How Deep Will Next Summer’s NHL UFA Pool Really Be?
Looking for a Vezina-caliber goaltender? The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky and the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne could be available.
Seeking an elite defenseman? The Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, is eligible for UFA status, along with Nashville’s Ryan Ellis.
In the market for scoring forwards? The potential plethora of talent includes Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin, Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler, Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin, Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, Carolina Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner, Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds and the New York Islanders’ Anders Lee.
Other notables could include forwards such as Ottawa’s Matt Duchene, defensemen such as Winnipeg’s Tyler Myers and the Boston Bruins’ ageless Zdeno Chara, and Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.
The problem, however, is the depth of that talent pool will be significantly drained by the time July 1, 2019 rolls around.
The Blue Jackets will make every effort to re-sign Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina winner. If the Senators trade Karlsson as expected before the Feb. 25, 2019 trade deadline, his new club could quickly ink him to a lucrative extension. Seguin and Wheeler, two of the biggest stars on their respective clubs, could also be re-signed well before the end of the season.
Ellis and the Predators have already started contract extension talks. After losing captain John Tavares to free agency this summer, it’s a safe bet the Islanders won’t risk watching Lee walk away next year.
Chara will finish his career as a Bruin. It’s unlikely the Oilers will part company with Talbot, especially as there might not be any worthwhile replacement options available come next summer
However, some noteworthy talent could still be obtainable by next July.
Rinne won his first Vezina Trophy last season, but the 35-year-old netminder also struggled during the 2018 postseason. Given his age, a decline in his play next season could prompt the Preds to pass on re-signing him.
Panarin raised eyebrows by his reluctance to discuss a contract extension with the Jackets. He’s also told them he doesn’t want to talk contract after Sept. 13. He could be playing for a new club by then, one he’d be amenable to signing with, but he could still hit the open market to join a club of his choosing.
Pacioretty scuttled a trade at last month’s NHL Draft that would’ve sent him to the Los Angeles Kings because an agreement on a contract extension couldn’t be reached. That suggests if he can’t re-sign with Montreal, he could be open to testing the free-agent pool next summer.
Same goes for Skinner, who’s yet to see a single game of NHL playoff action. While he could be traded this season, he might prefer jumping into the UFA pool even if he’s dealt to a contender this season as a postseason rental.
The Flyers and their fans love Simmonds’ rugged two-way game, but a pelvic injury hampered his performance last season. If he makes a slow recovery from offseason surgery, the Flyers could reluctantly part ways with him.
Having dealt away Derick Brassard and Mike Hoffman this year and with Karlsson likely a goner, the Senators could make re-signing Duchene a priority. But after spending most of his career with rebuilding teams in Ottawa and Colorado, the 27-year-old center might prefer moving on to a Cup contender.
Myers could become a Jets’ cap casualty next summer. It’s going to cost a lot to re-sign Wheeler, as well as young stars Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor and perhaps defenseman Jacob Trouba. With over $43 million already invested in just nine players, there might not be enough left for Myers.
Seguin, Karlsson, Bobrovsky or Wheeler could become available next July. Still, a lot can happen between now and then to affect their status with their current teams. It seems increasingly likely that Panarin, Pacioretty or Skinner could hit the open market.
But if we’ve learned anything in the salary-cap era, it’s that teams put greater emphasis on keeping their best players out of the UFA pool. So don’t be surprised if most of those aforementioned stars are under contract before July 1, 2019.