Even with the NHL salary cap expected to raise up to $82 million (previously $75 million) this offseason, there’s a good chance that your favorite NHL team is going to end up overpaying for at least one or two unrestricted free agents (UFA) come July 1.
There are limited big named skaters available that teams should consider paying every penny for, such as John Tavares, but there’s also a notable drop off in talent after Tavares. With that being said the market will work in favor for the other top skaters that are considered less valuable than Tavares due to the pool of available UFA’s. Keep in mind that other skaters who had strong performances during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be in the running to become overpaid, too.
Keep in mind that other skaters that had strong performances during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will also have a chance at being overpaid, especially skaters from the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals.
Yet, even though a number of players will be overpaid, there are still the bargain-deals that fans should keep a close eye on as July nears. There are some centers and defenseman that could benefit teams in the short-term and at more than a reasonable price.
20 Overpaid: Jay Beagle
There’s nothing fancy about forward Jay Beagle’s play, and his stats aren’t going to even look average to the average hockey fan. Yet, his ability to be one of the league’s better depth and shutdown forwards is going to intrigue a number of suitors that are going to be willing to overpay for the center’s duties.
Beagle has had the task of playing with the Washington Capitals and shutting down their opposition’s top skaters for a handful of seasons now, and his performance during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is raising his value that much higher this offseason.
Any time a caliber skater such as Beagle is a notable asset as to why his team made a run to the Stanley Cup Final --- it usually means he’s going to earn a payday if he’s a UFA during that same offseason. He’s efficient if the face-off circle, and more teams are learning by each passing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs year after year that having one of the game’s better shutdown forwards is worth overpaying for. Teams such as Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Boston may look to take great interest and provide Beagle with the biggest contract that he’ll ever sign in his NHL career.
19 Bargain: Kevin Connauton
There could be a hidden gem that’s been skating in the Desert for the past three seasons with defenseman Kevin Connauton. The former third-round draft pick is quietly coming off an impressive 2017-18 campaign and career year.
Connauton posted 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points on the year, while netting three game-winning goals.
Almost all his notable statistics were up this year, and he’ll certainly be flying under the radar in comparison to other available blueliners this UFA season.
The key here is that Connauton’s play improved as the season progressed, and a team should be able to get the 28-year-old on a more than reasonable deal with a low cost. He only has five years under his belt in the NHL, so the Edmonton, Alberta native should be peaking towards the prime of his career.
For a team interested in signing the 6-foot-2 skater, a three-year deal could turn out to be a bargain. A fresh start somewhere else could only add another positive and promising dimension to his play. Surrounding him a different environment and one without the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson could actually benefit this overlooked defenseman. Don’t be surprised to see Connauton playing for a team in the Eastern Conference next season.
18 Overpaid: Thomas Hickey
The former 2007 fourth overall selection in Thomas Hickey is going to appear much more appealing than he actually is come July 1, and in large thanks to the other available UFA defensemen this offseason. There’s no doubting that Hickey is a top-four defensemen on most, if not all, NHL teams…but teams that missed out on signing blueliner John Carlson are going to feel the pressure to sign a caliber skater such as Hickey, and it’s going to mean overpaying for him.
Hickey, 29, won’t have to rush to sign anywhere either. The market is completely in his favor, and knowing NHL executive Lou Lamoriello, who was newly appointed as president of hockey operations for the New York Islanders, he won’t bite to overpay for left-handed shooting blueliner.
The six-foot skater will watch a couple of other fellow defensemen receive lucrative contracts and then demand a similar contract from teams that are in need of adding his value this year. No, a defenseman such as Hickey isn’t easy to come by, but he’s more than likely not going to be worth the five-year contract that he’s going to sign with an up and coming squad. Hickey’s career season, being a plus-20 skater and the market happens to be in his favor as he’s set to hit UFA this summer.
17 Bargain: Mark Letestu
It’s time to turn back the clock as teams should consider acquiring forward Mark Letestu. The 33-year-old was reacquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, and let’s just say that he definitely won’t be re-signing with the Jackets come July 1.
