NHL Free Agents 2014: Predictions for Where Top Stars Will Land

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 10: Jarome Iginla #12 of the Boston Bruins skates down the ice during the second period of the NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on April 10, 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
Marianne Helm/Getty Images

With NHL free agency set to open in a matter of days, the rumors are flying fast.

On Wednesday, the free-agency window opened, allowing teams to speak with free agents without running afoul of the tampering rules. That's helped to at least paint a broad picture for where this year's top stars might be headed in the coming weeks and months.

The four players below are among the cream of the crop for this year's free-agent class. They'll soon have a few teams knocking on their doors, if they haven't already.

Ryan Miller

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

With few teams actively pursuing starting goaltenders, Ryan Miller's options are a bit limited. Making matters worse, he's been crowded out of the St. Louis Blues, so he doesn't even have that to fall back on.

Miller may find a safe haven with the Vancouver Canucks, who wasted little time in taking advantage of Wednesday's start to the negotiating window. News1130 Sports reported that the Canucks began discussions with Miller's agent on a potential deal:

The move makes a lot of sense. Vancouver has both the need and the financial wherewithal to afford the best goalie on the market. Roberto Luongo left big skates to fill, and neither Eddie Lack nor Jacob Markstrom has done the job.

Maybe Miller could be the guy.

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks

Jarome Iginla

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 18:  Jarome Iginla #12 of the Boston Bruins in action against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 18, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Bruins defeated the Devils 4-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There's no question that if the Boston Bruins re-sign Jarome Iginla, they'll have to move some pieces around. The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa broke down the team's finances:

The Bruins currently have approximately $58 million dedicated to 17 players (two goalies, six defensemen, nine forwards) projected to make next year’s team. They will carry an overage penalty of roughly $4.5 million, which puts their upper limit around $64.5 million. This leaves them counting every penny under the ceiling.

Iginla can go to any number of teams and collect a fatter paycheck. What he may not get is a better opportunity to win that ever-elusive Stanley Cup.

There appears to be mutual interest from both Iginla and Boston.

"Jarome wants to stay. We’re trying to find a spot for him," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said, per Shinzawa. "But we’re both big boys. If we can’t, we can’t. Certainly we’re both trying to work at it."

While you can understand why Iginla would want to maximize his value this late into his career, he's already made a ton of money. Why not take a little less money to play for a contender? The Bruins have the pieces around Iginla to bring out his best.

Prediction: Boston Bruins

Paul Stastny

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild in Game One of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 17, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Stastny scored the game tying a
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Simply put, there's no way the Colorado Avalanche can let Paul Stastny leave this offseason.

As one of the best centers on the market, he'll have no shortage of suitors. The Avs must pull out all the stops to keep him on the roster for the long term.

Adrian Dater of The Denver Post reported that Joe Sakic and Stastny's agent met on Friday to have informal contract talks:

I’ll keep this brief: All I can really report, on the meeting between Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny’s agent, Matt Keator, today is this: the sides are still talking and will continue to talk into the weekend. I’m not going to make any predictions ON how this ends up. To me, it’s a fluid situation that probably not even the people in the actual room doing the talking know how it will end right now.

Dater chose not to make a prediction, but he thought that the fact that the two sides have a line of communication going is at least encouraging.

What's worth remembering is something Dater reported earlier in the week:

The news is mixed: Stastny wants to “see what’s out there”, Sakic reports. So, we are officially entering into the period where teams are free to call Stastny and Keator and put on the full-court press. BUT, as I reported yesterday: essentially Stastny/Keator have made a vow to Sakic and the Avs: that they will circle back Colorado and give them the right of first refusal to keep him.

Stastny appears to be giving the Avalanche every opportunity to bring him back. Colorado should dig its heels in for a fight, but the prize is more than worth it.

Prediction: Colorado Avalanche

Matt Niskanen

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 13:  Matt Niskanen #2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the New York Rangers in Game Seven of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 13, 2014 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylva
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Much like Iginla, this is a classic case of a player having to decide whether he wants to cash in on free agency or take less money to stay with his current team.

Matt Niskanen's agent, Neil Sheehy, tweeted out that his client will in fact test the waters, which comes as little surprise:

At 27 years old, Niskanen is in the prime of his career and coming off his best season. His value won't be any higher than it is this summer. Unlike Iginla, he doesn't already have a career's worth of massive paychecks.

You could see why the defenseman would want to stay in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are set up to win, and he's built a level of comfort with the organization. Why mess with a good thing?

Then again, Niskanen's price might be too prohibitive for the Pens. Paying more than $5 million is too steep, and that's probably the starting point of Niskanen's contract. Pittsburgh may be better off letting him go anyway.

That raises the question: Where's his next option?

They say you can't go home again, but Niskanen could give it a try. The Virginia, Minnesota, native is getting some heavy interest from the Wild, per Michael Russo of the Star Tribune:

Fletcher met with defenseman Matt Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, on Friday and is expected to chat with him again Saturday. Niskanen has received a lot of interest during the NHL’s free-agent interview period, and while the Virginia, Minn., native and former Minnesota Duluth star might consider a hometown discount to play in his home state, the reality is some teams are bound to offer him the max seven years at money in the $6 million range annually.

The Wild could use Niskanen, and they're in a position where they could offer more than Pittsburgh. They seem as good of a spot as any.

However, you could see some team coming in with a ridiculous six-year, $7-million-per offer that would be way more than Niskanen's actually worth.

For now, Minnesota seems like as good a bet as any.

Prediction: Minnesota Wild


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