We are reaching the end of the NHL season, and the excitement is still on the rink as four teams are battling to see who will come out with the Stanley Cup. But meanwhile, the rest of the league already has their eyes set on the 2017-18 season. First, the buzz is already surrounding the league over who will re-sign where and, secondly, folks are wondering who will indeed enter free agency, which brings us to the topic of today’s list.
A lot of teams that did not do as well as they hoped in the playoffs, like the Washington Capitals, have a lot to worry about as many of their good players are on the verge of becoming free agents this summer. Unlike some years ago, this free agency period doesn’t seem like it will be full of big names. Most likely, no one will come out of this summer with a new franchise player. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of good options for teams looking to take the next step towards a run for the cup, and even players who would be great backup additions for teams already challenging for a Stanley Cup.
The bottom line is that we might not end up seeing a bunch of fireworks on July 1st, Canada's 150th birthday, in terms of new additions in the NHL free agency, but there should be more than enough good names changing jerseys for fans to feel excited about their team’s chances when the next season starts. So get ready because here are the top 15 NHL players who will be wearing a different jersey next season.
15 Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott’s career with the Calgary Flames seems like it will end on the one-year mark. As successful as he was with the St. Louis Blues a year ago, Elliott just did not manage to repeat that success in Calgary. He played 49 games in total during the regular season and had a save percentage of .910, his lowest since 2012-13. To make matters worse, his performance in the playoffs was nothing short of dreadful as he was unable to help the Flames win a single game against the Anaheim Ducks. While his team was swept, he was scored on 12 times.
His resume as a starting goaltender might not be what it was before he moved to Calgary, but he should still be a solid backup for many teams.
14 Radim Vrbata
Radim Vrbata did pretty well in his first season with the Arizona Coyotes. The 35-year-old Czech winger played 81 games and managed to score 20 goals and also had 35 assists to go along with them. He was thinking about retiring before the season was over, but apparently, because of a family decision, Vrbata came to the conclusion that he still has another a good year of hockey in him.
The sensible thing here would be for the Coyotes to re-sign him, but anything could happen. His cap hit on the Coyotes this season was around $1 million. But after a year like the one he just had, this guy could ask for a lot more money considering how many guys older than him who are not playing as well as he is are being paid way more. He said he would prefer to stay in Arizona, but also made sure to say he would be open for other offers.
13 Joe Thornton
What is there to hate when you have the opportunity of signing an experienced center who can do pretty much anything with the puck?
The answer is nothing. Joe Thornton is still as good as they come. This 37-year-old from Ontario proved in his last season with the San Jose Sharks that he can set up his teammates like anybody. His numbers went down from the 2015-16 season, but seven goals and 43 assists at 37 is not such a bad a resume to go into free agency with.
The catch here is that Thornton injured both his ACL and MCL in the left knee before the end of the season. His recovery after surgery is still a big question mark. But if he manages to return to the form he was in before getting injured, any team that picks him up will not be disappointed.
12 Michael Stone
After six seasons with the Coyotes, Michael Stone finally had a chance to prove his worth outside of Arizona as he joined the Calgary Flames. However, despite some solid outings with the Flames, he was unable to help the team do any better than being swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. Sure, they were a wildcard addition facing a number one seed, but they could have still done better. Now with free agency looming, Stone said he wants to stay in Calgary, but he is only one of many players whose contracts the Canadian team has to decide if they will re-sign or not.
With the odds not being so high that they will choose to bring him back, Stone is a guy who at just 26 years of age could prove to be a solid addition for young teams hoping to fight for a cup a couple of seasons from now.
11 Karl Alzner
Think about somebody who should make a lot of money this summer. That is Karl Alzner. The 28-year-old defender from British Columbia has been with the Washington Capitals for eight seasons, and it might just be the right time for him to jump ship. He is entering the prime of his career and is arguably a great candidate for being heavily overpaid this summer because of the lack of depth of defenders available during this free agency period.
To go along with that, he could play big minutes on defense for any contending team in the NHL, which makes him look like a unicorn in a free agency full of ponies. Where he will land is still tough to figure out, but the odds are very high that he won’t be returning to Washington.
10 Patrick Eaves
Not as much changing uniforms as returning to an old one, we could very well see Patrick Eaves returning to Dallas this summer. This tenacious right winger was traded by the Stars to the Anaheim Ducks in the middle of the season but could return to Dallas after the season is over. He ended his postseason on the sidelines with an injury, but because of the Ducks advancing to the third round, they had to pay the Stars a second round pick, as per the terms of their trade.
With his acquisition, Anaheim found out Eaves is quite injury prone because of the way he plays. And that very well may be a reason for why the Ducks would not re-sign him, which would open the way for a return to Dallas for a guy who scored 21 goals and had 16 assists in the 59 games he played for the Texas team this season before being traded.
9 Justin Williams
It seems to be a given on this list that everyone wants to stay where they are. And the Washington Capitals' Justin Williams is no exception to the rule. In the aftermath of their Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Williams was quick to say he wanted to stay in Washington and that an opportunity to play a prominent role in a Stanley Cup contender is not something that comes along too often. However, it might be tough for him to remain with the Capitals given the amount of contracts they have to deal with. Nevertheless, this is a guy that will be paid handsomely should he hit free agency. He is notorious for his clutch performances and any team hoping to go far in the playoffs would love to have him on the roster.
