As of this writing, the 2016-17 NHL season has yet to be completed. But as teams continue to fight for the Stanley Cup, there are plenty of fans looking ahead to the summer.
Why, you ask? Because free agency is one of the best parts about all sports leagues.
Young players get rewarded on their potential. Talents in their prime showcase their games with big contracts attached to them. Veterans search for the right combination of money and a chance to win a Stanley Cup.
As it is with all sports, players trading their uniforms for others brings excitement and change once the new year begins. It gives each season a fresh feel with a new batch of teams competing for the top prize.
But contracts don’t always pay off as intended. Injuries can creep into the picture. Players may be overpaid, thus failing to live up to expectations. Other times, talents just get contracts that they frankly don’t deserve. And it's going to happen again this summer, even in a weaker free agent class.
Either way, free agency is always an interesting time. Let’s look ahead a take a look at eight players who will be overpaid and eight who will be underpaid.
16 Overpaid: Thomas Vanek
While a majority of his time spent with the Buffalo Sabres didn't translate into much team success, Thomas Vanek was one of the better offensive weapons in hockey. In his first eight seasons in the NHL, he was a consistent goal scorer, never averaging less than 20 goals in a season. But as soon as he became a hired gun with the New York Islanders, Vanek has seen his stock fall.
Whether it was with the aforementioned Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, or Detroit Red Wings, he was brought in to provide offense but he has regressed at each stop. Once again traded at the deadline — this time to the Florida Panthers — Vanek had just 10 points in 20 games but did show signs of life. But at 33 years of age, it's hard to see the winger revert back to his old ways. There will be a team who takes a chance on him but will also regret the investment.
15 Bargain: Brian Boyle
When a general manager is putting together a team to compete for a Stanley Cup, there are many boxes they need to check off. Goal scorers, playmakers, shut down defenders, and top notch goaltending is all important. But what's equally as important — and what goes overlooked at times — are role players with intangibles. That's exactly what Brian Boyle brings to the table.
Whether it was with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, or this year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boyle has been a constant in the playoffs and, more importantly, a winner. He won't wow you on the offensive zone but Boyle is a competent forward, is a willing defender, is a physical presence, and does all the little things. Boyle won't be rewarded with a massive contract — but what he brings to the team will bring more value than his price tag.
14 Overpaid: Dmitry Kulikov
It couldn't have been a worse year for Dmitry Kulikov this past season. Expected to play a big role with the Buffalo Sabres while also being an unrestricted free agent at year's end, the 26-year-old defenseman failed to do much of anything in 2017. Not only did he collect just five points while being a minus-26 when on the ice, he was limited to just 47 games with a lingering back issue.
How could he be overpaid, you ask? Again, he's just 26, meaning many teams will believe in his upside. Not known for his skating ability and mobility, Kulikov is also a willing member of the offensive attack — but his injury concerns have continued for far too long to be ignored. A team will be willing to give him the big bucks on his potential alone — but there's also a good chance the team who does so ends up unhappy with their decision.
13 Bargain: Michael Stone
Defensemen that are strictly defensive are less and less of a commodity in today's NHL. There's no doubt they have a place in the game — but blueliners that are talented in the offensive zone or defenders that can contribute on both ends of the ice are gaining more of the spotlight. Michael Stone falls into the latter category — he's not going to give you much in the offensive zone but he's a sound defenseman who does his job right.
Because Stone isn't one of the aforementioned talents that garner much of the spotlight, he's a top four defenseman on most NHL rosters. In addition, his youth and size both play into his favor, which should equate to plenty of teams being interested in his services. Stone won't receive a massive deal this offseason — but he will fly under the radar and live up to his contract.
12 Overpaid: Michael Del Zotto
Speaking of defensemen, let's shift gears to Michael Del Zotto. Whether it was with the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers, many evaluators have believed he could eventually become one of the better offensive defenseman in hockey. Unfortunately, however, he's yet to put all of his talents together in his nine NHL seasons.
