Predicting the 10 Biggest Spenders in 2016 NHL Free Agency

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2016

Predicting the 10 Biggest Spenders in 2016 NHL Free Agency

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    On Dec. 7, 2015, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman projected the salary-cap ceiling for 2016-17 could rise over the limit of $71.4 million by approximately $3 million. For teams with considerable cap space for next season, such as the Arizona Coyotes (pictured above), that increase could make them the biggest spenders in this summer's free-agent market.

    The Coyotes are among several clubs sitting well below what could be a salary-cap floor of between $54 million and $56 million. They must spend to become cap compliant. Other teams, meanwhile, could invest heavily in the free-agent market to address significant roster issues.

    The following slideshow predicts the 10 biggest spenders in NHL free agency this summer. Salary-cap space, roster needs and available free-agent talent factored into this compilation. As always, you can voice your opinion in the comments section below.

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: The Winnipeg Jets have a projected salary-cap space of $22.3 million for 2016-17. Usually a budget-conscious club, the Jets could be in the market for affordable upgrades. 

    Key free agents: Forwards Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry, defenseman Jacob Trouba and goaltender Michael Hutchinson are their noteworthy restricted free agents. 

    Roster needs: The departure of former captain Andrew Ladd in February left the Jets thin in experienced depth at left wing. They could also use a little more experienced skill on the checking lines. Scheifele and Trouba could be expensive re-signings, but there should be enough money remaining to strengthen via free agency. 

    Free-agent targets: Economical left-wing options could include Anaheim Ducks left wings Jamie McGinn and David Perron, Mikkel Boedker of the Colorado Avalanche or Kris Versteeg of the Los Angeles Kings. Checking-line forward choices include Shawn Matthias of the Colorado Avalanche, Dale Weise of the Chicago Blackhawks, Matt Martin of the New York Islanders or Chris Stewart of the Ducks. 

9. Ottawa Senators

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    Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    Salary-cap space: For 2016-17, the Ottawa Senators have over $20.1 million in projected salary-cap space. The Senators tend to be a budget team. After this season's disappointing finish, perhaps ownership will loosen the purse strings to boost the lineup.

    Key free agents: Defenseman Codi Ceci and forwards Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson are the Senators' top restricted free agents.

    Roster needs: Depending upon Hoffman's contract talks and the health of concussed left wing Clarke MacArthur, the Senators could need depth at left wing. They were also this season's worst defensive team, conceding an average of 32.8 shots per game. A shutdown blueliner could also be on their radar. 

    Free-agent targets: Possibilities at left wing could include the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson or the Colorado Avalanche's Mikkel Boedker. Anaheim Ducks left wings David Perron and Jamie McGinn could be affordable options. Luke Schenn of the Los Angeles Kings, Roman Polak of the San Jose Sharks or Kevan Miller of the Bruins could provide a physical element to the Ottawa blue line.

8. Anaheim Ducks

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: The Anaheim Ducks have around $20.7 million in projected salary-cap space for 2016-17. The Ducks are a cost-conscious club. How much they invest in the free-agent market could depend upon the cost of re-signing their significant restricted free agents.

    Key free agents: Forwards David Perron, Jamie McGinn and Chris Stewart are the Ducks' notable unrestricted free agents. The restricted free agents include goaltender Frederik Andersen, defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen and forwards Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri.

    Roster needs: If Perron and McGinn depart via free agency, the Ducks will need depth at left wing. If they're unable to agree to terms with Andersen and opt to trade him, they could seek an experienced backup.

    Free-agent targets: Reasonably priced left-wing additions could include the Colorado Avalanche's Mikkel Boedker or Jiri Hudler of the Florida Panthers. If they're willing to spend more, the Los Angeles Kings' Milan Lucic, the Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Ladd or the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson could be available. Backup goaltenders could include the Panthers' Al Montoya or Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators. 

7. Florida Panthers

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Salary-cap space: The Florida Panthers have over $18.2 million in projected salary-cap space for 2016-17. Most of their best players are signed for next season. They have room to spend if they wish.

    Key free agents: Notable unrestricted free agents include goaltender Al Montoya, defenseman Brian Campbell and forwards Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell. Center Vincent Trocheck is their key restricted free agent.

    Roster needs: Campbell, Hudler and Purcell could depart via free agency. If so, the Panthers would need an experienced top-pairing blueliner and depth on the wings. 

    Free-agent targets: Dallas Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski could be a suitable replacement for Campbell. Mikkel Boedker of the Colorado Avalanche, Troy Brouwer of the St. Louis Blues, Jamie McGinn of the Anaheim Ducks or Lee Stempniak of the Boston Bruins could be reasonable upgrades over Hudler and Purcell.

6. New York Islanders

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: For 2016-17, the New York Islanders have over $19.7 million in projected salary-cap space. Given goaltender Thomas Greiss' solid performance in the 2016 playoffs, they could free up additional cap room by trading veteran Jaroslav Halak. 

    Key free agents: Forwards Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin lead the Islanders' list of notable unrestricted free agents. Restricted free agents include forwards Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, Shane Prince and Alan Quine. 

    Roster needs: If Okposo and Nielsen depart via free agency, the Isles will need a top-line right wing and second-line center. They could also use some skilled depth on their third-defense pairing.

