The 2017-18 NHL season officially came to a close after the Washington Capitals finally won their first ever Stanley Cup championship, while taking down the Vegas Golden Knights in five games during this year’s Stanley Cup Final. Now, it’s time for more speculation on what transactions all 31 NHL teams should consider pursuing as the 2018 offseason is in the full swing of things.
The NHL’s unrestricted free agent class entails a handful of notable big named skaters such as John Tavares and John Carlson, but then there’s also a major drop off in talent level at all positions on the ice that could entail shaking up a lot of team’s rosters. There are projected 2019 Cup contenders such as the Winnipeg Jets that could use an all-star caliber center to get them over the hump next season, or a team such as the New York Islanders that’s in desperate need to make a trade for a new starting goaltender.
Keep in mind that even the Capitals are going to need to aim at chasing at least one player to add to their roster to try and improve for the upcoming season, and repeat as champions. Then there are the question marks if a team such as Vegas will look to make a blockbuster trade to take another stab at potentially hoisting Lord Stanley during its toddler seasons.
Either way, here’s one skater that all 31 NHL teams should chase this offseason in free agency or by completing a trade.
31 Anaheim Ducks - James van Riemsdyk
It’s become a broken record in Orange County, but the Anaheim Ducks haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since 2007 when the team appeared to be on the verge of a potential dynasty. The Ducks have somehow managed to keep a window open for winning by bringing youthful talent in all areas on the ice, but after the team was swept by its rival San Jose Sharks in the first round this offseason, Anaheim needs to consider chasing a forward such as James van Riemsdyk to help boost the team’s power play that was ranked 23rd in the NHL last season.
30 Arizona Coyotes - Phil Kessel
While there was already one surprise team in the Vegas Golden Knights out west last season, the Arizona Coyotes will aim to shock the hockey world in 2018-19. The Coyotes can start by making a splash with one big offseason transaction by acquiring two-time Stanley Cup champion, Phil Kessel.
One of the game’s top playmakers and purest goal-scorers would offer a superstar presence that the Coyotes have been missing in their lineup for far too long.
Kessel would be the main asset in Arizona with the team’s offence and would thrive playing under head coach Rick Tocchet.
29 Boston Bruins - Michael Grabner
Heading into 2018-19, the Boston Bruins appear to be set with their blue line situation with the likes of defensemen Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and Charlie McAvoy. Yet, Boston has a handful of skaters on offense that could walk via UFA in less than one month and the Bruins will need to sure up their depth up front. A skater such as Michael Grabner could add value to an already strong Bruins’ lineup with his dynamic skating ability to contribute on special teams.
28 Buffalo Sabres - Philipp Grubauer
It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres have numerous areas on the ice that they need to upgrade and primarily on the team’s blue line. Considering that the Sabres will most likely select top prospect, Rasmus Dahlin, with the first-overall pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Buffalo's rebuild on defense will also need a goaltender that’s capable of growing into a starting netminder. Before another team goes and acquires him, the Sabres should offer Washington a trade to get Philipp Grubauer to stand tall between the pipes in Buffalo next season.
27 Calgary Flames - James Neal
The Calgary Flames will have to overpay for him, but the Flames should heavily pursue forward James Neal. While Calgary needs to restructure its defense corps on the backend, it also needs a serious upgrade and makeover at the winger position.
Neal, 30, just proved that he can produce offensively in a tough Western Conference and he’d fit in nicely with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.
Even with those three talented youngsters just mentioned, the Flames still managed to finish 27th in the league with 216 goals for.
26 Carolina Hurricanes - Max Pacioretty
It’s been dark and stormy in Raleigh, North Carolina with the Carolina Hurricanes lately, and the team has too many question marks in relation to its lineup heading into next season. Skating for the ‘Canes doesn’t appear to the best a destination that some of the league’s top UFA will want to sign with this offseason, so expect Carolina to be aggressive in the trade market this summer. The Hurricanes should seek Montreal Canadiens (current) captain in Max Pacioretty. The 29-year-old would be walking into a situation where he’d be the team’s leader and would be well appreciated by all in Raleigh, which has a characteristic that's clearly been absent north of the border.
