Top 15 Unrestricted NHL Free Agents Teams Will Overpay This Summer

There are only so many days remaining in the 2016-17 NHL season, and once a Stanley Cup champion is crowned it will be a quick turnaround into a pretty hectic offseason for hockey fans.

It all begins with the announcement of the Vegas Golden Knights roster, which will happen concurrently with the NHL Awards Ceremony in Vegas on June 21. While the eyes of the hockey world have been on that for months now, let’s not forget that it’s followed by free agent frenzy, which gets rolling just 10 days later on July 1.

The list of pending free agents is mediocre this season, with a few elite names mixed in there. As with every year, these pending UFAs are likely to get paid very well this summer—it’s just a matter of from whom they’ll get their money.

A few of these guys will likely deserve the deals they end up with, but let’s face the facts here: most of them will be overpaid in both dollars and term. That’s what happens when you have 31 teams vying for your services; it’s basically an auction, and the prices can get driven up pretty quick.

So, which players are going to get way overpaid this summer? Here are 15 who you can bet will collect more than they’re worth this July:

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15 Patrick Marleau

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All Patrick Marleau has done ever since entering the league back in 1997-98 is score goals. Because of that reason alone, it’s easy to understand why teams will be looking to sign the 37-year-old winger to his final professional contract, with the hopes that he can pot another 25 goals or so a couple more times in his career.

It’s entirely possible that Marleau decides to take a hometown discount to have one more crack at it with San Jose (he’s played his entire career with them, after all), but if he doesn’t do that, then the 30 other teams will start competing for his services— that’s when the bidding war begins. It’s unlikely he gets the $6.66M AAV he received on his last contract, but it could get darn near close to that.

14 Michael Stone

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At first glance, Michael Stone looks like a pretty reasonable UFA bet for most teams. The 26-year-old defenseman is becoming a UFA for the first time in his career, and it’s likely he’ll be earning somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million next season, depending on how much money he and his agent are willing to leave on the table in exchange for term.

Either way, it would really be in most teams’ best interest to stay away from Stone this July. Once you dig a little deeper, there’s evidence to suggest that he’s incapable of carrying his own pairing, and furthermore some signs point to him dragging down the possession stats of whichever defense partner he plays with. This is why Coyotes GM John Chayka—an analytics-centered manager—was so willing to let go of the young rearguard.

13 Patrick Sharp

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Every July, a few aging veterans gets awarded one last fat contract by a team that hopes said veterans have just a little bit more left in the tank. This summer, Patrick Sharp fits that bill. Sharp had a disappointing 2016-17, but most of that can probably be chalked up to injury issues, as he played in only 48 games and struggled when he was in the lineup, registering just 18 points. That's well below the production levels we’ve come to expect from Sharp.

So, I suppose teams this summer have to decide whether or not Sharp’s 2016-17 was so lackluster solely because of injury trouble, or was it a sign of what you can expect moving forward? Many teams will go with the latter, but there will be a handful that are willing to take a gamble on the former; those teams will be making a mistake, as Sharp’s best days are behind him, and who knows how the 35-year-old will respond to offseason hip surgery.

12 Joe Thornton

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There’s no denying that Jumbo Joe Thornton is still one of the league’s elite passers. This was most certainly an off-year for Thornton, and he still managed to notch 43 assists, which tied him for 22nd in the entire league. Nonetheless, his 50 points in 2016-17 is a far cry from the 82 he scored in the previous season, and now that he’s having offseason knee surgery, there are even more questions about Thornton’s future.

That said, Thornton is a proud man and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team ink him to a fairly hefty two-year deal. We’re not sure where that might be, but he definitely wants to win a Cup before he hangs them up. It’s entirely possible that for this reason he takes a discount to go to a contender (or even stay in San Jose), but if he so chooses he could make a team shell out for his services this July.

11 Cody Franson

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UFA defensemen are always hot commodities come July, and at 29 years old, Cody Franson is at the ripe age to cash in big as a UFA. He’s proven to be a solid second-pairing option in Buffalo, and frankly has been a solid second-pairing option since his days in Toronto. Teams will be bidding on Franson’s services, and don’t be surprised if you see around a 50% pay raise coming his way (he made $3.25 AAV on his most recent contract).

So, it basically boils down to this: how much are you willing to pay a second-pairing defenseman whose best quality is offense? I’d suggest anything over $4M per season is too rich, and I have little doubt that a few teams will be coming at Franson with some pretty salivating (and ridiculous) offers.

10 Trevor Daley

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Trevor Daley could be set to cash in big this summer after having a solid playoff run in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, Daley is 33 years old and this is likely the last chance to cash in as an unrestricted free agent.

If I’m an NHL GM I’d be taking a pass on the 33-year-old, who has experienced some injury troubles over the past few seasons. That said, there will certainly be a few desperate GMs taking a look at Daley and possibly offering him a raise on his current $3.3M cap hit. Heck, if said team wants to keep the term low I wouldn’t be surprised if they went as high as $5M, and that’s simply too expensive for Trevor Daley.

9 Nick Bonino

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Another Penguins player shows up on our list at number nine in the form of Nick Bonino. Bonino probably wished he had 2016's postseason production this year (in his contract year) rather than last, but he’s still played well enough to earn himself a pretty hefty raise on the $1.9M cap hit he currently carries. The question is how much? And is he worth it?

Bonino is a good hockey player, and I'm not here to deny that. Heck, just ask an average Vancouver Canucks fan if they wish they still had Bonino instead of Brandon Sutter. That said, if the Penguins hold on to win another championship with Bonino again playing a key role, he'll get fat contract offers and I wouldn't want to be involved in that bidding war.

