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Stock Watch for Impending Free Agents in 2014 NHL Playoffs

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Stock Watch for Impending Free Agents in 2014 NHL Playoffs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The NHL playoffs are a time when players rise to the occasion or wilt under the pressure. Postseason performance can determine a player's value to his team. It can also factor into his free-agent stock, particularly if he's eligible for unrestricted free agency following the playoffs.

    NHL general managers tend to succumb to auction fever during the opening days of free agency. A star's postseason efforts can enhance or sink their free-agent value.

    Though the playoffs are only in the second round, we can begin to gauge how the play of several potential free agents could affect their stock. Performance, however, isn't always enough. In some cases, star power or reputation could offset a disappointing effort this spring.

    Here's a look at this summer's notable free-agent candidates whose reputations and performances in the 2014 playoffs could determine their value this summer.

     

    Note: Players stats (as of May 5, 2014) via NHL.com, salary information via Cap Geek.

10. David Legwand, Detroit Red Wings

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Five games played. No points.

    Analysis: Acquired by the Red Wings at the trade deadline to bolster their depth at center, Legwand proved to be a disappointment. Despite collecting 11 points in 21 regular-season games with the Wings, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports the 33-year-old center didn't have the impact they hoped. Khan noted Legwand finished the season playing wing on the fourth line and doubts the Wings re-sign him.

    Stock value: Legwand's completing a six-year, $27 million contract. He entered this season with a reputation as a reliable two-way center. Though he posted a respectable 51 points this season, his age and poor playoff numbers hurt his free-agent value. It could prove difficult for Legwand to find a deal comparable to his current contract. 

9. Matt Moulson, Minnesota Wild

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Nine games played. Two points (one goal, one assist).

    Analysis: Moulson was acquired by the Wild at the trade deadline to boost their offense for the playoffs. Though he posted solid numbers down the stretch (13 points in 20 games), his playoff totals are disappointing. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jim Souhan reports the Wild need more from the 30-year-old left wing. “Moulson often has looked slow and ineffective anywhere on the ice other than in front of the opponent's net,” wrote Souhan. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

    Stock value: Moulson's finishing a three-year, $9.4 million contract. He's a former three-time 30-goal scorer but hasn't displayed that form yet for the Wild. Failure to improve his current postseason play could hinder his chances of landing a lucrative long-term deal this summer. 

8. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Has appeared in four games, started in two. One win, two losses, 1.75 goals-against average, .923 save percentage.

    Analysis: Hiller lost the starting goalie role to backup Frederik Andersen in the division semifinal series against Dallas. He regained it after replacing Andersen midway through Game 6, backstopping the Ducks to a series-clinching 5-4 overtime win. Following the Ducks' 3-2 series-opening loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Orange County Register's Eric Stephens reported Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau praised Hiller's play. “I think he played really good tonight,” said Boudreau. “I don't know where you could fault him on anything.”

    Stock value: Coming off a four-year, $18 million contract, Hiller's inconsistency this season lowers his stock. Though he's only seen limited playoff action thus far, Hiller must carry the Ducks on a lengthy run to bolster his free-agent value. 

7. Ryan Miller, St. Louis Blues

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Playoff stats: Six games played. Two wins, four losses, 2.70 goals-against average, .897 save percentage.

    Analysis: Acquired prior to the trade deadline, Miller was expected to be the missing piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle for the Blues. His regular- season numbers with the Blues (10-8-1, 2.47 GAA, .903 save percentage) were unimpressive. His playoff numbers were worse (2.70 GAA, .897 save percentage), contributing to another early playoff exist for St. Louis.

    Stock value: Miller's completing a five-year, $31.25 million contract. The Buffalo News' Mike Harrington believes the 34-year-old's poor performance could cost him millions. “Why would any team go past three-four years on him now? And are his days of being a $6 million goalie over?” Miller will still attract interest in the free-agent market, but he won't get a lucrative long-term deal.

6. Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Seven games played. Four points (two goals, two assists).

    Analysis: Iginla, who turns 37 in July, is no longer the dominant right wing he once was. Still, he was a key part of the Bruins roster during the regular season, tallying 30 goals and 61 points in 78 games. He's seeing top-line minutes in the playoffs. One of his two goals came in overtime in Game 4 of their division semifinal series against Detroit.

