The NHL season has been rapidly passing by and somehow we are already in the second half of the year. This season has already given us an abundance of fantastic moments and surprises that no one could have predicted. For example, the Vegas Golden Knights are one of the best teams in the league right now after no one thought that was possible. With the league showing us who is at the top and who is not, it is now the time to start predicting free agent destinations. This year’s class is definitely one that hockey fans should be excited about because a lot of big names are available. A lot of franchises will be changing this summer and as fans this should be one of the most entertaining times of the year.
With that said, in this article, we will be looking at fifteen surprising free agent signings that no one will see coming this offseason. It is easy for us to create basic predictions to where players will end up because of our own personal biases. Yet, for this article, we will explore potential signings more in depth. Every year, there are free agent signings in the NHL that literally no one expects to happen. For example, I do not think one person expected David Backes to sign with the Boston Bruins. Today, he is one of their top forwards and an effective reason behind their success. So for this article, these predictions will be a bit hard to believe at first glance. But anything is possible in the NHL.
Let’s see where these fifteen players will end up next summer!
15 Tomas Plekanec: Winnipeg Jets
Montreal Canadiens fans will be ecstatic when Tomas Plekanec’s abysmal contract finally comes to an end this off-season. Now, that is not to say that Tomas Plekanec is a bad player, but he simply did not live up to $6 million per year salary he received from the club. Plekanec has been an effective player, but not the top line centre he was meant to be.
It is hard to imagine where Tomas Plekanec will end up next season because it is apparent that he is on the decline due to his older age. Yet, I do believe that Plekanec will end up with a contract by the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are a team that are on the rise and could use some veteran leadership to help their young stars through the playoffs. Plekanec fits that perfectly and likely at a cheap price.
14 James Neal: Edmonton Oilers
James “The Real Deal” Neal is a huge reason behind the fact that the Vegas Golden Knights’ historical season thus far. Neal has been showing signs of his past self this year because he has been given the amount of playing time that he truly deserves. With that said, if the Golden Knights do not extend him, he very well could be one of the top free agents available.
There is mutual interest on both sides involving James Neal returning to the Golden Knights, yet, is it a sure thing? I think not. If James Neal hits the open market, he most likely will leave for the biggest contract offered. The Edmonton Oilers would be the perfect place for him because he would have the chance to play with Connor McDavid. This in return would pad his point totals even more.
13 Ilya Kovalchuk: Washington Capitals
Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the NHL world when he decided to retire from the New Jersey Devils shortly after signing his ridiculous 15 year contract. Since then, Kovalchuk has been dominating the KHL and has even stated that he wants to return to the NHL next season. It will be pretty intriguing to see Kovalchuk back in the NHL because he was a legitimate superstar in his prime.
It would be extremely interesting to see where he actually ends up. I think Kovalchuk will shock the NHL world and opt to sign with the Washington Capitals. It is known that him and Alex Ovechkin are good friends and it would give him the chance to play with a top notch team. I think Kovalchuk simply wants to be back in the league and Washington would be a fantastic place for him to join.
12 Rick Nash: Calgary Flames
The New York Rangers will be happy when Rick Nash’s even worse contract comes to a close at the end of the year. Nash was a superstar in his first few years with the club, but it is apparent that he no longer is a top-6 player. The increase of speed in the NHL is the main reason behind Nash’s decline.
This is a shot in the dark, but what if Rick Nash were to sign with the Calgary Flames this offseason? It is clear that the Flames need some help on the wings, but they also have some salary cap issues. With that said, Nash would be the perfect guy to give a chance on their roster because he would come at a cheap price. Nash may even find his old form playing with their cast of stars.
11 Tyler Bozak: Ottawa Senators
With the increase of skill on their forward depth chart, the Toronto Maple Leafs are left with no choice, but to let Tyler Bozak go. Bozak was their best centre for years when they were in their abysmal rebuilding phase, but now the Maple Leafs are spectacular, they need to move on from him. There is no way Bozak should be playing fourth line minutes with his skill.
It will be interesting to see where Bozak goes because the Maple Leafs is the only team he has ever known. Perhaps Bozak enjoys the Canadian lifestyle and he opts to join a team like the Ottawa Senators. This would make a lot of sense because the Senators need help down the middle and it would provide Bozak with the chance to potentially be a top-6 player again.
10 Josh Bailey: Detroit Red Wings
The New York Islanders could potentially drop in skill as a squad immensely if they do not resign John Tavares soon. He is their franchise player and very well could end up opting to go to free agency. Yet, what is even scarier for the Islanders is that they could lose Bailey as well. Josh Bailey has been so under the radar these past few months, but their fans should be petrified about him too.
It is extremely likely that Bailey will end up moving on from the Islanders. He has yet to show any interest about coming back and it is clear that he is not their main priority. Bailey could end up making big cash this offseason because of his stellar play thus far. The Detroit Red Wings would be an intriguing team for him to join because it would allow him to be one of their core players.
9 Paul Stastny: Minnesota Wild
It is pretty intriguing to see Paul Stastny start to live up to his $7 million yearly salary in the final year of his contract. The St. Louis Blues will most likely decide to move on from Stastny because there is no way that they will be giving him similar cash to that and they have a lot of depth without him. With that said, it will be interesting to see where he goes.
