National Hockey League players and General Managers will undoubtedly be hearing the sound of cash registers as July 1st 2017 hits. This past year saw teams spend in excess of $300 million dollars within the first twenty minutes after unrestricted free agents could be signed. What does the coming year have in store, as a number of credible and successful players will be available? It is an interesting crop of players; some are known for the championships they've won either in the NHL or internationally, while others are on the cusp of greatness, still under the age of 30 with room to grow. There are also players that, though they may not have won a championship, offer leadership that is valuable to a young team, to help steer the ship in the right direction, a concern the Edmonton Oilers have had over the past few seasons.
More questions will arise as to whether those that are on the verge of leaving their current teams will leave for more money or better opportunity. It is a gamble that not only the teams are making, but one the players are making in the hopes that the decision goes smoothly for all involved.
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15 T.J. Oshie
The former St. Louis Blue and key player in the Washington Capitals playoff success moves into impending Free Agency after the 2016-2017 season. Oshie has been a top six forward throughout his career, and at just under 30 years of age he doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. Something to note is that Oshie has scored 50 or more points in four of his eight seasons, and just fell short in the 2009-2010 season by twp points. The key, like with any player's success, is staying healthy, and that holds true with Oshie. Over the past three seasons he has played seventy or more games, and has contributed high point totals to both St. Louis and Washington. Oshie will earn just over $4 million this coming season, and provided he can continue to remain healthy will earn a healthy payday the following season.
14 Shane Doan
The career Arizona Coyote (and Winnipeg Jet) signed a one-year deal this past season, once again showing his commitment to both the city and the organization. At 39 years of age, Doan doesn't appear to be headed anywhere any time soon. However, with each passing year the value of his leadership to any team cannot be understated. The idea of going to a championship contender with the prospect of winning at least once before his career is over has to be something he, his family and the Coyote organization have had cross their minds. The question is what number will make Doan change his mind, if at all. It may very well not be about money, but the chance to win that entices him to change teams. Doan may end his career in Arizona, but he still would hold value as a free agent at the end of next season.
13 Chris Kunitz
To some he may not seem like a huge potential free agent, but for the Pittsburgh Penguins Kunitz is a key top six forward they can't allow to get away, despite his age. The somewhat diminutive forward has been productive throughout his career. While he has benefitted from spending the majority of his career alongside Sidney Crosby, his on ice production was evident as an undrafted player competing for the CCHA Ferris State Bulldogs. His numbers may have declined slightly over the past season, but it must be noted that his role has also changed as well. He averaged half a point a game while playing in 80 games this past season. While he may not be given a long-term deal, it would be fair to say that he will be given a cap friendly one considering he will be 37 and has a Stanley Cup championship on his resume.
12 Brian Elliott
Elliott appears to be the much needed boost in goal that the Calgary Flames will need in net. His calm and controlled manner will be a much needed lift for the rather young team. As he is currently earning $2.5 million going into his free agent season, Elliott can play himself into a bigger and better contract. The 31-year-old has changed his style and approach to goaltending; similar to other goalies such as James Reimer in Florida and Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota, Elliott has changed how he approaches stopping the puck and is much more controlled in the crease. Elliott may be traded prior to the trade deadline depending on Calgary's standing at the time. If they are sellers, then Elliott will be vital to a team's success in the playoffs. He could arguably earn $4-4.5 million a season, which is still a bargain when we think that some goaltenders are earning double that amount.
11 Cody Franson
If there was ever a defenseman that has been underpaid considering the going market in the league, it has been Cody Franson. As steady in his end as he is moving the puck, Franson has garnered relatively low money and attention. This past season, playing for the Sabres, he was on a young team that wasn't very good, so his offensive numbers aren't a fair reflection of a player that has totalled around 30 points per season. In fact, during the 2014-2015 season that was split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators, Franson scored a career high 36 points, with the majority of them coming in Toronto. He needs to be put on a team that could use a solid top four defenceman, as the 28-year-old can produce given ample power play and five on five playing time.
10 Jaromir Jagr
For this ageless wonder, one year deals appear to be all that he wants. This brings him freedom, and is less long-term burden on the teams he plays for. Still, at 44 years of age, he doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. At over 1600 NHL games played and currently third all time in scoring, one has to wonder not only how long he will he be able to compete, but who could stop him? While questions will always be asked about whether or not Jagr could have been the all-time scoring leader in NHL history sincehe time lost playing in the KHL, there is no question that his size and strength while handling the puck has made it difficult to beat him. He is still earning a respectable amount of money, earning $4 million for this coming season, in a less demanding media market in Florida.
9 Brent Burns
The man noted for having one of the most gnarly beards in the NHL, Burns has improved as he has gotten older. At just over 30 years of age, Burns is versatile have been both a forward and a defenseman. His recent transition to being a defenseman exclusively has seen his point totals increase, as he has been used in a number of different roles. Whether it is on the penalty kill, power play or five on five, he has been integral to the Sharks' success. This type of versatility is rare to see in all but an exclusive few. While most forwards would be less likely to receive greater term because of being over thirty, in Burns' case he doesn't appear to be slowing down and could surely receive a 4-5 year deal on either the open market, or from San Jose if they decide to re-sign their top defensemen.
