For many fans, NHL free agency is the highlight of the offseason. In other sports, the draft typically gets that honor. However, in the NHL, unless your team owns a top five pick, it's very unlikely that they'll get an immediate upgrade. NHL prospects need time to develop and become NHL ready. As a result, free agency is the premier way to upgrade a team for the upcoming season.
NHL general managers have been increasingly stingy with their money when it comes to free agency in recent years. They've been less willing to overpay for middle of the pack NHLers. While the new found discipline has benefited the organizations, the same certainly can't be said for the players. There are quite a few who turned down lucrative contracts from their current teams with hopes of getting more in free agency and got burned as a result.
Despite all this however, the best players at each position will still be paid quite handsomely; more than what they would be if there happened to be a couple more skilled players available at their position.
This is because, no matter what happens, there will always be GMs who are worried about losing their jobs. Due to free agency offering an immediate fix to a position of need, there will always be players who can earn a few extra dollars on their next contract by taking advantage of a panicked front office.
Here's the top 15 free agents who will command more than what they're worth as well as who might shell out for them.
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15 Brad Richards
Bead Richards is well past his prime and has been in decline for several years now. However, it doesn't seem to be uncommon in the NHL for players to be paid for what they did in the past. Usually those deals work out well for the first year, but sour rather quickly.
The New York Rangers are a team that might look to the veteran. As a team that's has a serious shot at the cup, getting a former player who can provide an immediate boost is a reasonable move, especially if they deem that Eric Staal is asking for too much.
14 Roman Polak
Roman Polak is a physical, heavy hitting defenseman. In the "new" NHL, this is a style that has become significantly less effective. While the blue liner isn't a terrible player by any means, it's hard to see why NHL teams value him as much as they do.
It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see the Red Wings make a run at Polak. They could use the depth at their blue line, though he'll likely be overpaid when compared to similar players.
13 Luke Schenn
Ever since he was drafted, Luke Schenn was looked at as a player with a lot of potential. There’s likely going to be more than a few coaches who feel like they can finally coach the former 5th overall pick up to that potential. After nearly a decade in the NHL though, Luke Schenn has failed to live up to his expectations. At this point, it feels like he is what he is, but we're sure there are more than a few coaches who feel differently.
The New York Islanders could use some more depth on their blue line and there's a chance they'll take a risk on Schenn... and overpay him.
12 Justin Schultz
So far, similar to Luke Schenn, Justin Schultz has been all potential. Potential that remains largely untapped. A lot of it appears to be due to apathy on the part of Schultz.
The trade to Pittsburgh several weeks ago at the deadline has certainly given him a boost, but it's hard to say whether or not that will stick.
Justin Schultz is in a unique situation compared to others listed here. This is because he's set to be a restricted free agent. Essentially what that means is that unless Pittsburgh really doesn't want him, he's going to be back. Even still, it's likely he'll be paid because of what's he could bring, rather than what he's actually shown.
11 David Backes
Going into the season, David Backes was expected to be one of the hotter free agents this summer. After somewhat of a down year, his stock has declined significantly. However, you can still expect the long time Blues' forward to have his fair share of bidders.
Winnnipeg will be a team to watch. They have the lowest cap number this year and no pending free agents that will command massive contracts. In addition, their goal total is far from impressive, so it wouldn't be a surprise if they make a serious push to add some offense in July and get a valuable mentor for Mark Scheifele.
10 Kris Russell
We already saw the Dallas stars overpay for Kris Russell at the trade deadline a few weeks ago, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if a team overpays for him again in free agency.
Edmonton’s management appears to be quite frustrated with the lack of success the team has had in recent years. With a need on the blue line and cap space to work with, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them attempt to add Russell to their lineup and pay a little too much in the process.
9 Eric Staal
Eric Staal could have his name go down as another former star who gets paid for his past. The forward's numbers took a sharp dip after the 2011 - 12 season and never fully recovered. This past year has been a career low, outside of his rookie year.
