Capped: Finding Homes for UFA Forwards

by Chris Pudsey on June 30, 2016
  • Capped
  • Capped: Finding Homes for UFA Forwards

This week's Capped looks to find homes for the big unrestricted free agent forwards. 

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Now that the NHL Entry Draft is behind us, the focus of NHL General Managers switches to free agency, or as I like to call it, “the silly season.” This is the time of the year when GMs go hog-wild, doing their Christmas shopping with their credit cards, and hoping to find the best gifts.

In this week’s Capped, we will take a look at a few of the bigger named forward unrestricted free agents and see if we can’t figure out homes for these guys. I am going to give some options on where they very well could be headed and the type of money we can expect them to sign for. 

Steven Stamkos – C – Tampa Bay Lightning – Update: re-signed.

Expiring cap hit: $7.5-million AAV

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77

36

28

64

23

216

109

35

38

The hottest free agent headed to market is, without a doubt, Steven Stamkos. Or as Buffalo GM Tim Murray put it, “the big fish”.

Stamkos has openly said he hopes to be back. Tampa Bay GM, Steve Yzerman, has openly said he wants to bring him back. In fact, both had this to say following the Lightning’s exit from the playoffs:

"I hope to be back here, we obviously have unfinished business," Stamkos said one day after the Lightning season ended with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. "This group had been unbelievable. This city has been unbelievable. I can't believe it's been eight years already."

"My preference is for him to come back," Yzerman said. "That's [Stamkos’s] decision. It is out of my control. He is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and I can't force him to sign a contract with us if he doesn't want to."

Everyone knows what Stamkos brings: goals. That being said, his 36 goals this past year was one of his lowest goal totals in a full season since his rookie season. One has to wonder if the contract distractions weighed heavy on his mind, or was it just a down year.

It’s been rumored that the Lightning have offered Stamkos an eight-year, $8.5 million contract to stay with the Bolts, and would be hard pressed to offer much more than that but as they say, those are the rumors.

My prediction where he signs:  Tampa Bay

Other possible destinations:  Detroit, Toronto, Buffalo

If Stamkos wants the maximum possible term, his only option is Tampa Bay, and he has to sign that contract before July 1st. Once free agency officially opens, that eight-year option is out the window and not even the Tampa Bay Lightning can sign him for that anymore. I think he signs for the maximum of eight years in Tampa Bay for $9 million per year. Others can offer him more AAV but that extra year seems to mean a lot to players. Factor in Tampa is still one of the best young teams in the league, and have a shot at making a run for the Cup for years to come, it may be just too tempting to Stamkos. The Florida taxes (or lack thereof) don’t hurt either. They will have to move out another big contract (my guess, Ben Bishop is gone this summer) to be able to afford this, along with needing to re-sign pending RFA Nikita Kucherov, but I think they get it done.
There have been lots of rumblings the past day or so about a possible “sign and trade” option as well. As it stands right now, Stamkos holds all the cards. His No-Movement Clause (NMC) means that the Lightning can’t even trade his rights without his approval so there would have to be some fancy dancing for all parties involved to make this happen, but it’s not completely without probability. I just don’t know if there’s enough time to do the fancy legwork needed to make this happen. 

I think he stays in Tampa. 

Editor’s Note: Chris sent me this article literally minutes before the Stamkos news broke. I didn’t think it fair to cut out his work, so I left this part in.

Stamkos signed for eight years, $8.5 million per season.

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Milan Lucic – W – Los Angeles Kings

Expiring cap hit: $6-million AAV

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81

20

35

55

8

124

244

22

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After coming to Los Angeles in a trade last summer, Lucic was able to find his way back to the 20-goal plateau again, after a bit of a disappointing previous season for the Bruins. He was playing like a rejuvenated player and was exactly what the Kings had hoped he be when they brought him in. Unfortunately, the Kings are a cap-strapped team and simply won’t be able to bring Lucic back. In fact, they have already told him he won’t be back, so he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st

Lucic brings a lot to the table that few NHL players can. A lot of teams are always saying how they are looking for the next “Milan Lucic,” so you’d think there would be a fair amount of teams in pursuit of his services. I think a lot of teams would love to go after him, but he’s going to be looking for a decent raise and at 28 years of age, his style of play doesn’t tend to favor him going forward in any long-term type of situation. 

