Free Agent Frenzy is almost upon us. We’ve gone through an Expansion Draft, the Entry Draft, and on Saturday, the annual tradition of throwing a bunch of money at players will begin. Over the next few days, I’m going to dive into the unrestricted free agent market and map out who’s available and who’s going to be interested.
I’ve looked at the market for goalies, defencemen, and centres, so I’ll finish off with the wingers on the open market this summer. You’re going to have a hell of a time adding a good centre or defenceman, but there’s actually a lot of interesting options for good depth up and down the wings this summer.
Hearing that Radulov's latest contract ask was six years at $7 M per season. No way Habs do that...— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 22, 2017
Alexander Radulov left Nashville in 2008 to play in Russia, had a bizarre comeback in 2012, then returned again, cementing himself as the best player not in the NHL. After tearing up the KHL for half a decade, Radulov decided it was time to give North America another shot. His return went better than anybody realistically could have expected.
On a low-risk, high-reward, one-year, $5.75 million deal, Radulov put up 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games for the Habs last season. He really took the bull by the horns in the playoffs, scoring seven points in six games and earning a “he’s the best player in hockey right now” compliment from the notoriously-critical-of-Russians Don Cherry.
Apparently Radulov is asking for $7 million annually for six years. That would be a massive price to pay for an enigma who’s turning 31 years old in a week. The Habs are in an unenviable situation with Carey Price set to hit the open market next summer and a possibly closing window to contend.
I said it was weird to think about Joe Thornton in a different jersey, but it’s actually much more difficult to visualize Patrick Marleau not wearing a Sharks jersey than it is his future Hall of Famer teammate. Marleau has been with the Sharks since he was drafted second overall behind Thornton in 1997. He leads the franchise in all-time games, goals, and points, but, like I said above, the Sharks seem to be moving forward without their relics.
Marleau, who’s turning 38 years old in September, scored 27 goals last season. That was his highest total since 2013-14. There’s no doubt he’s still got game, but he’s also apparently seeking a three year deal. It’s troublesome, because at that age, players can quickly fall off a cliff. But, I’ll say it again, where else can you find a player that can immediately make your top-six better like Marleau can?
Justin Williams lost a Game 7 for the first time this spring. Even Mr. Clutch’s magic couldn’t help push the hopeless Capitals over the hump. Williams heads into free agency coming off of a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Washington in which he produced 100 points over 162 games. His 24 goals in 2016-17 was Williams’ highest total since be scored 33 with the Hurricanes back in 2006-07.
He’s turning 36 years old in October, but there’s no doubt Williams can still play. He’s still producing offence at a solid clip, his underlying numbers have consistently been positive throughout his career, and the clutch gene isn’t something that goes away. Obviously you have to be a little wary with handing out a +35 contract, but Williams proved last season he’s worth another multi-year deal on a contending team.
Everywhere I look,I read:all FA getting calls from10-12teams. Me0 calls.On the contrary,I'm trying to call them,and no ones picking up.😀😳🇨🇿— Jaromir Jagr (@68Jagr) June 29, 2017
Where will Jaromir Jagr’s NHL tour land this summer? Obviously the Panthers would love to have him back, but the ageless wonder is said to be exploring the free agent market this summer. He turned 45 in February, but that obviously doesn’t matter. Jagr is a sensation and he’s going to keep playing until he can’t stand up anymore.
And as long as he’s producing, somebody’s going to give him a contract. Last season, Jagr scored 16 goals and 46 points in 82 games. That’s a 20-point dip from where he was the year before, but in today’s NHL, a 46-point winger isn’t something to scoff at. Digging a little deeper, Jagr had the second-best team relative shot attempt differential on the Panthers behind Jonathan Huberdeau. He can still play.
On July 1, Jarome Iginla will turn 40 years old. He’ll also hit the open market for the first time since 2014. Iginla still wants to play in the NHL, and apparently there’s interest from a handful of teams.
2016-17 wasn’t find to the future Hall of Famer, as Iginla racked up one 27 points between the hapless Avs and low-octane Kings, but in his first two years in Colorado, Iginla scored 29 and 22 goals. He obviously isn’t going to play a major role on a team anymore, but Iginla can still chip in a little bit offensively and provide veteran leadership on a contender.
