Stock Watch for Top 2017 NHL Free Agents as the Playoffs Approach

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2017

Stock Watch for Top 2017 NHL Free Agents as the Playoffs Approach

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    On Feb. 11, 2017, we examined the stock of the top NHL players headed for unrestricted free agency in July. Since then, the recent NHL trade deadline had an effect upon this summer's free-agent market. Trades involving several pending free agents, such as the Washington Capitals' Kevin Shattenkirk, could affect their stock. 

    Shattenkirk's performance with his new club will play a role in determining his value in July. Even those who weren't traded, such as Montreal Canadiens right wing Alexander Radulov and San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, will see their stock affected by their efforts down the stretch and into the postseason.

    With the playoffs approaching, here's another look at the stock watch for this summer's top NHL free agents. Factors such as level of performance, skills, current contracts and experience factored into this compilation. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals

    A strong stay-at-home defenseman, the 28-year-old leads the Capitals in blocked shots (134) and shorthanded time on ice per game (three minutes and 12 seconds). He'll attract interest from clubs seeking an experienced shutdown blueliner. 

    Peter Budaj, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Budaj did a fine job with the Los Angeles Kings filling in for sidelined starter Jonathan Quick. Traded to the Lightning before the deadline, he has 27 wins and a 2.16 goals-against average. A solid finish with the Bolts should bolster his free-agent value. 

    Scott Darling, Chicago Blackhawks

    After three seasons backing up Corey Crawford, the 28-year-old Darling could be ready for a starter's job elsewhere. His 2.13 goals-against average and .931 save percentage will make him attractive for teams looking for an affordable upgrade in goal. 

    Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators

    With 16 goals and 37 points in 61 games, the 36-year-old Predators captain is on pace to reach 20 goals and 40 points for the seventh time in his long NHL career. Fisher is unlikely to hit the free-agent market, as those numbers will encourage Predators management to re-sign him. 

    Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

    The 45-year-old Jagr's stats are down from last season's 66-point performance. With 12 goals and 35 points in 64 games, he should exceed 40 points. That could earn another one-year, bonus-heavy contract with the Panthers. 

    Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens

    Despite missing 19 games to injury, the 38-year-old Markov remains an important member of the Canadiens' defense corps. With 28 points in 47 games, the Habs could re-sign him to a one-year extension. 

    Ryan Miller, Vancouver Canucks

    At 36, Miller is well past his Vezina Trophy heyday. Still, he's put up respectable numbers (2.67 goals-against average, .916 save percentage, three shutouts) with the rebuilding Canucks. He could be a good mentor for a promising young netminder. 

    Justin Williams, Washington Capitals

    The 35-year-old Williams remains a model of consistency. With 19 goals and 37 points in 63 games, he'll reach 20 goals for the sixth time in his NHL career and 40 points for the ninth time. That could earn him a two-year deal. 

10. Patrick Eaves, Anaheim Ducks

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Winger Patrick Eaves was among the honorable mentions in our previous listing. However, his Feb. 24 trade from the Dallas Stars to the Anaheim Ducks vaults him into the top 10 of this year's notable unrestricted free agents. 

    Prior to the trade, Eaves set career highs in goals (21) and points (37) with the Stars. A versatile two-way player who can play on either wing, the 32-year-old should improve a Ducks offense sitting 20th in goals per game (2.54). He can also prove a valuable addition to their power play and penalty kill. 

    Eaves is completing a one-year, $1 million contract. His play with the Stars ensures he'll get a substantial raise this summer. How much more will depend upon his production over the rest of the season with the Ducks. A solid effort could land him a three-year deal worth $3.5 million annually. 

9. Thomas Vanek, Florida Panthers

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    Left wing Thomas Vanek was among the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable season for the Detroit Red Wings. With 15 goals and 38 points in 48 games, he was among the Wings leading scorers. Traded to the Florida Panthers on March 1, the 33-year-old has an opportunity to burnish those numbers with a playoff contender. 

    Vanek will be expected to boost the Florida Panthers offense, which sits 25th overall in goals per game (2.44). With 11 of his 38 points coming with the man advantage, they'll also hope he can improve their woeful power-play percentage (16.6).

    Signed last summer to a one-year, $2.6 million contract by the Wings, Vanek could land a significant raise as a free agent in July. Having enjoyed a bounce-back season with Detroit, helping the Panthers reach the playoffs could net him a two-year deal worth up to $4 million per season. 

8. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

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    Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

    San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau struggled through the opening months of this season. Since January, however, the 37-year-old regained his offensive touch. That improvement has kept him among this year's leading free agents. 

