It is absolutely apparent that the NHL is having a youth movement that has never been so strong. Today’s best players seem to making it to the top during their rookie campaigns which is truly remarkable. Yet, with this huge rise, a lot of older players are dropping in skill at a quicker rate because of the speed of today’s game. Now, that is not to say that all veterans are no longer stars. It does however mean that their expiration dates are definitely something to pay attention to. It is clear that older players need to work on their stamina and endurance primarily if they want to continue playing this game. I mean, have you noticed that enforcers are basically extinct?
In this article we will be looking at eight veterans who will be off their current teams next season and eight younger players who may take their spots. The younger players on this list will all be under thirty because those are the ages where they are definitely in their primes. Although these veterans most likely will be let go by their respective clubs, it is important to note that it does not necessarily mean that their careers will be over. In fact, the majority will most likely have the chance to be back in the league next season. This offseason should be a very eventful one for us hockey fans if these predictions end up becoming a reality. We will see next summer!
Now, let’s take a look at the eight veterans who will be let go and the eight young stars who will take their places.
16 Leaving: Matt Cullen
Matt Cullen was given two wonderful chances to retire as a champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he simply wanted to keep going. Today, Matt Cullen is a checking forward for the Minnesota Wild and is doing a decent job. Cullen is not the same player he was in his prime, but he has been productive for Minnesota and is respected throughout the locker room.
Although Matt Cullen is playing up to his potential in Minnesota, it is extremely likely that the Wild will be moving on from him this offseason. The Wild are struggling this season to make the playoffs and with that a small retooling will be put into action. Cullen also most likely will be retiring after this year, as the game is getting younger. Expect Cullen to be hanging the skates up.
15 Replacement: Andreas Athanasiou
Andreas Athanasiou made a name for himself this offseason, but not in a good way with the Detroit Red Wings’ fanbase. Athanasiou waited throughout the entire offseason to sign his extension with the club because he demanded more money. Now, it is fair for younger players to request a larger pay. But when they take it until training camp, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of management and teammates.
There is a chance that Andreas Athanasiou may elect to leave the Detroit Red Wings this offseason. It is not far-fetched for restricted free agents to move on from their clubs or get traded. The Minnesota Wild would be an ideal fit for Athanasiou because they need help down the middle. He could mesh well with their offensive system.
14 Leaving: Jaromir Jagr
Of course, right? The Calgary Flames signed Jaromir Jagr this past offseason. Sadly, it is apparent that there simply is no fit for him. There have been multiple rumours that Jagr and the Flames are currently working on a deal that will have him leave the organization. Jagr wants the opportunity to be given top-6 minutes and the Flames simply never gave him that opportunity.
It is sad to say, but it is very likely that Jaromir Jagr will not be in the NHL next season or even before the end of this year. If Jagr is done with the NHL, it is very important that we are aware of all that he has accomplished. It is remarkable that he was able to play in the NHL at age 45. Most players retire before they even turn 40. Nonetheless, Jagr will move on from Calgary, one way or another.
13 Replacement: Anthony Duclair
Like Jaromir Jagr, Anthony Duclair is unhappy with his playing time with the Arizona Coyotes and has requested a trade. It is extremely likely that Duclair will be moved by this offseason and the Calgary Flames should look to trade for him. Duclair is still young enough that he can grow his game and find the potential he once had as a prospect for the New York Rangers.
This could be a very good experiment for the Calgary Flames to obtain because Anthony Duclair does not have high trade value. The Flames would not have to part with any of their top players or prospects because Duclair has been adamant about moving on from Arizona. The Flames need another star winger when they lose Jagr, so Duclair should be their guy.
12 Leaving: Chris Kunitz
After a fantastic tenure with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chris Kunitz was sought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning to help build their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Since joining Tampa Bay, Kunitz has been a very solid leader in the dressing room. But his points have dropped off a little bit. However, this signing has been good so far for Tampa Bay and could help them in the playoffs.
Although Chris Kunitz has done his job thus far with the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is a good chance that he will not be back there next season. Kunitz is 38 years old and it is apparent that he is out of his offensive prime. The Lightning will most likely elect to move on from him and pursue a younger replacement. However, that does not mean that Kunitz is not in it now.
11 Replacement: Evander Kane
After so many seasons in the NHL, it is hard to believe that Evander Kane is still only 26 years old. With his age and his outstanding offensive ability this season, it is extremely likely that the Tampa Bay Lightning could look to add him. Although financially it may be challenging for them, the Lightning would benefit immensely by bringing Kane in.
Evander Kane is the type of player who needs a solid group around him or else his point totals will be average. After playing this entire season with Jack Eichel, Kane is having a career year and will most likely be given a large contract this offseason. The Tampa Bay Lightning could afford him if they find a way to get rid of Ryan Callahan’s atrocious deal. Kane would be a perfect fit there.
10 Leaving: Rick Nash
At one point in time Rick Nash was one of the best players in the entire NHL. But lately his play has dropped off dramatically. Nash is no longer a top-6 forward, but rather a depth player on the New York Rangers. With the Rangers wanting to get better and younger, it is extremely unlikely that they will re-sign the aging Nash this offseason.
Now, Rick Nash is not a bad hockey player by any stretch of the imagination, but it truly is time for both parties to move on. Nash never turned out to be the game changing forward with the Rangers. Although he had a handful of spectacular individual seasons, he was not the franchise player that was supposed to carry them to the Stanley Cup. That is the main reason why #61 will most likely be playing somewhere else.
