Free agent frenzy is undoubtedly one of the best times of the year for hockey fans around the world. It comes around once a year, like Christmas, though for some die-hard fans, watching your favorite team sign an NHL superstar is comparatively better than a Christmas present.
With the NHL season a quarter of the way complete, what better way to pass the time than to fast forward to potentially the biggest free agent signings of 2018? Unless you’re a Canadian hockey fan, you won’t realize the unmatched importance of the 1st of July. It is a time when hockey players move to new cities and start another exciting chapter in their respective NHL careers.
Like any normal game, some teams win and some lose on July 1st, depending on your team’s ability to lure superstars to your city and their degree of success. This year, there is plenty of buzz surrounding free agent frenzy because of the amount of superstars that are slated to become free agents at year’s end. The more exciting the off-season, the better.
With Christmas past us and the New Year underway, let’s take a look at one of hockey’s greatest treats: free agent frenzy. In today’s article, we will comprehensively look at the top 15 biggest NHL free agents of 2018 and determine where they will sign come July 1st, 2018.
15. Tomas Plekanec
The alternate captain for the Montreal Canadiens was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and has dominated offensively in Montreal ever since. He has posted three 60-plus point seasons and seven 20-plus goal seasons, as well as a decent amount of power-play points (178). Plekanec is a reliable two-way, top-6 centerman who has a high hockey IQ and is also a veteran leader on the Canadiens. He is playing in his 13th NHL season, all with Montreal, and is in the last year of his contract paying him $6 million annually.
The 35-year-old Czech centerman has been a key member of the Canadiens’ playoff runs in recent years, but with his role decreasing as stars like Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher continue to bear the name of the franchise, he might want to leave the only team that he’s played for in his prolonged NHL career in search of a more significant role, as well as a much needed change of scenery.
14. Mike Green
The 32-year-old defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings is an offensive powerhouse from the back-end and has helped Detroit stay competitive for a playoff spot this season after missing the playoffs last year for the first time in 25 years. He is the Red Wings’ star defenseman, and uses his size and skill to create ample open space for forwards to score. Green is currently on pace to surpass the 40-point plateau for the 4th time in his offense-minded career. He is playing in his 13th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $6 million annually.
The former 29th overall pick for the Washington Capitals in 2004 has been consistent both offensively and defensively during his tenure with the Red Wings; however, he hasn’t reached the same degree of offensive success as he did in Washington, which included two 70-plus point campaigns. If Green wants to maximize his offensive talent and progress farther in the playoffs, he must sign with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender who will regularly play him on the top pairing.
13. Tyler Bozak
The alternate captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been a dependable two-way, top-6 centerman who is touted for his versatility and play-making abilities. Since the Saskatchewan native joined the Maple Leafs after going undrafted, he has accumulated four 40-plus point seasons and is slated to add another offensively successful season to his hockey resume. Bozak is playing in his ninth NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $4.2 million annually, which happens to coincide with his jersey number (#42).
At the age of 31, the versatile forward is currently among the leadership group in Toronto but his role will quickly diminish as young superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner continue to establish their offensive dominance. With the Maple Leafs roster leaning towards their surplus of talented youngsters, Bozak will probably want out if his ice time continues to diminish.
12. Kari Lehtonen
The 34-year-old goaltender for the Dallas Stars has been struggling the past few seasons and has seen himself be demoted to the back-up position behind newly-acquired starting goalie Ben Bishop. The Finnish native is playing in his 14th NHL season and entering the last year in his contract paying him $5.9 million annually. Although he has been considerably consistent, with eight 20-plus win seasons, he has only led the Stars to two playoff appearances, with the most recent being in 2016 where they reached the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With Dallas’ starting goaltender set for the future with the tall, talented Ben Bishop, Lehtonen will probably want to leave Dallas in search of a team that will play him often. Although his age is quickly catching up to him, the former 2nd-overall pick in 2002 of the then-Atlanta Thrashers must maximize his talents and sign with a team with weak goaltending depth if he wants to get another shot at a starting goalie position next season.