Letestu is a bargain for a number of clubs, as he’ll provide necessary depth for a team’s bottom six forwards and can help out on special teams. The center can be used on the power play, but will be more effective on the penalty kill for teams in need of improving that area of its game. Teams such as the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens could all benefit from a bargain signing such as this one, and the chances are that Letestu will be easy to negotiate with.
Similar to other skaters that made this bargain list, he’ll get lost in the mix from the other big named available UFA free agents and whichever team does sign him will be sure glad they did further down the road. What’s more important is that Letestu needs a fresh scene, which should make his deal appear to be that much more of a bargain in due time.
16 Overpaid: Patrick Maroon
Forward Patrick Maroon has never signed an NHL contract that’s length extended past three years and while that benchmark may not be surpassed this summer, expect Maroon to join this year’s group of UFA’s that will be overpaid come July 1. During the course of Maroon’s seven-year NHL career, the winger has proven that he can provide value when playing in the right environment that suits his style of play.
It was just one season that the six-foot-three forward posted a career-high 27 goals, while playing alongside side (center) Connor McDavid with the Edmonton Oilers. That number vanished this past season, along with Edmonton’s surprising offensive struggles, but Maroon showed a spark towards the end of the season once he was dealt to the New Jersey Devils.
He’s been inconsistent, but teams are going to be tempted to add him if front offices believe he’ll be that right fit with their offense.
The 2018 UFA market is in Maroon’s favor for him to earn the payday he’s always wanted. Cup contenders, or teams that miss out on signing bigger names such as JVR, will be the ones overpaying for the former sixth-round draft-pick (2007). Nashville, New Jersey and Calgary will all be in the running for this winger.
15 Bargain: Lee Stempniak
If he’s healthy, forward Lee Stempniak can still produce 40-to-50 points a year. The 35-year-old is just one season removed from a 40-point campaign (16G-24A) with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016-17, and his veteran presence is taking worth an extra look at. Not too many skaters have been as underrated as Stempniak in the last decade, nor have they bounced around from team to team like he has (10 different teams since 2005-06).
For $2 million or less, on a short-term deal, Stempniak could be the bargain that most GMs dream of; reliable, gritty, and can play in all situations on the ice.
With teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins all struggling to make moves due to the salary cap, Stempniak could pan out to be a bargain with those clubs; especially given the offensive talent that’s already in place with all three. Given this free agent class, one could argue that teams are better off signing Stempniak to a short-term deal for less money rather than overpay for some others that hit the market this summer. Whether a team is a Cup contender, or not, he’s worth signing and will bring an above average value to a team’s bottom six come opening night.
14 Overpaid: Ilya Kovalchuk
Why wouldn’t former NHL sniper, and now Olympic Gold Medal winner, Ilya Kovalchuk get overpaid this upcoming UFA season. Most are familiar with the Kovalchuk saga and drama that took place the last time the Russian native hit the free-agent market back in 2010, which led to “Kovy” signing a historic 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Since the winger retired after the 2013 NHL campaign he’s been skating in the KHL with St. Petersburg SKA and lightning the lamp (285 points in 217 regular season games), and while the talent level overseas in the KHL isn’t quite as equivalent he’ll still demand for an asking price that sways in his favor.
The 35-year-old proved in the Olympics that he still has that superstar caliber swagger and don’t be surprised to see teams bite and pay him the money that he’ll want. The stubborn goal-scorer can be tricky to deal and negotiate with, and teams that are interested in adding an uncanny sniper to their top-six forward group are realistically going to be forced to overpay for Kovy. At this point in time, there are teams that could use and need the right-handed shooter more so than Kovlachuk needs them.
13 Bargain: Alex Chiasson
Skating on a team that’s made a run to the Stanley Cup Final, and one that has a roster as deep as the Washington Capitals, could see Washington lose its depth forwards to UFA in 2018. While some could end up getting overpaid this offseason, forward Alex Chiasson more than likely won’t fit into that category.
Still, moving forward past 2018 the 27-year-old’s play should only progress and signing him now is an ideal bargain.
The Montreal, Quebec native has skated for four teams in the last six years, but he’s shown sign of offensive promise with the Capitals this past season.
The impressive stats aren’t there, as Chiasson only recorded 12 points (6G-6A) in 61 games played for the Red, White and Blue last season, but receiving a different opportunity with another club could pay tremendous dividends for a team that takes a chance on him.