9 Replacement: Nail Yakupov
Nail Yakupov will never be the first overall draft pick that he was supposed to be, but he is a reliable offensive player that could benefit the New York Rangers. The Rangers do not need to replace Rick Nash with a superstar because they already have enough depth up front. Yet, adding Yakupov to their solid offensive core could help them a lot with scoring.
Yakupov is having a fairly decent season this year with the Colorado Avalanche and very well should be given another opportunity to play after this season. He is young enough where he could still grow as a player, but time definitely is running out. If the Rangers want to use their money to bring a top defenseman, Yakupov could be a cheap addition to their offensive core.
8 Leaving: Francois Beauchemin
The Anaheim Ducks sure love Francois Beauchemin as they brought the aging veteran back this summer for his third stint with the club. Yet, this time around, Beauchemin’s age has truly shown and it is extremely unlikely that the Ducks will bring him back after this season passes. This very well could be the end of Beauchemin’s career in the NHL as well.
If the Anaheim Ducks want to become true NHL contenders again, they need to possess a younger crop of defensemen. Players like Beauchemin are not necessarily bad, but they are also not good enough to get a team to the Stanley Cup finals. The Ducks need to figure out how to enhance the talent on their roster and cutting Beauchemin may be the best start.
7 Replacement: Rasmus Ristolainen
It has been known to the public that the Buffalo Sabres are about to do a major roster shakeup and anyone who is not named Jack Eichel could find a new home next season. Rasmus Ristolainen is their best defenseman and has a lot of promise, but there have been reports that they may look to move him. Although this seems crazy, it very well could happen.
The Buffalo Sabres need to find a completely different core, so why not trade away your defenseman who has the most value? Ristolainen could make an excellent fit for the Ducks because they recently let go of Sami Vatanen and they definitely need a new puck moving defenseman. Although Ristolainen’s value is high, the Ducks have prospects like Max Jones they can part with.
6 Leaving: Joel Ward
The San Jose Sharks are one of the oldest teams in the NHL and are due for a major change after this season. It is apparent that the Sharks are not going to win the Stanley Cup anytime soon, so it is time for a major retooling. The Sharks are likely to drop if they keep their older players, so the first guy on this list who will be gone is Joel Ward.
Joel Ward is not a bad hockey player, but his prime years have clearly passed and he is a shell of who he once was on the ice. Ward could very well be a serviceable fourth liner for a contending team, but the Sharks need to get younger. Ward will not be a member of the Sharks for much longer and may even find himself traded at the deadline if the Sharks are not clear contenders.
5 Replacement: Sam Reinhart
The San Jose Sharks are in for a fairly tough time over the next few years, so they should look at bringing in younger forwards. One player that could end up being a fantastic fit for the Sharks is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is struggling immensely with the atrocious Buffalo Sabres this season and clearly needs a change of scenery. The Sharks should be a team that calls for him.
The Sharks have so many older players that bringing in a guy like Sam Reinhart could benefit their future immensely. Although Reinhart has not blossomed into a legitimate NHL superstar, there is still a chance for him if he is taken out of Buffalo. Playing in San Jose could give him the chance to play with stars like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. It could be a win-win for both parties.
4 Leaving: Joe Thornton
This offseason may be the one that finally sees Joe Thornton move on from the San Jose Sharks. Thornton came very close to leaving San Jose this past offseason before the Sharks offered $8 million. With the Sharks showing no signs of being a legitimate Stanley Cup threat, Thornton may elect to move on and that could ultimately sink the Sharks.Joe Thornton is old enough to realize that he needs to win a Stanley Cup now if he is ever going to. Thornton has played on a handful of outstanding San Jose Sharks’ teams, but they never could win it all. Thornton should take that into consideration when he hits the open market again this offseason and join a club that is most likely to win. Maybe Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh?
3 Replacement: Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett had an abysmal start this season with the Calgary Flames, but he is finding his game now. Yet, even with that, there have been numerous reports that the Calgary Flames may want to trade Bennett. Although it is fair to assume that Bennett still has decent potential, it is important to note that his point production is continuing to drop. This is alarming to Calgary.
Sam Bennett may benefit from being traded out of Calgary because it is clear that he may never be a top-6 forward on their roster. Bennett was an absolutely superstar during his junior hockey days, so he may better fit on a team that can allow him this luxury. If the San Jose Sharks lose Joe Thornton, they should look to acquire Bennett. It may end up being one of the best trades in their history.
2 Leaving: Tomas Plekanec
With the Montreal Canadiens falling from grace yet again, it is apparent that Tomas Plekanec is one of the many players who will not be returning next season. Plekanec is far from the player he once was and now is better fit as a checking forward. With the Montreal Canadiens in a win-now mode, they need to move on from players who are hurting the process.
Tomas Plekanec will most likely find another NHL home this offseason and ultimately deserves it. He still is good enough of a player to help a team defensively and can rack up average point totals. Yet, the Montreal Canadiens need to completely switch up their core players because this season ultimately is showing that this roster has no chance of winning anytime soon.
1 Replacement: John Tavares
John Tavares has almost been in the NHL for a decade, but he still is only 27 years old. For that, he is still considered a youthful player and easily in his prime. The New York Islanders are in a very tough spot currently because the trade deadline is approaching and they have yet to extend him. The Islanders recognize they cannot lose him for nothing, so a trade may happen as soon as this February.
No matter what happens with John Tavares, the Montreal Canadiens need to be aggressive in their pursuit of him. The Canadiens have the cap space to make Tavares be their franchise player. He could be the game changer in their quest to glory and could attract other stars to want to play there as well. Players like Tavares do not come around often, so the Canadiens need to take advantage of that.