With the NHL season almost over, many teams are stressing over the dreaded date of July 1st. That is where some teams could lose some big pieces due to free agency. Some teams get giddy with excitement as they have a shot at a top player for a few extra bucks instead of relying on a trade. Regardless, it is an exciting time for hockey fans. Here are some players that could be highly sought after in free agency:
Michael Grabner is a right-winger who spent a good chunk of time on the New York Rangers, later traded to the New Jersey Devils in the 2017-2018 season. The 30-year old is now an unrestricted free agent with a 1.65 million dollar cap hit. His impressive offensive abilities, such as hopping into any play and making it work (i.e video below), makes him a prime target for teams who are struggling with offense. Some top suitors could be the Devils, if he chooses to sign an extension with them, or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Vegas Golden Knights could lose David Perron after selecting him in the expansion draft. With his team’s success, it would be strange to see him go somewhere else, but perhaps another team could persuade him with a pay increase? With 66 points on the year and a 3.75 million dollar cap hit, Perron could be looking for a pay increase. The question now is: who could that team be to pay his price? St. Louis would love to have him back on their roster as a way to boost their offense back up to what it was. He is very familiar with the Blues and their team so it wouldn’t be a hard transition.
James Neal, another Golden Knight, is a player that any team would love to acquire. With his experience, amazing shot, and 20-goal scoring ability, he is sure to need a pay increase. Neal could stay in Vegas, but if another team waves some money in his direction he could go elsewhere. Some teams that could look into acquiring him are teams that need some veteran leadership like the Arizona Coyotes or the Maple Leafs. Both are fairly young teams in need of some guidance.
Number seven on this list is no one other than defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. OEL has spent his entire career in the desert where he has scored over 100 goals, became a two-time All-Star, and became established as an elite defenseman. Recently, rumors have risen that he has been offered a contract extension for eight years worth around 8.25 million dollars a year. If he does not accept, it may be pointing to signs that he is going to sign somewhere else or listen to other offers. A possible candidate that could take a crack at OEL is Toronto as they have been interested in him for years.
It has been rumored that Ilya Kovalchuk could make his return to the NHL next season. After spending a few years over in the Kontinental Hockey League, it was rumored that the left-winger might be working with the Rangers, but those talks quickly died down after a few weeks. There is no cap hit for him at this time, but he could be asking for around four to five million per year. His abilities to score and provide assists is what makes him so valuable. Who would be willing to take a crack at the 35-year old forward? He could make a return to his last team, the Devils, or sign with the Rangers, as mentioned previously.
After being traded mid-season to the Winnipeg Jets, the Blues traded away pending free-agent Paul Stastny. Stastny, 32, has a cap hit of seven million per year, which is a high price to pay. However, after putting up 15 points in the playoffs, the Jets might want to extend Stastny’s contract. Any team would love to have him as he can boost their offense with his scoring abilities and his unique sense to make a play out of nothing. Some possible fits could be back in Winnipeg or a team in need of some veteran experience like Toronto or Arizona.
Rick Nash comes in at number four on this list as his name was in trade talks for years, but, after finally biting the bullet, the Rangers traded him to the Bruins at the trade deadline. Nash, 34, has a cap hit of 7.8 million dollars. Despite his old age, the right-winger has some sweet hands as he put up 21 goals and 34 points on the year, splitting time between the Rangers and Bruins. His old age could cause a few teams to show very little interest, but the Bruins would most likely re-sign him to a multi-year extension for roughly the same price, if not lower.
Defenseman John Carlson is becoming more of an interest as his Capitals grow closer to the Stanley Cup. He is a defensive dynamo who plays is position exceptionally well. In the nine years he’s been in the league (608 games), Carlson has put up 77 goals, 256 assists, and 333 points total. His assists are the stats that really stand out because it shows that not only can he play defense, but he can contribute on offense as well. If Washington cannot re-sign him, teams that could make a push for the 28-year old are Arizona or even Florida.
Up next is James van Riemsdyk of the Maple Leafs. JVR has been a part of the Leafs for six years and has become a huge name on their roster. He is known for his offensive dexterity, the ability to hop into plays, and finish the plays. Playing alongside players like Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Tyler Bozak, and Mitch Marner, JVR has good chemistry with his teammates. In the 413 games he’s played with the Leafs, he’s put up 154 goals and 294 points. The 29-year-old is sure to draw some interest from teams across the league. He currently has a cap hit of 4.25 million dollars a year.
The biggest name that could be highly sought after in the NHL’s free agency period is John Tavares. He played for the New York Islanders and could be the main target for every team this offseason. In the nine years that he’s been in the league, the 27-year-old has put up 272 goals and 621 points. He has an incredible ability to make plays and score on his own. It is tough to say where he will end up due to the fact that he is drawing attention from teams like Chicago and even New York. He is likely going to be looking for a huge increase in pay from his current 5.5 million dollars per year. He is an amazing leader as he has been the captain of the Islanders for years and even helped end his team’s playoff drought in 2016. The former first overall pick could be due for a big payday.
So, those are the top free agents coming up on July 1st. There are more players that will be on the market, but these are some that could warrant the most attention. Will players re-sign with their current teams or could they end up elsewhere? Now, we just have to wait and see as it should be an interesting summer in hockey.