Predictions for NHL Stars Most in Need of New Contracts

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2015

Predictions for NHL Stars Most in Need of New Contracts

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Earlier this month, we examined the 10 NHL players who are most in need of new contracts for next season. As of July 1, 2015, those players can begin contract negotiations with their respective teams.

    Notable players on that list include established stars like Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and promising talent like Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their previous performances will factor heavily into negotiations. If they go unsigned before the start of the 2015-16 season, however, their play could drive up their asking price.

    The following slideshow deals with predictions for those NHL stars who are most in need of new contracts. Age, skills and value to the team factored into this compilation. Feel free to voice your opinion in the comment section below.

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Current contract: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, 21, is entering the final season of his entry-level contract. Including base salary and bonuses, he could earn more than $1.774 million in 2015-16. Rielly becomes a restricted free agent next July without arbitration rights. 

    Analysis: Rielly is on track to become a top-two defenseman with the Maple Leafs. He tallied 29 points last season and led all Leafs blueliners in takeaways. With his puck-moving abilities, he could flourish under new coach Mike Babcock. So far, there's no word if the Leafs intend to open contract talks with Rielly before next season begins.

    Prediction: Rielly could be skating regularly on the Leafs' top defense pairing, driving up his value. Management will evaluate his performance before re-signing him. The Leafs could use his lack of arbitration rights to get an affordable contract worth $3.75 million annually. They have sufficient cap space for 2016-17 to match any offer sheet for Rielly from a rival club. 

Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

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    Christine Cotter/Associated Press

    Current contract: Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm, 21, is entering the final season of a three-year entry-level contract. Including bonuses and base salary, he could earn over $1.774 million in 2015-16. He'll be a restricted free agent next July without arbitration rights. 

    Analysis: In just two seasons, Lindholm has established himself as one of the Ducks' top-pairing blueliners. He tallied 34 points last season and led all Ducks rearguards in takeaways. His efforts next season could be affected by the departure of veteran defense partner Francois Beauchemin. There's no indication that management intends to re-sign him this summer. 

    Prediction: Despite Beauchemin's departure, Lindholm should continue to improve. Management will evaluate his performance before opening contract talks.  The Ducks could use his lack of arbitration rights to garner an affordable contract worth around $4 million per season. The Ducks have ample cap space for 2016-17 to thwart attempts by rival clubs to sign Lindholm to an offer sheet. 

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Current contract: Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan, 20, is entering the final season of a three-year, entry-level contract. With base salary and bonuses, he could earn $1.775 million in 2015-16. Monahan is eligible to become a restricted free agent next July without arbitration rights. 

    Analysis: Within two years, Monahan has become the Flames' top-line center. Last season, he reached the 30-goal, 60-point mark for the first time. He's on the fast track to becoming an elite NHL center. Despite Monahan's stellar play, the Flames haven't opened contract extension talks this summer. 

    Prediction: Monahan could reach 40 goals and 75 points next season, potentially driving his asking price toward $7 million annually. The Flames could wait until next summer to start negotiations, using his lack of arbitration rights to pursue a more affordable deal. They possess enough cap space for 2016-17 to blunt attempts by other teams to sign Monahan to an offer sheet.  

David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Current contract: Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard, 24, is entering the second season of his two-year contract. He will earn $1.3 million. Next July, he becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. 

    Analysis: Savard emerged last season as a reliable top-pairing rearguard for the Blue Jackets. He scored 36 points and was among their leaders in hits, blocked shots, ice time and game-winning goals. Despite this performance, there's no indication the Jackets will open contract talks this summer.

    Prediction: Management will evaluate Savard's play next season before contract negotiations. Another solid outing could push his value to over $5 million annually. He could use his arbitration rights to hammer out a lucrative long-term deal with the Blue Jackets. Given their limited cap space for 2016-17, Savard could receive an offer sheet from a rival club. 

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    Current contract: St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, 23, is entering the second season of a two-year contract worth an average salary-cap hit of $2.35 million. He is eligible next July to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. 

    Factors: Schwartz reached career highs last season in goals (28), assists (35) and points (63), establishing himself as a valuable core player with the Blues. Given his development, he could reach over 30 goals and 70 points next season. So far, there's no word that the Blues will open contract talks with Schwartz this summer. 