Last summer, Thomas Vanek was bought out by the buried-deep-in-cap-hell Minnesota Wild. He was given a one-year deal by the Wings and performed fairly well in a sheltered, offensive role in Detroit. With the Wings, Vanek scored 15 goals and 38 points before being dealt to the Panthers, where his offence completely dried up.
He 33 years old, has flaws in his game, and is basically as one-dimensional of an offensive player as they come, but Vanek scores goals. He’d make a good add for any team in need of a scoring winger so long as they’re willing to feed him easy minutes.
Radim Vrbata had a difficult 2015-16 season in Vancouver and ultimately wasn’t able to earn a contract until August last summer. He signed a one-year, bonus-heavy deal with the Coyotes and went on to lead the team in goals with 20 and points with 55.
Vrbata turned 36 a few weeks ago and likely proved enough last season to earn a move lucrative contract this time around. Save for that poor season in Vancouver a couple years ago, Vrbata has recorded at least 20 goals in three of his last four seasons, so he’s a good bet to be a productive winger again.
A Chicago Blackhawks cap casualty from after the team’s Stanley Cup win back in 2015, Patrick Sharp is back on the open market for the first time in over a decade. Sharp’s first season in Dallas was excellent. He produced 20 goals and 55 points as a part of Dallas’ high-flying juggernaut 80s style offence. But last season was a struggle as Sharp produced only 18 points in 48 games thanks largely to injury.
Apparently the Blackhawks want to bring Sharp back. That’s kind of been the theme in Chicago, as Stan Bowman had re-acquired Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Johnny Oduya, Brian Campbell, and, most recently, Brandon Saad. If that doesn’t work out, Sharp makes yet another solid middle-six option of a team in need of a scoring winger.
Sticking with injured Dallas Stars forwards, Alex Hemsky is back on the market. Hemsky signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Stars back in 2014 and was decent when healthy. Last season, though, Hemsky was limited to just 15 games due to a knee injury. Injuries have been the theme for Hemsky for most of his career, as Oilers fans know all too well. Still, he’s turning 34 years old and is an excellent talent, making him worth a cheap, short-term deal.
For many, many years, Daniel Winnik has been a solid depth player. He’s 32 years old and has 717 NHL games under his belt. After a 25-point season with the Capitals in a defensive role, Winnik has certainly earned himself another contract. He’s versatile, can play up and down the lineup, and has always been defensively responsible. He’s a very solid, underrated depth player who can make a team better.
The Oilers bought out the remaining two years of Benoit Pouliot’s contract on Thursday, making the former fourth overall pick a free agent once again. He’s bounced around the league quite a bit, finding a varying amount of success. He had two solid years in Edmonton but completely fell off a cliff in 2016-17, scoring just 14 points in 67 games. Pouliot is only 30 years old, which is nuts because it feels like he’s been around forever. He’ll certainly catch on somewhere in a depth scoring role.
Like Pouliot, Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets on Thursday. He had a decent enough season, putting up 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games with positive shot attempt differentials, but the Jackets are a team pressed right up against the cap and needed some breathing room. He’s only one year removed from a 23-goal season, so it’s easy to see Hartnell finding another job next season.
At this point, it looks like Nail Yakupov has taken Patrick Stefan’s crown for worst first overall pick in NHL history. He was acquired by the Blues last summer, but played only 40 games in St. Louis. The Blues clearly didn’t like what they saw and not to offer Yakupov a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
He’s certainly interesting case. Yakupov was an incredible scorer in junior and even had a solid rookie season with the Oilers back in 2013. It’s hard to imagine Yakupov not being offered a one-year show me deal somewhere, but this could be his last chance to prove he can stick at the NHL level.
What does the market look like?
Maybe it’s because the market for centres and defencemen is so thin, but the crop of wingers available this summer isn’t half bad. Obviously the biggest prize left on the table is Alex Radulov since T.J. Oshie signed a long-term deal to stick around in Washington. Radulov’s price tag is massive as he’s asking for $7 million annually, so teams might stray away and instead set their sights on one of the older players who won’t require as much of an investment.
Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, and Jaromir Jagr are all old guys who can still play, and unlike Radulov, won’t come with much of a risk attached to them. Beyond that, this market is littered with solid veterans who can chip in playing a middle-six role. Obviously there aren’t really any high impact players available, but that’s kind of become the reality of the league. Elite players seldom reach the open market.
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