Did anyone ever think that current Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelley would be making a huge impact as a depth skater with Washington in the Cup Final at some point? Probably not…Chiasson has promise to show that and given this year’s UFA market he’d be a solid pickup for a number of Eastern Conference teams.
12 Overpaid: David Perron
The Vegas Golden Knights’ improbable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is going to earn a few skaters some big paydays in the near future. While dressing for five different teams over the past 10 seasons, forward David Perron’s offensive production has been a bit of a roller-coaster but Perron is fresh off of a career season with the NHL’s expansion franchise.
Perron, 29, posted 66 points for the Misfits from Vegas this past season and will have a number of NHL general managers’ attention come July 1. Not only did Perron revive his career in Vegas, but the former first-round draft-pick notched 50 helpers onto his belt and had four game-winning goals. While Perron didn’t record any goals prior to the Cup Final, he’s proven that he can still be a big-time contributor with a Vegas group but can he meet the same expectations elsewhere?
Perron signed a two-year contract with the St. Louis Blues back in 2016 worth $3 million and change per year, and per CapFriendly, he’s notably outperformed skaters with similar contracts. Still, he hasn’t been consistent enough but considering the market teams will take a chance on him and overspend to add, or keep him around if you’re the Golden Knights.
11 Bargain: Alexei Emelin
There’s much to offer from Russian native Alexei Emelin and any serious Stanley Cup contender could steal Emelin this offseason for all the right reasons. After completing seven seasons in the NHL, the 32-year-old hasn’t been anything spectacular at first glance but he’s also been to a Conference Final (2014 with Montreal) and spent last season with an impressive defense corps in Nashville.
Teams will be weary to sign Emelin, but he’s worth signing and could pan out to be a bargain given the right circumstances. Much of the Free Agent Frenzy attention will be focused on other skaters, but Emelin will find a suitor that can benefit both he and the club he’s going to sign with.
He’s physical and defensive minded (first), and more than likely won’t receive more than the $4 million (AVV; 4 years) he received from the Montreal Canadiens the last time he was due for a new contract. In 2017-18, he did have fewer hits than in the past, and also logged less ice time (16:53 ATOI). Still, for what Emelin has to offer and at the price a team could potentially sign him for, he should be worth every penny. A short-term deal could bring out the best in Emelin.
10 Overpaid: James Neal
Another Vegas Golden Knights anomaly.
Forward James Neal hasn’t netted 40 goals in a season since he signed a friendly six-year contract extension back with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2011-12 campaign, which saw the winger earn 5 million (AVV). Neal also posted a career high 81 points that season, but hasn’t come close to that bench mark since.
However, Neal proved just how valuable he can still be for playoff contenders these past two seasons. The 30-year-old was an essential asset for the Nashville Predators’ memorable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, and perhaps even more valuable to the Knights’ 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff campaign.
Considering the money that the San Jose Sharks (7 years, $49 million) just threw forward Evander Kane’s way, Neal should be in the market to get overpaid this offseason.
Yes, Kane is younger, but it’s not like Neal is in his early-to-mid 30s and teams are going to want to pay for his production and playoff experience. Vegas is going to want to keep one of its prized leaders and point producers, and the Knights are going to have to overpay to keep him around with the leverage Neal will have once he hits the UFA market.
9 Bargain: Matt Calvert
Nothing to see here, folks.
Just an average left winger that’s been playing for an organization that’s been notorious to give up on talented wingers in recent memory. Forward Matt Calvert is hitting UFA for the second time in his career and it’s about time that he signs elsewhere, after spending the past eight seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Statistically speaking, Calvert hasn’t performed at a high enough level for him to be considered a top free agent in the winger’s department, but that doesn’t mean that the Brandon, Manitoba native can’t be a bargain for a team to sign this offseason. The 28-year-old is good for a team’s bottom six, so it seems. Calvert will be worth signing at a low cost and short-term deal, as the former fifth-round draft pick (2008), could produce more offensively elsewhere and benefit both parties while playing for a bigger payday in the near future.
