Free agency is hardly an exciting time in the NHL anymore. Players used to change teams with great regularity - Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player of all-time, played with four different teams - but that is no longer the case. Teams have too much leverage over players early in their careers and that often leads to players signing long-term extensions well into their unrestricted free-agent years. Every time an All-Star is about to hit unrestricted free agency, he's quickly signed long-term by the team he's already with - Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Carey Price, etc. Patrick Marleau was one of the biggest free agent signings last year and, while he's still a productive player, he's nowhere near the player he once was. However, there's a belief that could actually change this offseason.
Both Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty are due to become free agents following the 2018-19 season and both have already stated they won't be taking home-town discounts. That could lead to one or both getting traded as their respective team would prefer not to lose them for nothing. There's also a decent crop of forwards available. The same can't be said for goaltenders, but expect to see some high-profile netminders dealt in the coming year as teams revamp their roster.
15 Forward: Paul Stastny
Paul Stastny is still a valuable player for the St. Louis Blues, but he's making $7 million this season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent as of July 1st. He has 23 points in 31 games for the Blues and is on pace for one of his best seasons in recent memories - he had under 50 points in three consecutive seasons - but that could be because it's a contract year. Naturally, if he reaches 50 or 60 points, he might seek a similar contract, especially if it's a weak free-agent class. However, the Blues won't be fooled into spending that much on a 31 year old who will probably be seeking a long-term deal.
14 Defenseman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
If it seems as though Oliver Ekman-Larsson is included in every one of these lists, it's because he deserves to get out of Arizona, even if he doesn't want out himself. The talented Swede is one of the best defenseman in the league, but doesn't get the credit he deserves because of where he plays. If he was in a bigger market like Toronto, Montreal, or New York, he would have likely already won a Norris Trophy by now.
13 Goalie: Cam Ward
Cam Ward is one of the few free agent goaltenders who might actually be worth a gamble on the free-agent market this offseason and it would be reasonable to suggest the Carolina Hurricanes are ready to move on from the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native who will turn 34 in February. A former first-round pick of the Hurricanes, Ward has played in 633 games for the franchise and helped them win a Stanley Cup as a rookie. As of this writing, he is one win shy of 300 on his career and has a relatively decent 2.70 goals against average.
12 Forward: Rick Nash
You're probably surprised to learn that Rick Nash is still only 33 years old. The former first overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft has already played in 1,018 career games and has 423 goals and 363 assists for 786 points. While he hasn't been quite as productive in recent years as he was during his prime, there's no question he still has a few years of quality hockey left, not to mention the fact he wants to reach the 500-goal milestone.
11 Defenseman: Jack Johnson
One player that won't return to Columbus is defenseman Jack Johnson, whose contract is due to expire following the 2017-18 season. The former third overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes has had a decent career with 272 points in 741 games, while mostly playing top-four minutes throughout his career. He has just five points this season, but has been a fixture in the Blue Jackets lineup. However, with his contract due to expire and a massive contract awaiting defenseman Zach Werenski, it seems unlikely that the Jackets and Johnson can come to terms on a new contract.
10 Goalie: Kari Lehtonen
As previously mentioned, the goaltending free agent class is fairly weak compared to recent years. Teams looking for an upgrade are going to have to trade for under-utilized backups like Edmonton and Toronto did with Cam Talbot and Frederik Andersen respectively. However, one free agent would could at least provide veteran depth and serve as a quality back-up is Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars.
9 Forward: James van Riemsdyk
If money wasn't an issue, the Toronto Maple Leafs would undoubtedly keep Middletown, New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk. In fact, the 28 year old has expressed a desire to remain a Maple Leaf often enough that it wouldn't be shocking to see him take a discount to sign long-term with Toronto following the season. However, at the end of the day, money talks. And there's going to be a boat load of it waiting for JVR if he continues to produce as he has in the past.
8 Defenseman: John Carlson
While everyone is busy talking about Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty as potential free agents in 2019, John Carlson is quietly awaiting a massive pay day this offseason. The 27 year old former first-round pick has been a consistent point-producer and ice-time eater for the Washington Capitals over the past decade and is still in his prime. He has 22 points in 30 games this season and has produced at least 30 points in six of his past seven seasons (he had 22 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).
7 Goalie: Petr Mrazek
Goaltenders sometimes take longer to develop into stars and that's the hope with Petr Mrazek. The 25 year old Czech netminder once looked like the goaltender of the future in Detroit, but his numbers these past two seasons have been disastrous. He had a .901 save percentage and 3.04 goals against average last season and has a brutal .888/3.72 mark this season. He was supposed to be the team's starter, but his struggles have kept veteran Jimmy Howard relevant.
6 Forward: Evander Kane
The Buffalo Sabres are the biggest joke in the NHL. They're just as bad - if not worse - as the lowly Arizona Coyotes, and they've had even worse press. The team fired head coach Dan Bylsma following last season in a move that seemed to appease Jack Eichel, but nothing has changed this year. In fact, Eichel has struggled to live up to the massive contract he was awarded and the team is even worse than it was last year. One player who has thrived, however, is the often-troubled Evander Kane.
5 Defenseman: Mike Green
Once regarded as the best offensive defenseman in the game, Mike Green isn't the same player that produced back-to-back 70-point seasons with the Washington Capitals, but he's still an effective, if not underrated, defenseman. He hasn't really received much attention the past three years as he has been playing for a mediocre Detroit Red Wings team, but he scored 14 goals last year, which was his highest total since 2009-10, when he scored 19 with the Capitals. He also has back-to-back 35-point seasons and is on pace for 50-plus points this season.
4 Goalie: Braden Holtby
We mentioned the Washington Capitals are due to drastic changes given the team's inability to succeed in the postseason combined with their difficult cap situation and one of the casualties could be All-Star goaltender Braden Holtby. While he is signed through the 2019-20 season, the Capitals would be wise to deal the former Vezina Trophy winner while his value is still at its highest; he posted a career-best 2.07 goals against average last season, but that number his risen to 2.57 this year, his worst mark since the 2013-14 season.
3 Forward: John Tavares
In the past, we've seen high-profile pending unrestricted free agents remain with their current team, but there's a few differences with the John Tavares situation. For one, aside from this year, the Islanders have been fairly mediocre so it's not as though Tavares might want to stay to win a championship. However, most importantly, the team's future is in doubt without a stable ownership group or any idea of where they're going to play in the near future. It's an organizational mess that Tavares would be wise to leave this offseason.
2 Defenseman: Erik Karlsson
We said one or both Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would leave their current team and Karlsson seems the early favorite. Although Doughty has made some interesting remarks about wanting to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has also said he's only loyal to winning Stanley Cups and will sign with a team that gives him the best chance of doing so; right now, the Kings are as good as any team in the league. Karlsson, meanwhile, has stressed a desire to get paid. Ottawa isn't going to make that happen, given the team can't sell out Eastern Conference Finals playoff games and has been known to be cheap.
1 Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask is undoubtedly one of the best goaltenders in the league and is one of the main reasons the Boston Bruins remain relevant. The 30 year old has a career record of 211-131-50 to go along with a goals against average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .922. His numbers have dipped a little this year, but he's still an elite goaltender. Despite that, the Bruins are a bubble playoff team at best, and they've actually been better with Anton Khudobin between the pipes; he has a 7-1-2 record compared to Rask's 7-8-2 record.
Khudobin is a career backup, but upon closer inspection he actually has decent numbers. His career save percentage is .917 and his record is 58-46-11. The Bruins could make themselves a more competitive team by keeping Khudobin at a lesser cost and dealing Rask to help round out its roster.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!