This time last year I put out an article on some of the 2019 UFA class, with some thoughts and expectations for each position, and a few specific players. This year is going to be a very interesting summer due to the CBA negotiations, the slow-rising salary cap ceiling (escrow anyone), and the unusual lack of depth entering the free-agency period.
This year’s forward crop may finally be the one that gets teams to stop overspending. There is a top tier of talent between Nicklas Backstrom, and Taylor Hall, and a second one filled with five or so skilled wingers that have their own warts. However, of these top players, a few like Backstrom and Evgenii Dadonov we would expect to re-sign with their current teams. Backstrom could be expected to re-up at a reasonable price (Model prediction for Backstrom: $7.7M – Matt Duchene and Logan Couture would be the closest comparables from last season), with Dadonov possibly becoming the highest paid forward on the Panthers next season (Model prediction: $7.5M). With those two possibly off the market, it may drive up the price of Taylor Hall, who my model has predicted just over $9 million, but may end up closer to Artemi Panarin’s $11.6 million from last season if he wants to follow the money towards the highest bidder.
On the flip side, players such as Mikael Granlund, Chris Kreider, and Alex Galchenyuk (current model projections all starting with a five) will really need to up their games if they are going to cash in. Continuing down the list of names, players such as Craig Smith, Tyler Toffoli, Carl Soderberg, and Corey Perry just aren’t exciting enough to see teams throw big money at them.
With the added possibility of the 2020 draft adding an above average influx of talent to the league right away, as well as the cap crunch most of the league seems to be in, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that especially on the forward end, July 1st is going to be much less eventful than years past, with many forwards waiting until the back half of July before inking contracts.
Those later deals are where the bargains can be found. In last year’s article, I mentioned Andre Burakovsky, William Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi as possible reasonable UFA deals. This year in that mold, your best bets may be Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund (possibly taking a one-year prove-it deal), and Rocco Grimaldi.
Defencemen are going to have all the fun this offseason. There is some talent at the top even after Roman Josi was taken off the market. Between Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie, and Torey Krug, we could see more than a $25 million cap hit moving forward. After those top-few, and debatably Erik Gustafsson, Jake Muzzin and Justin Schultz (projected for a surprising bargain contract that won’t happen – simply meaning he’s currently overpaid), there are almost two dozen second-pairing defencemen available, most of whom will be 30 or older. Stay as far away as you can from all of those depth players, they will inevitably be overpaid for what they end up bringing to the table.
One of the main differences between the defence and the forward groups, is that the secondary and tertiary tiers in the forward groups have some upside, while on defence there is very little to be found. This is where teams will be getting into trouble, as every GM is convinced that they need more help on defence, and they are too stubborn to trade or present an offer sheet in an effort to solve their problem.
Chicago’s only goalie signed past next season is Colin Delia. Robin Lehner makes the most sense to take over the crease there, but that leaves Corey Crawford without a home. Add in Braydon Holtby, Jimmy Howard, Jacob Markstrom, and a hodge-podge of other goaltenders looking to earn a larger piece of the pie than they do this year (e.g. Jaroslav Halak), and the goalie carousel looks to be alive and well.
Fantasy owners are usually best served by staying away from the higher tier of free-agent goalies, and instead picking up the trials that sign later in the summer like Lehner, Petr Mrazek, and Mike Smith have in recent years.
Additionally, with the Seattle draft coming less than a year from the start of the 2020 free-agency period, teams will be looking to settle in with one goalie to get through the expansion, while ensuring they have a second goalie under contract for the extra year. As a result, we may see less interest in the one-year chance deals, and teams with two goalies worth protecting, starting to shop them around.
If you have questions, comments, or article requests, you can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean.
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