Stock Watch for Top Players Headed to Free Agency in 2018

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2017

Stock Watch for Top Players Headed to Free Agency in 2018

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    On Oct. 12, we examined what the top NHL players in their contract years have to prove in 2017-18. Two months into the season, it's worth reviewing that list to examine the stock of players such as Buffalo Sabres left wing Evander Kane and Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk.

    Two noteworthy players in our previous listing are no longer available. Shortly after being traded to the Nashville Predators on Nov. 5, center Kyle Turris signed a six-year contract with the Predators. On Nov. 17, right wing Cam Atkinson inked a seven-year extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    For the remainder, the past two months have affected their free-agent value. Kane and Van Riemsdyk remain among the top 10. Some, such as San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, dropped into the honorable-mention category. Others who missed the previous cut, such as Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault, have seen their stock rise.

    Here's the latest stock watch for the top players eligible for unrestricted free-agent status in 2018. Contracts and performance factored into this ranking.

    Feel free to express your views on this topic in the comments section below.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

    The 40-year-old Zdeno Chara is no longer an elite two-way blueliner. However, the 6'9", 250-pounder still plays an effective defensive game. He will draw interest if he hits the market. However, he'll have to accept one-year, bonus-laden offers, with a base salary equivalent to his $4 million for this season.

               

    Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings

    A puck-moving defenseman with a right-handed shot, Mike Green has 18 points in 27 games, with half of those coming on the power play. He won't get $6 million per season on his next contract, but the 32-year-old rearguard should attract suitors seeking power-play production.

             

    Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers

    With eight goals and 15 points in 27 games, Patrick Maroon could exceed 20 goals and 40 points for the second straight season. The 29-year-old winger is benefiting from skating on the Edmonton Oilers' top two forward lines. He could seek to double his $2 million salary-cap hit.

               

    David Perron, Vegas Golden Knights

    David Perron, 29, has 19 points in 21 games, putting him on pace for a career-high 70 points. However, he has a long history of injuries and is on injured reserve. That could hamper his chances of landing a significant raise over his $3.75 million annual salary.

              

    Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

    The once-dominant Sedin twins are, at 37, in the twilight of their NHL careers. Daniel and Henrik have been relegated to second-line duty with the Vancouver Canucks, with each tallying 16 points in 27 games. Their days of earning $7 million annually are drawing to a close. If they don't re-sign with Vancouver, they could consider retirement.

               

    Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues

    With 20 points in 27 games, Paul Stastny is on pace for 60 points this season. However, injuries have hampered his production in recent seasons, potentially affecting his free-agent value. He won't get another four-year, $28 million contract. Turning 32 on Dec. 27, Stastny's best years are behind him.

               

    Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

    One of the greatest playmakers in NHL history, the wear and tear of 20 NHL seasons have caught up with the 38-year-old Thornton. With 16 points in 25 games, he's on track for a respectable 50-point performance. However, that's a big drop from his 82-point output in 2015-16. His next contract offers will be one-year deals worth considerably less than his current $8 million cap hit.

10. Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Current Contract

    New York Rangers winger Rick Nash is in the final season of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $7.8 million. In actual salary for 2017-18, he's earning $8.2 million. His deal also includes a no-movement clause to prevent demotion to the minors and a 12-team trade list.

               

    Current Performance

    Now in his 15th NHL season, time seems to have caught up with the 33-year-old. With seven goals and 13 points in 26 games, he's on pace for 20 goals and 40 points this season. His defensive play has improved in recent years, but his once-lethal scoring skills are fading.

              

    Value

    Nash's stock is down and could keep dropping if his production doesn't improve. While still a recognizable NHL star, his play has declined since his 42-goal performance in 2014-15. He won't get another expensive, long-term deal, but his reputation as a big scoring winger could still fetch a two- or three-year deal worth $5 million annually.

9. Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

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    Current Contract

    Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund is in the final season of a three-year, $10.725 million contract. His annual salary is $3.575 million.

                 

    Current Performance

    With seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 26 games, the 28-year-old on pace to match his career highs of 22 goals, 31 assists and 53 points. Defensively, he leads the team in takeaways (30) and leads all Flames forwards in blocked shots (14). He's also second among their forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game, averaging two minutes and 38 seconds per game.

               

    Value

    Backlund's skills as a two-way center should keep him among this season's top 10 unrestricted free agents. The only concern is his injury history, though since 2015-16, he has missed just one game to illness. If he matches last season's numbers, he'll easily earn at least a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually.

8. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Current Contract

    In the final season of a five-year, $21.25 million contract, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist earns an annual salary-cap hit of $4.25 million. In actual salary for 2017-18, he'll make $4.75 million. His contract also comes with an eight-team no-trade list.

                 

    Current Performance

    Hornqvist, 30, has 10 goals and 18 points in 25 games this season. He's on track for a 30-goal, 55-point campaign. If he reaches those numbers, it will mark the eighth time he's tallied 20 or more goals and the fourth time reaching 50 points. Hornqvist remains a strong net presence for the Penguins.

                

    Value

    Hornqvist's stock is up. He was an invaluable part of the Penguins' march to consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. He will turn 31 on Jan. 1, and his physical style makes him susceptible to injury. However, his consistency will prove enticing for clubs seeking a gritty scorer. He could get a four-year deal worth around $5.75 million per season.

7. Josh Bailey, New York Islanders

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Current Contract

    In the final season of a five-year, $16.5 million contract, New York Islanders winger Josh Bailey carries a $3.3 million annual salary-cap hit. In actual salary for 2017-18, he will earn $4 million.