11. Jack Johnson
The 30-year-old defenseman and alternate captain has been a staple on the Blue Jackets’ blue-line since 2012 and has logged a ton of minutes as one of the team’s veterans. The 6’1″ defenseman has been defensively consistent and reliable; he has been an excellent mentor and role-model for Columbus’ young defenseman, including former first round picks Seth Jones and Zachary Werenski. As a former first round pick (3rd-overall), he has transitioned into the NHL smoothly and contributes offensively. He is playing in his 12th NHL season and entering the last year in his contract paying him nearly $4.4 million annually.
With Columbus’ blue-line leaning towards their youngsters with the emergence of the top pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, it looks like Jack Johnson isn’t going to be depended on as much and his minutes will subsequently decrease. If Johnson wants to be the star defenseman on an NHL team, it’s obvious that he needs to sign somewhere else.
10. Patric Hornqvist
The newly-turned 31-year-old right-winger for the Pittsburgh Penguins is a proficient goal-scorer and play-maker who complemented Pittsburgh’s superstars incredibly well during their successful playoff journey to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since his arrival to Pittsburgh from the Nashville Predators in 2014, he has excelled and built considerable success off of his talented teammates as a result of their chemistry. He has surpassed the 50-point plateau four times in his career and is on pace for a personal best in points in a single season.
The skillful Swedish forward is playing in his 10th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $4.25 million annually. The former 7th-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft has showcased his offensive abilities alongside Pittsburgh’s plentiful superstars, but it may be wise for Hornqvist to explore free agency if he wants to collect more cash, just like what ex-teammate Nick Bonino did last off-season.
9. James van Riemsdyk
The 28-year-old left-winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs has been an excellent leader and mentor for Toronto’s young stars, which is especially important to their rebuilding team. After being acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, the New Jersey native has found a comfortable home primarily on Toronto’s top line, which effectively highlights his offensive abilities and hockey IQ. Van Riemsdyk is a major contributor to Toronto’s offensive outburst this year, as well as to their journey to the playoffs last season.
The 6’3″ forward and former 2nd overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft is playing in his 9th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $4.25 million annually. He is leading the offensive charge in Toronto and acting as a mentor to young stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. As much as he likes playing with them, van Riemsdyk may feel he will soon be eclipsed by Toronto’s young stars, which could lead him to explore other teams who can provide him with top-line minutes on a nightly basis.
8. Evander Kane
The 26-year-old left-winger for the Buffalo Sabres is finally starting to mature and fulfill his offensive potential as a former 4th-overall pick of the then-Atlanta Thrashers. Since arriving in Buffalo after being traded from Winnipeg in 2015, Kane has progressively grown into his own skin as an aggressive, offensive player. He has quickly become an effective scoring threat in Buffalo, along with star-studded teammate Jack Eichel, and is on pace to demolish his personal best in points in a single season.
The offensively skilled 6’2″ forward is playing in his 9th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $5.25 million annually. Although Kane has developed chemistry with Eichel, which may persuade him to stay in Buffalo, it is likely that the prime-aged forward will sign with a playoff-bound team, where he can use his offensive talents to pursue an NHL championship.
7. John Carlson
The 27-year-old defenseman for the Washington Capitals has been a staple on their blue-line for years and has proven himself to be a reliable No.1 defenseman on a playoff team. The smooth defensive operator has consistently put up 30-plus points each season, including a personal best 55 points three seasons ago, and is on pace to potentially reach the 60-point plateau for the first time in his career. The offensively gifted, power-play quarterback defenseman is playing in his ninth NHL season, all with the Capitals, and is in the last year of his contract paying him nearly $4 million annually.
The 6’3″ American and longtime Capitals defenseman has been outstanding with his ability to create open ice for talented forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, which enables them to easily score on the fly or on the power-play. However, if he wants to seek more money, which the Capitals are likely unable to give him, fans should expect Carlson to leave the only hockey city he’s ever known.
6. Paul Stastny
The newly-turned 32-year-old for the St. Louis Blues is an excellent top-6 centerman who has contributed to the team’s regular season success and helped lead them to 3 consecutive playoff appearances in as many years as he’s played in St. Louis. The former 2nd round pick of the Colorado Avalanche signed with St. Louis on July 1st, 2014 and has not looked back since. The offensively gifted forward has found a home in St. Louis and has posted three consecutive 40-plus point seasons.