8 Jarome Iginla
There is no question that Iginla isn't the player he once was. There also is no denying his service to any team he has been a part of, whether as the long-time captain of the Calgary Flames, the interim addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the short-term signing by the Boston Bruins. He recently has been a calm and steady part of the Colorado Avalanche. With a year left on his contract, the near twenty-year veteran will certainly have something to prove and may want to go to a legitimate cup contender, depending on where Colorado is at the trade deadline. At 39 years of age, teams may only be looking for a one-year deal with him, but it will have to make sense for all involved.
7 Brad Marchand
The NHL's biggest pest may be going to the highest bidder at the end of next season. While the Bruins would rather retain the 28-year-old, the gritty, in-your-face pain in the butt could be pursued by a number of NHL suiters. It's incredible to think that he has only been in the NHL for six seasons, as his antics have gained him a reputation that follows him everywhere. Much like Andrew Shaw, Marchand can be productive provided he is given the right opportunity. This past season saw Marchand score a career high 37 goals and 60 points. He is a player that most coaches want to have on their team, and not have to play against. As he is set to enter free agency, he will earn just over $4 million this season, a number that is sure to increase going into the 2017-2018 season.
6 Jonathan Huberdeau
The young forward will be entering free agency for the first time in his career, albeit restricted. He is currently in the last year of a deal that saw him being paid just over $3 million annually. As a restricted free agent, in the event that Huberdeau signs an offer sheet with another team Florida has the chance to match the offer or be awarded draft picks as compensation. The 23-year-old ‘s statistics have improved as he has continued to play, and he is recently coming off a season that saw him achieve highs in both goals and points. In Florida's case they are normally in a position where they need to sign players to bigger deals to reach the payroll floor. It's a luxury that most teams don't have, but they may not be in a position to compete with other bidders if the young forward wants to win now.
5 Patrick Sharp
The long-time Blackhawk and now integral part of the Dallas Stars may be headed for free agency, if the Stars cannot resign him to an extension. It appears that Dallas has the cap space, but one has to wonder if he will remain. He is currently earning just under six million annually, and provided he remains healthy and productive that shouldn't change. The problem with Sharp has been remaining healthy. A few nagging injuries could make teams somewhat gun-shy to offer a long-term at a high value. Dallas has a number of contracts that they will need to reassess going into the 2017-2018 season, and Sharp's is one of them. Spezza, Seguin, and Benn are all signed to long-term deals, but they will have to shore up their defense, bottom six forwards, and hopefully find an answer in goal. Where does that put Sharp? Only time will tell.
4 Artemi Panarin
Coming into the league at the age of 24, the young Russian took the NHL by storm, capturing the Calder Trophy after a 77-point rookie campaign in 2015-2016. Going into the 2016-2017 season, questions as to whether he can match or even best his performance will certainly follow him. In the event that he does have a standout sophomore campaign, the biggest question will be whether or not the Blackhawks have the necessary cap room needed to sign Panarin to a long-term deal. He earned just over $800,000, which is par for the course with most entry-level deals. However, as a top six forward he will garner more money and more interest from those around the league because of his accomplishments. It will be interesting to see just how the season unfolds, and if a deal could be reached prior to the end of the 2016-2017 campaign.
3 Ben Bishop
With the signing of Andrei Vasilevskiy to a multi-year deal this past off-season, it appears that the writing may be on the wall for Bishop, who has been a key component to the Tampa Bay Lightning's success. A major concern recently has been nagging injuries that have plagued him and taken him out of action. At 6'7 and over 200 lbs, Bishop covers a great deal of the net, which appears to be the direction many teams are headed with their goaltending situation. It still isn't a given that Steve Yzerman will let Bishop get to free agency, as Vasilevskiy is still quite young, Bishop's sure handed and capable manner in the Lightning net could mean he remains the everyday starter. Fans should take note that Bishop as of this writing is still not quite 30 years old, and has been a valuable piece to the Lightning's success.
2 Joe Thornton
They say age is just a number, and in the case of Thornton that's all it is. Jumbo Joe has been the perennial bridesmaid and never the bride, but that could all change. The long time San Jose Shark has been a part of a very competitive team that floundered in the playoffs until this past season. He is mentally tough and still has great vision on the ice. His most recent contract saw him get paid $6 million dollars annually, and he has been as reliable and dependable as it gets. He has been invaluable to the Sharks, and, despite all the changes the team has undergone over the course of his career he has remained a constant. Thornton's value cannot be underplayed, and some team, even if not San Jose, will gladly pay what is so rightly deserved to the all-star centerman.
1 Kevin Shattenkirk
It isn't clear why it has got to this point, but Shattenkirk appears to be headed for Free Agency. It seems St. Louis are not willing to retain this all-star and core player as he enters free agency. Shattenkirk's current salary is earning him $4.3 million annually. He has a career total of 242 career points in just over 410 games, averaging just under half a point per game as a defenceman. What appears to be the most glaring was he was –14 for the season, and –8 for the playoffs. At 27 years of age, Shattenkirk will be in great demand, with teams already speculated to be poking around and making him their top priority. The value of a puck moving defensemen cannot be understated, especially in today's NHL. Shattenkirk remains the cream of the crop and will surely earn a king's ransom on the open market, if it gets to that point.
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