The season's second half has begun, and while players are focused on making the playoffs, agents and front office members all over the league are thinking about the trade deadline at the end of February and this summer's free agents.
Looking around the league, there are some fascinating names that could hit the open market this summer. There are even more that will have their rights restricted, but will need a new contract as well.
In this list, we're going to look at how much the top 20 unrestricted free agents could make this summer. We're limiting the list to unrestricted players at this time because there are two major issues that cannot be addressed at this time.
First, the league and players' association need to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. There will probably be some restrictions and limitations made on free agent contracts moving forward, and those concessions are hard to predict.
Secondly, many of the restricted free agents that could become available could have that availability impacted by the new CBA. We do not know if there will be an amnesty provision (like the NBA had), and we do not know if offers to restricted free agents will be impacted as well.
So, with that in mind, here are our estimates for what the top 20 unrestricted free agents could make on the open market this summer.
Estimated Contract: 2 years, $4.5 million
Moen is garnering a lot of interest around the trade deadline, which is usually a great thing for an agent eager to pitch an unrestricted free agent on teams looking for help.
He isn't the sexiest name on the list, and probably won't get a long-term deal, but he could have more than a couple teams inquiring about him in July.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $9.5 million
Jones is an interesting case because lots of people hold him in higher esteem than his stats would garner on face value. He's young enough that he might get a deal a little longer than Moen.
The drop-off from the second tier forwards to guys like Jones and Moen is pretty substantial, so teams looking for an inexpensive answer might jump at a guy like him.
Estimated Contract: 2 years, $7 million
Emery is having a nice season with the Blackhawks as a back-up this year, coming off a strong late season performance with the Ducks last year. This summer's activity will focus on restricted free agents and trades, but if a team is desperate for an inexpensive goalie that's played well in the last year or so, Emery could have a couple potential destinations.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $15 million
Hudler is a wild card in this summer's free agency.
Some might consider him a player on the fringe of the top tier forwards, and others will point to a forward similar in skill set that left Detroit a couple years ago (Ville Leino) as a strong sign of buyer beware.
Odds are he'll sneak into the same financial neighborhood as a guy like Ales Hemsky, largely because teams cool off on Hemsky after a poor season.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $13.5 million
Stoll is having a really nice season for the Kings and is a big physical forward that many teams might see as an under-the-radar option for some size in their top-nine forwards. In the right situation, Stoll could be an outstanding value; in others, he could be an overpaid disappointment.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $18.75 million
One of the younger forwards to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, Kostitsyn is interesting because the Habs might feel the need to overpay him to stay around Montreal.
He turns 27 tomorrow (Feb. 3) and has three 20-goal seasons on his NHL resume already.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $16 million
Teams like Toronto and Philadelphia are leading the movement to lock up defensemen of any age for the next few seasons, and Oduya could be the biggest beneficiary of a free agent class that's really one or two players deep. He's a solid veteran who could be viewed as a nice back-up plan once Ryan Suter and Dennis Wideman are off the market.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $18 million
Brodziak is this year's king of the exit-year home run. He's having an absolutely superb season for the Wild, and stands to get a really nice raise for his efforts this summer. In a summer without many quality centers hitting the open market, and at only 27 years old, Brodziak could find a team willing to make him comfortable for a few years.
Estimated Contract: 3 years, $10 million
Montoya, like Emery, will be seen by many GMs as high-caliber table scraps this summer, which can turn into good money if the right team strikes out. Frankly, if San Jose is going to throw the kind of paper at a guy like Antero Niittymaki that they did two summers ago, a guy like Montoya is going to get paid somewhere.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $13 million
If Brodziak, who has steadily been a 30-point player in his NHL career, is hitting a home run in his walk year, Garrison's hitting a pinch-hit grand slam. He's among the NHL leaders in scoring among defensemen out of nowhere, and is taking full advantage of playing next to an All-Star in Brian Campbell. Teams tend to fall in love with D-men that can score, and that will probably get him paid.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $25 million
Carle is the No. 3 defenseman in a class that many consider to be two players deep, but that means someone, somewhere will probably give him a really nice contract. He's fairly young and has played meaningful minutes deep into the postseason with the Flyers, which will serve him (and his agent) well this summer.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $15 million
Gustavsson will be right at the top of every GMs speed dial list for this summer when the draft ends and the trading of restricted free agents slows down. In a very weak class of unrestricted free agent netminders, guys that are "pretty good" are treated like royalty (ask Ilya Bryzgalov).
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $24 million
Grabovski is having a really nice season in Toronto, and stands to make a pretty penny when his agent's phone starts ringing this summer. Like Stoll, Grabovski could be a guy that's great in some situations and not as great in others next year, but he'll get paid either way.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $20 million
If anyone is excited for July, it's Harding. Once names like Schneider and Bernier have had their futures determined, the next guy to get his will be Harding. He's been really good splitting starts in Minnesota this year, and could see a long-term deal coming soon. There are enough teams desperate for a number one guy that he'll certainly get paid.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $18 million
If we were looking for the opposite case study to Brodziak with regard to having a strong walk year, Hemsky's your guy. He's been underwhelming all year, and is one of the most popular forwards in trade rumors these days. Hemsky might be a guy that has his rights traded in late June to a team that wants a crack at him while there is still a restricted negotiating period if he isn't moved during the season.
Estimated Contract: 5 years, $28 million
As everyone in the NHL focuses their intent on the negotiations in Nashville between the Predators and the camps of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the most comfortable guy on the planet is Wideman. An All-Star this year, he's a very good defenseman who could stand to make a lot of money in the next few years.
Estimated Contract: 4 years, $20 million
Ruutu is the most popular name in many trade circles right now, and he'll likely be traded to a team that intends to make him a good offer; renting a player like Ruutu is hard to do, especially when there could be a bidding war to get him out of Carolina. Whether or not he's worth $5M per isn't the question, it's whether or not someone will pay a physical 29-year-old with a couple 50-point seasons on his resume.
Estimated Contract: Highest paid player in the KHL?
Not many people question Semin's ability. That cannot be said for his work ethic or wanting to be playing in North America. Leadership in the KHL has been pretty vocal about wanting to attract top-tier talent to play in Russia, and getting a good player who happens to be home sick to play in the league could be a big first step.
I would classify the bidding for Semin as similar to the bidding that the WHL did to convince Bobby Hull to leave the Chicago Blackhawks. And odds are that it will work this time, too.
Estimated Contract: 9 years, $70 million
When Suter essentially went on record at the All-Star game with his belief that he would hit free agency in July, GMs all over the NHL got out their calculators and began abusing their payroll to figure out if they could fit him. He's an Olympian, an All-Star, and this summer will be able to add "rich" to that list of descriptions.
Estimated Contract: 7 years, $56 million
For as much attention as Suter's getting, Parise will be the highest paid player if he hits the market this summer. And while he might not get the same $100M deal that Ilya Kovalchuk got from their current employer, he'll certainly push the limits of the new CBA. This estimate may prove to be conservative.