The year of 2017 promises to be intriguing for NHL fans. You're going to have your usual hectic trade deadline, thrilling Stanley Cup playoffs, history-changing draft and free agent frenzy. But for many reasons, the last few months of the 2016-17 seasons promise to be more interesting than most.
That's because there is an incredible amount of star players who are slated to become free agents, and even more who are likely to be traded for multiple reasons. There are a number of top-notch stars who are entering the twilight years of their respective careers, and therefore have to make some difficult decisions.
What I'm trying to get at is this: There will be a huge number of big names changing teams and/or career paths in 2017. So what's going to happen to 15 current NHL stars next season? Here is an early projection at where these guys will be headed in the foreseeable future.
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19 Artemi Panarin: Traded to Washington Capitals
This could be a tough trade to pull off, but it's not out of the question. The Chicago Blackhawks have had salary cap troubles for many years. It's led to studs like Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp having to be traded over the years.
Well, the Blackhawks have another problem. Artemi Panarin's their top scorer and has every right to ask for around $6 million a season. Chicago has just under $400,000 in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.
Chicago doesn't have any big contracts coming off the books, so they'll likely be forced to trade Panarin. They'll want to trade him to the East, and the Washington Capitals make sense. With T.J. Oshie becoming a free agent, look for the Capitals to replace him by giving Chicago a mega package for Panarin.
18 Patrick Sharp: Gets Traded, Signs with Boston
Patrik Sharp was a crucial part of the Chicago Blackhawks' three Stanley Cup championships, but was traded to the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2015 for salary cap reasons. Sharp's struggling in Big D, and with the team's playoff hopes in jeopardy, they could look to dangle him at the trade deadline.
The Pittsburgh Penguins love bargain hunting at the deadline and could make a deal to acquire the pending free agent. Any playoff contender would be happy to bring him, and it's anybody's guess where he is.
When the offseason rolls around, Sharp to Boston makes sense. They're having problems scoring and are still trying to keep their championship window open. Sharp to Boston on a one-year deal worth around $4 million would make sense.
17 Thomas Vanek: Europe or the KHL
It's not that long ago where Thomas Vanek was one of the more flashy goal-scorers. He has six seasons of 60-plus points, but those days are long gone. After a disappointing outing with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 playoffs, the Minnesota Wild signed him to a three-year deal.
He was a disappointment there and had the final year of his contract bought out. The Detroit Red Wings signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal. Vanek's unlikely to score 50 points again, and the interest in him these days is clearly lacking.
Like most past-their-prime veterans do, expect Vanek to take his final playing days in Europe. The KHL loves bringing in former NHL stars, and Vanek would surely be more productive overseas.
16 Patrick Marleau: Signs with Anaheim Ducks
The San Jose Sharks had tried moving Patrick Marleau in the past, and his no-trade clause allowed him to decide where he wanted to go. CSN California reported last year that the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers were the teams he was interested in accepting a trade to.
The Rangers are beginning a youth movement, and the Ducks appear to be bigger contenders than the Kings at this point. Marleau clearly isn't worried about going to a rival (which would hurt many Sharks fans) and Anaheim could come calling. The Sharks don't need the 37-year-old beyond this season, and the Ducks Cup window is closing. They have to make the big moves, and Marleau would be a nice fit on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
It's a match made in Heaven. A one-year deal for around $3.5 million would be ideal for both.
15 Martin Hanzal: Gets Traded, Signs with San Jose Sharks
Martin Hanzal is set to become a free agent, and the struggling Arizona Coyotes will have to get something for him at the trade deadline. A trade to the Montreal Canadiens, who lack centre depth and size, are the ideal fit. They'll surrender a first or second round pick and prospect or two in the deal. But they won't re-sign him in the offseason.
The Sharks, if my projections are correct, will be moving on from a pair of franchise legends. They're going to look to get younger yet stronger up the middle, and Martin Hanzal would be a perfect replacement for a guy we'll get to later. Look for San Jose to get aggressive and sign him to a five-year deal worth around $25 million.
14 Jarome Iginla: Retirement
Jarome Iginla is one of the greatest pure goal-scorers ever and will eventually be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup championship for the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Iginla has 12 30-goal seasons to his name and has scored 20 goals in all but one 82-game regular season campaigns. Sadly, his age is starting to show, as he has just four goals and eight points with the lowly Colorado Avalanche this season. A trade is inevitable at the deadline, but a retirement is even more obvious at this point.
The 39-year-old will get traded to a legitimate contender, and the Chicago Blackhawks make a lot of sense; they would give him the best opportunity. But Iginla will also give in to father time and announce his retirement in 2017, ending the career of a legend.
13 Jaromir Jagr: Returns to Pittsburgh Penguins
Jaromir Jagr has been one of the most intriguing stories. After he left to play in the KHL for the 2008-09 season, many thought we'd never see him back in North America. Eight years later, it's anyone's guess when he will retire. Jagr has stated that he's going to try to play until he's 50, which is five years away.
The Florida Panthers aren't building off a 2016 Atlantic Division-winning season, but they remain in playoff contention for now. Look for them to hang onto Jagr for a run at the Stanley Cup. But when the offseason comes, the long-awaited return to the Steel City for Jagr takes place.
In the summer, look for the Penguins to bring him on board for a one-year deal worth around $3 million. Jagr returns to the team where he won a pair of Stanley Cups. And he gets to play with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin. Yes, please.
11 Ben Bishop: Signs with Calgary Flames
The Flames were close to trading for Ben Bishop at the 2016 NHL Draft, but they couldn't come to terms on an extension. As a result, they traded for Brian Elliot from the St. Louis Blues, and Bishop remains a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Elliot has struggled in Calgary, and Bishop's been outplayed by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Couple that with Bishop's UFA status in 2017, and his departure is inevitable. Logic says that Steve Yzerman will hang onto Bishop for a run at the Stanley Cup and willingly let him leave for nothing.
Though Chad Johnson has stood out for the Flames, they can't trust a career backup to be their long-term starter. Acquiring Bishop gives them a Certified G (G as in goalie) and Bonafide Stud in net. Expect them to sign Bishop to a lucrative deal - something close to five years, $35 million.
9 Alexander Radulov: Re-signs with Montreal Canadiens
Habs' general manager Marc Bergevin took a gamble on Alexander Radulov in the offseason, signing the KHL star to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million. Radulov has given the Habs everything they needed - he has six goals and 23 points with a plus-seven rating.
Back in November, Radulov's agent, Maxim Moliver, told La Presse that his client is eager to talk an extension with the team, as he's loved the city and the team. The Canadiens' scoring problems over the years were well-documented, but Radulov has been a major solution to the issue.
Though Bergevin will want to be careful with handing a 31-year-old a major contract, look for the two sides to come to a bridge deal. Radulov will return to the Canadiens on a three-year deal worth around $15.5 million.
8 T.J. Oshie: Signs with Nashville Predators
T.J. Oshie is among the NHL's best two-way forwards in the game. He was a key piece of the Washington Capitals' 2016 Presidents' Trophy-winning season. Oshie had 10 points in 12 playoff games, and everyone recalls his excellene at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Though not quite a superstar, he's the type of player that can be the difference maker on a team trying to win a championship.
The Capitals will likely fail to meet Oshie's asking price and look at other options in the offseason, so expect the Predators to make the move. Most elite teams are fine at right wing and can't afford him, but Nashville lacks a star on the wing. Imagine Oshie playing with rising star, Ryan Johansen.
The Predators also play a strong two-way system that would fit Oshie's style of play. It's a perfect match and they need to bring in more skill to compete in the Central Division. Look for Oshie to come on a five-year deal worth around $23 million.
7 Joe Thornton: Signs with Ottawa Senators
Like Marleau, Joe Thornton's time in San Jose will come to an end in 2017. Jumbo Joe is starting to show his age and isn't the Sharks' face any more. This is now Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture's team, and the Sharks know they need to get younger. Thornton will want to put retirement on home, and there will be a lot of teams bidding for his services.
Though the Ottawa Senators have forward depth, they lack experienced veterans. Thornton could slot in as the top centre, or even fill in nicely at number two. The Senators could sign him at an affordable two-year, $10-12 million deal. None of the main contenders have cap space and/or they have enough depth at centre.
This is a perfect fit, and Ottawa's window is slowly starting to open up. Look for them to bring in the 2006 Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner.
4 Derek Stepan: Traded to Minnesota Wild
The New York Rangers have a great problem: Too many forwards.
Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey and Rick Nash already give them enough scorers. Aside from Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, the Rangers don't have a lot of depth or talent on defence, and that's a necessity to competing in the ultra-difficult Metropolitan Division.
Kevin Allen from USA Today predicted that Stepan would be traded "for help on defence," noting that his no-trade clause doesn't begin until the summer. Per CapFriendly.com, Derek Stepan has four more years on his deal with a $6.5 million cap hit.
Well, the Minnesota Wild are allowing the fewest goals this season. They don't have any bonafide stars at forward but they're loaded with defensive studs: Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella.
An ideal trade would be for the Rangers to ship him to Minnesota for Dumba and a second-round pick.
3 Kevin Shattenkirk: Signs with Detroit Red Wings
Kevin Shattenkirk was rumored to be a trade candidate this past offseason, as the St. Louis Blues haven't been able to agree on an extension. They'll likely keep the pending UFA for the playoffs, then allow him to find a new home. Shattenkirk's been linked to the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings, who desperately need a top-pairing blueliner with a right-hand shot.
The Red Wings need to begin a rebuild, and landing that legitimate top-end defenceman would be a great star. Ken Holland had no problem overpaying Frans Nielsen and Jonathan Eriksson, so why not Shattenkirk?
Though he may prefer to go to a contender, it'll be hard for Shattenkirk to walk away from a lucrative offer. Look for Detroit to land Shattenkirk at a mega deal: Six-years worth $42 million.
2 Marc-Andre Fleury: Traded to Dallas Stars
The Stars are among the NHL's highest-scoring teams, but they were sent home in the second-round of last season's playoffs because of horrendous goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
Both goalies are holding back an otherwise talented team, and both are free agents after 2017-18. The Penguins are going to keep Matt Murray as their starter, and will look to trade Fleury before the Expansion Draft.
Look for Dallas to work out a deal that brings in Marc-Andre Fleury while sending over Niemi as a suitable backup, plus their first-round pick in 2017 and perhaps a second-round pick in 2018. Fleury would instantly fix their goaltending woes and make them a contender, while the Penguins would get a nice return for their second goalie.
1 Daniel and Henrik Sedin: Stay in Vancouver...For Now
I recently projected that the Sedin twins would be traded to the Ottawa Senators. But seemingly every week, a trade seems more unlikely. President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning have repeatedly said they won't trade any veterans unless they ask for it, and the Sedins want to stay around for the rebuild.
Right now, it's hard to see a trade really happening. They each have one year left and combine for $14 million of cap space. The Canucks will likely hold onto them in the summer and then perhaps trade them at the 2018 trade deadline. Vancouver has this thing for keeping veterans way too long, and it's hard to see them snapping out of that tradition by giving up the two best players in franchise history.
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