    Free-agent targets: Boston Bruins right wing Loui Eriksson and St. Louis Blues' center David Backes could address the possible departures of Okposo and Nielsen. Cheaper options in both cost and talent include Bruins forward Lee Stempniak and Teddy Purcell of the Florida Panthers. Bruins blueliner Kevan Miller or Roman Polak of the San Jose Sharks could provide some experienced grit on defense.

5. Boston Bruins

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: The Boston Bruins have a projected salary-cap space of $24.2 million for 2016-17. They have sufficient room to make a significant addition or two. 

    Key free agents: Unrestricted free agents include forwards Loui Eriksson, Lee Stempniak and Chris Kelly, defensemen John-Michael Liles and Kevan Miller and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. Defenseman Torey Krug and right wing Brett Connolly top their list of notable restricted free agents.

    Roster needs: The Bruins need to shore up an aging defense corps. The potential departures of Eriksson and Stempniak would leave them thin on the wings. An experienced backup goalie could also be in order if the promising Malcolm Subban isn't ready to fill the role.

    Free-agent targets: New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle is a Boston native and could be a terrific addition to the Bruins blue line. If they can't land Yandle, Alex Goligoski of the Dallas Stars could be a good second choice. New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo could be the best option to replace Eriksson. Worthy backup goalies include the Florida Panthers' Al Montoya or the Nashville Predators' Carter Hutton.

4. Buffalo Sabres

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: The Buffalo Sabres have over $25.2 million in projected salary-cap space. Sabres general manager Tim Murray showed a willingness to spend last summer by signing center Ryan O'Reilly to a seven-year contract. He could make another big splash this summer.

    Key free agents: Center David Legwand and goaltender Chad Johnson are their notable unrestricted free agents. Both could depart for free agency in July. Restricted free agents include defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and forwards Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers.

    Roster needs: The rebuilding Sabres need reliable scoring punch at left wing. If Johnson departs, they could be in the market for a reliable backup netminder. 

    Free-agent targets: Milan Lucic of the Los Angeles Kings could be on Murray's radar to fill that left-wing spot. Other options could include the Colorado Avalanche's Mikkel Boedker or the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson. Suitable replacements for Johnson could include the Florida Panthers' Al Montoya or the Nashville Predators' Carter Hutton.

3. New Jersey Devils

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    Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Salary-cap space: For 2016-17, the New Jersey Devils have a projected $32.5 million in cap space. If the front office is willing to spend, they have room to re-sign their best restricted free agents, maybe bring back longtime Devil Patrik Elias for a swansong and pursue one or two skilled forwards via free agency.

    Key free agents: Their unrestricted free agents include veteran forwards Elias, Jiri Tlusty, Tuomo Ruutu and Jordin Tootoo. Restricted free agents include forwards Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Jon Merrill. 

    Roster needs: The Devils were this season's lowest-scoring club (182 goals). Their primary need is for offensive forwards, especially on the wings. 

    Free-agent targets: Top-line winger possibilities include the Los Angeles Kings' Milan Lucic, the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson, the New York Islanders' Kyle Okposo, the St. Louis Blues' David Backes, the Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Ladd and the Colorado Avalanche's Mikkel Boedker. Secondary options could include the Florida Panthers Jiri Hudler, the Bruins' Lee Stempniak or the Anaheim Ducks' Jamie McGinn. 

2. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Salary-cap space: The Carolina Hurricanes have a projected $34.6 million in salary-cap room for 2016-17. They're a rebuilding club sitting well below what could be a cap floor of around $55 million. They must spend to become cap compliant.

    Key free agents: Longtime goaltender Cam Ward and veteran winger Chris Terry are their most notable unrestricted free agents. It's possible both depart via free agency. Restricted free agents include defenseman Ryan Murphy and center Victor Rask.

    Roster needs: Offense is the priority for the Hurricanes, who were among this season's lowest-scoring clubs. They're weakest at right wing. If Ward departs, they could use an experienced netminder to split the goaltending duties with Eddie Lack.

    Free-agent targets: If the Hurricanes want to go big, the New York Islanders' Kyle Okposo and the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson are the best available right wings. Lesser lights include Bruins winger Lee Stempniak and the Florida Panthers' Teddy Purcell. As for goaltenders, the San Jose Sharks' James Reimer could be enticing.

1. Arizona Coyotes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Salary-cap space: The Arizona Coyotes have a projected $39.5 million in salary-cap room for 2016-17. A rebuilding club, the Coyotes are well below what could be a salary-cap floor of between $54 million and $56 million. They need to spend to become cap compliant.

    Key free agents: Long-time captain and right wing Shane Doan and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann are their most notable unrestricted free agents. Their restricted free agents include goaltender Louis Domingue, blueliners Michael Stone, Connor Murphy and Klas Dahlbeck and right wing Tobias Rieder.

    Roster needs: The Coyotes have sufficient cap space to re-sign their top free agents. However, they still need depth at center, another skilled top-four defenseman and more experience on their checking lines. 

    Free-agent targets: Center options could include Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders and Eric Staal of the New York Rangers. They could pursue defensemen such as the Dallas Stars' Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers. Depth forwards could include the Chicago Blackhawks' Dale Weise and the Colorado Avalanche's Shawn Matthias.

    Teams stats per NHL.com. Salary and free-agent information per Cap Friendly

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