Ultimate Guide to 2017 NHL Free Agency
As noted recently here, this year's NHL unrestricted free-agent class as a whole seems on par with those cheap theater chains, where movies that didn't catch can be seen for $3.50 before sliding into oblivion. Maybe that's too harsh a comparison to the many fine hockey players who could be available to the highest bidder on July 1.
But "Who will sign Kevin Shattenkirk?" just doesn't leap off the page, even though he could be the most attractive player available in this class.
The marquee buzz factor of NHL free agency took a huge hit with the implementation of the salary cap in 2005. It used to be that many great players, on bad teams, would shun them and wait for a Detroit, New York Rangers, Colorado, Toronto or Philadelphia to pay them what they wanted. Now, every team has the same budget, the same cap floor and only a finite amount of financial space in which to maneuver.
Still, that won't stop us from examining some of the more intriguing questions and scenarios surrounding the 2017 free-agent class.
In the following slideshow, we'll ask questions, make statements and just have something of a water-cooler discussion about the coming day.
On with the show...
Will the Sharks Actually Lose Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau or Both?
So, is it realistic for each of them to want at least a new three-year contract, as reports from David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period (h/t Fear The Fin) have said? According to the numbers (their statistics, not their age), it's certainly not an outlandish ask.
Marleau scored 27 goals this past season. He still has great speed. Like Thornton, he's a diet and fitness freak. Thornton did seem to slow down a bit last season, but he did still have 50 points in 79 games.
While each may re-sign with the Sharks before July 1, the fact that they have yet to do so only makes it more tempting for each to look around at what may be out there. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson isn't saying much, only that the team is still talking to each player, according to the Mercury News' Paul Gackle.
Here's a prediction: Thornton stays, but Marleau goes. It has seemed as if Marleau has thought about leaving before already, with reports in 2015 saying he wouldn't mind a trade, per CSN Bay Area (h/t NHL.com).
Thornton is a real locker room leader with the Sharks (not that Marleau isn't either) and seems to love being a Shark. But, if he doesn't feel he's wanted enough (and let's not forget, he's had some friction with Wilson before), then there no doubt will be a tempting offer or two on Sunday, perhaps tempting enough for him to take.
In fact, LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen reported on the team-owned website that the Kings are very interested in Thornton. Now that would certainly add some new spice to the already fierce Kings-Sharks rivalry.
It should make for some good drama come Sunday.
Alexander Radulov Will Get the Highest Contract of Any Free Agent
There, we said it.
Radulov, the marvelously skilled Russian forward, made $5.75 million on a one-year deal with Montreal. But, as TSN analyst Bob McKenzie pointed out (via TSN Montreal radio 690), the Habs' budget likely can't accommodate his desired asking price as a UFA. That's what last week's acquisition of Jonathan Drouin might have been all about.
Where might he end up? As McKenzie speculated, the Vegas Golden Knights could be the club. They have lots of cap space, GM George McPhee wants to add a bona-fide star or two to match the bright lights of the Vegas strip, and Radulov seems like the adventurous type that might not mind playing for an expansion team.
Prediction: six years, $42 million for Radulov. From Vegas, or someone else.
Kevin Shattenkirk Wants to Go to the New York Rangers but Is Feeling Mutual?
I've talked to a few people inside the league who believe Kevin Shattenkirk, probably the best defenseman available on the market, wants to "go home" to play for the New York Rangers. Although he grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, the Rangers were his team growing up, and he's a New York kind of guy.
But just how badly the Rangers want Shattenkirk appears to be an unanswered question still. TSN expert Bob McKenzie said recently, via TSN Edmonton radio 1260, "I don't know that the Rangers are as eager for Shattenkirk as everybody thinks they are."
The Rangers did open more cap space with the trading of center Derek Stepan to the Coyotes last week, but there is a sense that New York wants to get younger and faster. Shattenkirk is only 28 still, but he doesn't play a fast game and a big, long-term deal for a guy his age has a lot of risk to it.
As Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman pointed out, the Buffalo Sabres might be the team willing to take an expensive gamble with Shattenkirk. Hey, at least he'd still be playing in New York if that happens.
Will Free-Agent Day Finally Spur on the Avalanche to Trade Matt Duchene?
With Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche, things are just too awkward to continue. It's become tantamount to two married people who have decided to divorce but will still live together until the sale of the house goes through or the kids move off to college.
Yet, here we still are, entering July with Duchene still listed on the Avalanche roster. The Avs have clearly tried to trade him, going back to last season's NHL trade deadline. Then, the NHL draft came and went, despite lots of rumors a Duchene deal might be imminent. But Avs GM Joe Sakic has stubbornly held out for a big asking price, believed to be at least one young, talented defensive player or prospect and a high draft choice.
So, why might July 1 finally unlock the situation? The biggest reason: Teams still want to wait to see what shakes out with free agency before making final budget decisions for the coming season. If they don't get a desired free-agent target, they might make that trade they've been hemming and hawing about finally as an alternative.
For Duchene, who seems to want out of Colorado as much as the team wants to move him, this is probably his last, best hope of getting dealt. If not, it's going to get even more awkward around the Avs dressing room come training camp. Sakic, though, said that possibility definitely could happen, telling BSNDenver's AJ Haefele at the NHL draft: "We're open to ways to improve our club but there's nothing to talk about really. Matt's a great hockey player. Why wouldn't you want him on our team?"
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman posited an interesting scenario: How about Duchene to Pittsburgh? No doubt, Duchene would be all for that.
Someone Will Badly Overpay for Martin Hanzal
Every year there is at least one guy that gets way overpaid as an unrestricted free agent. Sometimes, it's a Bobby Holik, David Jones, Mikkel Boedker, Scott Gomez, Doug Gilmour, Ilya Bryzgalov or a. ... This list is endless, isn't it?
This year's candidate to be most overpaid, in our view, is center Martin Hanzal. Acquired by Minnesota from Arizona at the deadline, to be a final piece to the Wild's Stanley Cup quest, Hanzal made GM Chuck Fletcher look terrible.
He scored four goals in 20 regular-season games and provided just one point in a first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues.
But Hanzal is 30, still relatively young for a free agent, he's 6'5" and has played in the league since 2007. Buyer beware, though. He's never had an injury-free season, and his career high for points is 40 (2013-14 with the Coyotes).
He is a very good faceoff guy, however, and he's strong on the puck. So, expect a five-year, $25 million deal from someone. And in two or three years, when the contract is bought out, don't say we didn't warn you.
Is Nail Yakupov Worth Another Gamble?
How far has the career of former No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov fallen? This week, the St. Louis Blues did not even extend a qualifying offer to retain the rights to the 23-year-old forward taken first overall by Edmonton in 2012.
So, why should any other team throw free-agency dollars at the now-UFA? Because, there's always someone who thinks they can turn a problem child around, be it another coach or GM. Yakupov has undeniable talent. Actually putting it to good use has been a major problem for the Russian.
Yakupov was a disaster in St. Louis, posting nine points in 40 games. The Blues didn't even use him in the playoffs. In 292 career games, he's a minus-91. He feigns any interest in playing defense.
And yet, the betting here is he'll sign a nice new contract with someone. Vancouver has been mentioned, per News 1130's Rick Dhaliwal (h/t Vancouver Courier). There is always someone who thinks they can unlock the talented-but-troubled player's potential, even when no one else has.