What’s the worst that can happen? Calvert is reliable and can help fills interim holes for a team’s top six forwards or power play. Come March and April, whichever team ends up signing him will appreciate his play more often than ever. He’s also proven that he can get on the score sheet more often come playoff time (10 points in 16 career games).
8 Overpaid: Tyler Bozak
Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t mind keeping Tyler Bozak on their roster, but the Original Six franchise won’t have any interest in competing with the other offers that NHL teams will entertain the 32-year-old with come July 1.
Bozak has lucked out coming off his five-year contract ($4.2 million AVV) this offseason, as the forward doesn’t necessarily have the most competitive UFA class to compete with at the center position. There’s no questioning that the market will pan out in his favor because of that factor, and there will be close to a handful of organizations that would be willing to overpay for the Leafs’ assistant captain.
A legitimate Stanley Cup contender would fit the makeup to overpay for the former undrafted forward solely because he is a proven and reliable depth center. This situation is comparable to the old saying in baseball that “you can never have enough pitching…”
The same could be said about centers with a Cup contender and one that won’t think twice about overspending if it means taking its franchise one step closer to hoisting Lord Stanley. Another factor to keep in mind about Bozak will be that some teams may be forced to overpay him, and due to the fact, the rivaling contender may try to pry him out of a team’s hands, first.
7 Bargain: John Moore
Former first-round draft pick John Moore has put together a nice string of seasons while donning a New Jersey Devils sweater. Moore, 27, has been an NHL regular for a team’s blue line since the 2011-12 campaign, but it’s in New Jersey (2015-2018) where he’s begun to blossom as a reliable depth defenseman.
He won’t come at a high-rate and is worth signing for a number of teams, which also includes New Jersey re-signing its veteran blueliner. Moore is probably the type of skater that teams won’t appreciate until he’s gone, and he’ll be a bargain signing in comparison to the other big named skaters that will be signed this offseason.
He’s proven that he can move the puck up ice better than most and can chip in offensively, especially in the clutch.
While other teams will focus on spending money on a more proven offensive defenseman, a team could strike lightning in a bottle with Moore if it’s the right fit. Moore is no slouch defensively either, and the former New York Ranger gained valuable exposure playing for a rebuilding Devils team since 2015. He’s probably only going to improve over the next handful of seasons and is worth adding to an already solid core on the backend.
6 Overpaid: Paul Stastny
Prior to the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, the Paul Stastny campaign for UFA this offseason wasn’t sitting too comfortable. Stastny was dealt away by the St. Louis Blues to the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline, after the center had underperformed in parts of four seasons with the Blues.
St. Louis signed the former 2005 second-round draft-pick to a four-year contract back in 2014 (7 million AAV), and while he’s not worth that money now teams will still overpay for his duties. Stastny brought his stock back up after the veteran flourished in many ways with the Jets’ lineup. Not only was it apparent that Stastny could add commendable value to a deep roster on a Cup contender, but he performed in the big spotlight and when Winnipeg needed him most --- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Stastny only recorded 16 goals this past season, but found the back of the net six times in just 17 games played during the Jets’ run to the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The 32-year-old added nine assists during the postseason totaling 15 points and more impressively he had three game-winning goals which (prior to the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final) was tied for first this postseason. Stastny’s pedigree, his re-found play late this season and ability to produce in the playoffs will earn him a lucrative contract this offseason.
5 Bargain: Ian Cole
No, defenseman Ian Cole isn’t the household name such as other UFA’s like John Carlson, Mike Green or Dan Hamhuis, but he’s going to worth signing and locking up for at least three-to-four years. The increased salary cap will benefit teams signing a caliber skater such as Cole, who at 29-years-old has two Stanley Cup rings.
Having a veteran blueliner such as the former first-round draft pick (2007) is a bargain for any team that can fit him into its top four. While he’s been in the league since 2010 his play has blossomed over the past three years, especially with all of the Stanley Cup Playoff exposure his experienced and runs to the Final with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. Again, not the most appealing name of stat-heavy skater, but the fact that he was able to excel in Pittsburgh should be intriguing and worth taking a closer look at.
