Stock Watch for the Top Soon-to-Be NHL Free Agents
The second round of the 2013 NHL playoffs are nearing an end, and the conference finals could be set by the end of the weekend. That means that fans of 26 teams will be watching from the sidelines while the final four squads go at it for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
Which, in turn, means that a majority of NHL fans will have at least one eye towards the offseason, where one or two outstanding moves could place their favorite team on the road toward the Cup in 2014.
This particular free-agency period will be made more interesting by the possibility of players like Brad Richards and Roberto Luongo being bought out and hitting the open market. Even if no big names are relieved of their contracts, there are still some difference-makers available via free agency.
Pascal Dupuis: Pittsburgh Penguins
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 48 GP, 20 G, 18 A, plus-31, 140 SOG
Current Contract Terms: $3 million over two years.
Stock: Up. Way up.
Pascal Dupuis spent the entire season on a line with Sidney Crosby and the chemistry that the pair developed during the lockout was apparent on nearly every shift. Would Dupuis be posting a goal in every-other game he played without the Kid on his line?
However, teams seeking a top-six winger with a goal-scoring touch would be hard pressed to find better than Dupuis this offseason. He'll likely seek more cash than the $1.5 million he was paid in both years of his expiring contract, and the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have the cap space to make it happen.
Niklas Backstrom: Minnesota Wild
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 42 GP (24-15-3), .909 save percentage, 2.48 GAA, 2 SO
Current Contract Terms: $24 million over four years.
At least relative to his $6 million cap hit. The oft-injured Niklas Backstrom might have to head overseas if he hopes to maintain his current pay grade. After ducking the injury bug throughout the shortened 2013 regular season, the netminder sustained an injury during warm-ups prior to the start of Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bad timing, to say the least.
There are various options for squads looking to upgrade in the net this offseason. It's a buyer's market and that will adversely affect Backstrom's value. The Minnesota Wild could look to keep the former Jennings Trophy-winner aboard, but only if he'll take a pay cut.
Patrik Elias: New Jersey Devils
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 48 GP, 14 G, 22 A, plus-5, 118 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $42 million over seven years.
The lifetime New Jersey Devil has yet to see a steep drop-off in his production, despite getting up there in years a bit. He's 37 years old now, but Patrik Elias seems to still have plenty of gas left in the tank for any team looking for a strong secondary-scoring threat.
New Jersey has one of the more interesting free-agency situations developing, as 14 players from its roster are either a restricted or unrestricted free agent heading into 2014. It's a rare opportunity for a general manager to re-mold his team on the fly, given the massive amount of cap space and room on the roster.
If the Devils want him back, it's likely that Elias remains in New Jersey. If not, he could seek to play out the rest of his career elsewhere.
Jaromir Jagr: Boston Bruins
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 45 GP, 16 G, 19 A, plus-3, 115 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $4.5 million over one year.
Jaromir Jagr was acquired by the Boston Bruins to add a secondary-scoring threat throughout the playoffs. While he's posted four assists through the postseason, Jagr has yet to find the back of the net through nearly two rounds of action.
While he hasn't looked like a 41-year-old, he hasn't exactly looked miraculous either.
To be clear, if Jagr makes it known that he wants to continue playing NHL hockey next season, there will be several teams bidding for his services. The experience and talent that he brings to the table are unquestionable.
Yet, when paired with young players like Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins, the kids tend to see their games drop off badly. Whether or not that will have an impact on Jagr's value will be an interesting story in the offseason.
Michael Ryder: Montreal Canadiens
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 46 GP, 16 G, 19 A, minus-2, 101 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $7 million over two years.
After never really finding his groove with the Dallas Stars in 2012, Michael Ryder played some outstanding hockey after he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. 10 of his goals and 11 of his helpers this year came in just 27 games with Montreal.
Ryder also managed to score a goal and add an assist before the Habs were bounced in the first round by the Ottawa Senators.
The free-agent market will be flush with secondary-scoring options, but Ryder could still wrangle a similar deal to his expiring two-year pact. Montreal would likely prefer to keep him, but if a mild bidding war for his services occurs, his salary could climb over the $4 million per-year mark.
Brad Boyes: New York Islanders
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 48 GP, 10 G, 25 A, minus-6, 97 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $1 million over one year.
The journeyman winger had two forgettable seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before settling in nicely on a line with John Tavares and the New York Islanders.
The Isles have the cap space to keep Boyes around, and he'd have to be mildly insane to walk away from the opportunity to skate with Tavares for a few more seasons. There are plenty of options for squads looking to upgrade their secondary scoring, but Boyes likely won't be one of them.
He might command more than the $1 million he made in 2013, but his chemistry with Tavares might be worth the extra million or so.
Valtteri Filppula: Detroit Red Wings
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 41 GP, 9 G, 8 A, minus-4, 78 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $15 million over five years.
By playing poorly in 2013, it's likely that Valtteri Filppula cost himself millions of dollars in his contract year. After finally blossoming into a legit scoring threat in 2011-12, he shrank back to near invisibility in 2013—making his demands for a $2 million dollar raise laughable.
If he stands by his desire to make $5 million a season, Filppula won't be in Detroit next season. The team has too many other options at this point, and general manager Ken Holland isn't known for overpaying on a prayer for production.
While he's been better in the playoffs, Filppula has been too inconsistent up to this point to deserve what he's asking. Though there's always a GM willing to overpay somewhere.