    Stock value: His current contract is a one-year deal with a $1.8 million base salary and $4.2 million in performance bonuses. Though Iginla's of the age where teams are leery to invest in him for the long term, his scoring skills and leadership make him an attractive free agent. If he doesn't re-sign with the Bruins, plenty of suitors will be willing to ink him to a short-term deal. 

5. Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Playoff stats: Nine games played. Nine points (six goals, three assists).

    Analysis: Acquired before the trade deadline to bolster the Kings' flagging offense, Gaborik proved a welcomed addition. The Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott reports Gaborik formed “an instant and productive chemistry” with center Anze Kopitar. With 16 points in 19 regular-season games, and nine points in as many playoff contests, the 32-year-old right wing is second to Kopitar on the Kings in scoring this postseason. He scored both the game-tying and overtime goals in the Kings' 3-2 series-opening game against the Anaheim Ducks.

    Stock value: Gaborik's completing a five-year, $37.5 million deal. Though playing well with the Kings, it remains to be seen if he'll remain beyond this season. Despite his age (32) and a lengthy injury history, Gaborik's playoff performance should bolster his free-agent value. He won't get offers worth over $7 million again but should receive short-term bids worth around $5.5 million. 

4. Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Four games played. No points.

    Analysis: Swapped for Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline, Callahan netted 11 points in 20 regular-season games for the Lightning. However, he went pointless as the Lightning were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens. Despite this, the Tampa Bay Times' Damian Cristodero reports general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper are keen to re-sign him. "I really hope Ryan considers us a place he wants to spend the rest of his career," said Cooper. 

    Stock value: Callahan's finishing a three-year, $12.825 million deal. Prior to his trade to Tampa Bay, ESPN.com's Katie Strang reported the 29-year-old sought a six-year deal worth over $6 million per season from the Rangers. Despite Callahan's lack of offense in this year's playoffs, his reputation as a hardworking two-way leader ensures his stock will remain high. He'll have no difficultly landing a lucrative deal this summer from the Lightning or another NHL club.

3. Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Nine games played. Eight points (two goals, six assists).

    Analysis: Niskanen truly came into his own this season, setting career-bests in goals (10), assists (36) and points (46). Following Game 3 of the Penguins-New York Rangers series, Niskanen's eight points tied him with Jussi Jokinen and Paul Martin for second in the team's playoff scoring lead.

    Stock value: Coming to the end of a two-year, $4.6 million contract, the 27-year-old is entering his playing prime. Given his youth and performance this season, Niskanen could be considered this summer's top free-agent defenseman. His playoff numbers only enhance his value. He could receive offers up to $6 million per season. The Penguins will be hard-pressed to find the cap space to keep him.

2. Thomas Vanek, Montreal Canadiens

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Playoff stats: Six games played. Five points (three goals, two assists).

    Analysis: Acquired at the trade deadline to bolster the Canadiens offense, Vanek tallied 15 points in 18 games down the stretch, but his offense in the postseason has been inconsistent so far. Though he has five points in six games, he's a streaky scorer. During Game 1 of the Canadiens' semifinal series against the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Gazette's Dave Stubbs reported Vanek did very little and was shuffled among the third and fourth lines for part of the game. The 30-year-old winger bounced back in Game 2 with two goals in the Canadiens' 5-3 loss.

    Stock value: Vanek's completing a seven-year, $50 million contract. His offensive skills will make him a prized target in this summer's free-agent market. He's also not hampered by a long injury history, which boosts his value over fellow free agents Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik. The Pioneer Press' Charley Walters believes the Minnesota Wild will pursue him. He could receive offers around $7 million per season. 

1. Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Playoff stats: Seven games played. 10 points (five goals, 5 assists).

    Analysis: The Denver Post's Adrian Dater reports Stastny had his best all-around season and praised his contributions to the Avalanche. “The team was good, and Stastny was a big reason,” wrote Dater. He had 25 goals and 60 points in 71 regular-season games. He shone during Colorado's division semifinal series against the Minnesota Wild, finishing the series among the first round's leading scorers.

    Stock value: Stastny's in the final year of a five-year, $33 million deal. His age (28), playoff performance and lack of first-line centers in this summer's free-agent market significantly bolsters his stock over Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. Dater speculates Stastny could get offers as high as $7 million. Dater's colleague Terry Frei reports Stastny is willing to consider a hometown discount. After his performance this season, it remains to be seen how much that discount might be.

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