It was quite an eventful NHL Draft this past weekend in Vancouver. In addition to the normal draft festivities, we had several trades, particularly on day two. Highlighted, of course, by the trade that sent P.K. Subban to New Jersey from Nashville. By the time the clocks hit noon on the east coast, the next stage of the NHL offseason is officially here. Free agency.
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Several marquee, would-be free agents like Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle have re-signed with their current clubs, taking their name out of the free agent pool. However, there still remains a fairly deep crop of talent left for teams to pay. Who are the top remaining free agents?
Here are the top 10 NHL free agents:
1. Artemi Panarin
Even before some of the other potential free agents remove their names removed from this list by re-signing with their current club, Artemi Panarin was still the creme of the crop. At 27-years-old, Panarin is entering his fifth season in the NHL. During his previous four, he never tallied fewer than 74 points and notched fewer than 27 goals. Panarin entered the league as an undrafted signee of the Blackhawks. The Russian forward spent the first two years of his career with Chicago where he notched back-to-back 30 goal seasons and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 20015-16. He spent the previous two seasons with the Blue Jackets where he carried a $6 million cap hit each year. He tallied 55 goals and 114 assists in 160 games in Columbus.
2. Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene carried a $6 million cap hit over the past six seasons and will likely exceed that in his new contract. However, his new team should be quite happy with the return. With both Ottawa and Columbus last season, Duchene tallied 31 goals over 73 games and tied a career-best with 70 points. In addition, his 31 goals were also a career high for Duchene who was originally drafted third overall by the Avalanche in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Duchene was traded to the Senators 14 games into the 2017-18 season, his ninth with Colorado. He was again traded last season to the Blue Jackets and helped Columbus reach the second round of the playoffs.
3. Joe Pavelski
After the San Jose Sharks re-signed Erik Karlsson to a massive eight-year, the likely hood of Joe Pavelski’s tenure in San Jose ending increased drastically. The 34-year-old captain of the Sharks has spent all 13 of his professional seasons with San Jose. The last four as the captain after taking over that role from Joe Thornton. Also a free agent. Now, odds are, Pavelski will have to find a new home as the Sharks don’t have much cap space ($14.84 million as of 6/29) and have several other moves they need to make before the start of the season. Ironically, Pavelski will likely come at a bit of a bargain relative to the other deals that will likely be given out And, to top it all off, he can still produce even in his mid-30s. Evident by his team-leading 38 goals last year. A team like the Lightning, a true Cup contender, would love his goal-scoring and leadership.
4. Anders Lee
Anders Lee is looking at a nice raise this summer after being paid a modest $3.75 million a year over the last four seasons. Especially when you consider that he has scored 102 goals and notched 165 points over the last three years. This includes a 40-goal season in 2017-18 for Lee. Last offseason, the Islanders watched franchise star John Tavares head north of the border in free agency and handed the captaincy off to Lee. Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders really don’t want to see their captain leave in back-to-back offseasons and will likely try hard to retain him. They haven’t wasted time in extending Jordan Eberle and the team would like Lee to be next.
5. Jake Gardiner
Arguably the best defenseman on the market, Jake Gardiner is likely in for a nice payday. The Maple Leafs are in a bind cap wise as they try to find a way to sign RFA Mitch Marner to a new contract with only $5.54 million in cap space available. For the past five seasons, Gardiner has carried a cap hit of $4.05 million so the math seems to indicate it will be tough for Toronto to retain him. However, they do intend to try, as they should. At 6-foot-2, Gardiner is a defensive defenseman who logs over 20 minutes of ice a night and has tallied at least 30 points in each of the past four seasons. He had a career-high of 52 points in 2017-18. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Leafs, there will be a nice line of teams looking to add a legit top four defenseman.
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6. Sergei Bobrovsky
Two goalies cracked the top 10 list and Sergei Bobrovsky is the best of them. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner and veteran of nine seasons has backstopped the Blue Jackets to at least 37 wins each of the past three seasons. In fact, he has won at least 30 games in five of his seven seasons in Columbus after starting his career with the Flyers. He spent two seasons in Philadelphia after signing as a free agent in 2010. Bobrovsky sports a career save percentage of .919 and a goals against average of 2.42. However, it’s Bob’s playoff numbers that may make teams hesitate a bit on the 30-year-old. In 37 games of postseason play, Bobrovsky’s save percentage drops to .909 and his goals against rises to 3.03. Although, he did enjoy his best playoff run this past season with the Blue Jackets with a career-best .925 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average in 10 games. A team like the Florida Panthers could be a could fit as a team that isn’t far off from the playoffs. In addition, the team just saw Roberto Luongo retire and Bobrovsky could bridge the gap to first-round pick, Spencer Knight.
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7. Gustav Nyquist
Gustav Nyquist enjoyed a career high in points with 60 during the regular season and had his highest goal total (22) since the 2014-15 season. Nyquist began the year, as he did the previous seven seasons, in Detroit but was shipped to the Sharks at the deadline. He scored six goals in 19 games and added five assists in the regular season. During the playoffs, he tallied 11 points, just one goal, in a run that lasted 20 games and until game seven of the Western Conference Finals. As mentioned before, the Sharks are still up against it and may not be able to afford a 29-year-old who made $4.75 million per season in his previous deal.
8. Mats Zuccarello
After coming over in a trade from the Rangers, Mats Zuccarello scored just one goal and play in only two games with the Stars due to injury. However, in the playoffs, Zuccarello returned to form as he notched 11 points (4G,7A) in 10 playoff games for Dallas. Before last year’s injury-shortened season where he amassed just 40 points, the 31-year-old reach the 50-point plateau four of the previous five seasons. After recovering, there is little doubt he can return to those 50-point seasons.
The second goalie on this list, Robin Lehner enjoyed a career year with the Islanders in 2018-19. After overcoming some personal struggles, Lehner was stellar as he posted a 25-13-5 record with a .930 save percentage and a 2.13 goals against average. He helped backstop the Islanders, along with Thomas Greiss, to the Lester Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team who allows the fewest goals against during the regular season. Lehner’s production certainly outweighed his price tag for the Islanders at just $1.5 million. Expect Lehner to exceed that comfortably in free agency, however, his past may put a ceiling on what he could potentially earn. In both dollars and years. He and the Islanders have both expressed an interest in a reunion. However, allowing Lehner to hit the open market may make it more difficult for the Islanders to get a deal done.
Potential Suitors: New York Islanders
10. Patrick Marleau
Despite his age, he will be 40 on opening night, Patrick Marleau can bring plenty to a team both on and off the ice. His offensive production in Toronto dipped last year (16G, 21A), most notably in the second half. However, for the 10th consecutive season, he suited up for every game and had an unmeasurably positive effect in the Leafs locker room. Now, as mentioned above, the Maple Leafs are in a bit of a cap crunch so Marleau became a cap casualty in the trade to the Hurricanes. After Carolina bought out his contract, Marleau became a free agent. Most speculate he will return to San Jose where he spent the first 19 years of his career. However, any contending team with a bit of cap room could find a use for a guy still in search of his first Stanley Cup.
Potential Suitors: San Jose Sharks