Capped: Looking Ahead to Free Agent Frenzy

Alexander MacLean



This was mentioned last week, but again, the salary cap for the upcoming 2018-2019 season will be $79.5M. Adjust accordingly.


Between the Entry Draft and Free-Agent Frenzy day, this week is one of the best of the summer. The draft is a day full of hope (and usually torment if you live anywhere in Canada), while July first becomes a whole mess of feelings and opinions. With a focus on the salary cap and cap leagues, we will try and get you ready ahead of time for the bigger signings, what teams and contracts to expect, as well as a little insight on where the bargain line might lie for certain players. Strap in because this one is going to be a doozy.


All salary info from capfriendly.


We saw quite a few signings over the past week. Here’s a brief thought on each of those relevant signings before we get into the impending UFAs:


Ilya Kovalchuk:

Kovalchuk’s fantasy value has been covered well over the last few days by many of the other DobberHockey writers. What I will add here, is that Kovalchuk signed the exact same deal as Patrick Marleau, and should be able to score a little more than the Leafs’ dad. Kovalchuk won’t likely have a place on championship-caliber cap league rosters. However, if you have cap space to burn and are scoring starved, you could do worse.


The Penguin Forwards:

Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong received identical two-year, $750,000 average annual value (AAV) contracts. This shows that they aren’t going to be gifted anything, but both players will have a chance to fill in depth roles this year. Sprong is a dark horse scorer coming into this season, but he likely needs this year as an adjustment period before becoming a full-time NHL scorer in the 2019-2020 season.

Bryan Rust scored himself a nice $3.5 million AAV on a four-year deal. I don’t know what the Penguins or my prediction worksheet ($4.2M predicted AAV on a four-year deal) see in him, but based on my eye test, he’s not worth the $3.5 million. However, with the Sheary trade, we get the impression that a spot is opening up for him to ride full time with Sidney Crosby. Rust is entering his fourth “full” year, though he has yet to play 70 games in a season due to injuries. Some of the indicators are there for continued offensive growth, but without the power-play time, as well as the presence of other red flags, I’m not buying in. 

This section was finished here when I wrote it on Tuesday. Then the Penguins signed their fourth line centre Riley Sheahan to an almost identical cap hit from last year ($2.1 million – one year). Status quo here with whatever value he had last year. Don’t bother getting your hopes up that he moves up the lineup either.


Philipp Grubauer:

The fantasy aspect of the Grubauer signing was covered here by Michael Clifford. On the salary end of it, the deal makes sense for all sides. Grubauer’s value next year should be comparable to James Reimer’s from this past season (comparable situation and contract). Past this season, Grubauer’s value rises, and could be comparable to Ben Bishop’s from the 2017-2018 season.


John Carlson:

The premier defenceman on the market this year signed back with the Washington Capitals, maybe thinking that they now have the inside track on the Penguins and could pull off the win two years in a row. As unpredictable as that will be come playoff time, we know what we’re getting from Carlson in the regular season. The $8 million AAV will be tough to swallow for a lot of cap owners, however as the leading scorer from the blueline last season, he has earned it, and will continue to be worth the cost for the first half of the contract anyways.


Stephen Johns:

The Stars defenceman signed before Carlson did, and he may be the best bargain deal on defence this summer because of it. The market has been set high, while Johns’ $2.35 million AAV is paltry compared to what he can provide in fantasy leagues, depending on the categories. If Radko Gudas has provided good value in your cap league the last few years, then you may want to get in on Johns now, if it’s not already too late.



Here we’re going to run down the top 10 UFAs as per TSN’s board, with their possible/likely destinations, a projected cap hit (and years) from the prediction model*, as well as a few thoughts for fantasy owners.

*Note these are calculated from my own prediction model that is currently in the process of being created. The numbers listed for contract value and term are not my own opinions.



