockey IQ, and he offers much needed experience for teams like Winnipeg who have relatively young rosters, but the Jets will probably not re-sign him this offseason.
Possible Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
In just 19 games with Winnipeg, Stastny scored 4 goals and 13 points, and he had a very good postseason as well, but because the team has a lot of free agents coming up in the next year-and-a-half, they cannot afford to bring him back, which is why he will most likely sign elsewhere. The best case scenario would be for Stastny to sign with the Maple Leafs, who will be looking for another productive veteran forward once free agency hits.
11 Joe Thornton
In every sport, there are Hall of Fame players who finished their careers without ever winning a championship, and if nothing changes in the next year or two, Joe Thornton's name will get added to that list. Thornton is a former 1st overall pick who came into the league in 1997 after being drafted that same year by the Boston Bruins, and seeing as he is coming off of his 20th NHL season, it goes to show that he can still perform despite being ancient by today;s standards. Thornton has been a part of the San Jose Sharks for the past 13 seasons, and during that time, they have made it to one Stanley Cup Final, which would be a big accomplishment if the team did not build a reputation for underperforming in the playoffs in years when they were viewed as Cup contenders.
Possible Destination: Winnipeg Jets
Over the course of his career, Thornton has accumulated 397 goals and 1,427 points, making him one of the highest scoring forwards in history, and because of his age, it looks as though he may never win a championship. He becomes a free agent this summer, and it does not look like the Sharks will be bringing him back, so he may have one last shot to win as long as he takes a significant pay cut to join a team like Winnipeg, who will be looking to fill the void that Stastny will leave behind.
10 P.K. Subban
On June 25, 2016, the hockey world was stunned when two major trades were announced, but the trade between Montreal and Nashville was the more significant of the two, as it saw the Canadiens send P.K. Subban to the Predators in exchange for Shea Weber. Both of these defenceman are All-Stars, with Subban also being a Norris Trophy winner, and he was absolutely beloved in Montreal, which is why many Habs' fans are still angry with the team for moving him. Subban has patrolled the blueline for 9 seasons now, and in that time, he has scored 89 goals and 377 points, making him a legitimate offensive threat who is currently in the middle of an 8-year, $72 million contract.
Possible Destination: Edmonton Oilers
Shortly after the Preds were eliminated from the playoffs this year, rumors began circulating that the team was interested in possibly trading Subban, even though he was coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The team's general manager and head coach have said that there is no truth to these rumors, but these rumors make sense considering David Poile's track record of making big trades, and because the franchise has more good young defencemen in the pipeline. If Nashville retains some of his salary, they can easily get a big return from a team like Edmonton, who has needed a top tier defenceman for years.
9 Max Domi
Every single sports league has one franchise that just seems to always perform poorly, and when it comes to the NHL, the Arizona Coyotes are clearly that team, as the franchise continues to lose money every single year. For the past two decades, the Coyotes have gone through several rebuilds, all of which have failed, and their current nucleus of players have proven that they are not capable of putting together a winning season, mainly because their roster lacks the presence of truly skilled players. With that being said though, it is not as if the team is completely devoid of talent, because they do have some good pieces, like Max Domi, who has been with the franchise since they drafted him 12th overall in 2013.
Possible Destinations: Montreal Canadiens; Chicago Blackhawks
In three years, Domi has scored 38 goals and 135 goals, which means that he is already a more productive player on the ice than his dad Tie ever was. Max will be a restricted free agent on July 1st, and seeing as the team was testing the waters at the trade deadline, it means that they are willing to give him a fresh start while try to rebuild yet again. At 23, Max still has a lot left to offer, and any team looking to add a young winger, like the Montreal Canadiens or Chicago Blackhawks, will be willing to give him a shot.