One team that would be hard for the Blues to see him go to is the Minnesota Wild. Yet, it would make a lot of sense for the Wild to pursue Paul Stastny because they need a lot of help with their offensive core. Stastny could slot into their top-6 and instantly provide them with a solid playmaker. Although he would joining a big rival of the Blues, it could very well happen.
8 Patric Hornqvist: Philadelphia Flyers
Patric Hornqvist has grown into a pretty spectacular player for the Pittsburgh Penguins because he is a talented scorer who provides a large amount of grit. With the Penguins facing a bit of salary cap trouble, there is a chance that may lose Hornqvist. That would be extremely detrimental for them because he was a huge reason why they back to back Stanley Cups.
Something that should be noted is that Patric Hornqvist fits all the qualifications of what the Philadelphia Flyers love to have on their team. With that said, if Hornqvist ends up hitting the open market, he very well could end up joining the Flyers. It is clear that the Flyers need to add some players to make themselves legitimate contenders again, so why not Hornqvist?
7 James van Riemsdyk: Colorado Avalanche
It will be a sad day when the Toronto Maple Leafs officially lose James van Riemsdyk because is their best player in terms of net presence. JVR has blossomed into one of the most consistent scoring power forwards in the entire NHL and as a result of this, has helped the Maple Leafs finally become relevant yet again. Yet, will the Leafs be able to bring him back?
As hard as it may be for Leaf fans to hear, it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to retain James van Riemsdyk’s services. JVR will be given top dollar when he hits the open market and very likely will go to the team who offers most money. The Colorado Avalanche will be the team that ends up getting him because they need veterans to help fuel their rebuild and have the cash to do so.
6 John Tavares: San Jose Sharks
John Tavares will be the number one free agent available if the New York Islanders do not find a way to resign him. As the months continue to pass, it appears more and more likely that Tavares will not be extended by the summer. If Tavares ends up leaving the Islanders, it will completely sink them as a franchise and lead them to have another rebuilding phase.
Although everyone believes that John Tavares will end up with Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens, there is a very interesting dark horse that should be noted. The San Jose Sharks are a team that have money and need to find a way to stay contenders. They are definitely an aging group, but if they brought Tavares in, they would instantly have more stability. Tavares could finally win them their Stanley Cup.
5 Sedin Twins: Toronto Maple Leafs
Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been the two greatest players in the history of the Vancouver Canucks and will forever be respected in the city. It has been reported that they would like to finish their careers in Vancouver, but for the sake of their rebuild, can that truly be a possibility? I think that the Canucks are ready to move on from their veterans and they will be free agents this summer.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs likely losing both Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk this offseason, they could be the team that ends up stealing them away. Playing for the Maple Leafs would give the twins the opportunity to play on a contending team once again and could even net them their first Stanley Cup. Stranger things have happened so we very well could see this.
4 Evander Kane: Montreal Canadiens
Evander Kane is having a fantastic season and is finally living up to the potential that he has always possessed. One may argue his success is because he is playing with Jack Eichel, but his ability to score goals shows he has value. There is no doubt that Kane will be wearing a different jersey next year. In fact, he will be traded by the deadline for sure as well.
The only question that is left with Evander Kane is where he will end up. The Montreal Canadiens may seem like a longshot, but if you evaluate it more in depth, it would make a lot of sense. The Canadiens are having an abysmal year because they never effectively replaced Alex Radulov. Kane would be a great replacement and they have the cap to make it happen.
3 John Carlson: Florida Panthers
John Carlson has easily been one of the best offensive defenders in the NHL over the past few seasons and will be paid the big bucks this offseason. Carlson has grown into the player that the Washington Capitals hoped he would have and may even be their best defenseman. Yet, with the Capitals having a lot of cap taken up, it is unlikely that they will be able to bring him back.
When a player like John Carlson hits the open market, he is given a huge contract. With a lot of contenders having cap issues, Carlson may opt to go to a losing team. The Florida Panthers is a dark horse for Carlson because they would be able to give him all the money that he wants. The Panthers simply want to be contenders again and have the cap space to spend in bunches.
2 Mikael Backlund: Nashville Predators
Although it took him a bit of time to develop, Mikael Backlund has become an integral part of the Calgary Flames’ core over the past few seasons. It is very important for the Flames to try to retain his services because he is not only their best defensive forward, but he also puts up very solid points. Yet, as time passes, their chances of winning him back continues to lower.
It would be heartbreaking for the Calgary Flames to lose Mikael Backlund because he truly is one of their best players. Yet, what would make matters worse is if he decided to go to the Nashville Predators. The Predators are legitimate contenders and could use some extra help with their offensive core. Backlund is the type of player that all top teams should look at. Nashville should be eyeing this down.
1 Joe Thornton: Boston Bruins
Joe Thornton has been the franchise center for the San Jose Sharks for over a decade and has not seen his game drop off much at all. Of course Thornton is a bit slower, but he still is one of the best playmakers in the entire NHL. Yet, if the San Jose Sharks end up landing Tavares, there is no way that they would be able to afford Thornton too. Thus, Thornton would have a new home.
Now, let’s imagine this insane scenario. What if Joe Thornton were to rejoin the team that traded him in his prime, the Boston Bruins? Now, that may seem like a long shot to some, but think about it. The Bruins are having an amazing season this year and are one of the best in their conference. They are only going up from here. They have been on the hunt for another center and Thornton could be perfect for it. It could even land him the Stanley Cup, something he missed out on in 2011.