Picking up from last week, we're going to cover a few more players who are set to hit the free agent market at the end of the playoffs. This is their last chance to build up their résumé for the bargaining table, and a poor regular season could be completely erased by strong play in the bubble. We're now a few games into the conference finals, and all of the teams have congregated in Edmonton. On these four teams, we have seen a few players greatly outplay expectations, and that is why they are still alive.
I know that I just said the players who were outplaying their expectations helped their teams into the final four, however the Chicago Blackhawks made it farther than they were supposed to, in part due to the load carried by a few of their pending free agents. Dominik Kubalik shouldered more than his share of the offensive burden and could be looking at DeBrincat's cap hit number as something worth aiming for now. Goaltender Corey Crawford was the backbone of the playoff push, and though he wasn't great, he was as good as he had to be to win games – which is saying something considering the defencemen in front of him. Defenceman Slater Koekkoek also showed well, and may have earned himself some rope towards earning a full-time spot in the lineup from the start of next season. He's a free agent this summer and won't be expensive.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has the trio of RFAs that everyone will be watching this summer. Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and especially Mikhail Sergachev have outplayed expectations and proven themselves to be valuable parts of the core of this team. The other less-heralded names to consider are Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk. Maroon may re-up with Tampa Bay, as they will need to fill out some cheap depth, and Maroon has shown himself to be a valuable piece worthy of one of those contract slots. At this point in his career, the Stanley Cup opportunity may be worth more to him that the numbers on his contract.
On the back end, Shattenkirk has priced himself out of Tampa. The 10-year NHL veteran hasn't been asked to carry a heavy load in his own end