David Clarkson: New Jersey Devils
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 48 GP, 15 G, 9 A, minus-6, 78 PIMs, 180 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $8 million over three years.
David Clarkson could be in for a huge payday if he can find a team that believes he is a legit 30-goal scorer. After toiling as an energy player for five seasons with the New Jersey Devils, he erupted for 30 tallies in 2011-12 and would have come close to that number again in 2013 had a full season been played.
Still, the outburst has been met with some raised eyebrows. Goal-scoring power forwards don't hit the open market very often though, and Clarkson will likely benefit from the lack of scoring grit available in free agency.
David Backes and his $4.5 million per-season deal with the St. Louis Blues could be a good comparison for Clarkson and his camp.
Mike Smith: Phoenix Coyotes
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 34 GP (15-12-5), .910 save percentage, 2.58 GAA, 5 SO
Expiring Contract Terms: $4 million over two years.
The 31-year-old Mike Smith has cemented himself as a quality starting netminder in the NHL, and will seek to be paid like one this offseason. He openly stated to Pro Hockey Talk that the ownership situation in Phoenix may prevent the Coyotes from being able to offer up the kind of deal he's looking for.
It may come down to a race against time for the 'Yotes if they hope to re-sign Smith, as the NHL recently announced that a buyer had been found for the Desert Dogs.
Regardless of where he ends up, Smith is in for a big raise. He's been outstanding for Phoenix over the last two seasons, and should fetch at least double his yearly salary on the open market.
$4 million a year for a goalie of his caliber is a steal, but Smith may have to come down a bit with his demands since there are so many options available to teams looking for help in the net.
Derek Roy: Vancouver Canucks
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 42 GP, 7 G, 21 A, plus-4, 85 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $24 million over six years.
The Vancouver Canucks brought Derek Roy in as a backup for Ryan Kesler, who struggled to stay healthy in 2013. Once Kesler returned to action, it pushed Roy down to the third line—making him one of the better depth centers in the league.
Things didn't exactly go according to plan for Roy and the 'Nucks, however.
Both team and player struggled down the stretch, and the center was all but invisible while Vancouver was getting swept out of the first round by the San Jose Sharks.
Roy might have to accept a short, smallish contract to prove that he still has what it takes to be a top-six player in the NHL. He's only 30 years old and is far from becoming an afterthought.
But if he tries to make the kind of money that he did over the last six years, it could be a long offseason for Roy.
Damien Brunner: Detroit Red Wings
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 44 GP, 12 G, 14 A, minus-6, 123 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $1.35 million over one year.
The Detroit Red Wings pulled another quality player off the scrap heap in Damien Brunner, and the talented Swiss forward has rewarded the team with solid play through parts of 2013. He started hot, cooled off, and then found his game again just in time for the playoffs.
Brunner has been outstanding on a third line with Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson. If the Red Wings move on to the Western Conference Final (which appears likely), that line will be a big reason why.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the 27-year-old triple his 2013 salary on the open market. Odds are Detroit would like to keep him on board, but the team has a few tough choices to make this summer.
Valtteri Filppula is also in need of a new deal, and there might not be room for both guys on the payroll.
Nathan Horton: Boston Bruins
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 43 GP, 13 G, 9 A, plus-1, 114 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $24 million over six years.
Nathan Horton had a quiet regular season, only to catch fire in the playoffs. The line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Horton has been nearly unstoppable since the first game of Round 1, and that will only increase the 27-year-old's value during the offseason.
He's currently seventh in playoff scoring with 11 points, and his physicality has been a big reason for the success of the Krejci line.
The Boston Bruins have locked up their young core entirely, leaving little wiggle room to bring back Horton. His cap hit isn't too bad and the B's could choose to bring him back at a similar salary, but Horton's injury history may force him to look elsewhere for employment.
Mike Ribeiro: Washington Capitals
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 48 GP, 13 G, 36 A, minus-4, 63 shots
Expiring Contract Terms: $25 million over five years.
As the only player capable of being a game-breaker on the open market, Mike Ribeiro is set to make a lot of money as a free agent in 2013.
However, the Washington Capitals would love to keep him. He gave the team an outstanding second line and kept the team afloat offensively while Alex Ovechkin was sleepwalking through the beginning of the season.
The money doesn't seem to be the hangup for the Caps. According to The Washginton Post, Ribeiro has stated repeatedly that his new deal has to be for at least four or five years, and therein lies the rub.
That kind of term for a 33-year-old center might not be in the cards for Washington. While they had issues for years filling the second-line center role, it might not be enough to convince the Caps to sign him for that long.
Regardless, he'll get his term and money somewhere.
Jarome Iginla: Pittsburgh Penguins
2013 Regular-Season Stats: 44 GP, 14 G, 19 A, minus-5, 134 SOG
Expiring Contract Terms: $35 million over five years.
After understandably taking a few weeks to settle in with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jarome Iginla has found his scoring touch in the playoffs. He has 12 points in 11 games for the Pens, who await their Eastern Conference Final opponent after downing the Ottawa Senators.
It's obvious that the 35-year-old veteran is burning for a Stanley Cup, as his play has been outstanding since the first round.
Pittsburgh likely won't be able to squeeze him in under the cap while retaining a few core guys (re-signing Matt Cooke, extending Evgeni Malkin, etc), so Iggy may take a dip into the free-agent pool for the first time in his career.
He's not a points machine like he was earlier in his career, but Iginla still brings plenty to the table and could slot in nicely on another contender elsewhere.