It’s that time of the year when teams spend themselves frivolously into a money coma. There’s ton of rumors flying around and the clock is almost ready to strike as noon on Saturday comes closer. Here is our look at the top 15 free agents, all of whom are unrestricted.
Players are noted with their existing teams and positions with predictions at the end.
1.) Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Washington Capitals
Undoubtedly the prize of the free agent market is Shattenkirk. He is an offensive defenseman who can push the puck and play on the power play. There are some health concerns as Shattenkirk has not played in 80+ games since 2013-2014 but he has scored 14 goals on the power play in the past two seasons and averages 21 minutes per game. Rumors indicate that Shattenkirk would like to be in New York or somewhere close to there as he grew up in Connecticut. Both New York teams, New Jersey and Toronto could be destinations.
Prediction: There is no question that Shattenkirk will be in the Eastern Conference it’s just where. While the Rangers are intriguing and most likely his first choice, they did just sign Brendan Smith to a 4 year extension. In New Jersey, Shattenkirk can be a number one defenseman and get the most lucrative offer as they have over $27 million in cap space. Shattenkirk signs with New Jersey
2.) Karl Alzner, D, Washington Capitals
Alzner is the other defenseman who looks to be on the move from Washington. Shattenkirk is the offensive defenseman while Alzner brings the opposite being a shutdown defenseman. He plays 20+ minutes a night and is durable as he has not missed a game in seven seasons. The potential to slot him into the top defensive pairing will allow Alzner to command big money and have plenty of suitors including Montreal, Toronto and New Jersey.
Prediction: For teams who are looking to improve defensively, Alzner will be the top target. Long term and big money will be on the table from Montreal and Toronto but Alzner will choose the young core of Toronto where he can lead a young defensive unit to go along with an intriguing team that has a bright future. Alzner signs with Toronto
3.) Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
It seems unfathomable that San Jose is allowing Thornton and Marleau to hit free agency but it seems likely with no deal in place for either player as of this evening. Thornton is coming off of ACL and MCL tears but will find a robust market for his services. The 37 year old center is still very productive in the twilight of his career as he had 50 points this season including 19 on the power play. Thornton averages 20 points a year on the power play and could be a number two center who brings a boost to a contender’s power play. Several teams will be in the mix including San Jose, Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Pittsburgh.
Prediction: There will be no shortage of legitimate contenders for Thornton. It’s hard to fathom Thornton not in a San Jose uniform but don’t be surprised if he goes to a team that is a Stanley Cup contender. Nashville would be able to slot him as a second line center instantly becoming the deepest team down the middle in the Western Conference and improve their power play. Thornton signs with Nashville
4.) Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose
It’s hard to believe that Marleau has been in the NHL for 19 seasons. Marleau has been a life long Shark and also seems to be on the cusp of leaving San Jose. Turning 38 before the season, Marleau is still incredibly productive, scoring 27 goals this season and has scored 104 goals in the past four seasons. An extremely durable player having not missed a game since the 2008-2009 season, Marleau will have plenty of suitors including San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, Columbus to name a few teams.
Prediction: Marleau puts the puck in the net and contributes on the power play. He will be in high demand and like Thornton, it’s hard to fathom him in a different uniform. The usual suspects are included in this list but Marleau has deep connections in California and decides to finish his career with the only team that he has known. Marleau re-signs with San Jose
5.) Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal
A talented but enigmatic winger who had a great season with Montreal after returning from the KHL. Radulov posted 18 goals, 36 assists and 54 points this season, his second 50+ point season of the four he has played in the NHL. In the full seasons that he has played, Radulov has scored at least 18 goals. Radulov also brings physical play recording 62 penalty minutes last season. He is asking for a lot of money and will have some suitors including Las Vegas and Montreal.
Prediction: Radulov does bring a lot of positives but also questions about his commitment to the NHL with rumors that if he doesn’t get a good enough deal he’ll go back to the KHL. Ultimately, when all is said and done, Radulov will wind up back with Montreal where he will fit seamlessly with Jonathan Drouin. Radulov re-signs with Montreal
6.) Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota
Hanzal is a big-bodied (6’6) center who is a two-way player that can win faceoffs. However, don’t expect a lot of offensive punch for Hanzal who averages between 35-40 points per season. A big concern is durability as Hanzal played in less than 65 games in the three seasons prior to this year. That being said, there will be several teams interested in him as a two-way center who is defensively responsible including Los Angeles, New York Rangers and more.
Prediction: Hanzal will provide great depth to whichever team picks him up. He’ll be looking to make a move to a contender where he can play on the second or third line. Los Angeles is looking to get back to the playoffs and could use another big body to allow Jeff Carter to shift back to the first line. Hanzal signs with Los Angeles
7.) Justin Williams, RW, Washington
Whatever team picks up Williams will be getting a player who is the definition of clutch. The three time Stanley Cup champion has played in eight game 7’s in his career and is 7-1 with 7 goals and 7 assists. At 35 and soon to be 36, Williams is showing no signs of slowing down having recorded 40+ points in the past 4 seasons and 20+ goals in each of the past 2 seasons. There will be a demand for Williams to join a team that needs some veteran, winning leadership. Some of the suitors will include Dallas, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Columbus.
Prediction: With the big contract handed out to T.J. Oshie, a return to Washington seems unlikely. A young team that has advanced far in the playoffs but needs that one piece would be intriguing to Williams. Tampa Bay could use some more veteran depth to help out Steven Stamkos and company. Williams signs with Tampa Bay
8.) Andrei Markov, D, Montreal
Another veteran who is approaching the twilight of his career but is still supremely productive makes the list. Markov brings offensive game to the blue line and has scored 5+ goals in each of the past five seasons and still averages 23+ minutes a game. At 38, Markov is still durable although this year he missed 20 games. Before that he only missed 2 games in four seasons. Markov seems likely to go back to Montreal but might look elsewhere such as Toronto or Ottawa.
