With the Capitals closing out the Knights and wrapping up the season, we start looking forward to the offseason activities. While the Preds have both a limited range of needs and, barring a significant move, not a lot of cap space there is a list of above average to elite free agents that will draw interest across the league. The draft is just over a week away which means free agent silly season is almost upon us!
So here we go… lets take a look around the league at some big name UFA’s (and a special edition RFA) and see where the chips may fall. I will make my guesses at what kind of contract each skater might receive, where they fit in best and an under the radar team who could be a player for their services. Never one to leave out a Preds slant I will also address the likelihood any of these skaters could be wearing Gold next season.
-Contract, Best Fit and Under the Radar are my own opinions where players might go and not directly related to any media reporting.
-All Corsi For statistics are at even strength.
-All statistics and salary cap information via NHL.com, CapFriendly.com, Corsica.Hockey and HockeyDB.com.
The Best of the Best
1) John Tavares – Age 27, 2017 Cap Hit: $5.5M
37G/47A/84P, 257 SOG, 14.4 S%, 48.51 CF%, 52.9 FO%
Rarely does a player the caliber of John Tavares reach unrestricted free agency. If we’re being honest, it never should have come to this. Tavares repeatedly professed wanting to remain in with the Islanders but continued dysfunction has created a scenario where exploring free agency is really the only option. Looking at Tavares’ production, he has not quite been at the level of the McDavid/Crosby stratosphere but he is just below. However, he also has not played with near the talent of those players. Tavares is an elite talent who, with an improved group around him, could regularly challenge 90 points.
Contract: 7 years (8 if w/ NYI) x $11M AAV
Best Fit: NY Rangers – Close to home for Tavares, gobs of cap space and a roster well ahead of the Islanders in terms of talent.
Under the Radar: Carolina – Wing talent in Aho and Skinner, lots of young defensive talent and plenty of cap space.
Preds Likelihood: I don’t see Poile pursuing Tavares as strongly as many (myself included) would like unless he gets some kind of message that the Preds are top of his list. I’ll put it at 15%.
2) John Carlson – Age 28, 2017 Cap Hit: $4M
15G/49A/64P, 237 SOG, 6.3 S%, 49.1 CF%
Coming off an excellent season across the board capped off with a Cup win, Carlson is poised to cash in. The Capitals know they need to find a way to keep him and there are always teams looking for right shot, puck moving, productive defensemen. Carlson is a strong skater, can both QB the power play as well as unleash a heavy point shot and is a responsible defensive presence. He is certainly the top UFA defenseman and will draw serious interest.
Contract: 7 years (8 if w/ WSH) x $8.5M AAV
Best Fit: Washington – The Capitals need to keep him and will find a way to make room.
Under the Radar: Vegas – Erik Karlsson may be the primary target but if the acquisition cost is too high they will have a lot of money to throw at Carlson.
Preds Likelihood: None, 0%.
The Goal Scorers
3) James Van Riemsdyk – Age 29, 2017 Cap Hit: $4.25M
36G/18A/54P, 248 SOG, 14.5 S%, 54.24 CF%
JVR has a skill and he is really, really good at it. He simply scores goals. Van Riemsdyk parks himself in front of the goal using a strong positioning sense and has excellent hands to create tips and finish the rebounds. While he is very good on the power play, JVR is hardly a specialist seen through 21 of his 36 goals scored at even strength. On the negative side, JVR is not a great skater and his defensive presence is lacking. But for a team that needs goals (and who doesn’t) JVR is a strong add.
Contract: 5 years x $6.5M AAV
Best Fit: New Jersey – Devils are a team on the rise and JVR would make an immediate top 6 impact.
Under the Radar: St. Louis – If the Blues don’t find another center, they could look at JVR to add scoring from the wing.
Preds Likelihood: Barring moving another winger out it is unlikely Poile pays up for him. 10%.
4) James Neal – Age 30, 2017 Cap Hit: $5M
25G/19A/44P, 202 SOG, 12.4 S%, 50.39 CF%
Everyone’s favorite ginger-bearded heel is on the free agent market. James Neal brings loads of shooting skill and a constant physical presence to the ice. When he is on, Neal can score from almost anywhere with a deceptive release and strength to hold off defenders. However, Neal is also very, very streaky and can go silent for multiple games at a time. For a guaranteed 25+ goals per season there will be teams lining up.
Contract: 6 years x $5.75M AAV
Best Fit: Vegas – An immediate fit with the team and city, Neal could get the first ever ‘C’ for the Knights.
Under the Radar: Boston – A veteran squad looking to make another run could use another scoring winger in their top 6.
Preds Likelihood: Poile probably reaches out but the fit is iffy and Neal may hold a grudge for being exposed to expansion. Similar to JVR I’ll go 10%.
5) Ilya Kovalchuk – Age 35, 2017 Cap Hit: N/A
31G/32A/63P (St. Petersburg SKA – KHL)
Returning to the NHL for the first time in 5 years, Kovalchuk wants to win a Cup. He is a supremely talented winger with an elite shot release and under-discussed playmaking. Age is a concern as Kovalchuk turns 35 with a lot of mileage between NHL, KHL and International competition. Veteran squads looking to add scoring punch on a shorter term contract could have a lot of interest.
