The Hockey News recently ranked the 20 best free agents who could be available in 2016. Here’s my take on those I believe will be on the market next July.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Jared Clinton ranked the 20 best free agents who could hit next summer’s unrestricted market. They are Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Braydon Coburn, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic, Calgary’s Marc Giordano, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, Carolina’s Eric Staal and Cam Ward, St. Louis’ David Backes, New York Islanders’ Kyle Okposo and Fran Nielsen, Colorado’s Erik Johnson, Dallas’ Alex Goligoski, New York Rangers’ Keith Yandle, Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, Florida’s Brian Campbell, Edmonton’s Cam Talbot and Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s an impressive list of talent, though obviously most of these players won’t be available when next July 1 rolls around. Many factors will determine their fates, not the least of which is their respective asking prices.
I believe Stamkos, Kopitar, Ladd, Seabrook, Nielsen, Johnson and Goligoski will be re-signed before the end of June 2016. Yes, some of them will be very expensive, but I think they’re so invaluable to their respective teams that they’ll ultimately get the contracts they seek.
The Kings won’t have the cap space to re-sign Kopitar and Lucic unless they shed salary elsewhere, which is why I expect Lucic will be available. The Jets have the cap space to re-sign Byfuglien and Ladd, but I suspect this budget-conscious club will keep Ladd, as they have the blueline depth to offset the departure of “Big Buff.” The Flames want to re-sign Giordano and he undoubtedly wants to stay, but he could prove too expensive to retain. The Flames must also ensure they have sufficient cap space to re-sign rising stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
Staal’s status depends upon if he sees a long-term future with the Hurricanes and how much of a pay cut he’s willing to accept. Ward’s a goner. If the Blues make another early playoff exit, significant roster changes could be in store and Backes could be among them. Okposo’s name popped up in trade rumors during this year’s NHL draft. If Ryan Strome supplants Okposo on the Isles first line, the latter could become expendable.
The Rangers won’t have sufficient cap space to re-sign Yandle, especially when they’ve got RFAs like Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller to re-sign. Plekanec’s future with the Candiens depends upon if he’s willing to accept a short-term deal for around the same salary as he’s currently making.
Talbot’s future with the Oilers depends upon his performance this season. Campbell will have to accept a pay cut to stay in Florida. Vrbata is unlikely to fit into the Canucks long-term plans. I also don’t think Coburn fits into the Lightning’s future over the long haul, especially when young stars like Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov will be in line for substantial raises within the next couple of years.