25 Chicago Blackhawks - Jonathan Bernier
The times have changed in the Windy City and for the Chicago Blackhawks. With a vast amount of the team’s money invested in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the Hawks will be tested from here on out to make key roster adjustments to keep this team on a winning track.
Not having a healthy Corey Crawford last season was a big nail in the coffin for the Hawks missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Hawks need more stability between the pipes and could pursue UFA netminder, Jonathan Bernier. The 29-year-old is fresh off of a strong season with the Colorado Avalanche, and could be a nice fit in Chicago.
24 Colorado Avalanche - Rick Nash
Speaking of the Colorado Avalanche…the Avs are looking to make back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff appearances for the first time since the NHL Lockout in 2004. The Avs could use a veteran presence and perhaps one that brings size to its offense. Rick Nash would be a nice commodity for Colorado moving forward and wouldn’t come at a high cost, either. Playing for a team that entails the likes of Nathan MacKinnon could also re-energize the 33-year-old. Nash hasn’t had a 50-plus point season since 2014-15, but that could all change if he signs with the Avs.
23 Columbus Blue Jackets - Calvin de Haan
The Columbus Blue Jackets have had one of the more talented rosters and have the potential to be Stanley Cup contenders, but Columbus has still yet to ever win a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blue Jackets have a handful of skaters up for UFA this summer, and two of which on defense with Jack Johnson and Ian Cole. Columbus needs to pursue a solid defensive-defenseman and one such as Calvin de Haan. The 27-year-old will have a number of suitors interested in acquiring him and don’t be surprised to see him want to leave the New York Islanders.
22 Dallas Stars - Erik Karlsson
It seems that every offseason the Dallas Stars are that team that’s discussed about being one player shy from taking that next step towards potentially reaching a Stanley Cup Final. However, that conversation is about five years old now, and considering that the team finally has its franchise goaltender with Ben Bishop -- the Stars need to chase a big named defenseman.
Dallas shouldn’t wait for 2019 to arrive when Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson is a UFA.
The Stars should do everything that they can to acquire him this offseason and before another team in the Western Conference does.
21 Detroit Red Wings - Drew Doughty
Similar to their old foes in the Chicago Blackhawks, the times have really changed in Hockeytown with the Detroit Red Wings. While the Red Wings have the salary cap room to pursue a number of big named skaters such as John Tavares in UFA this offseason, the Wings should trade for an all-star defenseman. Detroit should look to acquire Drew Doughty from the Los Angeles Kings to bring a staple household name and proven Stanley Cup winner back to Hockeytown.
20 Edmonton Oilers - Ryan O'Reilly
How the Edmonton Oilers had the worst power play in the NHL last season (14.8%) is still a mystery. It’s also shocking that the Oilers failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they have the most talented skater in the league with Connor McDavid, but Edmonton will have to acquire another forward to support the team’s offensive machine. Acquiring forward Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres would seem like a good fit for all three parties. The Oilers have the talent to offer Buffalo in exchange for O’Reilly, who was tied for third last season in power-play goals with 15.
19 Florida Panthers - Jay Beagle
Watch out Atlantic Division foes, the Florida Panthers are going to continue to make noise, as the team had the NHL’s best record after the 2018 all-star break and finished just one point shy of clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Panthers have an impressive group of forwards, but the team may want to consider adding some veteran depth and playoff experience.
Jay Beagle was a key asset in helping the Washington Capitals win their first ever Stanley Cup this past season, and the center would be a nice fit with Florida moving forward.
18 Los Angeles Kings - Ilya Kovalchuk
One team that struggled to produce offense and when it mattered most during the Stanley Cup Playoffs was the Los Angeles Kings. While the Kings may want to consider parting ways with some of their bigger-named veteran skaters, Los Angeles should also look to ad Ilya Kovalchuk to its roster. Kovalchuk, 35, was close to signing a mega-deal with the Kings back in 2010 when he was a UFA, so there’s still mutual interest there. The sniper would complement a team that could be back in Cup contention with a few tweaks to its roster.
