The summer of 2018 should be the summer of all summers for NHL Unrestricted Free Agents. Though it is a year and a half away, the reality is if these guys aren't signed in the next few months then there is a problem, they could test the market, and join your favorite team. There are at least 20 players of significant value and 10 that can have an immediate and dramatic impact on a franchise. This is the year for GMs and fans to start licking their chops and believing.
The Atlantic (forever the Adams), the Metropolitan (forever the Patrick), and the Central (forever the Norris), should feast at this buffet, while the Pacific (forever the Smythe) will probably come up dry. The entire class is full of all stars, solid depth players, and change the balance of power in the NHL. Most of these players are going to have their current teams play every card in the deck to keep them, but will that be enough? In particular, these 10 players have the hardest or easiest decisions to make, and can cause a franchise to rise or fall.
20 Mikko Koivu: Best Fit- Arizona Coyotes
Mikko, at 34, with 17 years on The Wild and their team Captain, will be half heartdly swayed to stay in Minnesota. The problem is he'll need to take a pay cut from his $9 million contract, and the Wild, who are only getting older, should spend their money elsewhere. Any of the Canadian or Central teams could use the multi talented center who can play in any situation, but I like his style in the desert. He'll love playing with Max, OEL, and his old bones deserve to defrost. The young Yotes can take a big step forward in signing some free agents and they'd benefit from his leadership, effort, and defensive responsibilities. Arizona has to make a play and Mikko would be one piece to improve their team.
19 Mikko Koivu: Worst Fit- The New York Rangers
Even if it's a salary cap era, you can never count out the Rangers when it comes to making a significant move in the summer. After 1994, when they brought in Messier and won the cup, the Rangers have always tried to sign an aging vet to return to and win the finals, and even though it hasn't worked in 23 years, they'll try again. Mikko should stay far, far away. There's nothing doing there, and he'll 'll be a lot happier for it. The Garden has turned into a graveyard for so many veterans over the years that you don't want to be next. Just ask your teammate, Eric Staal or call Rick Nash, St. Louis, Gretzky, etc. Koivu might as well just stay put, or look for a team where he can rejuvenate and not end his career.
18 Daniel Sedin: Best Fit- Dallas Stars
Oh, the twins. It's time for Daniel to cut the chord. His loyalty and commitment to his brother and the Vancouver faithful is admirable, but there comes a time to travel a new road. The Stars have top notch talent and are deep, so he could really flourish and rejuvenate his career on the 2nd or even 3rd line. He'd still get power play time and the Stars could use his even temper as they navigate through loosing streaks. The defense will improve under Hitch, he'll become a more complete player, and be on a cup contender. Daniel's made $7 million per for a lot of years, and should also let the loyal Canuck fans start over. He should take off and earn his money in a great Southern City, sit in a luxury box with Jerry Jones, and eat well.
17 Daniel Sedin: Worst Fit- Vancouver Canucks
I know break ups are hard, sometimes a person and their ex promise to change, but it's time to man up. Daniel should read poems or listen to songs about the open road or leaving a lover, but for everyone's sake, he's got to go. The Canucks seem desperate enough to want to keep him, but he has to set his sails and cross the Puget Sound. It's a toxic relationship, neither the player or team has anything to hope for, and together they are wasting each other's time. The Canucks feel they're not a rebuilding team even though their prospect pool and their current roster tells them otherwise. The Sedins have said recently they only want to play in Vancouver and only together, but they may feel differently in a year.
16 Henrik Sedin: Best Fit- Buffalo Sabres
I know the brothers can do this, and the distance and new beginnings will be healthy for each brother and the team. They can go out together in their new cities andit will be fun to show each other around. While Daniel tries to bring a cup back to Dallas, Henrik should join the young, upstart Sabres. He'll set up the young snipers and they'll bring out the best in him. He'll love setting up Eichel, Reinhart, O'Reilly, and Nylander on the power play or at even strength. The Sabres need play makers, experience, and his approach will rub off on these guys. He'll step right in as a leader and it's a great atmosphere to start again.. Can you imagine a lineup of centers consisting of Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Henrik Sedin? Leaving his brother may be tough, but this has to sound enticing.
15 Henrik Sedin: Worst Fit- Vancouver Canucks
I don't trust these guys but they have to know that returning to Vancouver just can't happen. The force will be calling, and they'd probably both pay for pennies to be together forever, but they have to be strong. Maybe they should read "The Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss to inspire them to travel on and get the best out of their careers. At first, Henrik will feel culture shock, unsettled and nervous, and that will bring out some of his best hockey. Then he'll settle in, make new friends, and enjoy the rivalries of the East. Plus, Niagara Falls, the Anchor Bar, and upstate New York are amazing places with great hockey history, hiking, and fishing.