8 Alexander Radulov

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The hockey world rolled its collective eyes when the Montreal Canadiens signed enigmatic Russian Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal last offseason worth $5.75M. Most pundits and fans had trust issues with Radulov, as he’s screwed over Nashville in the past. Nonetheless, the gamble paid off for the Habs, as he put up an impressive 54 points in his return to the world’s best league.

As a result, teams will surely be lining up to ink Radulov to his next contract, and he’ll almost certainly get a raise on his current cap hit. I would suggest that Radulov isn’t worth a dime more, given that he’s primarily a one-dimensional player and is already on the wrong side of 30. Reports are that Radulov has asked the Habs for an eight-year deal, the max term allowed, which is crazy. But you just know one team out there will give him something close to that.

It’s interesting to me how fans/media evaluate players; Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle is a buyout candidate after scoring 20 goals and 51 points in a down year, while Radulov is about to cash in on a year that saw him post very similar stats.

7 Karl Alzner

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Karl Alzner played a prominent role on the Capitals blue line this season, logging nearly 20 minutes a game on the club’s second pairing. Alzner has been developing in the nation’s capital ever since he was drafted by the club 5th overall in 2007. With the Caps on a major cap crunch and Alzner set to cash in as a UFA for the first time in his career, a parting of ways is inevitable.

While the 28-year-old undoubtedly has a handful of productive years left, I’d be wary if I were chasing him this offseason. He’ll likely receive a raise of almost 100% over his current $2.8M cap hit, and that’s simply too much to pay for a stay at home defenseman. On top of this, he’s in a good position to command term as well, so I would simply stay away from this player in free agency and look elsewhere for cheaper alternatives.

6 Justin Williams

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Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams will be a hot commodity this offseason, and again it’s unlikely the Capitals will be able to retain his services thanks to that pesky old salary cap. Williams might not get much of a raise on his current hit of $3.25M (unless he goes to a non-contender, which isn’t Williams’ style), but even so, if that dollar figure comes with any sort of term, I’d stay away as a GM.

The biggest reason I’d avoid Williams? Father time, of course. Age is the one thing that has caught up with 100% of athletes of the past, and 35 is about the age hockey players tend to slide down a hill (just don’t tell Jaromir Jagr that). If he’s settling for a one-year deal, I’d try to sign Williams. If he’s asking for more term, I walk.

5 Patrick Eaves

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Patrick Eaves’ career trajectory has been interesting, to say the least. He scored 20 goals as a 21-year-old rookie in 2005-06, and then did not reach that milestone even once from 2006-07 thru 2015-16. Then, in 2016-17 (in a contract year, conveniently), he puts up a career high 32 goals, obliterating his previous total set over a decade ago.

The Ducks are another team up against the cap, so they simply can’t afford to pay Eaves much more than the $1M cap hit his current contract carries. As a result, the freshly-minted 30-goal scorer hits the open market on July 1, and he’s earned a hefty raise. No doubt a team will pay Eaves somewhere in the $4M to $5M range, with a little term as well (maybe three years). If I’m a GM, I let another team pay Eaves the big bucks for his twilight years.

4 Kris Russell

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You won’t find a much more divisive character in Edmonton than Kris Russell. The veteran defenseman signed a one-year, $3.1M contract with Edmonton just prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, and about half of Edmonton fans (old school crowd) love him and the other half (analytics crowd) hate him. Nonetheless, Russell has probably done enough to earn a bit of a raise as well as a three or four year term.

I don’t love Russell, nor do I detest him. That said, if he wants a raise on his next contract, I walk and I don’t look back. Russell is undoubtedly an NHL player who knows how to block shots, but the figures some fans and media are throwing out—one Edmonton MSM member said a reasonable one-year extension is $4.8M (!!!)—are simply ridiculous for a guy who is, best-case, a middling second-pairing defenseman.

3 Martin Hanzal

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Martin Hanzal didn’t do himself any favors by failing to contribute anything meaningful to the Wild’s five-game exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in the first round back in April, but he’ll still garner a lot of interest from around the league come July. The big power forward has a solid reputation and is one of the league’s best faceoff men.

However, if I’m an NHL GM, I’m looking carefully at how much Hanzal is going to cost me vs. how much he actually brings to the game. Sure, he might bring some intangibles to the table, but let’s not forget that people still tend to think of Hanzal as an offensive threat, yet his career high in points is 41. He’ll get a raise on his current cap hit of $3.1M on the open market, and that’s why I stay away from Hanzal.

2 Kevin Shattenkirk

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Perhaps the most coveted unrestricted free agent of the upcoming offseason is defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. A Washington Capitals deadline rental, the offensive defenseman has repeatedly proven his ability to produce points from the blue line, which is no doubt a valuable asset for most any NHL team. However, Shattenkirk isn’t the complete package; he’s a number one D-man from an offensive standpoint, but at best a second-pairing defender from a defensive standpoint.

That’s exactly why it wouldn’t be a good idea to park a Brinks truck in Shattenkirk’s yard this summer. Teams pay big bucks for offense, especially when it’s coming from the blue line. It’s tough to guess what Shattenkirk’s next contract will pay him, but it’s not crazy to think that his next cap hit could be in the $7M range, not to mention the probable six-or-seven-year term.

1 T.J. Oshie

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T.J. Oshie spent most of the 2016-17 season skating on Nicklas Backstrom’s wing, and as a result of playing with one of the best passers in the game he set a career high in goals with 33. The 30-year-old now hits the open market as a UFA for the first time in his career. The career high in goals was really great timing for Oshie, as he’s set to cash in.

I like Oshie as a player, and I’m sure he’ll help whichever team he ends up on. But given the relatively shallow pool of forwards available this season, I could see Oshie’s next contract being extremely inflated, not to mention likely seven years long. If I’m an NHL GM (I’m not… yet), I’m approaching this situation with extreme caution.

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