17 Minnesota Wild - Jeff Skinner
It was a pleasant surprise to see the Minnesota Wild earn 101 points in the Western Conference standings and have the success that they did during the regular season. Though, it was another snake-bitten year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the State of Hockey. Injuries to all-stars such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter took a huge hit to the Wild’s chances against the Winnipeg Jets in round one of the playoffs. Minnesota should consider hunting down the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner, who at the age of 26 is entering the prime of his career and could also rekindle some magic with former teammate Eric Staal.
16 Montreal Canadiens - John Tavares
The Montreal Canadiens are in need for a true number one center, but are they going to be able to acquire one of that caliber this offseason? Montreal’s best hope is that GM Marc Bergevin can offer a contract to John Tavares that he won’t want to refuse.
Adding Tavares would be one clutch and a big piece to solving Montreal’s puzzle in getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Adding the former first-overall draft pick (2009) would also intrigue other top skaters to join him in donning an Original Six sweater.
15 Nashville Predators - Patrick Maroon
The Nashville Predators have arguably the best defense corps in the NHL and have a number of dynamic skaters on offense, but one thing that may have been missing coming Stanley Cup Playoff time was a big-bodied forward and one that can still contribute offensively. Adding UFA Patrick Maroon would add that type of caliber skater to the Predators’ lineup and Nashville should consider pursuing the 30-year-old that could also boost the team’s physical presence in the dirty areas around the net.
14 New Jersey Devils - James van Riemsdyk
The New Jersey Devils are on the rise and cusp of being a Stanley Cup contender, again. The 2018 offseason makes for an optimistic summer since the Devils have the salary cap space to spend top dollar on some of the league’s top 2018 UFAs. While New Jersey needs a top defenseman, and perhaps one such as UFA John Carlson, Jersey’s Team should add a forward that can supply offense at the winger position. Finally, the time is right to acquire New Jersey native, James van Riemsdyk.
13 New York Islanders - Joonas Koprisalo
While GM Lou Lamoriello’s top priority is to sign UFA and franchise player, John Tavares, the New York Islanders have to pursue a goaltender to be the backbone of the Isles moving forward.
There aren’t too many quality choices in free agency for the Islanders to offer a contract worth everyone’s while, so expect the Orange and Blue to pursue a goalie via trade.
The Islanders should pursue a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for Joonas Korpisalo, who at the age of 24 is on the rise and could blossom in a starting role with a team restructuring its defensive strategies.
12 New York Rangers - Riley Nash
Entering the 2018 offseason, the New York Rangers have reasonable cap space to spend money in UFA and have 10 picks at the NHL Draft. While the team won’t win the Stanley Cup next season, it should still feel good to be a Rangers fan knowing the team has the potential to be a Cup contender again with the rebuilding process that’s in place. With that being said the Broadway Blueshirts should avoid signing big named skaters, and acquire a skater such as center Riley Nash. Nash will come at a cost-friendly price and would be a good fit for this youth movement in New York.
11 Ottawa Senators - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Where to even begin with the Ottawa Senators? It’s hard to believe that the team won’t trade all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson this offseason, which would mean Ottawa would officially enter a rebuild. Ottawa would then be left with the mission of building around a potential all-star skater and perhaps one such as former first-overall draft pick (2011), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The talent is there for Nugent-Hopkins to be a franchise player, and a move to the Eastern Conference could pay dividends for the center and the Sens.
10 Philadelphia Flyers - Ian Cole
Goaltending always seems to be the primary topic of discussion once the offseason arrives for the City of Brotherly Love and the Philadelphia Flyers. However, that shouldn’t be the case this summer with top prospect goaltender, Carter Hart, potentially on the verge of making the roster within the next two seasons.
The Flyers could fill a void on defense and chase down a UFA in Ian Cole.
The 29-year-old would come at a reasonable price for Philadelphia and would upgrade the team’s blue line from last season’s defense corps, notably.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - Valtteri Filppula
Entering the month of June, the Pittsburgh Penguins do not have a skater over the age of 31 on their roster. While that’s never a bad characteristic for a Cup contending team’s overall makeup, perhaps the Pens should add a low cost and veteran forward to add some diversity to the team’s lineup. The Steel City has minimal salary cap space to work with this offseason ($4,782,500, per CapFriendly), so maybe acquiring a skater such as center Valtteri Filppula could be a key asset for the Pens on a short-term deal.