While Del Zotto will never be confused as a shutdown defender, his sluggish offensive play has made him a liability in his own zone. Over the course of his career, he's only posted a positive plus/minus twice and has only surpassed double digit goals two times as well. Seeing as though he is just 26, it'll be a similar signing like the aforementioned Kulikov — someone will sign him with the hopes that he reaches his potential. Unfortunately, however, it's hard to imagine Del Zotto changing his game much more, thus failing to reward his future team.
11 Bargain: Patrick Sharp
This year did not go as planned for the Dallas Stars — and while it wasn't completely his fault, Patrick Sharp was a reason behind the down season. Hindered by injuries for a majority of the campaign, Sharp — who was expected to be a key contributor for the Stars — had just 18 total points in 48 games before having season-ending surgery on his hip.
At 35, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Sharp fails to regain form after his injury. But he's also a proven winner and offensive weapon when healthy. The veteran will be looking to join a contender, presumably on a short-term contract. Maybe he'll return to Chicago at a rock-bottom price. If he's at 100%, he has the ability to take a team to the next level.
10 Overpaid: Martin Hanzal
Throughout his NHL career, Martin Hanzal has been someone that many have looked towards to take his game to the next level. With elite size (6'6) at a premium position (center), the 30-year-old has the ability to dominate the game. Unfortunately, however, injuries and struggles on offense have hindered his growth.
Throughout his 11-year playing career, Hanzal has never eclipsed 16 goals or 28 assists and has been a constant negative in the plus/minus category. While he's shown a willingness to defend and has used his big body to his advantage, he still projects as a bottom six forward — there will be a team, however, that pays him like a top-two center. It's hard to deny that Hanzal will get paid — but the real question is if he'll be able to live up to the money that he'll receive.
9 Bargain: Andrei Markov
When it comes to players synonymous with the Montreal Canadiens over the last couple of decades, Andrei Markov could be the first that comes to mind. Even at age 38, the team's alternate captain continues to excel as a two-way defenseman — not only did he become the second all-time points leader for a defenseman, but he posted an impressive 36 points in 2017.
There is almost a zero possibility that Markov wears anything other than a Canadiens sweater next season. But like the team player he is, he could end up taking a reduced salary to help the organization spread their money out elsewhere. It doesn't matter how old he is — Markov will continue to be a key contributor for the only franchise he's played for.
8 Overpaid: Alexander Radulov
Let's stick with the theme of the Montreal Canadiens. There have been plenty of stories where professional athletes fail to revive their stock but Alexander Radulov did just that in his return to the NHL this past season. After having a tumultuous relationship with the Nashville Predators in the early stages of his career, Radulov tried to revive his stock in the KHL, leading to his return to North America this past season.
Fortunately for all parties involved, Radulov wasn't only a mature person but also excelled on the ice, as evidenced by his 18 goals and 36 assists. By all accounts, Radulov will be in line to receive a massive payday in the coming months. While a three or four-year deal would suffice for the 30-year-old, it's easy to imagine a team giving him a contract upwards of six years — if that indeed happens, it will be a mistake. Reports out of Montreal say Radulov is seeking an eight-year deal from the Habs, which would be hard to do for the Habs. Still, if they don't give him a rich, long-term contract, somebody else will.
7 Bargain: Justin Williams
There aren't many more clutch players in hockey than Justin Williams — after all, his nickname is Mr. Game Seven. Even though he is 35 years old, he continues to be a tremendous asset to the Presidents' Trophy from this past season, the Washington Capitals. In 80 games, Williams had 24 goals and assists apiece while sporting a plus/minus of +14.
Like what was said about Brian Boyle earlier on this countdown, Williams has been a winner for a majority of his career. A three-time Stanley Cup champion, he's someone who does it all as a forward. Like Patrick Sharp, Williams is expected to sign a short-term deal with a legitimate contender — and whatever team does sign him will be better off because of it.