The New Jersey Devils and their nonexistent offense might decide to take a chance on Staal. They'll have money to throw around given that seemingly every player on their roster has their contract expire this offseason, though it wouldn't be surprising for him to stick with the Rangers and his brother Marc.
8 Dan Hamhuis
At the trade deadline several weeks ago, Hamhuis was on the verge of being dealt but somehow it didn't go through. With all the interest expressed in him in February, it's likely that many teams will still be interested in July.
According to Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province Today, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders were all potential trade partners in a deal for Hamhuis. Those will be the primary teams to watch this offseason and they will likely have to overpay for his services.
7 Kyle Okposo
Kyle Okposo has been close to a point-per-game player over the past three seasons with the Islanders. However, the current 27 year old has benefited from playing with John Tavares and some might question his ability to play without him. Even still, there's a good chance he'll get a sizable contract.
The Buffalo Sabres are a team that has lacked goal scoring ability this season and need goal scoring wingers to play with Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. They'll be a team to watch.
6 Alex Goligoski
Alex Goligoski has a much better chance of hitting the open market than a lot of the other skilled players currently with contracts expiring. If he hits free agency, he will likely be one of the top defensemen available. Even if he doesn't, Dallas will need to pay him handsomely. This is pretty much a ticket to getting a few million dollars extra on his next contract.
Colorado could use a top end defenseman and they have quite a bit of cap space to go get one. If they want him, the Avalanche have what it takes to make a very convincing offer.
5 Cam Ward
If Carolina let Cam Ward slip through their fingers, he'll be the most highly prized goalie in free agency in a week free agency class for the position.
It's nearly impossible to make a deep playoff run without proper goaltending. With the amount of teams that would like to solidify the position, it's easy to see why Ward might be overpaid.
As it stands, Calgary doesn't have a single goaltender currently under contract for the 2016 - 17 season. If they want to make a run at Ward, everything is set up well for them to do so and overpay him in the process.
4 Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic is a physical forward who knows how to get under the skin of his opponents. In addition, he's able to provide a nice scoring threat. He's the type of player that you love when he's on your team, but hate when he's against you.
NHLers with Lucic's playing style are rarely capable of being top six forwards. As a result, even though he's been steadily declining since 2010/11, he'll draw quite a bit of interest from general managers if he decides to see what the open market has to offer.
3 Keith Yandle
Puck moving defensemen are among the most coveted players in the NHL. Yandle's offensive upside is going to make him one of the most highly prized free agents this year if he hits the open market.
Arizona had one of the more surprising seasons. While it looks very unlikely that they’ll earn a wildcard spot, their rebuild has certainly been very successful. With lots of cap space to throw around, a reunion might be possible between these two.
2 Loui Eriksson
Good players on good teams will always get the first looks when free agency begins. Eriksson fits that bill as he is currently tied for second place in scoring among Bruins' forwards.
However, despite turning 30 years old, Eriksson is having a comeback season. The likelihood that Eriksson is going to continue at this pace isn’t extremely high. The odds that he’ll be paid like it are considerably higher.
Anaheim could be a team that takes a look at Eriksson. In addition to having a need for goal scoring, they have cap space to work with and have been looking for a top six forward to play with Perry and Getzlaf for ages..
1 Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos is one of the NHL's elite goalscorers. Without question, he'll be the hottest name once free agency begins. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if he makes upwards of $11 million per year.
It’s hard to project which team will land Stamkos if Tampa Bay can’t manage to re-sign him. It would be a surprise if there was a single team that didn't at least make an offer. Even still, as much as Lightning fans are going to hate this, Boston will have roughly 25 million in cap space to work with. In addition, they'll be able to offer Stamkos a decent shot at a cup win. If they can move David Krejci, pay attention to this potential fit. It's been rumored and it would flip the Eastern Conference on its head.
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