8 San Jose Sharks - Ilya Kovalchuk
Forward Evander Kane already made a splash in San Jose by signing a seven-year deal with the Sharks in May, but that doesn’t mean the Teal won’t be pursuing some other notable skaters this offseason. There’s already a connection between head coach Peter DeBoer and UFA Ilya Kovalchuk, which dates back to the two reaching the 2012 Stanley Cup Final together with the New Jersey Devils, and the Sharks could use another scoring threat at the winger position for next season.
7 St. Louis Blues - Alex Galchenyuk
The St. Louis Blues collapsed this past season after a strong start and they'll be looking to bolster their lineup this summer.
With the Blues having a deep prospect pool and the Canadiens desparate to add a center or a left pairing defenceman for Shea Weber, the Blues should look to facilitate a trade with Montreal to add Alex Galchenyuk, who's on a team friendly cap hit of $4.9 million and can produce points.
The Habs have had Galchenyuk on the market for well over a year, and it could be something as simple as a one-for-one deal.
6 Tampa Bay Lightning - Lee Stempniak
There are just two skaters on the Tampa Bay Lightning that will be unrestricted free agents during the 2018 offseason – Andrej Sustr and Chris Kunitz. The chances are that neither is returning to Tampa, and the Bolts would more than likely lean towards parting ways with notable forwards in a trade or sign a low-cost veteran to add depth to their offense. UFA forward Lee Stempniak could replace Kunitz’ bottom-six forward role from last season, and could potentially offer more offense.
5 Toronto Maple Leafs - John Carlson
The stage is set for the Toronto Maple Leafs on offense with Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the way, and the team has one of the best up-and-coming goaltenders in Fredrik Andersen. Though, the Leafs could use an upgrade for their blue line, and should pursue going all-in on UFA John Carlson. The 2018 Stanley Cup winner would fill a number of voids on the team’s blue line and carry over Stanley Cup experience that’s essential for this Toronto team that’s been on the rise and ready to take that next step.
4 Vancouver Canucks - Mike Green
While the Vancouver Canucks find themselves in a much different situation than the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canucks need to address and pursue a top-tier defenseman. The Canucks may not be intriguing to John Carlson, who just won a Stanley Cup, so expect Vancouver to chase down defenseman Mike Green.
The 32-year-old proved that he can still off value from an offensive standpoint on a team’s blue line, while playing on an average Detroit Red Wings team since 2015.
For Vancouver, adding the veteran would benefit the youthful talent the Canucks’ lineup will entail moving forward.
3 Vegas Golden Knights - Erik Karlsson
The rest of the NHL learned the hard way…anything is possible in Vegas and with the Golden Knights. After a historic run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, the Knights were exposed by a Washington Capitals team and bounced out of the Final in five games. It’s apparent that Vegas is in a win now mode, and it should pursue Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators to have that uncanny number one defenseman that all championship caliber teams need to hoist Lord Stanley.
2 Washington Capitals - Jack Johnson
When a team such as the Washington Capitals is fresh off of winning its first ever Stanley Cup and with a team that’s been in tack for a number of seasons – there’s usually turnover during that same offseason. The Caps have a handful of UFAs, but three of those skaters are defensemen.
If the team were to lose John Carlson, then Washington may want to pursue a defenseman such as Jack Johnson, who would also come at a reasonable cost.
Johnson had to take a backseat to other blueliners in Columbus over the past few seasons, and a fresh start could be a nice marriage for both parties.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Joe Thornton
A Stanley Cup favorite heading into the 2018-19 season would be that of the Winnipeg Jets from the competitive Central Division in the Western Conference. The Jets seem to have almost all of the tangibles a team needs to take flight to the Cup Final in 2019, but the team will have to pursue a top-six forward and one that plays center. This Winnipeg Jets team has never won a Stanley Cup in franchise history and neither has future Hall of Fame center, Joe Thornton. Winnipeg should ink Thornton to a short-term deal, and the soon to be 39-year-old would thrive playing with a youngster such as Patrik Laine; especially on the power play.