14 Martin Jones: Best Fit- San Jose Sharks
He's got one of the toughest calls to make and some real soul searching. He's got to figure out if he wants to spend his prime in San Jose, which is a great place to play and live. He'll also reward the team that gave him the chance to show what he's got as a number 1 goalie. But the Sharks aren't a young bunch, and by signing long term he might get caught in a rebuild. He'd complete a much younger team, and an up and coming defense that is getting better. When it comes down to it though, the best bet for Jones would be to stay in San Jose. They're the team that believed in Jones and gave him the chance to be their starter after acquiring him via trade with the Kings and Bruins.
13 Martin Jones: Worst fit- Philadelphia Flyers
Like veterans forwards go to the Rangers to die, goalies feel the same fate in Philly. Martin Jones would be following in a long line of goalies that cracked under the pressure, most recently Ilya Bryzgalov, and he'd better turn that glove up so it's open. If he can handle the pressure of being "the Man," if he wants 18,000 fans chanting his name every night, and if he wants every fan placing their hopes and dreams on his shoulders, then he should go to Philly. If he delivers, he will be loved, immortalized by a statue, and employed forever. He won't feel such euphoria in any other city and walk with millions of people "forever." But he better not be superstitious, because he might have to change his number.
12 Evander Kane: Best Fit- Philadelphia Flyers
If he's got his act together, then he should stay in Buffalo. He may not get the raise he wants, but he's on a young and exciting team that he can grow and win with. He just had a great year and he plays an integral role by being the teams only power forward. He's already traveled around, worn out his welcome in some cities, and he should set up camp and be a part of the nucleus.
But it already seems the inmates are running the asylum, Jack Eichel especially, and if he wants you out, go to Philly. The fans will love his style of play, he'll fill their hole at wing, and play with his good friend, Wayne Simmonds. Like with Martin Jones, Evander would also be in a position to be a hero and savior.
11 Evander Kane: Worst Fit- Vegas Golden Knights
Nothing good will come from any city with a vibrant nightlife and he should stay away from temptation. Whether it's the pool, the red lights, or the clubs, he has to stay away from losing teams or cities where the sport isn't central. Kane has one long term deal ahead of him, one more shot to ensure a rich retirement, to make a new start, and to prove he is as talented and fierce as any power forward in the league.
When his career is over, he'll have plenty of time to reap the rewards, and if he wants to be in the movies, roll dice, become a singer, or drive in limos with diamond watches, then go for it. Vegas would be the worst possible spot for Kane to be a responsible hockey player.
10 Cam Atkinson: Best Fit- Minnesota Wild
Next season means as much to Cam Atkinson's future as to any player in the league, and his performance can earn him the contract of a life time. Every team could have drafted the 27 years old who's gotten better every year, and every team is going to try to make up for their mistake by signing the Connecticut born winger. With the Blackhawks dynasty slowly coming to an end, the entire Central will be after him. St. Louis, Dallas, and others will open their check books but he should go with the Wild. It's a great city, a better hockey market, he can join a very underrated young core, and they might have a throwback night with the North Stars' jerseys. Seems like a perfect opportunity.
9 Cam Atkinson: Worst Fit - Carolina Hurricanes
Cam Atkinson will also have the chance to sign in the East or West, and he could go anywhere, anywhere! I'm sure Carolina is nice, so is Columbus, but go to a sports town, a hockey town, a place where the fans can relate to the smell of cut ice. Go somewhere with sell out crowds, rivalries, and a place where if you win a cup or push a team over the top your number may one day hang from the rafters. But not Carolina. They are stuck in the lower third tier of teams with a shot, but lack young, premier players in goal and at center. So unless Connor McDavid marries a woman from Raleigh and demands a trade, stay away. A franchise revival doesn't seem to be in sight there.
8 Jonathan Marchessault: Best Fit- Montreal Canadiens
This is the place for him unless the NHL comes to its senses and brings a team back to Quebec. The diminutive, undrafted Frenchman will play out his final year knowing he might quintuple his current salary. The temptation to stay in Florida will be enticing because of their young talent and chemistry, but seriously, playing in front of 8 thousand fans unless it's the playoffs can't compare to playing for Le Grand Club. He'll hear "Oh Canada" every night, not just a handful of times and play in some of the greatest rivalries in the game. He'll also be playing in front of his family, friends, be the most sought after young bachelor, and have first class service as the hometown boy who made good.
