The offseason is one of the most exciting times for hockey fans despite the lack of game action. Once July rolls around, teams start looking tirelessly for National Hockey League talent to add to their rosters. We see players that spent their whole careers in one jersey end up in new jerseys, matches we never thought could happen. The offseason is the time in which we see players like Jaromir Jagr pick their next home, or players like Mike Ribeiro waived at the last minute to force him into needing a new home for the NHL season. The NHL offseason is filled with so many different surprises, and free agency brings plenty of surprises with that. This year's free agent class includes some strong candidates to help out the teams they sign with, making it an exciting free agency period to think about.
Additionally, the expansion draft should lead to plenty of buy-outs, meaning even more free agents will become available for the taking by any team willing to pay the respective prices asked by the free agents. However, we shall be focusing on the players that will definitely be free agents this upcoming offseason. One of the most fun tasks is to try to play matchmaker between the free agents and the 30 different NHL teams that will be looking for talent across those available players. Let's take a look at the top 15 free agents of this upcoming offseason and where they will end up.
15 Kevin Shattenkirk: New York Rangers
First off, we shall be ranking the free agents in random order, though all fifteen are the top fifteen of the upcoming National Hockey League free agent class. Let's start with Kevin Shattenkirk, a player that was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Washington Capitals in the biggest move of the NHL trade deadline. Currently, Shattenkirk is attempting to win the Stanley Cup Final with the Capitals, but it will take a lot of post-season success to do so. Regardless, the Capitals do not own the finances to bring Shattenkirk back in the offseason. One team that will be interested is the New York Rangers, a team Shattenkirk is said to be greatly interested in as well. It's a perfect fit, so Shattenkirk will end up with the Rangers.
14 Joe Thornton: Columbus Blue Jackets
For our first bold prediction of the top NHL Free Agent predictions post, we have Joe Thornton joining John Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets. See, Thornton will almost certainly want to sign with a contending team that can afford to pay him the big bucks. John Tortorella, while a polarizing figure, has the respect of the NHL players and coaches alike. Tortorella's Blue Jackets are set to play in the postseason, and regardless of result, Thornton can serve as a missing piece of sorts. All it will take is a giant check and some convincing Thornton to move back to the east coast, but when all is said and done, Thornton will embark on a new journey as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
13 Ben Bishop: Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are desperate to make their rebuild result in some actual progress. No team in the entire National Hockey League wants success more without getting it. Stars such as Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly are openly speaking to the media about how disappointed they are, while nothing is changing in the meantime. Although the blame should not fall on Robin Lehner, an easy change for the Sabres to make would be for the team to swap Lehner to a team like the Dallas Stars who need a goalie, then sign Ben Bishop to be their long term starter. Although Bishop is expected to go to the Stars, the guess here is that if he was meant to be a Star, he would be one already.
12 Jaromir Jagr: Tampa Bay Lightning
We are tempted to say that Jaromir Jagr will stay with the Florida Panthers, as he has brought a certain hockey brand to the team and it would be a shame to see him leave. However, there is so much turmoil in the Panthers' organization, and Jagr wants a Stanley Cup so badly. We just cannot see Jagr sticking around anymore to wait out the Panthers' desperate attempts at figuring out who is in charge. However, we also believe Jagr loves playing hockey in Florida, and enjoys the situation he's been in for the past few years. With that in mind, he will be looking for a warm weather team that is close to winning the Stanley Cup Final. Enter the Florida-based Tampa Bay Lightning.
11 Alexander Radulov: Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Radulov will be a highly sought after free agent this offseason. One year after securing a one year, make good deal with the Montreal Canadiens, Radulov is set for a major payday. His asking price is said to be enormous, but he has every right to do that when his numbers are as good as they are, and his twilight of his career is coming sooner rather than later. Radulov has the Montreal Canadiens' organization to thank for his outbreak, and when push comes to shove he will be loyal to the team that gave him his big break. The Canadiens and Radulov will work out a deal to ensure Radulov stays a Canadian until the day he no longer plays in the league.
10 T.J. Oshie: San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks went for a major splash in free agency last offseason, reportedly trying hard to bring Steven Stamkos into the organization. They failed to do so, but showed that they believe they can lure in free agent talents with the best of the league. Now that Stamkos is a goner, we expect the Sharks to make a play for John Tavares. however, given the New York Islanders' unwillingness to trade Tavares thus far, we believe the Sharks will settle for the next best option and simply sign a free agent, T.J. Oshie. Oshie has excelled as a member of the Washington Capitals, putting up career numbers. The Capitals likely cannot re-sign him, opening the door for a team like the Sharks.
9 Steve Mason: Arizona Coyotes
While the Arizona Coyotes have Mike Smith on the books, their low payroll means they can always find a way to add a new player when need be. The Coyotes are an analytical organization led by their new General Manager, and with that they look for underperforming players who could step up in new situations. One player that certainly fits that bill is Steve Mason, who appears set to leave the Philadelphia Flyers organization. With the right approach and goalie coach, Mason could become a top starter in the National Hockey League, representing yet another goalie to have success once abandoning the Flyers. Mason will be one of the surprise free agent signings, and one of the best signings when all is said and done.