8 Patrick Marleau
When you have been with a team for almost 20 years, it must be tough to imagine life somewhere else. Well, this is a prospect that Patrick Marleau might have to face very soon. This guy is a San Jose Sharks legend. He has been with them since 1997. He is their all-time leader in goals, points, shots and even games played. At 37 years old he has already made clear that he still has a lot of hockey and him, and the 27 goals he scored in the regular season should be enough to prove that to anybody.
But he might have to do it somewhere other than San Jose as the Sharks' cap limitations could prevent them from re-signing the veteran. If this is the case, the whole hockey world should be tuned in to watch this guy finally wearing colors different than teal and black.
7 Martin Hanzal
This 30-year-old center is the definition of a solid player. A 6’6” 226 pound player from the Czech Republic, Hanzal could be a most welcome addition to most teams chasing a Stanley Cup. By no means will he become the main player on his team, but his physical prowess and skill make him a more than qualified center to be a number two or number three option on a contending team.
He finished this season with four goals and nine assists for the Minnesota Wild in just 20 games. Nevertheless, the Wild most likely won’t re-sign him this summer according to the Twin Cities Press. So we should be on the lookout for where this guy will land because they will most likely be a fun team to watch next season.
6 Thomas Vanek
Vanek is one of those hit-or-miss kind of guys. Back in 2013-14, he proved to be a great addition to the Montréal Canadiens going into the playoffs as he provided them with 10 points in 17 games. The same, however, can’t be said about his time with the Florida Panthers, with whom he ended up playing this season. In 20 games, Vanek only scored a couple of goals.
As the offseason approaches, the Panthers will have an interesting choice to make. As they will have to decide if they should keep this 33-year-old Austrian winger, who didn’t quite measure up to the expectations they put up when they traded for him. Most likely, they won’t re-sign him. But as we mentioned before, a few teams might take their chances with Vanek in the hope that he will return to being the beast he was with the Buffalo Sabres.
5 Brian Boyle
At 32 years old, Brian Boyle can face off with the best of them. This guy has maintained a level of physicality and intensity few other players in the NHL have managed to retain over the years. He was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs just a few days before the trade deadline and turned out to be a hell of a catch for the Canadian team. As a young squad on the brink of reaching the playoffs, the Leafs certainly needed experience and physicality, both of which Boyle provided in abundance. They failed to get past the Capitals in the playoffs but fought valiantly in a series of six close games. That edge is what will make a lot of contender teams look to Boyle as he should test free agency this summer.
4 Marc-Andre Fleury
Marc-Andre Fleury was an amazing story in these playoffs, as he played phenomenally well for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds, including a shutout of the Captials in Game 7. However, things fell apart for Fleury against Ottawa and the Pens will end their season with Matt Murray between the pipes. GM Jim Rutherford didn't feel the need to trade Fleury this season in case something happened to Matt Murray, and the injury made Rutherford look smart. However, an expansion draft is looming and the Pens can only protect one goalie on their roster and it's undoubtedly going to be Murray. If they don't want to expose Fleury for the expansion draft, they'll have to move him.
3 Alexander Radulov
This one is a big if, but an if that a lot of teams are hoping could happen. After four years in Russia, Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL with the Montréal Canadiens and had a hell of a year. This guy went from overseas talent to one of the best playmakers in the game. He finished the regular season with 18 goals scored and 36 assists. While he was unable to help the Canadiens get past the Rangers in the playoffs, he was by far their main offensive force when push came to shove. As they lost that series 4-2, he led his team in both goals and assists. As of now, he could become a free agent, but the Canadians could very well shut that door with a huge contract, which is what Radulov seems to want. If they don’t match his expectations though, the hockey world better beware because some huge figures are going to get thrown at this guy.
2 T.J. Oshie
The Capitals' right-winger had a career year in 2016-17, but it was still only enough to carry his team to the conference semifinals. He has been in Washington for a couple of years now and finished this regular-season scoring 33 goals in just 68 games. It is no wonder that Oshie came out and said he wanted to stay in the American capital. Still, the problem doesn’t seem to be with him wanting to stay, but with whether the Capitals would be able to afford him as his salary should get a huge bump with him hitting free agency this summer according to the Washington Post.
“Right now, I don’t know,” Oshie said about testing free agency. “Right now, I feel like still a part of the team. … Right now, I’m a Capital, and I feel like that’s where I’ll be. If something changes, it changes.”
1 Kevin Shattenkirk
Kevin Shattenkirk should be one of the unrestricted free agents most teams will chase this summer. At just 28 years old, he is one of the youngest guys on our list, and one of the guys with most to prove. After a season where he helped the Washington Capitals take the reigning Stanley Cup champions to a seventh game, Shattenkirk should receive enough offers to find a team where he could make an impact like he did in St. Louis and Washington.
He could very well choose to stay with the Capitals, but as a blueliner in the prime of his career, this guy should also think about his pockets and believe it or not he should choose a place where he can be “the guy” and be paid like the star of the team.
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