There will be dozens of players who don’t return to their NHL teams next season for one reason or another. Some will be traded before the 2017-18 campaign begins while others will be placed on waivers, taken in the intra-league draft by the new Las Vegas franchise, have their contracts bought out or will change locations as free agents. In addition, some will retire. However, this list focuses on those who will be free agents and simply won’t be re-signed by their current teams or they will walk away from them as they’d prefer to play elsewhere.
Now, these aren’t pending free agents such as Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton since these players would be worth something on the market once the trade deadlines arrives and teams would be foolish to let highly-skilled players walk away for nothing. In fact, there are even some solid NHL’ers buried down in the minors such as Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek of Toronto who could help somebody out at the trade deadline before becoming free agents.
Instead, this list is made up of those who are heading into free agency and likely won’t be traded since their market value is considered to be pretty low. The reason they’re not going be highly sought-after is due to one or a combination of things such as their age, current salary, recent production on the ice, and their health. Therefore, the following are 15 NHL players who are projected not to return to their teams in 2017-18 as they won’t be offered a new contract, they’ll walk away or could be snapped up by Las Vegas in the draft.
15 Jhonas Enroth- Toronto
Goaltender Jhonas Enroth could be a human yo-yo this season by going up and down between the NHL and AHL on a regular basis. The Leafs waived him and sent him to the Marlies in early December as he was winless in six appearances with a sub-par save percentage and GAA. He played just one game in the AHL and won it 5-3, but still had a mediocre 88.9 save percentage. In the meantime, the Leafs recently suspended Marlies’ goalie Garrett Sparks for a Facebook rant he posted and Karri Ramo was signed to a professional tryout contract. However, it appears he’s even worse than Enroth at the moment so he may return as the Leafs’ backup by default. Either way, Enroth won’t be offered a new deal in Toronto when his contract runs out at the end of the season.
14 Ryan Garbutt- Anaheim
Forward Ryan Garbutt is just 31-years-old so his NHL career isn’t over, but it’s doubtful he’ll be back with Anaheim next year. The undrafted player cleared waivers and was sent to San Diego of the AHL in early December even though he’s got decent hands and has a bit of a tough streak in him. Garbutt’s making $2 million this year though with a $1.8 million cap hit, so he’s not attractive as trade bait. He may return to the Ducks sometime this season, but don’t look for him to re-sign in Anaheim. And even if the Ducks did happen to offer him some kind of deal, he’s not going to be in the mood to sign it after being demoted. Look for Garbutt to sign as a free agent with a team which is looking to toughen up.
13 Zbynek Michalek- Arizona
It looks like the writing’s on the wall for 33-year-old defenceman Zbynek Michalek and his $3.2 million cap hit and salary. The undrafted native of the Czech Republic was shipped down to the AHL after playing for his homeland in the preseason World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. However, his number came up after Arizona re-signed restricted free-agent defencemen Michael Stone and Connor Murphy and picked right-handed blueliner Luke Schenn as a free agent. And let’s not forget right-handed D-man Anthony DeAngelo was acquired via trade on draft-day in June. Needless to say, Michalek is also a right-handed defenceman who became the odd man out. He’s also a good shot-blocking defenceman, but other teams will be scared off by the classy veteran’s salary and cap hit. Therefore, he leaves the desert after the 2016-17 campaign.
12 John-Michael Liles- Boston
Combine the fact that Bruins’ defenceman John-Michael Liles is no spring chicken anymore at the age of 36 with the fact that he suffered a concussion in late November. Now let’s sprinkle in the facts that he was playing less than 17 minutes per night and has no goals and 11 assists since joining Boston last year and is making $2 million this season. This recipe suggests that Liles won’t be back in Beantown for next year’s training camp. Unfortunately, the concussion means he’d be hard to deal at the deadline even if he returns to full health. In addition, Boston would rather use any money needed for a new contract for Liles to pay pending restricted free agent David Pastrnak, who will be looking for a well-deserved pay increase when his entry-level deal expires.
