The 10 NHL Players Most in Need of New Contracts

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2015

The 10 NHL Players Most in Need of New Contracts

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The NHL free-agent period is in full swing.

    Teams are negotiating with their restricted free agents while checking out the unrestricted market for affordable veterans. There are also players a year away from free agency who have earned new contracts.

    As of July 1, teams can open contract talks with players eligible for free-agent status next summer. Among the notables are established stars like Tampa Bay Lighting center Steven Stamkos and rising talents like Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan. Their recent performances have merited significant raises over their current salaries.

    Here's a look at the 10 NHL players most in need of new contracts. Age, performance, experience, current salaries and projected new contracts factored into this ranking. Feel free to voice your opinions in the comment section below.

10. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is on an entry-level contract earning over $1.744 million in base salary and bonuses. In 81 games last season, the 21-year-old blueliner scored eight goals and 29 points. 

    Analysis: Rielly was among the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible season for the Maple Leafs. He's developing into a skilled, potentially top-two defenseman. All but nine of his 29 points came at even strength, and he led all Leafs defensemen in takeaways. Rielly should be rewarded for his efforts with a new deal.

    Outlook: The rebuilding Leafs shed considerable salary with the recent Phil Kessel trade and have sufficient cap space beyond 2015-16 to sign Rielly to a raise. While they could low-ball him with a bridge deal, his performance indicates he's worth more than that at this stage. A four- or five-year deal worth $4 million annually seems fair.

9. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm is on an entry-level contract earning an average salary-cap hit of over $1.744 million in base salary and bonuses. In 78 games last season, the 21-year-old blueliner scored seven goals and 34 points. 

    Analysis: Lindholm may be the best of the Ducks' young defensemen. He's made steady improvement since his impressive debut in 2013-14. Last season, he played top-line minutes paired with now-departed veteran Francois Beauchemin. He led all Ducks defensemen in takeaways, while all but six of his 34 points came at even strength. 

    Outlook: The Ducks have several key players to re-sign after 2015-16. It would be a good idea to get Lindholm under contract now or risk paying far more next summer. It would also avoid the possibility of his becoming an offer-sheet target. A four- or five-year deal worth $4.5 million per season seems in order.

8. David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard is earning an average salary-cap hit of $1.3 million. In 82 games last season, the 24-year-old rearguard tallied 11 goals and 36 points. 

    Analysis: Savard has become a key member of the Blue Jackets defense corps. Last season, he led the Jackets in hits, finished second in ice time and scoring among defensemen and third in blocked shots. He also tied for third in game-winning goals with three. Given his steady improvement, Savard has earned a significant raise.

    Outlook: Considering how much the Blue Jackets invested in Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky and Sergei Bobrovsky, they shouldn't waste time re-signing Savard. With superstar center Ryan Johansen due a big raise in two years' time, it might be wise to ink Savard to a four- or five-year deal worth $4.5 million annually.

7. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan is currently on an entry-level contract worth $1.775 million in base salary and bonuses. In 81 games last season, the 20-year-old center scored 31 goals and 62 points. 

    Analysis: Monahan's made tremendous strides in his short NHL career. He finished fourth in rookie goal scoring in 2013-14. Last season, he tied for the Flames' lead in goals and finished third in points. While Monahan's overall game needs fine-tuning, he is quickly developing into a dominant first-line center.

    Outlook: As the Flames were willing to invest in recently acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton for six years, they should consider doing the same for Monahan. Best to invest in him now when they might get a lower salary than to pay more in a year's time. Six years at $5 million annually could do the trick.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz is earning an average salary-cap hit of $2.35 million. In 75 games last season, the 23-year-old winger scored 28 goals and 63 points. 

    Analysis: Since his NHL debut in 2011-12, Schwartz has rapidly developed into a core member of the Blues. Last season, he exceeded his 2013-14 numbers in fewer games. He also ranked among the Blues' offensive leaders in every category. Schwartz also finished among the league's leading scorers among left wingers. He's in line for a substantial raise.

