NHL stars will be on the move over the next two seasons and will help transform a number of teams.
While a majority of NHL fans alike never look forward to the offseason, there are a couple of days during the summer season that hockey fans welcome with open arms. One of those dates would be July 1st, when the NHL’s free agency period begins.
The NHL’s Free Agent Frenzy is a day that can involve some of the most mixed feelings pending on whether or not your team was able to sign, or re-sign, some of the game’s brightest stars. The 2018 and 2019 UFA classes will end up being one of the more memorable and chaotic offseasons the NHL has witnessed in quite some time, if not ever.
Teams such as the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks will look to make headlines during this year’s UFA. But then there are another group of teams that will wait and save money to spend on next year’s 2019 UFA class.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens always seem to be in the mix during free agency, and whether or not they sign a skater such as John Tavares, the New York Rangers could always swoop in and steal the spotlight with a mega contract signing, even if they claim to be re-tooling.
16 2018: Mark Letestu - Pittsburgh Penguins
After two completing different stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets, forward Mark Letestu could find himself signing on for a second term with the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason. The undrafted forward began last season with the Edmonton Oilers and was re-acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2018-19 NHL Trade Deadline, but with the Jackets in a youth movement – the Penguins could use his veteran presence to add depth to its roster.
Letestu was signed by the Penguins back in 2009-10 and ended up only playing parts of three seasons with the Steel City. In 558 career games, the 5-foot-10 center/winger has recorded 210 points (93G-117A). Still, Pittsburgh could use his two-way play and Letestu can still add value to a team’s power play. The 33-year-old is still clutch in the face-off circle, too. His ability to win draws and overall experience is something that will benefit a team like Pittsburgh that’s competing for a Stanley Cup every season, as long as Sidney Crosby is in the lineup.
Letestu will be an underrated and overlooked signing this offseason, so it would make sense that the Penguins who have little cap space, would make a low-risk transaction such as this one.
15 2019: Tyler Myers - Boston Bruins
Once the 2019 offseason rolls around, defenseman Tyler Myers will be 29 years old and would have completed 10 seasons in the NHL. The 6-foot-8 defenseman will still have a handful of solid seasons to offer to a team, and it seems that Myers may be one of those skaters that will only get better with age.
The Houston, Texas native was drafted 12th overall back at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, but has been excelling on the blue line in Western Canada with the Winnipeg Jets since being traded in 2014-15. After next season there’s a chance that the Jets will have to make some roster adjustments and may have to let Myers walk in UFA. At the same time, the Boston Bruins will have a 6-foot-9 defenseman of their own that will more than likely retire next summer.
It would be fitting for a Boston and Myers marriage, as he would replace Big-Z on the Bruins’ blue line.
While no one will ever quite be like Zdeno Chara, but Myers is probably the next closest thing. Myers would be leaving one Cup contender to join another, and the transition to Boston would more than likely be a smooth one for No. 57.
14 2018: Thomas Vanek - Calgary Flames
Over his 12 year NHL career, forward Thomas Vanek has skated for eight different teams and five in the last three seasons. Expect those numbers to increase once Vanek hits the UFA market and leaves the Columbus Blue Jackets, after being acquired from Vancouver at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. While Vanek won’t be re-signing with the Vancouver Canucks this offseason, another team in Western Canada will end up pursuing the journeyman.
The Calgary Flames need to shake up their lineup and at the winger position, especially on the right side.
Vanek can play right or left wing, and Calgary’s fast and dynamic skaters such as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monhan and Matthew Tkachuk should intrigue Vanek to join Calgary. The 34-year-old has proven that he’s still good for 50 points a season, and his veteran experience would benefit those three other youngsters named above.
Yes, Vanek has bounced around from team to team more often than most, but the Flames will need a skater like Vanek to help them get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 6-foot-2 forward would also be comfortable back in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division; Vanek has 16 points in 15 career games vs. the Edmonton Oilers and 14 vs. Vancouver in 15 games played.
13 2019: Jeff Skinner - New York Rangers
As it stands now, the three-time 30 goal scorer in Jeff Skinner will be an UFA once the 2019 Offseason arrives. The 26-year-old has spent eight seasons with the Hurricanes, and there’s a strong chance that he’ll want to leave Carolina for UFA. Skinner was drafted back at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft with the seventh selection by the Hurricanes, and has totaled 379 (204G-175A) career points in 579 games since lacing up the skates in Carolina.