11 Zac Rinaldo- Boston
Yes, Zac Rinaldo is just 26-years-old and the winger has some NHL experience, but even the Big Bad Bruins prefer skill over brawn these days. Rinaldo, who is seen as a borderline goon by many, is in limbo at the moment as he toils down in the AHL. But who needs Ronaldo after signing Riley Nash, Dominic Moore and David Backes in the offseason? At five-feet-ten-inches and weighing in at about 188 lbs, Rinaldo’s too small to be an effective enforcer and that’s why he leans toward cheap shots. His contract isn’t an issue since it’s $850,000, but he’s not worth the trouble anymore. He’s not trade material around the deadline since there’s rarely fighting in the playoffs and he’s too risky to play more than just a few minutes a game. Ronaldo’s been suspended for more pro games than the nine goals he’s scored in his NHL career and won’t be re-signed in Boston.
10 Frank Corrado- Toronto
It turns out that Toronto didn’t do defenceman Frank Corrado any favours by picking him up on waivers from Vancouver at the start of the 2015-16 season. The 23-year-old was sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint and didn’t make his Leafs debut until mid-December last year. Corrado played just 39 NHL games in Toronto last season, but then agreed to a year-long deal at $600,000. Mike Babcock used Corrado just once this season until finding out blueliner Martin Marincin will be out for up to six weeks. That news coincided with Corrado going public about his unhappiness with the Leafs for not giving him a chance to play. He’s a restricted free agent, but will want to figure out how get out of town as fast as he can when the season ends.
9 Ladislav Smid- Calgary
I’m not sure what 30-year-old defenceman Ladislav Smid did in the first place to earn a four-year, $14 million contract from Edmonton and then why Calgary traded for him. To be honest, he’s injury-prone and simply not worth that kind of money. He missed 51 games in his first full year in Calgary, missed 60 last year and is sitting out the entire 2016-17 campaign with a neck injury. Since he’s injured, the Flames can’t buy him out. When Smid does play, he’s scored one goal and six points in 109 games with the Flames. There’s no way anybody’s going to trade for Smid while he’s injured and I can’t see the Flames offering him any type of contract considering the way things have worked out. Perhaps the best option here for everybody would be if Smid retired at the end of the season.
8 Michael Leighton- Carolina
This is probably the last kick at the can for 35-year-old goalie Michael Leighton. He’s on a one-year, $700,000 deal and recently won his first NHL game in six years when Eddie Lack went down with an injury. Leighton helped Philadelphia reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and shutout Montreal three times in five starts in the Eastern Conference Final. Things went downhill after that though since he played just four NHL games in the next six seasons. He did have a great year in the KHL in 2013-14 and will go down as one of the best goalies ever in the AHL. He played four All-Star Games down in the minors and was named the AHL’s top goalie in 2008. In addition, he currently leads the AHL all time in shutouts with 48, but he won’t be back in Carolina next season.
7 Joe Vitale- Detroit
Thirty-one-year-old winger Joe Vitale will likely never play for the Detroit Red Wings again. In fact, he may never play in the NHL again. Vitale has been ruled out for the current season because of a serious head injury. He was acquired by Detroit last year from Arizona as a throw-in when the Wings dealt Pavel Datsyuk’s contract. The winger had played one game in 2015-16 before being knocked out by Kevan Miller during a fight. Vitale can’t be taken in the upcoming draft by Las Vegas since he’s injured, so he’ll still be a Red Wing until June. But even if he fully recovers, it’s doubtful Detroit will re-sign him and Vitale would probably shop his services around as a free agent. However, he might find it hard to find any takers.
