NHL Rumor Mill – August 7, 2017
Reviewing The Sporting News’ early preview of the 2018 class of unrestricted free agents.
THE SPORTING NEWS: New York Islanders captain John Tavares topped Brandon Schlager’s recent list of next summer’s potential class of NHL unrestricted free agents. Columbus winger Cam Atkinson, Washington defenseman John Carlson, Ottawa center Kyle Turris and Buffalo left wing Evander Kane round out his top five.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bear in mind that many of the best players on this list could be re-signed before their UFA eligibility. Of course, much will depend upon their contract demands.
Of the top five, I can see all but Kane could be retained by their current clubs. He’s been frequently mentioned as a trade candidate since last summer and could seek over $6 million annually on his next contract. If the Sabres are out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, they could try to move him.
Tavares’ status has been well-documented. He isn’t a certainty to re-sign but I wouldn’t rule it out. If the Isles can get back on track this season on the ice and with their arena issues, he could stay put. Atkinson, Carlson and Turris play important roles on their respective clubs and I believe every effort will be made to retain those players.
Toronto left wing James van Riemsdyk, former NHL winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Calgary center Mikael Backlund, Vegas winger James Neal and New York Rangers winger Rick Nash complete the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I wouldn’t rank the 34-year-old Kovalchuk this high. He’s at best a wild card. Sure, he still puts up terrific numbers in the KHL but it remains to be seen if he can do the same in the NHL after a five-year absence.
van Riemsdyk’s name frequently surfaced in the rumor mill last season. Depending on the Leafs’ performance this season, He could pop up again in trade speculation throughout 2017-18.
I can see the Flames re-signing Backlund. Vegas could also try to keep Neal in the fold but he could prefer skating with a Cup contender. I think this is Nash’s final season with the Rangers as management shifts its focus toward younger talent.
Spots 11 through 16 are held by St. Louis center Paul Stastny, Vancouver’s Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Minnesota center Mikko Koivu, Winnipeg center Bryan Little and Pittsburgh winger Patric Hornqvist.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Everyone in this group will likely hit the UFA market except for the Sedins, as I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce their retirements after this season. Stastny’s recent injury history has limited his effectiveness. Koivu turns 35 in March and a decline in his performance is inevitable.
With over $60 million invested in 14 players for 2018-19, the Penguins probably can’t afford to re-sign Hornqvist. Little is an underrated center who could grow weary of the Jets’ mediocrity and opt to test the market.
Schlager’s “wild cards” include San Jose’s Joe Thornton, Detroit defenseman Mike Green, Toronto center Tyler Bozak, Columbus blueliner Jack Johnson, Islanders center Josh Bailey, Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson and Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Many of the wild cards are over 30 and past their “best before” date. That’s not to suggest they won’t garner any interest if they hit the open market but they won’t receive lucrative contract offers. Chara’s performance this season could determine if this upcoming season is his last in the NHL.
His “best of the rest” include Montreal center Tomas Plekanec, Philadelphia forward Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay winger Chris Kunitz, Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson and San Jose winger Joel Ward.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Almost all of the “best of the rest” are fading veterans or younger role players. Several of the latter, such as Gudbranson, could improve their value with bounce-back performances this season. The rest could find it difficult to secure new contracts next summer.