John Tavares

Most Likely Destinations: New York Islanders, San Jose, Toronto

Projected New Cap Hit: $10,500,000 (Eight Years – Seven if not with NYI)

Tavares is getting paid, and he has earned it. He will also be worth a deal in the 10-12 million range, but if the rumours are true that he is getting offers of a $15+ million deal for one year, and then re-signing at a more reasonable rate, he may not be rosterable next year depending on the league. Odds are he takes the long-term deal now because NHLers at this stage in their careers like the certainty. Although, we haven’t seen a star player like this hit free-agency in a very long time, so really, we don’t know what to expect.




James van Riemsdyk

Most Likely Destinations: St. Louis, Dallas, San Jose

Projected New Cap Hit: $6,700,000 (Five Years)

van Reimsdyk is likely going to get overpaid in free-agency, but at $6.7 million or lower, fantasy owners should be content. JVR will likely become a top power-play option for his new team, as well as seeing an uptick in his low assist rate from last season (lowest of his last five seasons).




Paul Stastny

Most Likely Destinations: Montreal, Winnipeg, New York Islanders

Projected New Cap Hit: $4,300,000 (Five Years)

The backup plan to the John Tavares sweepstakes is likely going to take a pay cut from his previous $7 million cap hit. However, the lack of other available options will likely buoy the price. Back in a prominent role, continuing his 50-point pace from last season could be expected, making him a good deal at $4.3 million (especially if he re-signs in Winnipeg). Above the $5.5 million mark would likely be an overpayment, both for real life and fantasy purposes.




James Neal

Most Likely Destinations: Boston, Colorado, Vegas

Projected New Cap Hit: $7,300,000 (Five Years)

Neal started off strong last season, but his second half was mediocre. Nevertheless, a contender will still overpay for his services. Neal has been to the playoffs and tasted the finals the last two seasons. He will be gunning for a shot at the cup with a contender. A $7+ million contract would be a little rich for my taste, however he should have a fire lit under him coming into next season.



Mike Green

Most Likely Destinations: Detroit, Edmonton, Chicago

Projected New Cap Hit: $3,500,000 (Five Years)

As the top defenceman of the crop now that Carlson is no longer an option, someone will be overpaying on name value. Green has provided diminishing returns the last few seasons. Right-hand shot defencemen are always in demand, except if you are the Calgary Flames, Green’s hometown team. Green may still be able to make a bit of a homecoming trip back to Alberta, as the Oilers may be a good fit at the right price.



Tyler Bozak

Most Likely Destinations: Winnipeg, New York Islanders, Montreal

Projected New Cap Hit: $3,700,000 (Three Years)

The number three centreman on this list, may be the best fit as a replacement for the number two. Bozak should jump at the chance if he gets an offer to take over for Stastny in the Jets’ top six. Native to the Prairies (Regina), Bozak has had success in the past centring skilled wingers, and moving from a third line last season, likely to a second line role this upcoming year will be a boost for his value.



Rick Nash

Most Likely Destinations: Columbus, Nashville, Pittsburgh

Projected New Cap Hit: $3,400,000 (Three Years)

Rick Nash has more to his situation than just numbers. Nash has expressed his desire to win a Stanley Cup, as well as not wanting to completely uproot his family situation. He has also expressed concerns about his long-term health. From that, the most likely scenario is he signs a short-term, smaller money deal with a contending team located close to central U.S.A. If Nash ends up in a situation such as this, he could provide value similar to what Thomas Vanek has done the last few years as an offensive specialist.



David Perron

Most Likely Destinations: Colorado, Montreal, New Jersey

Projected New Cap Hit: $7,600,000 (Five Years)

If Perron manages to get a contract like the one predicted for him, run! There is no way he could live up to that contract, no matter where he lands. Hopefully you managed to sell on the Vegas hype, because Perron’s stock is about to crash with the announcement of his next contract. Add in the fact Perron is a Band-Aid-Boy trainee and there are too many red flags here to want to invest any kind of fantasy asset in.