7 Jonathan Marchessault: Worst Fit- Detroit Red Wings
Marchessault will also be playing for the contract of a lifetime, but even if he doesn't quite match last year's numbers, teams will remember them. One team that will remember is Detroit, because their core continues to age and retire and they'll have a new barn. Though they have a small group of "nice," young players, it shouldn't be enough to even leave Florida. The Wings will offer him a $5 million contract to be the next Yzerman, but the Winged Wheel is years away from contending, tickets will cost a fortune, and there will be less fans in the seats than Florida. Every night, except when they open the building, will feel like playing in a mausoleum. The Wings are in a rebuild and that's not where Marchessault should be looking.
6 John Carlson: Best Fit- Edmonton Oilers.
Pittsburgh and Boston will make his decision miserable, and who can blame them. Boston will play the "home town" card, and how he'll be adding to the team's legacy of great defensemen. Pittsburgh needs a number 1 also, and it seems impossible to deny how amazing their offense will improve. But going back to Massachusetts means playing long hours on a team that has already peaked, playing in Pittsburgh will leave him lonely in his prime, but in Edmonton his entire career will be filled with glory.
In Edmonton, he'll make the blue line as gifted as the offense. It's a great fit, and four new banners will soon hang from the rafters. The Oilers are almost a finished product up front but their blue line is where they'll really build a contender.
5 John Carlson: Worst Fit- Colorado Avalanche
Rob Blake may tell him otherwise, but playing for the Avs now "ain't" what it used to be. They don't have a goalie, their defense is the worst in the league, and no one, not even their GM, knows what they will do with their offense. This is a ship without a captain, a plane without a pilot, and they don't have autonomous driving yet. This will be the next team to follow the Pens and Oil to tank, and Carlson would be a fool to spend his prime on the hard end of that. Even if he doesn't want to go to Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and Boston, every other team is a better choice. Even if he's paid a little less elsewhere, it's worth the hit to avoid a rudderless ship.
4 John Tavares: Best fit - New Jersey Devils
Simply put, this young man should go for the money. Tavares is young enough and good enough he can make a good team great and a great team better. He's paid his dues in New York, so he should pick a team and play there. If you want to play the wing with Sid or Connor, fine. Want to bring much needed offense to Philly, Jersey, or even the Rangers to rub it into Garth Snow, even better. He could even go to Florida so people actually go to home games and root for the home team.
One thing for sure is John should stay in the Metropolitan (the Patrick), because only the East will eat up the fun when he plays the Islanders. Also, don't forget that Kovalchuk keeps talking about a return to the NHL, which would be a deadly combination with Tavares, or a player Snow would trade him for.
3 John Tavares: Worst Fit- New York Islanders
Colorado, Detroit, or even Carolina would be a better fit. He's busted his tail for a team that even hockey fans laugh at. Garth Snow has done nothing but draft and trade poorly, fail to surround him with an elite player, and Tavares can't possibly want to stay there or wherever they end up. He's a quiet leader, can shift his balance and weave through a defense, and can shoot through any opening from any angle. There isn't a team in the league that wouldn't benefit from signing him, that won't try, and he is by far the best offensive UFA in years. As loyal as Tavares is to the Islanders organization, there is no end in sight for the Islanders' mediocrity. At some point, he has to want to play for a winner.
2 Carey Price, Best Fit: Dallas Stars
Calgary, Winnipeg, and Florida would love to add him, but the team with the worst goaltending in the league, Dallas, has to make this happen. They can sign a stop gap this year, Hitch can implement his defensive system, and next year go all in on Price. The reality seems that Montreal will have trouble re-signing him, and if they don't reach the cup next year, then a clean break might be best for both. Montreal will see their window closing, ride him out, and if they lose, they could let the best unrestricted free agent goalie find a new home. The "Price System" in Montreal hasn't worked, he's getting older, he's also been injured, played a ton of hockey, and getting a second wind with the new Dallas Stars is a great match.
1 Carey Price: Worst Fit- Vancouver Canucks
Though very little beats a hometown kid coming home, this would be a disaster. The Canucks stink, and Price can add absolutely zilch to this franchise. The Canucks will be worse than Vegas and need a total rebuild. Adding anyone over 30 would be a waste of money, and especially a goalie who will tear every muscle in their body playing behind that defense. There are enough teams out there that could use him, so he won't go home until after he retires or for the summers to go fishing. The Canucks might be able to squeak into the playoffs with Price stealing a lot of games, but Price won't be able to carry them to a Cup, so they'd basically be stuck in mediocrity year after year.