8 Andrei Markov: Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty recently told the media that he was incredibly hopeful that the Montreal Canadiens would bring back their top defenseman in the non-Shea Weber division, Andrei Markov. Markov has quietly been a star for the Canadiens on defense, but never seems to get the credit he deserves. With that in mind, he could easily leave Montreal looking for a bigger role with more respect given to him. However, in the end his fit in Montreal has been so beneficial for both sides, we cannot see him ever taking the plunge and actually leaving the Canadiens. Expect Markov to be back on a one or two year deal, then the sides will determine if he retires in Montreal blue and red after that happens.
7 Brian Elliott: Dallas Stars
While most believe Brian Elliott will return to the Calgary Flames this offseason after helping lead them into the postseason, we have other ideas. We believe that the Flames will be turned off by Elliott's inability to steal the starting job throughout the regular season, and the Flames will see their fair share of goals allowed in the postseason as well. With that, the Flames will opt to allow Elliott to leave in free agency, choosing to be the team to trade for Marc-Andre Fleury instead. With that, Elliott will be available for the taking, and the Dallas Stars will sign him to fill their starting goaltender void after buying out Antti Niemi. Another goalie signing for the starved Dallas Stars.
6 Thomas Vanek: New Jersey Devils
If there's one thing the New Jersey Devils will be looking for this offseason, it's a way to add offense. The Devils play a style that already bores fans, looking to defend their own net rather than attacking the opposing net. They won't change their style any time soon, but the least they can do is add offensive threats to make a run at exciting their fans and not boring to death opposing team's fans. One available player who has played on the East Coast and in the Metropolitan Division before is Thomas Vanek. A simple offer of high salary and long term will convince Vanek to join the Devils despite their seemingly non-existent future and various concerns surrounding their style of play.
5 Patrick Marleau: New York Islanders
Patrick Marleau will join Joe Thornton once again. Only this time, it will be as co-members of the best division in the National Hockey League, the Metropolitan Division. While Thornton leaves the San Jose Sharks for the Columbus Blue Jackets to chase a ring, Marleau will join the New York Islanders on a one year deal to try to rejuvenate a franchise that could use the extra push, and also to help keep John Tavares happy in New York. The fit works for both sides, as Marleau gets to continue playing his game, and the Islanders get another boost offensively while not paying a major price. Remember, they were interested in Brad Richards and Dan Boyle in their later years in the past.
4 Ryan Miller: Los Angeles Kings
Ryan Miller will not have too much trouble finding a good gig in the National Hockey League in free agency, but he will spurn better offers in favor of joining the Los Angeles Kings. Miller has long wished to play for a California based team, and was even hoping the Kings would acquire him this past trade deadline. The Kings acquired Ben Bishop instead, but with Bishop set to leave as a free agent, the Kings will have an opening for Jonathan Quick's backup. Rather than signing a deal that gives him more playing time and opportunity, Miller will settle for the best location for his interests, opting to sign a deal to be the backup for the Los Angeles Kings for the near future.
3 Martin Hanzal: Florida Panthers
Martin Hanzal was the most costly addition by any team at the National Hockey League trade deadline despite not even being that great of a player. We're still not sure how the Arizona Coyotes received so much for Hanzal in a trade, but what's happened has happened. Hanzal has not been very impressive for the Wild thus far, and appears set to leave as an unrestricted free agent. He is a polarizing player, as nobody knows for sure how good he really is. There's no better organization for a player like that than an organization that does not understand where they stand themselves. The Florida Panthers are trying to figure things out, so signing a player who nobody can wrap their heads around seems on brand.
2 Brendan Smith: New York Rangers
Perhaps we are being too optimistic on behalf of the New York Rangers considering their awful decision making on defense in the past, but the prediction here is the Rangers not only bring in Kevin Shattenkirk, but they also find a way to retain Brendan Smith. The Rangers acquired Smith with the idea that he could be a long term piece for the club, and that shouldn't change after the postseason. Re-signing Smith would give the Rangers even more reason to buy-out Dan Girardi, something that fans have been begging for for years. Smith fits well in New York, and when there's a fit there's reason to get a deal done to make sure nothing changes there. He will stay in Rangers' blue.
1 Justin Williams: Calgary Flames
It seems like wherever Justin Williams goes, National Hockey League regular season success follows. We want to say postseason success as well, but we will have to wait and see how the Washington Capitals fare this NHL postseason. Regardless, Williams is due to be yet another cap casualty of the Presidents' Trophy winning Washington Capitals. He will leave in free agency for another team he feels has a shot at the Stanley Cup. The Calgary Flames are far too familiar with Williams from his days with the Los Angeles Kings, and they have been trying desperately to turn themselves into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Adding Williams' experience should be a no-brainer for the Flames, and a fantastic move for the franchise too.