NHL Rumor Mill – December 12, 2016
A recent update of the top NHL unrestricted free agents for 2017.
SPORTSNET: Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop topped Luke Fox’s recently updated list of the top-10 NHL unrestricted free agents for 2017. While Bishop is being challenged for the starter’s job by Andrei Vasilevskiy, Fox believes the Lightning will keep their goaltending tandem intact for another run at the Stanley Cup and then let Bishop depart via free agency.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk ranks second. Fox wonders if the Blues can afford to move him during this season when he’s the club’s second-highest scorer.
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is next at number three. Fox speculates perhaps the Coyotes could shop Hanzal as a rental player with an eye on bringing him back next summer as a free agent. He suggests the Montreal Canadiens could be a suitable trade partner.
Montreal Canadiens right wing Alexander Radulov ranks fourth. Radulov and his agent seem open to talking contract extension. Habs GM Marc Bergevin plans to be patient.
Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner is fifth, with Fox noting Nick Kypreos recently reporting the blueliner is seeking between $5.5-$6 million annually. Fox thinks the Caps will let this season play out and reevaluate.
Fox doesn’t see the Capitals shopping winger T.J. Oshie (No. 6 on the list) when they still see themselves this season as Cup contender.
No.7 on the list is Joe Thornton. Fox speculates he could receive a short-term deal to re-sign with the San Jose Sharks.
Calgary Flames goalie Chad Johnson ranks eighth, with Fox speculating he could be re-signed between Jan. 1 and July 1.
Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone is next at No. 9. Fox believes he could be a good trade target for clubs that don’t want to get into a bidding war for Shattenkirk.
Rounding out the top-10 is Canadiens veteran blueliner Andrei Markov. Fox thinks he could get another short-term extension from the Habs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While folks might quibble over where some of these players are in Fox’s ranking, I have no argument with his selections.
The Lightning could trade Bishop. Their recent slump since Fox published this list a week ago has probably increased speculation over his trade status. However, Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t one to panic. Unless he gets a real sweetheart offer, I can see him keeping Bishop.
Ditto the Blues with Shattenkirk. GM Doug Armstrong’s been reluctant to part with key UFAs in the past (see David Backes and Troy Brouwer last season). If he still feels the Blues have a shot at winning the Cup, he’ll retain Shattenkirk for the rest of this season.
Lots of speculation linking Hanzal to the Canadiens, but there’s reportedly no high-level discussions between the Habs and Coyotes about him. The Coyotes could shop Hanzal and Stone before the trade deadline. Remains to be seen if the Canadiens pursue either guy.
As for Radulov, if he maintains his solid play throughout the remainder of this season and into the playoffs, the Habs will re-sign him. Same goes for Markov, though he’ll have to accept probably a one-year, bonus-laden deal.
I agree with Fox that the Capitals won’t move Alzner and Oshie this season. They could be crucial in the Caps pursuit of the Cup this season. Thornton’s not going anywhere, while Johnson’s playing himself into a full-time starter in Calgary.