A team such as Philadelphia would be a nice fit, and would also be appealing to the former Steel City defenseman, and don’t be surprised if San Jose or Anaheim come knocking at his door either -- two teams that are desperately in need of getting a Stanley Cup championship.
4 Overpaid: James van Riemsdyk
It shouldn’t be a secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to let a number of notable skaters walk during this offseason’s UFA, but it will more than likely be for the better in the long run for the Leafs. With that being said, veteran skater James van Riemsdyk may just end up being the most overpaid forward this summer season.
“JVR,” 29, is in the prime of his career and his resume will pop much more due to the current UFA market.
There will be plenty of suitors that will be willing to give the money and contract length that the former 2007 second-overall selection is going to command come July 1.
While foreseeable Stanley Cup contenders will all scramble to outbid one another for the power-play Phenom, don’t be surprised to hear and see rebuilding clubs offering van Riemsdyk the largest NHL contract he’ll ever sign.
The six-foot-three winger doesn’t have the foot speed, but what’s appealing is his ability to produce on the power play and put pucks home on a consistent basis while causing havoc in front of the opposition’s net. JVR’s would almost be a good fit for all of the league’s 31 teams, especially since he just recorded two career highs with 36 regular-season goals and 11 tallies on the power play.
3 Bargain: Derek Ryan
Don’t be surprised to see center Derek Ryan headlined as a 2018 UFA steal come July 1 and beyond. The forward will be entering his fourth season come October 2018, after spending the past three years with a shaky Carolina Hurricanes squad.
While Ryan is coming off of a career-high 38 points (15G-23A) last season, he won’t have the leverage to get overpaid like other available centers on this year’s free agent market. He only has a small sample size to show for, but moving forward he’ll be worth signing and is a bargain for teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks or Edmonton Oilers.
The 31-year-old can contribute on the power play and is borderline dominant in the face-off circle. Ryan was 56% last season in the dots and he also played in 80 games for the ‘Canes, while logging an average time on ice of 15:36. He’s more than likely not a top-six forward, but he’s a top bargain for teams that aren’t looking to overpay for those invaluable depth forwards. Expect the undrafted free agent to sign a three-year deal and with a suitor other than Carolina. An expected non-playoff contender may even consider signing him in order to then flip him at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, too.
2 Overpaid: Mike Green
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green will end up having the biggest smile once July 1 rolls around and after he signs one of the biggest contracts this offseason will witness. The market is certainly not a competitive one this summer in relation to top defensemen, and Green is arguably the second strongest blueliner that’s going to be available and can offer stability for a team on the backend.
After spending a decade in Washington with the Capitals (2005-15), the six-foot-one defenseman skated with the Detroit Red Wings for the last three campaigns while posting 104 points (29G-17A) in 212 regular-season games.
Green will be overpaid due to the fact that most teams won’t want a potential rival signing him instead, and he’s also the type of player that a club adds if and when he hits the market.
The UFA market is just heavily in his favor this time around and Stanley Cup contenders won’t be the only teams in on overpaying for the 32-year-old, either.
He’s no John Carlson, but keep in mind that there aren’t too many “Mike Green” caliber skaters for teams to come across on a consistent basis and teams will take the chance on overpaying for him if it eventually pays dividends for the bigger picture.
1 Bargain: Riley Nash
Forward Riley Nash had never scored more than 10 goals in a season prior to the 2017-18 NHL campaign. Nash, 29, is fresh off of a career season while recording 41 points (15G-26A) with the Boston Bruins last season and the dual winger/center is set to hit free agency for the third time in his career. The former first-round draft pick will take to the ice for his seventh full season, and there’s promise for Nash to be a bargain for various teams come July 1 and beyond.
Overshadowed by other big named UFA forwards such as John Tavares, Paul Stastny, Tyler Bozak and Joe Thornton, all who play center, Nash will hit the market for a reasonable price that teams shouldn’t pass up if given the chance.
The Consort, Alberta native proved that he can skate with some of the league’s more elite goal-scorers, while playing alongside Brad Marchand for a brief stint; and he’ll only blossom elsewhere when he’s given a bigger role from the get-go with a new club. He’ll be worth every penny, especially if he signs with a top contender considering he’ll bring a little bit of everything with his solid two-way play in all areas on the ice.