NHL Free Agency Preview
NHL Free Agency kicks off on July 1st and if you aren’t prepared for the upcoming frenzy, don’t worry, HTN contributor Matthew Watson has you covered.
Note: These are not the most likely pairings of players and teams; they are pairings that make the most sense from a hockey standpoint. There are additional non-hockey related factors that could cause a player to sign with a different team.
Sergei Bobrovsky and the Carolina Hurricanes
This seems like a match made in heaven. Sergei Bob is clearly ready to depart Columbus, and after consecutive years of post-season failure he will most likely be looking to head to a contender with Stanley Cup aspirations. Enter the Carolina Hurricanes, who made an improbable post-season run all the way to the conference championships before being undone by… guess what… their goaltending. With Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney both unrestricted free agents, Bob could swoop right in and claim the starting goaltending spot. With over $20 million in cap space at the time of writing this article, and Sebastian Aho as the only significant signing outstanding, the Hurricanes can make a serious offer to Sergei. Will the Russian superstar take his talents to the Tar Heel State?
Artemi Panarin and the Nashville Predators
The Predators just opened up $7.5 million in cap space following the P.K. Subban trade so one has to assume that they are looking to land a big fish this offseason. Everyone has Matt Duchene mocked to them at the moment, but if you look at their depth chart this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. With Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and Mikael Granlund their centre depth seems pretty set. However, it is the wing spots that appear weak. Beyond Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, no other wingers had more than 40 points and after the top line of those two and Johansen, the rest of offense fell flat. If the Preds pony up for a scoring machine like Panarin, they could really add some life to the forward lines and hopefully re-energize a guy like Turris or Granlund. Signing Panarin would give the Predators something they have not had in a long time which is two threatening forward lines. With a bona fide defense and goaltender already in place, Panarin could take a trip with the Preds deep into the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs and perhaps to the big dance itself.
Jake Gardiner and the Winnipeg Jets
After trading Jacob Trouba, the Jets are a man short defensively. Josh Morrisey was the only left-handed defender who inspired any confidence last season and beyond Trouba no other defenseman had more than 35 points last season. Enter the slick skating Gardiner. With the Leafs most likely unable to afford him and the Jets flush with $24 million in cap space (albeit before re-signing pending RFAs Kyle Connor and Patrick Laine), this looks like the perfect opportunity for Winnipeg to capitalize. The Jets have an offensive juggernaut up front led by Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele that should entice Gardiner, and if they could add a powerplay quarterback like him it could go a long way to improving their Stanley Cup aspirations. Oh, just don’t ask him to play a Game 7 against Boston.
3 Teams to Watch
The Avalanche have a whopping $35 million in cap space and their only significant RFA is Mikko Rantanen. With needs at essentially every position except for a dynamite top line and some good young defensive pieces, the Avs have the potential to make a serious impact. Will GM Joe Sakic be willing to show big stars the money? Could there be a reconciliation with Matt Duchene? These are questions that must be answered once July 1st rolls around, but you can expect the Colorado Avalanche to make rumblings in free agency.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are currently at one of those cross-roads that define a general manager’s term. Doug Wilson has roughly $15 million in cap space and a lot of veteran favourites in free agency. The current list of suspects include the likes of captain Joe Pavelski, Jumbo Joe Thornton, recent veteran acquisition Gustav Nyquist and rising star Timo Meier who are all restricted or unrestricted free agents. How will Doug choose to spend his coin? He already has just short of $30 million committed to defensemen aged 28 and older and another $8 million devoted to 30-year old Logan Couture. This is beginning to look dangerously close to a Chicago Blackhawks situation where they have a lot of money locked up in aging veterans. Will the Sharks spend top dollar to keep Pavelski and Nyquist around? Will San Jose lock up their future in Timo Meier? We will see how the Sharks play this offseason, but regardless they will be a team to keep an eye on, because Doug Wilson has never been shy about making a splash or two.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Oh Columbus, how silly do you look now. After mortgaging essentially their entire future for one futile postseason run, the Jackets now teeter on a cliff. They have $30 million of cap space and rentals Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene as well as franchise stalwarts Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky as unrestricted free agents. Under the assumption that most, if not all of these parties are looking to depart Columbus, where does that leave the Jackets? In need of talent, and a lot of it, in a hurry. Don’t look for them to push through many trades as they have already coughed up 3 early round picks over the next two drafts and didn’t draft anyone this year before the 4th round. Any assistance will have to come through free agency and the Jackets have both the need and the dollars to make it happen. Who will the front office target to put in a blue cannon jersey next season?
Rapid-Fire Hot Takes
1. I don’t see Mitch Marner playing anywhere but Toronto next year. The media loves hyping up the whole offer sheet fiasco, but if you can give me the name of a team that will readily cough up 4 first-round picks let me know. Don’t forget that Marner must actually sign this offer sheet as well and agree to play elsewhere. Mitch is staying in Toronto, but the dollar value will be significant. Since Matthews is sitting at $11.6 million, I am predicting somewhere in the $9.5-$10.5 million range.
