Although the 2017-18 NHL season seems like a life-time away, you can bet Las Vegas NHL franchise owner Bill Foley and recently named general manager George McPhee, have already begun assembling a committee to evaluate prospective free agents for the 2017 offseason. The list of possible free agents will undoubtedly change over the next season, and many of the players acquired by the new Las Vegas franchise will be through the expansion draft. However, this list was made in anticipation of these 15 players becoming free agents.
It must be noted that the expansion draft next season will likely cause general managers to be a bit more frugal with where they spend money this next year. It’s likely that teams are going to spend money on their expansion protected players who are approaching free agency status, which may result in other players becoming available via free agency next summer.
This list was compiled by analyzing the individual strengths that we’ve seen over the last few seasons. Looking at past Stanley Cup winning teams, there are many similarities, which will likely be emulated by other general managers, including George McPhee. These similarities include, reliable and physical defense, with a combination of speed, grit, and skill on offense. Faceoffs and reliable goaltending are other crucial factors. If we were to put together a Las Vegas NHL team, these 15 free agents could be wearing the inaugural jerseys.
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15 Boyd Gordon
Gordon was drafted 17th overall in the 2002 draft by the Washington Capitals. Gordon made his NHL debut in 2003 and played in 41 games his rookie year and posted 82 points throughout his seven years with the Capitals. Over the last few years however, he has struggled with consistency. He is a veteran player who has identified his strengths as a defensive center, who can win faceoffs and lead the penalty kill. Additionally, Gordon has a career faceoff winning percentage of 55.5%, and last season his 57.9% was fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage, compared to those with a minimum of 500 faceoff attempts.
The Philadelphia Flyers have signed Gordon to a one year, $950,000 deal, to fill their need for a shutdown fourth-line center. Despite his performance next season in Philadelphia, the Flyers may not be interested in renewing his services following the expansion draft, as their money may be tied up in one or several of their talented stars. Thus, Gordon could end up wearing a Las Vegas jersey in 2017.
14 Harry Zolnierczyk
The 28-year-old Toronto native has had a tough time finding his place in the NHL. He’s learned to play all three forward positions and his greatest attribute is his skating. However, his size has left him injury prone and unable to stay up in the NHL. Last season, Zolnierczyk scored six goals and posted three assists during his 24 games with Anaheim’s affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. Zolnierczyk has found success in the minors, but that hasn’t translated to the NHL quite yet. In his 60 career NHL games, Zolnierczyk has five goals and four assists.
In building a successful franchise, George McPhee will surely look for young talent that will be able to lead this team in the future. It’s quite probable that Zolnierczyk will spend a majority of the next season in the minors, but look for him to make the most of his time in the NHL. If he does well, but fails to get a new deal, he will be a target for the Las Vegas franchise.
13 Phillip Di Giuseppe
Drafted 38th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old left winger put up promising numbers in his rookie campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes. In the 41 games he played for the Hurricanes, Di Giuseppe had seven goals and ten assists; and for all you advanced analytic fans out there, Di Giuseppe had an impressive 1.77 points per 60 at even strength. In Di Giuseppe’s first season, he played with Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner. Di Giuseppe became one of Carolina’s best forecheckers and he was one of the reasons for the turnaround of the Carolina Hurricanes' season.
As previously mentioned, the need for McPhee to bring in some youth to the Las Vegas roster is a priority. Carolina’s need to protect their young defensive core may jeopardize the Hurricanes' ability to keep Di Giuseppe on the team. Additionally, you can bet that McPhee is well aware of the predicament that Carolina is in, and willing to exploit it.
12 Ryan Miller
One-time American hero, Ryan Miller may end up being a free agent next summer. If he does, you can bet George McPhee will do everything he can to bring Miller to Las Vegas. The sell shouldn’t be too difficult either, considering that Miller would want to be close to his wife (see actress Noureen DeWulf) in Los Angeles, which is a quick 45-minute flight from Las Vegas.
The Canucks have had good goaltending for the past decade, and their goaltending core now is no different. Miller is 36 and nearing the end of his career, while Jacob Markstrom’s time may be nearing. Markstrom is 6’6” and has put up pretty decent numbers and shows a ton of potential. It’s likely that Jim Benning is considering this, along with whether or not it is worth paying $6 million to keep Miller in net. The new Las Vegas franchise will be able to pay Miller much more than many other teams will, and if Miller can put together a decent year, you can bet he will be a target for Las Vegas.
11 Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek is a guy that should end up on the Las Vegas roster. Vanek can provide veteran leadership on the ice and in the locker room. The 32-year old has struggled to produce the numbers that he did during his time in Buffalo, but he still had 39 goals and 93 points over the last two seasons with Minnesota. The Wild bought out Vanek this summer, but on July 1st Vanek signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings, who are hoping to see Vanek return to his former self.
Regardless of whether Vanek meets the Red Wings' expectations, he will more than likely be available for the Las Vegas team to claim. It is also worth noting that Vanek’s only 32 years old, and during his 11-year NHL career, he’s posted 316 goals and 649 points. At the end of the day, the Las Vegas team is going to need scoring, and Vanek is capable of doing just that.
10 Daniel Winnik
By no means is this a pretty pick up, but it is likely that Daniel Winnik will end up in a Las Vegas jersey in the 2017-18 season. Winnik is a seasoned veteran, but he hasn’t found a place to call home in the NHL for more than a couple seasons. Winnik will put up around 20-30 points a season, but what makes Winnik desirable is his ability to adapt to new teams and learn the styles of his teammates, which will be critical to begin developing chemistry on the ice.
In addition to his versatility, Winnik is a pretty good defensive forward. His possession numbers are average, but his work on the penalty kill is, perhaps, his greatest strength. Lately, his abilities on the penalty kill have made him a desirable deadline acquisition for playoff contending teams, which explains why he hasn’t found a long term home in the league. But, he’s 6’2”, 203 pounds and he’s a pretty good skater. I don’t think that Washington will renew Winnik’s contract next year, but this could all change if he makes a compelling statement this upcoming year. It’s likely McPhee will consider acquiring Winnik’s services in Las Vegas, particularly to build a solid bottom-six alongside Boyd Gordon.
9 Mark Streit
Mark Streit may fall victim to the expansion draft, especially when you consider the importance that Philadelphia will place on maintaining their young defensive corps. Gostisbehere and Sanheim will need to be protected, and the Flyers will likely need to make a decision between Del Zotto and Streit. Unfortunately for Streit, his age may be the ultimate factor when the Flyers decide whether they will protect Streit from the expansion draft or give him another deal, considering his $5.2 million cap hit. The Flyers have a ton of young talent, and next summer, Gostisbehere, Del Zotto, and Bellemare will all be due for contract extensions and raises. This could result in the Flyers being unable to resign Streit before July 1, and the Las Vegas franchise picking him up in free agency.
Streit has 194 career power play points, with 46 of those being goals. He’s a physical defender who can create offense from the blue line. The Las Vegas franchise is hoping to compete for a Stanley Cup in record time for an expansion team, and Mark Streit could lay a solid foundation for the team.
8 Rob Scuderi
Two-time Stanley Cup winner, Rob Scuderi will be a UFA next summer barring an extension from the Kings. The 37-year-old blueliner has been back and forth between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, with a short stop in Chicago. Rob Scuderi brings a very specific game to the table. He’s a stout defender, and almost always finishes the season with a positive +/- stat. He is not one to produce offensively, but a team can rely on him to block shots and eat crucial minutes on defense. Additionally, Scuderi can be used regularly on the penalty kill, and he’s rarely in the penalty box himself.
A new franchise will undoubtedly take time to develop chemistry, and during the initial feeling out period, you can bet that there will be quite a few defensive lapses. Stay at home defensemen, like Rob Scuderi, prevent disastrous outcomes from defensive- and neutral- zone mistakes, and give a team a chance to win games.
7 Steve Ott
There’s no doubt that Steve Ott’s productivity drastically decreased while he was in St. Louis, but pay close attention to him during this upcoming season with the Detroit Red Wings, particularly alongside Thomas Vanek. Ott is a veteran leader who displayed his ability to get the best out of his teammates, as evidenced during his time in Buffalo. Ott will establish a work ethic among the team in Las Vegas, and he will not be content with mediocrity.
Ott will fill another spot in a bottom 6 role for Las Vegas. It should also be noted that the top-6 spots are likely going to be filled by players that will be under contract, and not free agents. Ott is a defensive minded center with loads of experience. He may not reach the productivity level he once had in Dallas, where he reached a career-high 49 points, but he is worth the gamble.
6 Kris Russell
Kris Russell has got to be an interesting prospect for the Las Vegas franchise. Prior to being traded to the Dallas Stars at the 2016 trade deadline, Russell was highly regarded, for his shot blocking and defensive abilities. However, Russell wasn’t able to live up to his hype, which leaves him without a contract at the moment. His less than stellar play at the end of last season, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. He only played in 11 games with the Stars. NBC Sports’ Adam Gretz, has mentioned that a few “mystery teams” may be looking to acquire Russell’s services, but Russell landing a long term deal may be unlikely. Thus, he could be a free agent again next year, and susceptible to being acquired by Las Vegas.