The Toronto, Ontario native won the Calder Memorial Trophy during his rookie campaign back in 2010-11, and also recorded a career-high 63 points (also achieved in 2016-17). A team such as the Arizona Coyotes would take great interest in Skinner, but the forward would more than likely want to sign with a perennial Stanley Cup Playoff contender.
The New York Rangers would show interest in Skinner come next offseason, and Skinner would gladly sign to play on Broadway. The offensive playmaker would fit the criteria for the direction that the Rangers appear to be going in with their roster, and by that time the Broadway Blueshirts will looking to add a veteran that can still produce on a consistent basis. The former Kitchener Ranger (Ontario Hockey League) would make for a suitable New York Ranger.
12 2018: Rick Nash - Philadelphia Flyers
It seems highly believed that all-star forward Rick Nash is going to re-sign with the New York Rangers, especially since the Rangers are rumored to be rolling with the “on the fly” rebuild process. Still, Nash more than likely won’t re-sign in New York or with the Boston Bruins, who Nash was traded to at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline.
The 33-year-old will more than likely be signing the last contract of his NHL career, unless he signs a short-term deal, and he’ll be affordable considering he won’t be making $7 million-plus a year like his last contract. Expect Nash to stay in the Eastern Conference and join the Philadelphia Flyers.
Philadelphia could use Nash’s two-way play and his pedigree fits the prototypical Flyers skater. The city of Brotherly Love went back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, and adding Nash would add depth to help the Flyers be more competitive when they take on a team like Boston or Washington come playoff time next season. Nash would be joining a Flyers team with a good mix of veterans and promising youngsters, which also includes the 2017 2nd overall pick in Nolan Patrick. Playing alongside Patrick could be another key reason as to why Nash signs in Philadelphia.
11 2019: Logan Couture - Florida Panthers
The San Jose Sharks have a number of tough decisions to make in regards to re-signing some big named skaters over the next two offseasons. One of those skaters happens to be the team’s former 2007 first-round draft-pick (9th overall), Logan Couture. Keep in mind that there a few “ifs” that would affect whether or not Logan Couture would leave San Jose for UFA. Players such as Evander Kane, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski would all ideally be re-signed if the Sharks had it their way.
Either way, there’s a strong chance Couture will leave to earn a bigger contract and get a fresh start.
Couture would be pursued by a number of teams from the Eastern Conference and the Florida Panthers would be a nice fit for the winger/center.
Couture would carry over plenty of Stanley Cup Playoff experience to a team that could add that aspect to its roster moving forward.
The Ontario native has played parts of nine seasons with San Jose, and has only recorded less than 50 points in a season on two occasions; which were due to an injury or the shortened 2012-13 lockout season. The timing would make sense for both Florida and 6-foot-1 forward.
10 2018: Mike Green - Buffalo Sabres
Defenseman Mike Green made $6 million last season while dressing for the Detroit Red Wings, and heading into UFA he may make just as much, if not more, by signing elsewhere. Green, 32, had a solid showing on a non-playoff team in Hockeytown after he found the back of the net eight times and tallied 25 helpers for 33 points in 66 games played.
The 2018 free agent class for defensemen this offseason isn’t the strongest, and Green will take full advantage of that market. The Buffalo Sabres have the salary cap space should consider providing Green with the contract that he’s looking for. Buffalo is in need of better defense in general, and adding Green would notably help jump-start the team’s process of improving the blue line. No, Buffalo hasn’t shown signs of meeting expectations over the past three seasons, but there is hope in the near future and Green would be a valuable asset in finally solving the puzzle during the Jack Eichel era. With a majority of team’s focus on signing UFA John Carlson, the Sabres could swoop in early and convince Green to head back east to Buffalo. Expect Buffalo to be aggressive with pursuing the one-time 30 goal-scorer.
9 2019: Jordan Eberle - Boston Bruins
It seems that since Jordan Eberle entered the NHL back in 2010 that the forward has always been in the rumor mill to be on the move from the current team he may be with. After seven seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, the former first round draft pick finished his first season with the New York Islanders this past year by recording 59 points (25G-34A).
