Shattenkirk leads lean crop of top NHL free agents
Steve Yzerman admits that July 1 is a difficult day for general managers. They know they will have to overpay — in money and in years — to land free agents.
The veteran GM and Hall of Fame player said the sting is worse in years like this one, when “there aren’t a lot of players out there.”
That’s good news for defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Trevor Daley, forwards Alexander Radulov, Justin Williams and Nick Bonino, and goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jonathan Bernier.
They are going to get paid. The salary cap rising to $75 million, holes to fill on teams around the league and a relatively shallow pool of talent pretty much guarantees it. And once free agency begins on Saturday, a few veterans could surprisingly be free to sign anywhere, too.
Not long ago, it seemed a sure thing that the Sharks would bring back Joe Thornton, the Coyotes would extend Shane Doan and the Panthers would re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Now all could be going elsewhere along with Patrick Marleau after 19 seasons in San Jose.
Greybeard defenseman Andrei Markov and winger Jarome Iginla are two big names worth watching along with potential young bargain forwards like Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal.
Here are some things to watch when free agency begins:
Shattenkirk at 28 is looking at a long-term, lucrative deal after leading all pending unrestricted free agents with 56 points last season. Even an inconsistent postseason with the Capitals shouldn’t damage his value, though the New Rochelle, New York, native is looking to be a No. 1 defenseman and might also prioritize location.
If Montreal lets Radulov test the market following a 54-point season, the 30-year-old Russian will almost certainly get a raise off a $5.75 million, one-year deal he signed to return to the NHL.
In a weak defenseman market, Daley is drawing significant interest and could get paid well even at 33 after contributing to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles with the Pittsburgh Penguins. On the younger side, Washington’s Karl Alzner (28), Buffalo’s Dmitry Kulikov (26) and Calgary’s Michael Stone (27) could be in the same spot with plenty of leverage.
“It’s my first real taste of what the NHL is like, so we’ll see how it happens,” Alzner said.
And what about Williams? The 2014 playoff MVP had 100 points combined the past two seasons with Washington and wants to win the Cup for a fourth time. Mr. Game 7′s value is still sky high despite being 7-1 now in Game 7 based on his career renaissance and reputation for scoring and contributing in important moments.
“My drive is there — it’s always there,” Williams said. “I think the majority of people saw that this year and I don’t think it’s something I’m ever going to lose.”
Jagr would by far be the oldest free agent at 45, followed by Doan and Penguins center Matt Cullen at 40, Iginla at 39, Markov and Senators winger Chris Neil at 38, and Thornton and Marleau at 37. Hockey might be a young man’s game, but it would be surprising if several of those seasoned vets don’t get multiyear deals.
The oldest established goalie available is 36-year-old Ryan Miller, who could share starting duties somewhere, likely in the Western Conference.
Trades over the past several weeks dried up what could’ve been an intriguing market as Calgary got Mike Smith, Arizona got Antti Raanta, Dallas got Ben Bishop, Carolina got Scott Darling and expansion Vegas got Marc-Andre Fleury. Philadelphia, Winnipeg and Buffalo are in the market for help, with Bernier, Elliott and former Flyers starter Steve Mason among the top options.
The Rangers, Bruins, Ducks, and Kings are looking for backups, and the likes of Chad Johnson, Keith Kinkaid and Darcy Kuemper are out there.
Goalies won’t come cheap, considering the Ottawa Senators signed backup Mike Condon to a $7.2 million, three-year deal that has an annual cap hit of $2.4 million.
A year ago, Florida signed Jonathan Marchessault to a $1.5 million, two-year deal and the forward scored 30 goals. Columbus signed Sam Gagner for $650,000 and he had 50 points. Arizona signed Radim Vrbata for $1 million and he put up 55 points. Gagner and Vrbata are free agents once again and will be more expensive this time around.
This year’s bargain-basement favorites are Weal, fellow forwards Dennis Rasmussen, Beau Bennett and Brandon Pirri, and defensemen Nikita Nesterov and Jakub Kindl. Even Nail Yakupov, the top pick in 2012, and Mikhail Grigorenko could pay dividends at cheap prices as they’ll be just 24 next season.
Weal is an unrestricted free agent at 25, had eight goals in just 23 NHL games last season and was considered a potential top-six forward for the Flyers. Instead, he will likely test the market and fill a substantial role for another team.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno
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