2. This is a top-heavy free agent pool for goalies and defensemen. Jake Gardiner and Sergei Bob are tops in these departments, but after that there is slim pickings. Tyler Myers has buyer beware written all over him as he hasn’t had over 40 points since 2009 and has only played all 82 games once in that span. Despite all of this, he will be overpriced because of the weak pool of talent behind him. Robin Lehner had a standout year last year with the Islanders but has supreme bust potential for next season. After him the next best option in the goalie pool is… Petr Mrazek? Yikes. If your team signs any of these names, they will be paying a premium because of the weak collective group of free agents at both defense and goalie.
3. Matt Duchene will get at least $9 million AAV. Yep, you heard it here folks, Matt Duchene will sign a big ol’ contract next season. This is due to two important factors. The first is Duchene now has significant playoff experience. He recorded 10 points in 10 games this postseason which proves that he has the potential to contribute significantly to a successful squad. This only adds to his value. The second is that the centre market is incredibly midrangy. After Duchene there is a steep drop-off to a pool that includes Derick Brassard, Joe Thornton and Marcus Johansson. There are a lot of teams in need of a #2 centre and none of those players are going to inspire much confidence. If a team is in need in offense they will overpay the only legitimate 2nd/borderline 1st line centre available and that is Matt Duchene. Considering he is coming off a $6 million contract it would not surprise me at all to see him receive over $9 million and close in on double figures with his contract’s Average Annual Value.
4. The New Jersey Devils will sign two more top-6 forwards. Woah, wait a minute, isn’t that the team that just stole P.K. Subban from the Predators? You’re absolutely right it is. They also drafted Jack Hughes. They also have over $25 million in cap space. This offseason is going to be fun. With Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri as one bona fide line, and Jack Hughes and Travis Zajac ready to centre the next pair of lines, why not invite some wingers to join in the fun. I’m looking at guys like Ryan Dzingel, Michael Ferland, Gustav Nyquist, Justin Williams, and maybe even Brandon Pirri. With Subban and Andy Greene anchoring a solid defense and the up-and-coming Mackenzie Blackwood in goal, the Devils are going to be a fun team next season.
Free Agency Wish List
We asked our HTN readers who they would want to sign with their favourite teams. Here is who they added to their free agency wish list for this offseason:
“As tough as it is for me to say, Jake Gardiner is a very important player for the Habs to sign in the off-season. The Habs lack any offence coming from the left side of the defence and Gardiner would be a nice fit beside Weber or Petry. But the BIG signing Montreal can go for this off-season is Duchene or Panarin. Either one of these two would really solidify/bolster the offence that Montreal found last season”- Nick, Montreal Canadiens fan
“I would like the Leafs to sign Ryan Carpenter, 3G 10A in 68 games, BUT only shot 3.6% last year… This guy does a solid job controlling possession and is a strong on the breakout something the Leafs need. I see him as a cheap 4C replacing Goat.”- Dan, Toronto Maple Leafs fan
“Would be nice to see someone like Perry, get an older forward for leadership and a bit of depth… Would be neat to see Duchene come back but I don’t think it’d be good for the dressing room.”- Hunter, Colorado Avalanche fan
“BOBROVSKY… Both goalies are free agents… Our goaltending was the biggest question mark all year. I know Smith came up big in the playoffs but would like to see some consistency. The other free agent dream would be to get an elite center. But I think it starts from the back.”- Isaac, HTN Contributor and Calgary Flames fan
“Anyone veteran who can mentor young guys… maybe Williams if he doesn’t cost much or Zuccarello”- Jordan, Ottawa Senators fan
“For something specific to the Leafs I’d say Chris Wideman… solid 3rd pair RHD… in his time in Ottawa he’s always had a positive Corsi relative to the team… specific to the Canucks I’d say avoid Myers and go for Gardiner.”- Andrew, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks fan
“I want the Leafs to resign Jake Gardiner. Given the obvious market for underwhelming RHD (looking at you Philly), I find it very likely the Leafs will move Zaitsev without taking money back and will thus be even slimmer on the back end. Jake has already said publicly he’d take less money to stay in T.O. so you could fit him under the cap and then just commit to 2 of Reilly, Muzzin, Gardiner and Dermott to play right starting in training camp.”- Alex, Toronto Maple Leafs fan
“Ottawa would be smart to sign one year deals and give lots of ice time to someone like Devante Smith-Pelly or Brandon Tanev in the hopes that it raises their value and they could flip them for picks come the trade deadline. But since I do not think Sens management will make a move like that… that only leaves players who have prior connections to better days with the organization which is why the Sens will sign Jason Spezza and Dion Phaneuf/Marc Methot to 1 year deals.”- Peter, Ottawa Senators fan
“Artemi Panarin. They got rid of Saad at first and then got him back because it helped out Toews who was useless without him. But it costed them Panarin, who is both and unreal talent and young. We need that young core to build around and Panarin is already loved in Chicago. Alex DeBrincat isn’t enough to build a franchise around.”- Coty, Chicago Blackhawks fan
All salary cap-related statistics courtesy of CapFriendly