8 Phil Kessel
Thanks to the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins were unable to win the Stanley Cup for the third straight year, and beating them was quite the feat, as their championship roster remained pretty much intact. When the team acquired Kessel in 2015, people around the league thought that they made a terrible decision, solely based on his time in Toronto, but they turned out to be very wrong, as he was incredibly important in their back-to-back Cup wins. In 3 years with the Penguins, Kessel has scored a combined 83 goals and 221 points, but even with all the success he has had with the team, his relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan has soured greatly, to the point that the team is actively looking to trade him.
Possible Destinations: St. Louis Blues; New York Islanders
With 4 years left on his current contract, a team can get plenty out of Kessel production wise, and according to The Hockey News, there are several teams interested in the winger, including the St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders, who are both looking to add an additional goal scorer, but out of those two teams, the Islanders would be the better fit, as long as they are able to keep John Tavares.
7 Tomas Plekanec
The Maple Leafs are a young team, and although the NHL is now dominated by fast young players, teams still need veterans on their rosters in order to win games, especially when those games are playoff games. That is why the Leafs went out and made a deal at the trade deadline, which saw them acquire veteran centre Tomas Plekanec from Montreal, one of their biggest and oldest rivals. Plekanec was initially drafted by the Canadiens 71st overall back in 2001, and was with the team for 12 seasons before being dealt, a move that was not all that surprising considering Montreal knew they were not making the playoffs, and because such a trade would give them prospects and at least one draft pick, which the team desperately needs.
Possible Destinations: Calgary Flames; New Jersey Devils
While with Toronto, Plekanec had just 2 assists in 17 games, but he was much more effective in the playoffs, and if he were not a free agent on July 1st, the leafs may have been willing to keep him around for another year. Plekanec himself, along with most Habs' fans, would like to see him re-sign with Montreal, but given his age (35), they may want to steer clear of signing older players, but a team like Calgary or New Jersey would be more receptive considering they would both benefit from having a shutdown forward who can kill penalties.
6 Dustin Brown
The Los Angeles Kings have been around since 1967, and even though they once had Wayne Gretzky for several seasons, they were never able to celebrate a Stanley Cup win with him on the roster. In 2012 and 2014 though, the franchise finally won their first two championships, and they won those Cups because of their team being insanely deep and hard to play against, and Dustin Brown was a significant part of both those wins. Brown was drafted by the Kings in 2003, and the former 13th overall pick has managed to score 260 goals and 567 points during his tenure with the team, and for 8 years (2008-2016), he served as their captain. Brown was so important to the team, that they re-signed him to an 8-year $47 million extension in 2013, but following that extension, his production went down until this season when he scored 28 goals and 61 points.
Possible Destinations: Arizona Coyotes; Vegas Golden Knights
Brown is still under contract until 2023, which would be fine, if it were not for the fact that their best defenceman, Drew Doughty was up for a new contract next year. Doughty will be looking for at least $8 million a year, a number that they cannot afford unless they shed a big contract, and Brown's is the most expendable, with only teams like Arizona and Vegas having enough room to acquire such a player.
5 Michael Grabner
By their standards, the New York Rangers had a terrible season, and not many people thought that they were going to perform as bad as they did given their roster, but at the end of the day, they did, which is why they decided to move quite a few players at the trade deadline. One of those players was Austrian winger, Michael Grabner who the Rangers signed in the 2016 offseason, and seeing as he is becoming a free agent this year, it makes sense that they traded him. While playing for both New York and New Jersey this season, Grabner scored a combined 27 goals and 36 points, making this the second straight year that he has scored more than 25 goals, which is why he will be one of the top offensive free agents available this summer.
Possible Destinations: Montreal Canadiens; Ottawa Senators
The Devils would like to re-sign Grabner, but in all likelihood, he will be asking for too much money, money that New Jersey would much rather spend on its up-and-coming roster. There are only a handful of teams who can give Grabner the money he is looking for, like Buffalo, who could be looking to make a big signing in the summer to coincide with their 1st overall pick, but do not be surprised if Montreal or Ottawa sign him to add some scoring to their lineups.
