NHL Free Agent Update – August 21, 2017
A look at Sportsnet’s recent list of notable available free agents & more in your NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: With the start of NHL training camps less than a month away, Mark Spector listed right winger Jaromir Jagr, right wing Jarome Iginla, winger Thomas Vanek, defenseman Roman Polak, right wing Shane Doan and blueliner Cody Franson as the top available unrestricted free agents.
Spector wonders if the New Jersey Devils might consider bringing back Jagr now that center Travis Zajac is sidelined four-to-six months. He doesn’t see him signing with a playoff club and isn’t sure if joining a Cup contender is a priority for Jagr, who turns 46 in February. He doubts the Vegas Golden Knights are a destination.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My note, not Mark Spector’s. Anyway, despite Jagr’s respectable 46 points in 82 games last season with the Florida Panthers, I think there’s a genuine concern over his lack of speed among NHL general managers. Some teams are also looking at building up their rosters with young, swift-skating talent and Jagr might not be a good fit in a fast-paced system.
Of the other UFAs, Franson and Polak are is the youngest (30 and 31 respectively) and can still be considered in their playing prime. I can see them landing jobs before the start of the season, though they might have to do so via professional tryout offers. Earlier this summer, it was reported Franson could get a PTO from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Vanek isn’t a top-line scorer anymore but his offensive skills could still prove useful for clubs seeking scoring punch, especially on the power play. The Detroit Red Wings are thought to have some interest in bringing him back, but their limited salary-cap space is a significant stumbling block.
As much as I respect Iginla and Doan, they’re obviously at the end of their long careers. It’s been reported they’ve talked with several clubs but it remains to be seen if they get new contracts.
Spector also listed Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak, Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett and Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat as the top unsigned restricted free agents.
He speculates the Bruins could sign Pastrnak to a bridge deal if the young winger hopes to land an annual cap hit comparable to that of Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl. Bennett could look for a short-term deal to give himself time to get his production back on track. Spector suggests a two-year, $5 million deal could do it. If Horvat wants first-line money, Spector advocates signing a short-term deal and keep improving.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’d include Columbus Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg on this list, behind Pastrnak and ahead of Bennett and Horvat. The Blue Jackets could attempt a bridge deal with the 22-year-old. However, they have sufficient cap room ($12 million) to ink him to a long-term deal worth between $5-$6 million annually if they wish. It’ll be interesting to see how this one shakes out.
As for Pastrnak, both sides want a long-term deal done by the Bruins reportedly wanted a six-year deal at $6 million annually, while the Pastrnak camp seeks eight years and could push for something over $7 million per season. A bridge deal is possible but I wouldn’t dismiss the two sides working out a long-term contract for between $6.5 – $7 million annually.
Bennett is likely to get a bridge deal. Given the Canucks’ status as a rebuilding team, they could try to lock up Horvat to a long-term deal now, rather than paying more to do so later on.
Spector also listed Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene and Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as his top tradeables. He notes Avs general manager Joe Sakic is listening to offers but feels swinging a Duchene trade could be beyond Sakic’s ability. Nugent-Hopkins, who’s earning $6 million per season, could be headed out the door eventually but Spector thinks that happens in 2018.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Considering how badly the Avs performed last season and the lousy return Sakic got in the Ryan O’Reilly trade two years ago, Sakic has little choice but to set a big asking price for Duchene. That’s a trade he has to win. There are teams interested in Duchene but not at the cost of an established young top-four defenseman, a first-round pick, a top prospect and perhaps more.
While some Oilers followers believe the club will find a way to retain Nugent-Hopkins, especially if he puts up good numbers this season, I think they’ll have little choice but to trade him and use the savings to re-sign or replace their key free agents next summer.