Though, once Eberle is an UFA his stock will be fairly high and a number of team would take interest in the winger. Teams like the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks might pursue the five-foot-eleven forward heavily, but the Boston Bruins may be the more attractive suitor for Eberle.
By 2019, the Bruins will have more cap space to work with and will be in need for a veteran winger such as Eberle.
Boston could end up losing a few veteran forwards as it is this offseason with the likes of Rick Nash, Riley Nash and Tommy Wingels. Eberle would be joining an expected to be Stanley Cup contender for the first time in his NHL career, and would thrive on the power play with skaters such as David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Expect to see Eberle donning a Bruins sweater come 2019.
8 2018: James van Riemsdyk - New Jersey Devils
Forward James van Riemsdyk is going to dress for his third NHL team once October of 2018 arrives. The 29-year-old is entering his 10 NHL season and is also coming off of a career-high 36 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2017-18 campaign. “JVR,” is hitting the UFA market for the first time in his career, and the Leafs may not be able to afford the former second-overall selection.
Van Riemsdyk will have many suitors offering him an impressive contract on July 1, and the Middletown, New Jersey native will head back home and sign with the New Jersey Devils. Jersey’s Team had a top 10 ranked power play last season (21.5%), and adding JVR to its current roster will add another dimension to the team’s man advantage. While van Riemsdyk’s 11 power play goals are impressive, his presence in front of the opposition’s net and ability to create offense below the goal line is what’s going to be a great fit with a young and fast Devils squad. Yes, Toronto is one step closer to being a Cup contender than New Jersey is at the moment, but van Riemsdyk will joining a future contender and receive the contract he deserves in the Garden State.
7 2019: Matt Duchene - New York Islanders
Ottawa is going to be trading or losing a couple of household names over the course of the next two years. Forward Matt Duchene elevated his play once he was traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Ottawa Senators early on last season, and that factor will only raise is stock for the 2019 UFA market.
In parts of nine seasons with the Avalanche the former third-overall selection recorded 428 points (178 G-250 A), with 39 of those goals coming on the man-advantage. Duchene seemed to embrace playing in the Eastern Conference last season, and it would probably make sense for him to say in the East. The New York Islanders are more than likely going to be spenders in 2019, especially if the team loses skaters such as John Tavares and Jordan Eberle to free agency. The Haliburton, Ontario native could end up receiving a hefty contract from the Islanders, and help lead a new era back where the Orange and Blue belong – Long Island.
The 27-year-old is four seasons removed from his career high of 70 points (23G-47A), but he could end up reaching that benchmark again given he’d be a focal point in New York’s lineup alongside the dangerous Mathew Barzal.
6 2018: Evander Kane - Colorado Avalanche
It seemed that forward Evander Kane found the ideal spot to continue his career, after the former fourth-overall pick (2009) was acquired by the San Jose Sharks from the Buffalo Sabres at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. While appearing confident and comfortable in a Teal sweater out on the ice at the Shark Tank, Kane netted nine goals and added five assists for a total of 14 points in 17 games played down the playoff stretch.
No. 9 would then go on to make his first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, after missing out for the prior eight seasons. The Sharks were eliminated in Round Two of the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights, but the 6-foot-2 forward recorded four goals and one helper totaling five points in nine games played.
There’s no doubting that Kane had one of the best seasons of his career during a contract year, but a team such as the Colorado Avalanche should look to add the winger to its lineup.
The Avs proved that they’ll be a force to reckon with, after Colorado surprised everyone by making the playoffs this season. Kane would fit in nicely with a lineup that entails Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.
5 2019: Artemi Panarin - Montreal Canadiens
The Bread Man.
Former Chicago Blackhawk and current Columbus Blue Jackets forward, Artemi Panarin, is set to become a UFA during the 2019 offseason. Panarin, 26, has totaled 233 career points (88 G-145 A) in 243 games played. In his first season with Columbus, and year one of facing adversity, the Bread Man netted 27 goals and added 55 assists to post 82 points. The undrafted forward answered his critics in a loud fashion that he can in fact produce without former Chicago teammate, Patrick Kane.
While it would be wise for Columbus to re-sign him, the Russian native may end up testing the free-agent market and earn a lucrative contract signing elsewhere.
The Montreal Canadiens seem to be in the process of rebuilding its roster, and Montreal could take an aggressive approach entering the 2019 offseason.