Jack Johnson

Most Likely Destinations: San Jose, New Jersey, Colorado

Projected New Cap Hit: $1,900,000 (One Year)

Here is what I had written by Tuesday before the five-year agreement with the Penguins was released into the rumour mill: “Johnson may be drifting into Cody Franson territory, where he struggles to even get an offer that fits, despite the fact he could help many teams as a bottom pairing defenceman. Gone are the days of Johnson anchoring a blueline, and now the over/under on points production may be set around 12.5 or so (he had 11 last season). Derrick Pouliot’s recent signing in Vancouver offers a decent comparable situation-wise. Anything over $1.5 million though, and Johnson becomes dead weight except in the deepest of cap leagues.”

I stand by that $1.5 million benchmark even with Pittsburgh. Under and I would consider rostering him as long as you can release him during the contract if need be, over and I won’t touch him. Rumours are saying that it is expected to be in the $16 million range (approximately $3.3 million annually) so this could be a mess for the Penguins.



Carter Hutton

Most Likely Destinations: Buffalo, New York Islanders, Carolina

Projected New Cap Hit: $3,500,000 (Three Years)

This prediction is actually off of the top of my head, because the prediction model isn’t yet set up for goalies. That being said, the Grubauer contract makes a good comparable, while the slight boost of Hutton above Grubauer can be attributed to the supply and demand of the market, with one team getting a little desperate. Though after the Scott Darling debacle last year, GMs in the real and fantasy world alike are going to be a little shy when dealing with Hutton projections for next year. He won’t duplicate this season’s numbers, especially over a full season. However, ever matching his three-year average of a 92.2 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average, he would be hugely valuable again as a tandem goalie.



Now that we have finished the top 10 off the TSN board, here’s a bonus round with some quick hits on other fantasy relevant UFAs:


Patrick Maroon:

As a big bodied, net-front winger, Maroon is the prototypical player that gets overpaid in free-agency. Think Milan Lucic or David Clarkson. St. Louis is rumoured to be interested, and while the fit would be good, the contract and the long-term outlook aren’t.


Joe Thornton:

I stand by that Thornton took a one-year deal with a large cap hit last year so he could not have to worry about the money this year and go wherever gives him the best shot at the cup. I think he’s biding his time to see where some of the bigger dominoes fall, and then he will make his move. Expect a short, bargain contract with a contending team. However, Jumbo Joe’s best days are behind him, so temper the excitement.


John Moore:

The only other defenceman available right now that could challenge Mike Green for best available. A steady producer with over 100 hits and blocks each last season, Moore could help you in deeper multi-category leagues. The projection model has him earning $2.4 million next year, however supply and demand in free-agency will likely drive the price higher.


Riley Nash:

The other Nash showed well when thrust into top-line minutes alongside the Bruins’ top two wingers. As a depth centreman, Nash should command a decent salary from a team that misses out on Tavares and Stastny. Similar to Bozak, something in the $3-4 million range would make sense, and not be an anchor against his fantasy production.


Robin Lehner:

Lehner needs a fresh start, however there aren’t too many options. The team that needs a goalie most is Buffalo, and he has already worn out his welcome there. Carolina and the Islanders would make the most sense after that, or as a 1B option in St. Louis to push Jake Allen. Actually the St. Louis and New York Islander options are just about the only places Lehner could go where his value would increase. He is likely taking a pay-cut as well, so if he’s available, he may be worth taking a flyer on before he signs.



Recent Capped articles:

Analyzing Recent Signings Around the League

Brendan Gallagher



That caps off another Thursday. Hopefully now we’re all set for July first at noon, when the real fireworks start. Thanks for sticking it out and finishing the article. If you feel like I missed something, or am way off on someone, I would love to hear it in the comments, and I’m sure others would too.


Depending on how busy the long weekend becomes for me, I will try to put out some thoughts on twitter as signings are announced. You can find all those cap thoughts here @alexdmaclean


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