    Prediction: Management will wait until next summer to talk contract with Schwartz, preferring to assess his performance and that of his teammates through 2015-16. Should he continue to improve, he could push for a long-term deal worth over $5.5 million annually. If the Blues have difficulty finding enough cap space for him, a rival club could try to sign him away with an offer sheet.

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current contract: New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo, 27, is entering the final year of a five-year contract worth an average salary-cap hit of $2.8 million. In actual salary, he'll make $4.5 million. Okposo is eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. 

    Analysis: With 18 goals and 51 points in 60 games last season, Okposo was on pace for a career season until an eye injury sidelined him. On June 27, Newsday's Arthur Staple speculated it's unlikely the winger seeks anything less than a six-year deal at $7 million per season. If the Isles won't pay, Staple suggested the team could shop Okposo before training camp.

    Prediction: If Okposo can avoid injury next season, he should enjoy a career year. He will get a big payday, either from the Islanders or someone else next summer via free agency. While a training-camp trade is possible, the Isles could retain Okposo in hopes he'll boost their chances for a deep playoff run.

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Current contract: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, 30, is entering the final season of his five-year contract. While it's worth an annual salary-cap hit of $5.8 million, his actual salary will be $5 million. Seabrook can become eligible next July for unrestricted free agency.

    Analysis: Seabrook is considered an important part of the Blackhawks defenseman corps. Last season, he reached the 30-point mark for the seventh time. Salary-cap constraints, however, are an issue. The Blackhawks have nearly $59 million invested in cap payroll beyond next season. A new deal for Seabrook will take up a significant chunk of cap space. 

    Prediction: While one can make a case for trading Seabrook, the Blackhawks will re-sign him. On June 28, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported general manager Stan Bowman told the blueliner he wasn't going anywhere. Friedman expects re-signing Seabrook will be a priority this summer for Bowman. A five-year deal worth upwards of $7 million annually could be in the works.

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Current contract: Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek, 25, is entering the final season of a four-year contract. While his annual salary-cap hit is $4.25 million, he'll earn $4.5 million in actual salary. Next July, Voracek is eligible for unrestricted free agency. 

    Analysis: Voracek blossomed into an All-Star last season, leading the Flyers in scoring with 81 points. He'll want to be paid like an elite player. The Flyers, however, could have salary-cap issues beyond 2015-16. CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio reported contract negotiations between the two sides are ongoing.

    Prediction: The Flyers will re-sign Voracek, either before the start of next season or sometime before his eligibility for UFA status next July. They simply can't afford to lose their best offensive player. Panaccio expects a deal in the range of five years and $35 million, which means Voracek will earn an annual cap hit of $7 million.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Current contract: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, 27, is entering the final season of his seven-year contract. While his annual salary-cap hit is $6.8 million, he'll earn $7.7 million in actual salary. Kopitar is eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. 

    Analysis: Since his sophomore season, Kopitar has led the Kings in scoring every year. He's also earned two Selke Trophy nominations as the league's top defensive forward and played a key role in the Kings' two Stanley Cup championships. On July 4, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reported contract talks between the Kings and Kopitar were underway.

    Prediction: The Kings will re-sign Kopitar before the start of 2015-16. Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reported a deal could be finalized later this summer. The Kings could have salary-cap concerns beyond next season, and it might cost $9 million annually over seven years to keep Kopitar. Still, they'll find a way to retain their elite center. 

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Current contract: Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, 25, is entering the final season of his five-year contract. While his annual salary-cap hit is $7.5 million, he'll earn $5.5 million in actual salary. Stamkos will be eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. 

    Analysis: Stamkos is a superstar and the face of the Lightning franchise. He's won two Richard Trophies as the league's top goal scorer and ranks among the league's elite players. On July 8, his agent, Don Meehan, told TSN contract talks have not started yet, but he expects they could begin later this summer.

    Prediction: The Lightning will re-sign Stamkos before the 2015-16 season begins. Given his superstar status, they'll pay top dollar to retain their captain. Expect Stamkos to ink a long-term deal comparable to Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (eight years, $10.5 million annually) before October.

    Player stats via NHL.com and salary info via General Fanager.