    Outlook: Schwartz's rising stock means it will be expensive re-signing him next summer. If the Blues can get him under contract for a five- or six-year deal worth $5 million annually, it could prove a worthwhile bargain over the long term. Inking him now will also ensure he doesn't become an offer-sheet target.

5. Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo is earning an average salary-cap hit of $2.8 million. In 60 games last season, the 27-year-old tallied 18 goals and 51 points. 

    Analysis: The Islanders received tremendous value on Okposo's current contract. He's become a core member of their team and a key reason behind their improvement. An eye injury last season prevented him from eclipsing his career-best 69-point performance of 2013-14. Despite Okposo's injury history, he's earned a considerable raise.

    Outlook: If Okposo hits the open market next summer, he could command around $6 million annually on a four- or five-year deal. To avoid this, the Islanders should start working on a long-term deal now in hopes of re-signing him for $5 million annually.

4. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook is currently earning an average salary-cap hit of $5.8 million. In 82 games last season, the 30-year-old rearguard scored eight goals and 31 points. 

    Analysis: Overshadowed by superstar teammate Duncan Keith, Seabrook is an invaluable member of the Blackhawks defense corps. The 6'3”, 220-pounder plays a more physical game than Keith, laying out more hits and blocking more shots. Seabrook is a key part of their offensive attack, having reached or exceeded the 30-point mark seven times. 

    Outlook: Seabrook will be an expensive signing for the Blackhawks. As one of the NHL's top defensemen, he deserves to be paid as such. His age could prevent him from getting a deal beyond five years, but he might accept that lesser term for a $7.5 million annual cap hit. 

3. Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek is currently earning an average salary-cap hit of $4.25 million. In 82 games last season, the 25-year-old led the Flyers in scoring with 81 points. 

    Analysis: Over the past two seasons, Voracek has developed into a top offensive talent. He finished among the league's top five scorers last season, was second overall in assists and named to the All-Star First Team. He's now in his playing prime and should have several quality seasons ahead of him. Voracek should be paid like an elite player. 

    Outlook: The Flyers currently have over $44.6 million invested in cap payroll for 2016-17. Re-signing Voracek will take up a significant portion of that. He could potentially double his annual cap hit with the Flyers on a five- or six-year deal. If they won't pay it, another team surely will next summer on the open market. 

2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar is currently earning an average salary-cap hit of $6.8 million. In 79 games last season, the 27-year-old tallied 16 goals and 64 points. 

    Analysis: Kopitar is among the NHL's top centers. According to QuantHockey.com, he's led the Kings in scoring every season since 2007-08. He's also among the NHL's top defensive forwards and is a two-time Selke Trophy finalist. His disciplined play made him a Lady Byng Trophy finalist last season. Kopitar was invaluable in the Kings' two Stanley Cup championships. He's earned a big pay raise.

    Outlook: The Kings cannot afford to lose Kopitar. While they have over $48 million in cap space for 2016-17, re-signing Kopitar will eat up a big chunk. It could cost around $10 million annually on a seven-year deal to keep him. If the Kings won't pay it, Kopitar will get that deal from another club via free agency next July.

1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Current contract and recent performance: Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos is currently earning an average salary-cap hit of $7.5 million. In 82 games last season, the 25-year-old Lightning captain tallied 43 goals and 72 points. 

    Analysis: Stamkos is among the NHL's top snipers. He's a two-time winner of the Richard Trophy (2010, 2012). According to QuantHockey, only Washington's Alexander Ovechkin has scored more goals over the past five seasons. Stamkos is in his playing prime and will likely be among the league's elite players for another five seasons. As the face of the Lightning, he's earned a big raise. 

    Outlook: Re-signing Stamkos now is a no-brainer. He'll likely get an eight-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $10.5 million. A new contract will also put an end to speculation from Toronto pundits, like the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons, over his future with the Lightning.

    Player stats via NHL.com. Salary information via General Fanager.

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