Russell is 29 and can bring more defensive stability to Las Vegas. Moreover, Russell is a good skater and moves well with the puck. Although consistency may be the biggest risk for McPhee, Russell may be worth a gamble. He may just need a change of scenery to pick up his performance.
5 John Scott
This may be the most entertaining possible free agent pickup for the new Las Vegas franchise, though I don’t think it’s likely to happen. Scott has a measly five goals and six assists in his eight-year career, so he certainly won’t be brought in for his skill. This could be a strong business move that would bring a fan favorite to Las Vegas. Not only is Scott beloved by his teammates; league-wide, fans are enamored by Scott and his story. He’s going to sell a ton of jerseys purely because of how he stuck it to the league during the All-Star Game in Nashville. On the ice, however, he may not be the most productive left winger, but he’s got size and his teammates all genuinely enjoy having him around.
Scott is a UFA this upcoming season and despite the speculation that he played his final NHL game in Montreal, you can bet the 33-year-old wants to make a return.
4 Teddy Purcell
This summer, the Los Angeles Kings welcomed back Teddy Purcell with a one-year deal. Purcell began his career with the Kings, but was traded to the Lightning in 2010 where he established his value. In the 2011-12 season, Purcell put up career highs with 24 goals and 65 points. Nowadays, Purcell is good for 30+ points a season. Purcell will be a UFA next summer and his availability as a free agent will depend on the season he has this year. However, I’m willing to bet that Purcell has a tough season, and ends up a free agent next summer, if not sooner.
Purcell can bring offensive skill to Las Vegas. He’s a complimentary winger who can set up his teammates and snipe the top corner. Purcell lacks consistency on offense and he’s mediocre, at best, on defense. However, Purcell can contribute on the power play, and given the right combination of linemates, his inabilities on defense may be offset.
3 Jarret Stoll
At first glance, this seems like a terrible idea, especially when you consider Stoll’s offseason party shenanigans. Last summer, Jarret Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas in possession of cocaine and MDMA, which could account for some hesitation in adding him to the Las Vegas roster. But when you look at what this 14 year NHL veteran can bring to the table, it becomes apparent that a new franchise will benefit with Stoll on the roster. In his career, Stoll has won 55.5% of his faceoffs. Moreover, last season Stoll won 57.88% of his faceoffs with the Rangers, and 56.67% of his faceoffs after being picked up off waivers from the Wild.
Sure, Stoll’s game has declined over the past few seasons, but he is a faceoff guru. Stoll can win those timely draws in the defensive zone, and he can be utilized both in power play and penalty kill situations. Stoll also brings experience, having won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings. Currently, Stoll is on a professional tryout contract with the Blue Jackets, so barring any unforeseen circumstances, such as retirement, it is likely that Stoll will be available to the Las Vegas franchise.
2 Cory Conacher
Cory Conacher is one of the most interesting prospects out there. Conacher is set to become a UFA next summer and will likely remain unprotected by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they are already facing difficulties figuring out who they are going to protect from the expansion draft. Conacher is young and is searching for a long term destination. Conacher has been passed around the league, like a bottle of cheap vodka at a high school party, but that doesn’t mean the kid isn’t worth the gamble.
Conacher is a smaller forward, weighing in at 180 pounds, but he doesn’t shy away from contact with anybody. Conacher has a killer shot and great offensive instincts. He reads the ice well and can possess the puck both in open-ice and in the corners. In Conacher’s 141-game career, he has posted 19 goals and 58 points, despite being given the opportunity to stay in the lineup and develop any sort of chemistry with his line-mates. The Las Vegas team is going to need young players that will grow with the franchise and lead the team into the future. Conacher has the potential to do just that.
1 Alex Petrovic
Alex Petrovic could potentially be the biggest free agent steal next summer. While it is entirely probable that the Las Vegas franchise acquires Petrovic in the expansion draft, it is also possible that Petrovic survives the expansion draft, but becomes a restricted free agent next summer. With the available cap space that Las Vegas will have, they will have more money to throw at the young defenseman. Florida is facing much uncertainty when it comes to Petrovic, but if Florida ends up in a bidding war with Las Vegas, I don’t like their chances.
Petrovic can bring a physical defensive game to the team. He’s not afraid to lay the boom, and he’s only going to get better. At 24, Petrovic is coming off a career best year. Although he hasn’t produced significantly on offense, Petrovic is regarded as one of Florida’s top young defensemen. If McPhee is looking to add a quality franchise player to the Las Vegas roster, he should put himself in a good position to acquire Petrovic.
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