What the Canadiens’ roster situation could look like then is unclear, but chances are it will be a younger squad and one that would be more appealing to an all-star such as Panarin. Panarin would welcome a long-term deal with an Original Six franchise, and playing on one of the biggest stages in the World sounds like it’s right up Panarin’s alley. Fans already know Panarin looks good in red, just add some blue in that mix, and it’s an order of Panarin in a Habs sweater.
4 2018: John Carlson - New Jersey Devils
The available defensemen in the 2018 free agent class aren’t going to be labeled as a strong class, but that doesn’t mean that a handful of blueliners won’t get receive their payday. While Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is coming off a career year and set franchise playoff records, a team will overpay for him on July 1.
There are a number of teams who are in desperate need of an all-star caliber defenseman such as Carlson, and the chances are that those teams are better off paying more for him than the Caps are. The New Jersey Devils have been witnessing what they were genuinely missing, after the team was eliminated in five games in round one by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
New Jersey has the salary cap space to overpay for Carlson, but adding him should be worth every penny for the team’s blue line moving forward. Carlson will be joining a team that’s clearly on the rise, and one that also finished with a top 10 power play. The former first-round draft-pick would quarterback the power play for Jersey’s Team, and a fresh start with a potential Cup contender will benefit Carlson’s overall play for the better.
3 2019: Erik Karlsson - Dallas Stars
If the Ottawa Senators haven’t already traded or re-signed, all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson by the time the 2019 offseason arrives, then expect the two-time Norris Trophy winner to sign with the Dallas Stars. The timing doesn’t appear to be right for the Senators to achieve success with Karlsson on their roster moving forward, and the Swedish native is going to want to leave Ottawa and welcome a new home.
Karlsson would more than likely aim to be the highest paid NHL skater come 2019, and that contract would be justified. The defenseman is a rare franchise player that can transform an average team into a Stanley Cup contender, overnight. His ability to move the puck up ice and make his teammates around him better players is just one small commodity that the Swedish native can offer on a nightly basis. Karlsson probably doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive abilities, either. He can handle the best of the best, and even the skilled skaters over in the Western Conference.
The Dallas Stars currently play in what’s arguably the league’s toughest division – the Central. If Dallas is serious about winning and finally taking that next step forward towards hoisting a Stanley Cup gain, then they’ll need to offer Karlsson a contract that he can’t refuse.
2 2018: John Tavares - San Jose Sharks
It may not happen on the exact day that the NHL’s 2018 UFA market opens on July 1, but expect John Tavares to leave the New York Islanders at some point this summer. It may sound like a broken record at this point, but it makes more sense for the Islanders’ former first-overall pick (2009) to sign elsewhere and move on.
Aside from Islanders GM, Garth Snow, there will be more than a handful of other teams' front offices pursuing Tavares, but the five-time NHL All-Star may end up signing on the West Coast. While Tavares will leave the Orange and Blue, he won’t let the Isles loyal fan base suffer by signing with the likes of the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs or New Jersey Devils.
Tavares will sign a lucrative contract with the San Jose Sharks, as the Teal will aim to begin a new era of winning by adding another (potential) Hockey Hall of Fame player to its team history.
No, the Sharks haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the team’s existence, but they’re still in a much closer position to hoisting Lord Stanley than New York may ever be if Tavares were to stay put. The money is there, and the success will be too.
1 2019: Drew Doughty - Toronto Maple Leafs
Drew Doughty’s days in Los Angeles are coming to an end. Let it soak in, Los Angeles. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has earned his way into the conversation as one of the league’s best defenseman over the past three decades or so. The former Kings’ second-overall selection from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft is a three-time all-star, Canadian Gold Medalist and Norris Trophy winner.
Doughty has proven that he’s an elite defenseman with not only his ability to contribute on the offensive side of the puck, but with his physicality and Hockey IQ as well. Like Karlsson, Doughty will be looking for a very lucrative and long-term contract come 2019, and the timing of it all will more than likely see him leave the Kings. Doughty’s phone will be ringing off of the hook come July 1, 2019, but there’s one team that he’s been linked to that may end up with the winning bid.
By that time the Toronto Maple Leafs would be one of the top suitors to sign Doughty. It would be a mutual feeling as Doughty would end up playing for his hometown team and the Leafs will want to sign a defenseman of his caliber to improve its chances at hoisting Lord Stanley for the first time since 1967.