4 Mats Zuccarello
Russia, Finland, and Sweden, these are the countries that provide the NHL with most of its European players, but other countries have produced NHL caliber players as well, and one of those players is currently a member of the New York Rangers. The Rangers signed winger Mats Zuccarello as an undrafted free agent in 2010, and since then, he has played all 463 of his NHL games with the franchise, where he has scored 102 goals and 315 points. When New York decided to trade a significant portion of their team this year, Zuccarello was one of the only important players that was not touched, but seeing as he will be a free agent next summer, and the team is now entering a minor rebuild, it looks as if they will ship him off sometime before next season's deadline.
Possible Destination: Colorado Avalanche
Zuccarello is currently making $4.5 million, and depending on his performance next season, he could be looking for a new deal worth roughly the same amount, and even though he would be 31 when he signed that contract, he would be worth the money as long as the deal was not more than 3 years. Rangers' fans may love him, but they should not be surprised if he finishes next season with a team like Colorado, who would benefit from having a gritty forward that can produce.
3 Eric Staal
He may no longer be with the team, but Eric Staal is still one of the best players that the Carolina Hurricanes have ever had, and he is one of the biggest reasons why the franchise won their 1st and only championship in 2006. Staal was drafted by the Hurricanes 2nd overall in 2003, and he went on to spend nearly 12 full seasons with the team before they traded him to the Rangers in 2016. At the time, the former captain was in the final year of his contract, and the team was more or less eliminated from the playoff race, which means that it was the perfect time to trade him.
Possible Destination: Chicago Blackhawks
Following his very short stint with New York, Stall signed a 3-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, and so far, he has found his scoring touch again, scoring 70 goals and 141 points in two seasons. This season marks the final year of his contract, which makes Staal a hot commodity, especially if he gets off to a good year, and the Wild will not think twice about trading him seeing as they need to start thinking about the future, and he would be a great fit for Chicago who will be looking to rebound after this year's disappointing season.
2 James Neal
This year marked the Vegas Golden Knights' inaugural season, and it has been a fantastic season, due entirely to the fact that the expansion team managed to become one of the top teams in the league against all odds. Normally, an expansion team does not perform well at all in its first year, because its roster is mostly made up of players that other teams thought were expendable, but it would appear as though the other 30 teams need to start evaluating their talent better. One of the biggest names taken by Vegas was James Neal, a winger who they took from Nashville who was entering into the final year of his contract, and they selected him with the intention of trading him during this season in order to get more prospects and/or draft picks.
Possible Destination: Pittsburgh Penguins
Thanks to Vegas' performance though, that trade did not happen, which means that Neal will become a free agent that they will have to re-sign, and based on his 25-goal, 44-point season, he could ask for $5 million a year. Vegas has the ability to sign him, but another team can jump into the mix, especially a team like Pittsburgh, who know exactly what type of player they would be getting, since he spent parts of 4 seasons with the Pens, who will have enough cap space if they trade Phil Kessel.
1 Max Pacioretty
The Montreal Canadiens are the oldest and most successful team in the history of the NHL, and over the past 109 years, the team has produced a truck load of players who are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame. When you are a team as historic as the Canadiens, being the team's captain is a big deal, and as of right now, Max Pacioretty is the man holding the prestigious title. Pacioretty has so far spent his entire career with the Habs, who also drafted him late in the first round in 2007, and over the course of 626 games, he has scored 226 goals and 448 points for the club. Next year, Max will become a free agent on July 1, and he will be looking for at least $6 million, which he can get as a forward capable of scoring over 30 goals a season, but Montreal will not be signing him to such a deal.
Possible Destination: Buffalo Sabres
This season saw Max score just 17 goals and 37 points, and that low production can be attributed to several factors, including the team's style of play, and because he desperately needs a change of scenery. There was talk about the Habs dealing him at this year's deadline, but no deal materialized, which is why they will try again in the summer, and Buffalo seems like a good fit for him.