6 Tanner Glass- New York Rangers
Left-winger Tanner Glass has a number of critics, especially with a salary-cap hit of $1.45 million a year. But considering he was drafted 265th overall back in 2003 by Florida, he’s done pretty well for himself. Most people thought he’d never make it to the NHL let alone reach the 500-game mark with four different teams. It looks like the 33-year-old’s days with the Rangers will officially be over at the conclusion of the season though. He’s buried down in the AHL at the moment and has watched in disbelief while several minor league teammates have been called up ahead of him. There’s still a long way to go in the 2016-17 season and Glass may play a part in it, but even if he does, it’s his last campaign as a Ranger.
5 Alexander Radulov- Montreal
There’s no doubt that Alexander Radulov has been one of the best free agent signings of the season. Montreal lured the skilful 30-year-old winger back to the NHL with a one-year deal worth $5.75 million, including a $3 million signing bonus. Radulov played from 2006 to 2008 with Nashville and then went home to Russia and the KHL. He returned to the Predators for just nine games in 2011-12 and promptly went home again after being suspended by coach Barry Trotz for missing curfew in the playoffs. Now some fans are wondering if he’ll take the money and run back to Russia at the end of this season. Another scenario could see the player reject a new contract by the Habs to test free agency next summer. Montreal can start negotiating a new deal with Radulov after January 1st, but there’s no guarantee he’ll re-sign.
4 Gregory Campbell- Columbus
Forward Greg Campbell is basically a pretty useful NHL’er and at $1.5 million a season isn’t overpaid. However, he’s now burned some bridges in Columbus and is highly unlikely to return once his contract expires in June. Campbell was suspended by the Blue Jackets at the start of the current season after he cleared waivers and was sent to the minors. But Campbell threw a spanner in the works by refusing to report to the Cleveland Monsters. It’ll be hard to trade the 32-year-old now due to a perceived attitude problem and there’s a chance he’ll sit out the entire season. Don’t expect Columbus to offer him another deal and don’t expect him to accept one if the unlikely event did happen. He could sign with another NHL team if he gets any offers or Europe is always an option.
3 Rob Scuderi- Los Angeles
Defenceman Rob Scuderi is another veteran who’s on his last legs. He’s in the last season of a four-year deal worth $14 million, but is currently earning his paycheque in the AHL. Scuderi ended up returning to the Kings late last season after also playing in Pittsburgh and Chicago in 2015-16, but at the age of 37 he simply doesn’t fit into their plans anymore. Scuderi has minimal trade value even though he has plenty of NHL experience and could add depth for the playoffs. But it’s more likely that he’ll remain with the Kings organization until his contract runs out and he’ll look to sign elsewhere next season if he doesn’t hang up his skates that is. There won’t be much of a market for an ageing blueliner with eight career goals in close to 800 games though.
2 Matt Hendricks- Edmonton
Oilers’ winger Matt Hendricks didn’t make his 2016-17 season debut until mid-November due to injury and has struggled on the ice since returning. He’s been the obvious choice as the odd man out of the lineup on occasion and considering he’s now 35-years-old and is making $1.85 million he’s not going to be easy to trade. Look for Hendricks to be offered to the rest of the league though between now and the trade deadline without any solid offers coming Edmonton’s way. Hendricks doesn’t offer much in the way of a scoring touch, but does add a bit of grit and sandpaper to a lineup. The most realistic scenario though is the Oilers simply let him walk away at the end of the season and like several others on this list, he’ll try to land a new deal elsewhere next summer.
1 Nick Schultz- Philadelphia
When you’re in the last year of a contract and a healthy scratch for most of the season, you should probably start making plans to look elsewhere for a deal next year. This is the situation for veteran 34-year-old defenceman Nick Schultz of the Flyers. Schultz has been left in his street clothes for 23 of the Flyers first 32 games and since they’re doing just fine without him don’t expect that trend to change anytime soon. Of course the catch-22 is that it’s hard to trade a guy who isn’t playing and even harder to deal if he’s making $2.25 million this year. In addition, Shultz has just five goals to his name and has been a -37 since the 2011-12 season with Minnesota, Edmonton, Columbus and Philly. A trade will be a long shot, so look for Shultz to walk away at the end of the season.