             

    Current Performance

    The 28-year-old is on track for a career-best season. Skating on the top line alongside superstar center John Tavares, he's netted five goals and 25 assists for 30 points in 25 games. At this rate, he will reach 80 assists and 95 points, eclipsing his previous career highs of 43 assists and 56 points in 2016-17.

               

    Value

    Bailey's prior history of inconsistent performances suggests his output could be unsustainable. However, he should still enjoy a career year and elevate his free-agent stock. Given his irregular play earlier in his career and the fact he's playing alongside Tavares, rival teams could be leery about making a long-term investment in him. Still, he should be able to land a five-year deal worth around $5.75 million annually.

6. James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights

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    Current Contract

    Claimed in June's expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, winger James Neal is in the final year of a six-year, $30 million contract. His annual salary is $5 million, and he has an eight-team no-trade list.

                

    Current Performance

    In his contract year, the 30-year-old is on pace for one of the best seasons of his NHL career. With 12 goals and 19 points in 26 games, he's second among Vegas' leading scorers and tied for fourth in points with David Perron. He's on track to reach 35 goals and 60 points.

               

    Value

    A consistent scoring forward, Neal's free-agent stock remains high. He exceeded 20 goals in each of his previous nine seasons and should do so again in 2017-18. Despite his age, his offensive reliability will prove attractive for clubs seeking scoring punch. His leadership with the expansion Golden Knights should enhance his value. He could get a five-year deal worth around $6 million annually.

5. James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Current Contract

    Now in the final season of a six-year, $25.5 million contract, Van Riemsdyk's annual salary-cap hit is $4.25 million. His actual salary for 2017-18 is $5 million, and he has a 10-team no-trade list for this season.

                  

    Current Performance

    A big-scoring left wing, the 6'3", 217-pound Van Riemsdyk has 13 goals and 20 points in 27 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's tied with Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri for the lead among Leafs goal scorers and tied for third with William Nylander in points. The 28-year-old left winger could reach 30 goals for the second time in his career and 60 points for the third time. 

               

    Value

    Since 2013-14, Van Riemsdyk has been a reliable offensive presence for the Leafs. That level of consistency ensures his free-agent stock will remain high. For clubs in need of dependable offense, he will be an enticing option. He could seek a five-year deal worth $6 million annually.

4. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

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    Current Contract

    Another notable forward claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL expansion draft, Marchessault is completing a two-year contract worth $1.5 million. His annual average value is $750,000.

                

    Current Performance

    A versatile playmaker who can skate at center or the wing, the 26-year-old is proving last season's 30-goal, 51-point effort with the Florida Panthers was no fluke. With 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points in 23 games, he's tied with William Karlsson for the lead among Golden Knights scorers. At his current production rate, he could reach 35 goals and 85 points by the season's end.

                 

    Value

    The late-blooming Marchessault's stock is rising. Be it with the Golden Knights or another club, he will earn a substantial raise on his next contract. Consecutive 30-goal seasons with two different clubs will only improve his value. He could be in line for a six-year contract worth $6.5 million per season.

3. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Current Contract

    Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson is in the final season of a six-year, $23.8 million contract with an annual cap hit of $3.97 million. In actual salary, he's earning $4 million for 2017-18.

             

    Current Performance

    With two goals and 18 assists for 20 points in 27 games, the 28-year-old could match his career high of 55 points in 2014-15. He's tied for third in scoring among NHL defensemen this season. Carlson is also leading the Capitals in time on ice per game (26 minutes and 34 seconds) and takeaways (16). On the downside, he has the club's worst plus-minus (minus-9).

                

    Value

    Carlson's poor plus-minus won't scare off suitors. It's reflective more of the Capitals' overall defensive decline this season. He's still the best defenseman in the 2018 UFA market. Teams in need of a skilled all-around blueliner could offer him over $7 million annually on a seven-year deal. 

2. Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Current Contract

    Kane is playing through the final season of a six-year, $31.5 million contract with an annual average value of $5.25 million. In actual salary, he's earning $6 million for 2017-18. 

                

    Current Performance

    A physical scoring winger, the 6'2", 212-pound 26-year-old is playing well this season. He's tallied 12 goals and 24 points in 27 games to lead the Buffalo Sabres in scoring. He's also on pace for 40 goals and 75 points. Those numbers would exceed his previous career-best season of 30 goals and 57 points in 2011-12. 

                  

    Value

    Kane's strong offensive numbers in his contract year substantially bolster his free-agent stock. He's also put his previous off-ice brushes with the law behind him. His value as a skilled power forward has never been higher, and he could receive offers worth over $7 million annually on a six- or seven-year deal. 

1. John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    Current Contract

    New York Islanders center John Tavares is in the final season of a six-year, $33 million contract. The annual salary-cap hit is $5.5 million, though in actual salary he's earning $6 million for 2017-18. The deal also comes with a no-movement clause to prevent demotion to the minors plus an eight-team no-trade list.

                 

    Current Performance

    With 16 goals and 29 points in 25 games, the 27-year-old is off to perhaps the best start to a season in his NHL career. He leads the Islanders in goals and sits third among the league's goal-scoring leaders. At his current rate of production, Tavares could exceed 50 goals and 90 points for the first time.

                  

    Value

    A genuine superstar in his playing prime, Tavares entered this season as the top player eligible for free agency at season's end. His performance in 2017-18 has only solidified his position. After two injury-hampered terms, he has returned to top form in 2017-18. A 40-goal, 80-point season could ensure he receives a long-term deal worth perhaps $11 million annually, either from the Islanders or another club.

               

    Player stats as of Dec. 3, 2017, via NHL.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly