Stock Watch for the Top NHL Players Headed for Free Agency in 2017

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2016

Stock Watch for the Top NHL Players Headed for Free Agency in 2017

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    About a month into the 2016-17 NHL season, there is already an eye on the players who are potentially going to hit the market as unrestricted free agents next July. Many of them played in the fall tuneup World Cup of Hockey tournament. Perhaps for some, that allowed them to hit the regular season in stride this year. 

    With names such as Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Kevin Shattenkirk all in the final year of their respective deals, there is plenty of star power making up an intriguing UFA lineup—assuming the majority do not re-sign with their current teams.

    It's too early to suggest the way these players have started their season will continue, whether they've come out strong or flat. And the consideration of where their stock is at is dependent on more than just offensive numbers. We take into consideration things such as experience, potential to bounce back or falter from here and other intangibles, like leadership and work ethic, that have value for teams looking to add certain elements.

    In the end, their performances as individuals this year will determine whether they will take a pay cut or land a big raise at the end of the season. In some cases, it could mean a forced retirement. 

    Read on to look at the stock of the top NHLers facing free agency in 2017. Leave your own views in the comments section to keep the conversation going.

Honorable Mentions

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    Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings: The 32-year-old winger could only wrangle a one-year deal worth $2.6 million this offseason after a somewhat disappointing second season with the Minnesota Wild. But a red hot start with the Detroit Red Wings—four goals and eight points in seven games—puts him in line for a much broader bidding audience and a few more million next July.

    Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes: The 6'6" center has been one of the top 40 or so pivots over the past few seasons in regard to points per game. His biggest difficulty has been staying healthy. Martin Hanzal has produced a lot of shots and has a pair of goals and four points in his first nine games. He should find a decent raise from his $3.5 million salary.

    Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers: The Philadelphia Flyers have a lot of great young blueliners emerging offensively, but the 38-year-old Mark Streit has come out of the gate with three goals and nine points in his first dozen contests, including five points on the power play. At his age, he'll have to take a pay cut unless he can prove these numbers are sustainable the rest of the year. 

    Michael Stone, Arizona Coyotes: Arbitration rights led to Michael Stone's $4 million deal, but the defenseman is likely going to cash in on a much bigger number both in term and dollars thanks to a solid 36-point breakout season last year and a decent start, three goals in his first four games, this season after returning from injury. 

    Justin Williams, Washington Capitals: The Washington Capitals may have to choose between re-signing Justin Williams or fellow pending UFA winger T.J. Oshie, and Williams has been nearly invisible so far this season. The 35-year-old veteran has just a goal and an assist in 10 games despite playing the past few contests opposite Alex Ovechkin. 

    Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks: Brian Campbell took a discount to rejoin the Chicago Blackhawks for a chance to win another Stanley Cup in a city he's comfortable in, but the move has given him some extra bounce so far. Campbell has a goal and five points in 11 games with the Hawks and is among the best in the league, with a plus-nine rating. 

    Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes captain isn't doing himself any favors on another contract, with one goal and three points in his first nine games after scoring a whopping 28 times last season. At this point, Arizona may be the only team interested in even considering giving the 40-year-old another year. 

    Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche: Like Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla is a big name nearing the end of his time in the league. A two-point start to the season (a pair of goals in his first nine games) isn't helping the 39-year-old's cause for another NHL deal. The production does, however, put him on pace for another 20-goal season, which would be the 17th of his storied career.

10. Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars

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    Current contract: The Dallas Stars made a big trade for sniper Patrick Sharp two years ago, knowing they would get two seasons from the four-time 30-goal scorer before his contract expired. He is earning $5 million in salary this term, but the cap hit is $5.9 million. 

    Current performance: Sharp has had a rough start to the season, playing in just four games with disappointing results before suffering the concussion that has sidelined him since the third week of October. Things weren't going swimmingly before that, with Sharp managing just one assist in four games to start the year, along with a minus-two rating and 10 shots in four contests.

    Value: Depending on how the 34-year-old is able to rebound from this injury, he could be viewed as anything from a scoring-line complement to a veteran presence reduced to a bit of a checking role. Sharp had a nice season last year, scoring 20 and finishing with 55 points in his first campaign with the Stars. If he feels healthy soon and comes back with similar numbers, he could still land a deal worth around $5 million per year. The term, though, will surely be limited to a couple of years.

9. Brian Elliott, Calgary Flames

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    Current contract: Brian Elliott's three-year deal comes to an end this season. As a time-share goalie with the St. Louis Blues, he was inked to a bargain-basement annual average of $2.5 million

    Current performance: Elliott has been tabbed by the Calgary Flames as their go-to goalie, but his start to the season briefly put that into question. He lost his first three outings, allowing 14 goals in that span while stopping just 73 of 87 shots against. The 31-year-old has rebounded, though, with wins in three of his last five starts while conceding just 11 goals. 

    Value: There is something to be said for a guy who, according to Hockey-Reference.com, took the third-best cumulative save percentage over the past three seasons into this year and the NHL's top goals-against average in that span among goalies who played at least 50 games. Unless he continues to suffer big dips in his performance and shows he can't handle a 55-plus-game workload, he will likely find himself in line for a starter's salary worth as much as $6 million on the open market.

8. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

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    Current contract: The five-year deal Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie originally signed with the St. Louis Blues is reaching its end. He makes $4.5 million in salary and carries a $4.175 annual average. 

    Current performance: Oshie has had an up-and-down season, starting the year on the top line with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov but now finding himself on the third line with Lars Eller. He scored all of his points (four goals and an assist) this season in the span of just three games and gone pointless in eight others. 

    Value: Oshie is a bit of an enigma. He's a shootout specialist who displays inconsistent but dazzling displays of offensive ability. His speed makes him a big threat, but he hasn't been able to live up to his perceived potential and has reached the 60-point plateau just once in his NHL career. However, the 29-year-old set a career high with 26 goals last season and will be a popular free agent if the Caps fail to re-sign him. His next deal could be in Milan Lucic territory at $6 million per season.

7. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Current contract: Tampa Bay Lightning starting goalie Ben Bishop is in the second of a two-year deal that pays him an average of $5.95 million

    Current performance: Bishop has taken the majority of the starts for the Bolts this season but is being pushed hard by backup Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 6'7" Bishop has a 4-3 record with a 3.30 goals-against average and .891 save percentage—both well below his career averages. Adding injury to insult, he lost a bunch of teeth via a Peter Holland shot in October. Vasilevskiy is 4-2-1 with a 2.24 GAA and .922 save percentage.

    Value: Despite his early-season inconsistency, which has included three games of four or more goals against, Bishop has been a top netminder in the NHL for years and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy last season, as per Hockey-Reference.com. He will be paid handsomely by a team in need of a reliable starter. He should make at least $7 million per year and receive the longest term of his career, with at least five or six seasons pretty much guaranteed.

6. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

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    Current contract: Former San Jose Sharks captain Patrick Marleau is in the final season of a three-year extension that pays him $6.5 million this campaign and an annual average of slightly more. 

    Current performance: Marleau is centering the third line in San Jose but is still on pace for another 20-goal season, with three goals and four points through his first 11 games. He's averaging more than two minutes fewer per game than last season but is making the most of his diminishing role. 

    Value: It's unlikely Marleau will ever top the $6 million mark again, but he still offers a nice combination of experience and scoring ability, much in the way Colorado Avalanche winger Iginla does. Iginla is in the last season of the three-year deal with an annual average of $5.33 million that he signed with the Avs when he was about the 37-year-old Marleau's age.

5. Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

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    Current contract: The Florida Panthers' Jaromir Jagr is on his fifth straight one-year deal and second in a row with the Panthers. This one pays the 44-year-old $4 million plus performance bonuses for number of games played and potential accolades. The annual average, including bonuses, is $5.515 million.

    Current performance: The ageless wonder is still an integral part of the Panthers offense on the top line with center Aleksander Barkov. Jagr is well off the pace he set last year, with a goal and five points through the first 11 games this season. Even if he can't bump his numbers up, he's still looking at around 40 points—which is more than any other 40-year-old can expect to put up this year. 

    Value: Jagr scored 27 times last year, his highest goal total since 2007, when he was with the New York Rangers. He still has some magic in his stick, and even though he's likely to sign yet another one-year deal with the Panthers, he'd have solid value should he hit the unrestricted market. Another bonus-laden contract with a base salary of between $3.5 and $4 million would be reasonable. 

4. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues

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    Current contract: St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is getting paid $5.2 million in salary in this last season of a four-year deal that carries an annual average of $4.25 million. 

    Current performance: With three goals and six points in 11 games so far, Shattenkirk is on pace for a 45-point season. Unfortunately, he's also among the league's 20 worst offenders at his position, with a minus-five rating. He's a bit of a power-play specialist, with five of his six points coming on the man advantage.

    Value: Although his two-way play is sometimes questionable, Shattenkirk has three straight seasons with at least 44 points and has cracked the 40 mark in four of the last five campaigns. He may not be in the same pay category as Brent Burns, but the Blues rearguard has plenty of value on the market. A good comparison for a potential contract is Keith Yandle, who cashed in on a seven-year deal worth almost $44.5 million—a $6.35 annual average.

3. Alexander Radulov, Montreal Canadiens

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    Current contract: The Montreal Canadiens won the Alexander Radulov sweepstakes in the offseason with a one-year deal worth $5.75 million

    Current performance: The former KHL superstar has settled in nicely in his second stint in the NHL after years of dominant offensive performances in Russia. In 11 games with the Habs, Radulov had three goals and eight points, with 19 shots and a 15.8 shooting percentage. 

    Value: Radulov has a great deal of talent and, at 30 years old, still has plenty of hockey ahead of him. He's on pace for a 20-goal, 60-point season, which would make him a hot commodity on the UFA market. He should be in line for at least a raise up to the $6 million mark. Every additional 10 points this season from his pace could add another million.

2. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Current contract: Jumbo Joe Thornton is at the end of a three-year deal he signed with the San Jose Sharks that is paying him $6.75 million

    Current performance: The 37-year-old center is coming off his first point-per-game season since 2010 and is having a nice start this year as well, with a goal and nine points in his first 11 contests in 2016-17. Half of his setup points have come on the power play. 

    Value: Thornton is still one of the best playmaking centers in the game, and the value—even for someone approaching the age of 40—is tremendously high should he hit the open market. If he nails down a second straight 80-point season, he could crack the $7 million mark in annual average salary on a two- or three-year deal.

1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

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    Current contract: San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns next summer completes a hefty five-year deal with an annual average of $5.76 million, originally signed with the Minnesota Wild.

    Current performance: Heading into Friday night's action, Burns was atop the leaderboard in defensive scoring, with 11 points in 11 games so far in 2016-17. Averaging more than 24 minutes a night, the 31-year-old is outshooting his colleagues by a great margin, with his 64 on the season ahead of Philadelphia Flyers rearguard Shayne Gostisbehere by 24. Under a third of his points (three) have come on the power play.

    Value: Burns was tops among blueliners in goals last year, with 27, and second only to Erik Karlsson in points, with 75, finishing third in the Norris Trophy voting as a result of his efforts. He'll spark a huge bidding war on the open market, with former Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban's massive $9 million annual average salary likely just a starting point in negotiations.  

         

    Stats per NHL.com unless otherwise noted. Contract numbers are courtesy of CapFriendly.

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