There are some upcoming 2019 NHL free agents that have some uniquely interesting twists to their current potential deals. Their stories are so unlike others that came before them, they are certainly worth watching.
Each respective NHL free agent class tends to look one way when the season starts but very different by the time the NHL Trade Deadline or offseason comes. Some players will have signed their deals during the year, others will have worked themselves out of the conversation as top-tier UFA's. That’s not uncommon. The 2019 group of upcoming free agents is a bit different.
While in other years some of the biggest names could be off the market, this year, things are unique and that could make this season's watch on free agents fascinating. Here are the biggest names and most interesting stories to keep an eye on.
All summer, Karlsson's story was a dramatic one. There were rumors he wanted out of Ottawa and that the Senators were looking to trade him. But, Ottawa was having trouble getting the return they wanted until San Jose stepped up and offered an acceptable package. Karlsson was slated to become an unrestricted free agent and had he stayed in Ottawa, could have signed an extension right away. That's not the case in San Jose.
According to the rules set forth by the NHL, Karlsson can’t sign an eight-year contract extension with San Jose until after the trade deadline. That's because he was traded in September (after his current team's most recent trade deadline.) Of course, an eight-year deal is part of the exclusive bonus a team has in re-signing its own player. But, because of the wrinkle in the CBA, there's no chance a deal is getting done soon and if San Jose struggles, it could open a door to Karlsson thinking about other options.
Clearly, the Sharks acquired Karlsson with the intention of signing him long-term. That still may happen but that they couldn't do so right away is not exactly helpful for the team.
Also interesting, but not often discussed is the tax implications of signing in certain cities. California teams pay significantly more in tax than a team like Las Vegas. That means what might be $12 million in Vegas needs to be $15 million in San Jose to equal the same takehome pay. Who knows if that's on Karlsson's mind.
Panarin’s refusal to sign an extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets has been an interesting story to watch. Panarin insists it's not because he doesn't want to be in Columbus but that's the assumption by most who are following this saga. He's stating he's just not ready to make a commitment right now and then told the team he won't negotiate throughout the season. That's problematic for the Blue Jackets.
The organization is hoping they have a strong year and that it changes Panarin's mind but so far, things are status quo. If it stays this way, Columbus will have to decide if they keep Panarin for a playoff run or move him for a valuable return. If they keep him, there's potential he becomes the next John Tavares-like free agent. Meanwhile, Panarin isn't making this easy because he has nine points in his first six games.
Not to be ignored, the Blue Jackets also have to worry about Sergei Bobrovsky who is rumored to be seeking the highest salary for any goaltender in the NHL this offseason.
Matt Duchene has, what could be, a difficult decision to make. He's currently one of the Senators best players but Ottawa seems to be dropping strong assets like readers drop hard-copy newspaper subscriptions and one has to wonder why he'd want to stay with a team that is destined to be rebuilding and likely to lose — a lot.
However, it is speculated Duchene likes Ottawa and his representatives have already begun talking with the Senators about an extension. Still, one has to think Duchene will wait a while and see how the team is doing as the year rolls along. There will be talk most of the season about a Duchene deal but an extension probably won't be quickly forthcoming.
He's also rumored to want a pretty hefty raise and the Senators have proven their not keen on spending money.
It's hard not to cheer for Eric Staal. At 33, he is rebounding in the NHL and having fantastic seasons as part of the Minnesota Wild roster. But, at his age, he's also a question mark for the team who has to decide if they want to re-sign him long-term and if their team is good enough as is to keep it the same.
This next contract may be the last opportunity Staal has to make good money before he calls it a career in the NHL. As such, if the Wild are only looking at signing him to short-term deals until he falters and becomes a bargain again, he may move on. New Minnesota GM, Paul Fenton, may also be totally ok with that depending on how the team performs.
Fenton is rumored to like Staal, but he's also rumored to be ready to make sweeping changes in Minnesota after his first year is done as general manager.