6 Overpaid: Ben Bishop
Ben Bishop has always been one of the most tantalizing players in the entire NHL. Because of his awe-inspiring size (he's 6'7), the netminder turned into one of the league's elite players at his position during his initial years with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately for Bishop, however, his stock has fallen over the last couple of seasons — and the Lightning even moved on, as they tabbed Andrei Vasilevskiy as their starter before moving Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings.
Once out West, Bishop continued to be good but not great. Either way, he's arguably the hottest commodity on the free agent market, as his past success and his playoff experience go hand in hand with what teams are looking for. But the goalie is clearly not what he once was — and there will be an organization that will pay him for what he's done, not what he will do.
5 Bargain: Ryan Miller
After Ben Bishop, the next best option at the goaltender position is Ryan Miller. Despite posting a subpar record of 18-29 this past season, the Vancouver Canucks struggled as a team. In his 54 starts, he allowed 2.80 goals per game while having a .914 save percentage, not far off from his career numbers.
Miller won't be the first choice for teams looking for netminders but he will be a great addition looking for a short-term stopgap while an organization develops their younger players at the position. A team like the Vegas Golden Knights — one that will be looking at all the star power and big names they can get their hands on — could be an option for Miller's services. He definitely isn't the player he once was but that doesn't mean he isn't a viable option at goalie heading into next season.
4 Overpaid: T.J. Oshie
There aren't many players in the NHL that are as talented on offense than T.J. Oshie. Does playing alongside Alex Ovechkin help? You bet it does. But that doesn't change the fact that the forward boasts elite skills as both a goal scorer and playmaker. The 2016-17 season was no different, as Oshie posted a career-high 33 goals while chipping in 23 assists, good for the second-most post in his career.
As it stands, he could be the most sought-after offensive free agent on the market. With that being said, there's a strong possibility he gets an eight-year contract from the Caps or a max seven-year deal somewhere else — something that sounds great now but could hurt down the road. Couple that with the money that he will receive and it's hard to imagine that Oshie keeps up the offensive skills throughout the duration of the deal.
3 Bargain: Karl Alzner
Let's stick with impending free agents from the Washington Capitals, shall we? Despite playing on one of the best teams in hockey, Karl Alzner largely goes unnoticed. The reason is largely based on the fact that he's a sound defenseman on a team that's full of offensive firepower. At 28 years of age, he already has a wealth of NHL knowledge and is largely durable. Plus, he's a proven winner, something all teams love.
Despite posting just 13 points this past season, Alzner is used to getting involved on the offensive end. All things considered — while also adding in the fact that he's still in his prime — he could be in line for many contract offers. But because his name isn't as big as Kevin Shattenkirk or because he isn't as young as Dmitry Kulikov, he may not get as big of a contract as he deserves.
2 Overpaid: Kevin Shattenkirk
Let's make it a three-peat in D.C.! Acquired by the Washington Capitals from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, Kevin Shattenkirk continued his stellar play despite changing teams, as he led his new club in points after the deadline. All in all, he finished the 2016-17 season with 13 goals and 43 assists, which is exactly the type of player he's known to be.
Yes, Shattenkirk is one of the better power play quarterbacks in hockey, is a strong two-way defenseman, and will be the biggest free agent on the market this summer. But he's still a second pairing defender — and with many teams vying for his services, there will be a team that vastly overpays the 28-year-old. There's no doubt that Shattenkirk will be good but it may be hard to justify the contract he'll get.
1 Bargain: Jaromir Jagr
At this stage of his career, Jaromir Jagr is the national treasure of the NHL. Arguably one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates, the grizzled veteran continues to get it done despite being well into his 40s. This past season was no different, as Jagr had 16 goals and 30 assists — maybe a down year by his standards, but a successful campaign nonetheless.
Wanting to play until 50, Jagr will do everything in his power to join a Stanley Cup contender this offseason. Is he the top flight winger that he once was? No. But the 45-year-old can still play in a top-six role at a high level and will be a tremendous asset for whatever team he plays for. As he's done in recent years, it's expected that he signs a one-year pact — and that will make him one of the most underpaid talents in the NHL.