My prediction where he signs: Edmonton Oilers

Other possible destinations: Vancouver, Boston, Nashville

I think he heads to Edmonton for something around $6.5 million for five years.

There are already rumors out there that Lucic has agreed in principal to a new deal with Edmonton but it can’t be officially announced until free agency opens. I guess we will find out in a couple days if that’s true or not.

There’s no denying that the Oilers want to get bigger and there’s no “bigger” free agent on the market who will bring the same impact as someone like Lucic will. The Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, can easily envision someone Lucic riding shotgun with McDavid already.

Safe to say the trade of Taylor Hall Wednesday evening all but seals the deal here.

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David Backes – C/W – St. Louis Blues

Expiring cap hit:  $4.5 million AAV

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79

21

24

45

13

168

239

63

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Backes has played ten seasons with the Blues, the last five as the team’s Captain, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Blues GM Doug Armstrong would love to bring Backes, but isn’t sure if the money is there to do so as they head into the off-season with roughly $14 million in cap space and a few other free agents to deal with, most notably Jaden Schwartz.

Backes is a heart and soul player who is as consistent as they come. A perennial Selke Trophy candidate, he does it all for the Blues and is due a nice raise from his last contract. Rumors have him as being worth somewhere in the $6.0 million area on the open market.

At 32 years of age, he’s on the downward slope of his career but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t bring the intangibles that a lot of NHL teams won’t want to bring in, for the right money and term. He will be a hot ticket on the free agent market.

My prediction where he signs:  Boston Bruins

Other possible destinations:  St. Louis, Colorado, Minnesota

Boston is about to watch Loui Eriksson walk to free agency and Backes plays a similar two-way game as Eriksson, only more physical. I can see Backes heading there for four years at an AAV of $5.5 – $6.0 million. Although the Bruins are set down the middle with Bergeron and Krejci, Backes would fit in nicely on the right side of the top-six and is able to take draws if needed as well. Could you imagine the Bruins if they had both Bergeron AND Backes (two of the league’s best two-way players and both are Selke candidates each year!)

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Kyle Okposo – W – New York Islanders

Expiring cap hit:  $2.8 million AAV

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79

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42

64

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202

90

39

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As far as the thought of Okposo being re-signed by the Islanders this summer, the writing was pretty much on the wall when Islanders GM, Garth Snow came out and said:

"Kyle is a great person and has been a terrific player for this organization," Snow said. "I wish him nothing but the best."

It’s a bit surprising that Snow feels that way about his second best offensive player. Okposo is 28 years old, and entering his prime years; to replace him is going to cost the Islanders close to the same amount of money that he’s going to demand one has to think.

The three-time 20-goal scorer has managed to put up 60 points in two of his last three seasons, is definitely due a handsome raise from his last bargain contract, and there will certainly be plenty of teams looking to sign the winger. 

My prediction where he signs:  Detroit Red Wings

Other possible destinations: Minnesota, Boston, New Jersey

After missing out on Stamkos, Wings GM Ken Holland finds scoring at a cheaper price point.  I can see Okposo signing a six-year contract for something between $6.0 – $6.5 million AAV.

With Pavel Datsyuk departing for the KHL, the door has opened for Dylan Larkin to return to his natural position of center. Offering him a rugged, offensive winger to play with like Okposo would be smart money spent. Having talent on the wing will help the Wings and Larkin long-term.

After finishing 23rd overall in goals scored last year, the Wings need to find someone to hit the back of the net. Okposo should fit in nicely and do that with ease.

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As always, thanks for taking the time to read.  Next week we will take a look at some of the signings and see how they work, fantasy-wise.

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisPudsey

Other recent Capped columns:

Last Year's Free Agent Disappointments

UFA Signings That Paid Off in 2015