Contract: 3 years x $6M
Best Fit: San Jose – DeBoer coached Kovalchuk and Sharks have the right kind of veteran playoff roster.
Under the Radar: Columbus – On the rise and in need of more scoring. Has the cap space to make a fit.
Preds Likelihood: Highly unlikely. Just doesn’t feel like a Poile move. I’ll say 2%.
The Supporting Cast
6) Rick Nash – Age 33, 2017 Cap Hit: $7.8M
21G/13A/34P, 230 SOG, 9.1 S%, 50.48 CF%
Nash is slowing down, that much is for sure. He has a lot of mileage and it has taken a toll on his physical ability. That being said, he can still be a productive offensive player in the right role. Even in a shortened season (71 games played) Nash still put 230 shots on goal which is top 40 among all skaters. A short term deal is likely needed to prove what he can still do.
Contract: 1 year x $4.75M AAV
Best Fit: Boston – Nash was productive in his short stint with Boston so fit as a veteran winger is there.
Under the Radar: Minnesota – Veteran team could use another scorer on a short term deal.
Preds Likelihood: Not productive enough to supplant anyone in the Preds lineup for a full season at that cost, 0%.
7) Paul Stastny – Age 32, 2017 Cap Hit: $7M
16G/37A/53P, 159 SOG, 10.1 S%, 54.2 CF%, 54.9 FO%
Stastny is a veteran center coming off a sizable contract who still fits a solid 2C or very good 3C role. Between St. Louis and Winnipeg he has seen a good bit of playoff competition and can be a good addition to a team looking to make a step forward. Stastny won’t get significant term but still carries good value.
Contract: 3 years x $5.25M AAV
Best Fit: Montreal – If Montreal views itself as a team that can compete, Stastny would really help stabilize the center ice.
Under the Radar: Arizona – The ‘Yotes quietly had an excellent 2nd half. Stastny and Stepan make a solid, if unspectacular, 1/2 center corps for a team needing to make a playoff push.
Preds Likelihood: None, 0%.
8) Mike Green – Age 32, 2017 Cap Hit: $6M
8G/25A/33P, 132 SOG, 6.1 S%, 48.14 CF% Even Strength
Green started the ’17-18 season strong but tailed off as injuries and the realities of a bad Red Wings team set in. He is still an above average puck mover from the right side with a heavy point shot. He’s no longer a player to be on ice for 23 or 24 minutes but is a reliable producer. Green could be a good add as a 2nd pair PP specialist on a short term contract.
Contract: 3 years x $5M AAV
Best Fit: Buffalo – Sabres desperately need quality defensemen and Housley wants guys who can move the puck.
Under the Radar: Washington – If Carlson moves on, Green could fill in nicely while other top options are found.
Preds Likelihood: Wouldn’t get any PP time and probably too expensive. 0%.
9) Jack Johnson – Age 31, 2017 Cap Hit: $4.35M
3G/8A/11P, 88 SOG, 3.4 S%, 47.89 CF%
Johnson has had a rough couple seasons. By essentially every statistical measure he is a negative contributor. However when comparing him as a 4/5 defender instead of a 2/3 defender the picture gets a little better. Can he be a responsible 3rd pair who can bump to 2nd pair in a pinch? Probably. Just don’t bet a lot of money or years on it.
Contract: 4 years x 3.5M AAV (I really wanted to put a 1 year prove-it deal but I just have a feeling someone will give him term)
Best Fit: Dallas – The Stars need anyone who can maybe block a shot once in awhile.
Under the Radar: Colorado – So maybe both under-whelming Johnson’s can be on one team?
Preds Likelihood: Is there a number less than zero?
10) Mark Stone – Age 26, 2017 Cap Hit: $3.5M
20G/42A/62P, 132 SOG, 15.2 S%, 50.95 CF%
So, Ottawa is a mess. Not just a hot mess but a dumpster fire mess. Stone is a very good young winger and will be ready for a big payday. With all the dysfunction there will be teams sniffing around to take advantage. If the Sens choose to strip it down and fully start over (they should) then Stone’s compensation could net a sizable return in draft picks.
Contract: 7 years x $7.5M AAV
Best Fit: Vegas – Lots of cap space and lots of draft picks.
Under the Radar: Colorado – Not quite the same scale of assets as Vegas but with multiple firsts upcoming they could absorb the cost.
Preds Likelihood: None, 0%.
So Who is the Biggest Surprise?
Tavares is the obvious wild card because he will draw the highest dollar amount. In my opinion, however, the biggest surprise among these free agents will come from one of the defensemen. Right shot, puck moving defensemen are in such high demand across the league that the likelihood of a desperation contract only increases. The biggest surprises would be if Carlson gets over $9.5M AAV or if Green gets more than 3 years.
Vote in the poll below who from this like you think will be the biggest surprise. There are many other names out there and I am sure many more surprises. Respond in the comments if you think there is someone else who will make a big free agency splash.