A couple of Russians that could be returning to the NHL are helping to make this year’s UFA class look mighty appealing.
This seems to be a trend, with more top-flight KHL players choosing to play in North America rather than stay in Russia. This year, there are two such Russians, but one will bog his team down in a major controversy as soon as he signs a contract.
Below are 10 of the most intriguing UFAs this summer. Just keep in mind that just because they are intriguing doesn’t necessarily mean a big pay raise. Au contraire, at least four players on this list will be getting significant pay cuts, which can only help their value in cap leagues.
10. James Neal
Going into the summer, the Stanley Cup finalists Vegas Golden Knights have a ton of cap space (about $24 million, and that doesn’t include the $5.25 million that will be saved once David Clarkson goes back on the LTIR in the fall), but do need to re-sign William Karlsson, David Perron, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore. If Vegas wins the cup, it would be Neal’s first and could influence where he signs this offseason since he won’t feel the pressure to sign a discounted deal to go to a powerhouse squad to try and win one.
9. Rick Nash
He won’t be getting a contract anywhere close to what he’s currently making ($8.2 million with a cap hit of $7.8 million), but I’m wondering if a lower-priced deal will be good for him. Maybe taking $3 million a year for a couple of years won’t put as much pressure on him, nor on a coach to give him lots of ice time. He could thrive in a reduced role and rejuvenate his career to become at least a 40-point player again.
JVR has scored at least 27 goals in four of the last five seasons. The only year he didn’t was 2015-16, when he had 14 goals in 40 games (a 28-goal pace). That’s pretty good consistency. He also has plenty of value in fantasy leagues that count shots, as he’s taken at least 238 in four of the last five years. On the downside, his ice time has decreased every year since 2013-14 and below 15 minutes a game this year. If he signs a big-money contract, expect to see a significant bump in ice time.
7. Joe Thornton
While Thornton, who will be 39 years old at the start of training camp, has been great for the Sharks over the years, maybe it’s time for the squad to move on from the former captain. He said he is willing to take less money in order for the team to sign a big-name free agent. Keep in mind that the team is rumoured to be after John Tavares and there’s still Evander Kane to re-sign. Thornton’s biggest issue has been injuries. He had a torn ACL and MCL last April, and didn’t fully recover until after Christmas. He then put up nine points in seven games, only to tear his ACL and MCL again. Despite this, if he did hit the open market, there would definitely be plenty of interest.
6. Paul Stastny
Stastny is an interesting case because of the perception of how much better he was with the Jets than with the Blues, but the stats don’t bear it out. His points-per-game mark with the Blues this year was 0.61, while with the Jets it was 0.65. That would only be an extra three points over a full 82-game season. His excellent postseason, where he had 15 points in 17 games, could help him earn a few extra dollars than he may have gotten before the postseason began.
Every summer, there seems to be a couple of teams that look for cheap goaltenders that could turn into number one netminders. Hutton has a great opportunity to be that guy this summer if he doesn’t re-sign with the Blues. He stole the starter’s job from Jake Allen and posted a 17-7-3 record with a 2.09 GAA and a .931 SV %. That was great, but he’s also 32 years old and has started a grand total of 114 games. Will there be a team willing to give Hutton a contract and a chance to be the top guy?
4. Slava Voynov
Voynov is rumoured to want to come back to the NHL, and there are a few teams reportedly interested, including the L.A. Kings, Voynov’s old team. It will get tricky, as there would need to be steps taken to ensure he would be allowed to come back to play in the NHL, plus there’s been some debate about whether he could be allowed back into the United States as well. And if he is allowed to sign with a U.S. team, how much trouble he would have getting into Canada on road games. Then there’s the bad optics of signing a player that served two months in jail in 2015 after he pled no contest to a misdemeanour charge of “corporal injury to a spouse.”
3. John Carlson
It actually befuddles me a little that Carlson wasn’t re-signed at some point during the season. As the year went on and he kept racking up the points (eventually leading the league in points for a defenseman), you would have thought Washington would have wanted to lock up the 28-year-old dman. Now in the playoffs, he has 15 points in 17 games and his salary is increasing with every passing game. There’s always a market for offensive defensemen, and it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone if he signs a seven-year $52.5-million deal.
I am more interested in where Kovalchuk winds up than any other player in the league. He left the Devils a couple of years after a signing a long-term cap-circumventing deal, and has wanted back into the NHL for a couple of years. This year, unlike in years past, he doesn’t need to get permission from anyone. He can still be a threat, as he put up 63 points in 53 games in the KHL this year (according to Frozen Pool, the NHL equivalent is 71 points). He’s going to be on a mission to prove that he still belongs in the NHL.
1. John Tavares
What’s scary about the whole Tavares situation is that we’re not even close to getting the full-on media attention frenzy that is bound to happen. There will be hourly updates, and almost every team will be in on the potential destination list. Tavares will command $11 million on the open market, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league. He could also sign for $8 million so he could land on a cup contender somewhere. No matter what his decision, expect the media scrutiny to increase as we get closer to July 1.