The 6-foot American centerman is playing in his 12th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $7 million annually. Since he isn’t the 70-point player he was anymore, the St. Louis organization might not want him back because of the money he was earning. Come July 1st, Stastny might want to find a better fit for his style of play.
5. James Neal
The 30-year-old star forward and assistant captain for the Vegas Golden Knights has led the offensive charge in Sin City and acted as a positive mentor for the newest team in the NHL. Since the expansion draft, Neal has been a positive influence on his teammates and used his experience to bring success to Vegas. The once 80-point player is touted for his knack for scoring goals and his wicked wrist-shot. He is playing in his 10th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $5 million annually.
The 6’2″ left-winger is still searching for his first Stanley Cup championship despite multiple lengthy playoff runs with both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, the closest being last season when he reached the Stanley Cup Finals. Although Vegas is currently atop the Pacific Division, Neal may want to sign with a team that has other star players who he can play with and build success off of.
4. Rick Nash
The 33-year-old right-winger and assistant captain for the New York Rangers is a scoring machine and has used his filthy hands and goal-scoring instincts to lead the Rangers to playoff success. Nash is a strong and fierce competitor who recently played in his 1,000th NHL game. The Ontario native has been a reliable top-line winger for the Rangers and can make big-time plays. He is playing in his 15th NHL season and is in the last year for his contract paying him a hefty $7.8 million annually.
The 6’4″ forward and former 1st-overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft has established himself as an elite goal-scorer in the NHL over the past decade. However, the veteran forward is also still searching for his first Stanley Cup. Although he has reached considerable playoff success with the Rangers, it may be time for a change of scenery for Nash next season.
3. Daniel And Henrik Sedin
The 37-year-old Swedish twins for the Vancouver Canucks have been consistently producing outstanding offensive numbers over the past decade and longer. They have been the backbone of the Canucks’ offense for years now and have led the team to multiple playoff berths, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. As one unit, they are constantly touted for their chemistry, vision and hockey IQ. They are playing in their 17th NHL season, all with the Canucks, and are in the last year of their identical contracts paying them each $7 million annually.
The longtime Vancouver Canucks twins have poured out their heart and soul for the team over the past decade and have been quintessential leaders for young aspiring hockey players. The once 100-point scoring twins and Art Ross Trophy winners have repeatedly perpetuated their desire to stay in the city of Vancouver, as per their article for The Players’ Tribune; however, in the unlikely case that they choose to chase the Stanley Cup, returning to Vancouver will not be a viable option.
2. Joe Thornton
The heavily bearded 38-year-old centerman and alternate captain for the San Jose Sharks is known for his play-making abilities and crafty hands around the net. Dubbed as “Jumbo Joe,” the burly 6’4″ Canadian centerman has been producing offensively at an elite level for over a decade and is not showing any signs of stopping soon. He has been leading the charge in San Jose since 2005 and has not looked back since. He is playing in his 20th NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $8 million annually.
The former 1st-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft has been a constant threat in the NHL since the beginning of the 21st century and is still as passionate as ever as he continues to pursue his first Stanley Cup championship. He has had multiple lengthy playoff runs with San Jose, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2016. If Thornton wants to emerge victorious in the playoffs, he might benefit from exploring free agency this coming off-season.
1. John Tavares
The multi-talented 27-year-old centerman and captain for the New York Islanders has been lighting up the lamp this season and is known for his distinct creativity around the net. Since his NHL debut in the 2009-10 season, he has recorded elite offensive totals consistently and has established himself as a franchise centerman. He has surpassed the 80-point plateau two times in his distinguished career and is on pace to reach the prestigious 100-point plateau.
The 6’1″ Ontario native forward and former 1st-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is playing in his ninth NHL season and is in the last year of his contract paying him $5.5 million annually. He is due for a substantial raise after posting elite offensive NHL numbers over the past few years and will certainly be the most prized free agent come July 1st, 2018. With the future in his control, Tavares may decide to sign with his hometown team and endeavor to lead a young group of talented hockey players to Stanley Cup glory.
Destination: Toronto Maple Leafs
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