Prediction: Markov will have options if he wants to look elsewhere but he has been in Montreal his whole career. Even at 38, Markov is extremely important to Montreal as he eats up minutes and is part of a talented offensive blue line which is why Markov will wind up back in Montreal. Markov re-signs with Montreal
9.) Jaromir Jagr, RW, Florida
Like a fine wine, Jagr continues to age gracefully. At age 45 he just simply continues to keep producing with 43 goals in the past two seasons in Florida, as well as two 60+ point seasons in the past four. A positive presence in the locker room and on a young team, Jagr should have some competition for his services as he has helped grow the game of the young Florida players.
Prediction: Even though Jagr came out earlier this week and said that he has 0 offers, he should eventually get an offer. A return to Florida is definitely a possibility for a player who wants to play until 50. However, it’s time for the mullet to move on and sell tickets in a market that could use a veteran winger to mentor young players such as an expansion franchise in Las Vegas. Jagr signs with Vegas
10.) Sam Gagner, C, Columbus
A rebound season in Columbus will allow Gagner the opportunity to cash in with a free agent deal. Gagner recorded career highs in goals (18), assists (32) and points (50). Now the questions is can Gagner maintain that consistency and be a 50 point player for several years? 18 points on the power play certainly helped the cause and Gagner has scored 15+ goals in 6 of the past 9 seasons. He will have several suitors including Columbus, Dallas, Chicago and Nashville.
Prediction: Gagner had a great season and established himself as a top-six player which means he will command a hefty price tag which will price him out of Chicago and Columbus. Gagner would look good in the top six of Dallas and get to play against Chicago 4-5 times a year which means 7 of his goals will come against them each season. Gagner signs with Dallas
11.) Nick Bonino, C, Pittsburgh
Bonino is a tough, physical player who plays both ways. He has put up 15+ goals in three of the past four seasons when he was healthy and played 75+ games. Bonino is someone who can center the second line and is good for 16+ minutes a game. During the past two playoffs, Bonino has posted 25 points while being a major contributor to back to back championships in Pittsburgh. Expected to command a big raise, Bonino will have lots of suitors including Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Vancouver.
Prediction: There will be a robust market for the services of Bonino who will not be in Pittsburgh next season. Columbus would benefit from Bonino two-fold by slotting him in as a second line center to give a veteran, winning presence in their lineup. In addition, they would weaken Pittsburgh who they are chasing in the Metropolitan division. Bonino signs with Columbus
12.) Brian Boyle, C, Toronto
When you think of tough players who are a pest, Boyle comes immediately to mind. At 6’7, 245 lbs, imposing and intimidating are only a few words to describe Boyle. Not known as a playmaker, Boyle has a knack for coming up with clutch goals and has scored 13+ goals in each of the past three seasons. Boyle is a commodity in the playoffs as his heavy style wears down opposing defenses and draws penalties. Toronto, Tampa Bay and Ottawa are among the contenders.
Prediction: The draw to go back to Tampa Bay will be very heavy for Boyle; however, with their own restricted free agents to take care of there may not be enough cap room. Boyle would fit in well in Ottawa with a bottom six role to antagonize rivals such as Boston and Montreal. Boyle signs with Ottawa
13.) Michael Del Zotto, D, Philadelphia
The oft-injured defenseman hits the market with questions about his ability to stay healthy but offensive potential. In the past three seasons, Del Zotto has scored 20 goals but missed 79 games during that time as well. Even with the impressive goal total, Del Zotto has only scored one of those on the power play. The question with Del Zotto for teams such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Colorado and Dallas, will be if the offensive potential outweighs the durability concerns.
Prediction: Del Zotto will get paid somewhere and teams that are defense needy will be the ones to overpay for him. Colorado and Dallas immediately come to mind; however, Colorado badly needs a quality defenseman to add to their roster to try to shore up their defensive deficiencies. Del Zotto signs with Colorado
14.) Ron Hainsey, D, Pittsburgh
An underrated defenseman who is durable, plays on the penalty kill and is a minutes eater. Hainsey averages 22 minutes per game and will bring a dedication to shot blocking. While not an offensive juggernaut, Hainsey can contribute a little and scored 5 goals two seasons ago. After getting his long awaited Cup, Hainsey will have plenty of options whether he wants to go to a young team or a cup contender. Plenty of teams will have interest including Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Chicago.
Prediction: Hainsey will have his pick but winning the cup may lead him to going to a cup contender. Pittsburgh may not be able to retain him with Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz free agents. With a hole for a veteran who can be a stabilizing presence in the top four, Chicago would be a great fit who could use him to help show the way to the young defensemen in their system. Hainsey signs with Chicago
15.) Thomas Vanek, LW, Florida
A supremely gifted offensive player, Vanek will provide offense to a team but he is on the downslope of his career. While 35 goals in the past two seasons is nothing to sneeze at, those are the two lowest single season totals of his career. Prior to that, Vanek had 10 consecutive seasons of 20+ goals. A team will buy into his offensive potential and commit money to him on a short term deal. Potential suitors include Florida, Detroit, Arizona and New Jersey.
Prediction: This will be a prove it season for Vanek again to see what he produces and if he comes close to 20 goals again. Several teams that need a veteran scoring presence to surround young players with will be interested. Ultimately, Vanek will go back to Detroit where he had a good season putting up 38 points in 48 games before being traded to Florida. Vanek signs with Detroit