    From Oct 12 to Dec. 31, Marleau managed 10 goals and 16 points. Since Jan. 3, he's netted 12 goals and 21 points, putting him on pace for a 30-goal, 50-point season. With 22 goals, Marleau sits second among Sharks scorers. Among this year's free agents, he's also one of the leading goal scorers

    Marleau is completing a three-year, $20 million contract with an annual cap hit of over $6.66 million. At this stage of his career, he won't get that type of deal again. But if he can maintain his current level of production over the remainder of the season, he could get a one-year deal with bonuses taking up him to $4.5 million. 

7. Radim Vrbata, Arizona Coyotes

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    After a disappointing 27-point effort last season with the Vancouver Canucks, right wing Radim Vrbata has rebounded well with the Arizona Coyotes. With 48 points in 65 games, the 35-year-old could finish this season with 60 points. 

    Vrbata's performance is among the few highlights in a disappointing season for the Coyotes. He leads them not just in points but also goals (15) and assists (33). He's also the points leader among this summer's free agents. 

    The Coyotes signed Vrbata last summer to a one-year, bonus-laden deal worth up to $3.25 million. He could seek a more substantial deal on the free-agent market. Given his success and his age, another one-year deal with bonuses worth up to $4.5 million with the Coyotes is a possibility. 

6. Martin Hanzal, Minnesota Wild

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Center Martin Hanzal was among the top 10 in our previous ranking. Being traded from the woeful Arizona Coyotes to a potential Stanley Cup contender in the Minnesota Wild provides him with a great opportunity to boost his free-agent stock. 

    At 6'6" and 226 pounds, the 30-year-old Hanzal is a solid two-way forward. Though known more for his defensive skills, his 16 goals in 55 games put him on pace for his first-ever 20-goal season. He had a strong 56 percent faceoff win percentage with the Coyotes. That will make him invaluable on the Wild's special teams. 

    Hanzal is completing a five-year, $15.5 million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $3.1 million. A good effort with a strong playoff contender such as the Wild will only boost his value. He could land a five-year deal worth around $5 million annually. 

5. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Since 2005-06, center Joe Thornton has been a reliable offensive performance for the San Jose Sharks. However, a decline in his production this season could affect his free-agent stock this summer.

    Last season, Thornton tallied 82 goals in as many games to lead the Sharks in points.  This season, however, the 37-year-old has netted 40 points in 64 games. While still respectable numbers, he's fourth on the Sharks in points and on pace for a 50-point campaign. 

    A solid playmaker and faceoff man, Thornton remains a well-respected member of the Sharks. He's completing a three-year, $20.25 million contract ($6.75 million salary cap hit) and won't receive a similar deal at this stage of his career. Given the decline in his production, he could receive a bonus-laden one-year deal from the Sharks for $5.5 million. 

4. Ben Bishop, Los Angeles Kings

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    With three straight seasons of 35 or more wins from 2013-14 to 2015-16, Ben Bishop is the top goaltender in this summer's free-agent market. However, his trade on Feb. 26 from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Los Angeles Kings could adversely affect his value. 

    A Vezina Trophy finalist in 2016, Bishop struggled through injury and inconsistency through the first half of this season. Prior to his trade, the 30-year-old goalie was showing signs of regaining his once-dominant form. But with Kings starter Jonathan Quick returning from injury, Bishop could end up in a backup role. 

    Bishop is completing a two-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.95 million. He could seek a five-year deal worth over $7 million annually. But if he can't get in some meaningful games down the stretch with the Kings, it could hurt his efforts to land a lucrative new contract. 

3. Alexander Radulov, Montreal Canadiens

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    With 15 goals and 46 points in 63 games. Radulov is among the Montreal Canadiens' leading scorers. While the 30-year-old right wing laid the foundation for a long-term contract extension, he'll need a strong finish to this season to secure that deal. 

    In a 25-game stretch from Jan. 9 to March 2, Radulov tallied 15 points. However, they all came in just seven games. That offensive inconsistency was a contributing factor in the Canadiens winning only 11 of those 25 games. 

    Returning from a four-season stint in Russia, Radulov signed a one-year, $5.75 million contract with the Canadiens. He needs a more consistent offensive output over the remainder of this season to land a big raise on a long-term deal. 

2. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Right wing T.J. Oshie remains a key part of the Washington Capitals' offense. His performance this season could put him in line for a significant raise on a long-term deal this summer. With 24 goals and 43 points in 51 games, he's on track for 30 goals and 55 points. 

    Despite missing 12 games to injury this season, Oshie remains among the Capitals' leading scorers. He's second in goals with 24 and tied for the team lead with Jay Beagle in shorthanded points (three). A solid two-way winger, he's also tied with Beagle among Caps forwards for blocked shots (37) and among the team leaders in takeaways (34). 

    Oshie's all-around play makes him a vital member of the Capitals' core. It will also make him expensive to re-sign. He's in the final season of a five-year, $20.875 million contract with an annual salary of $4.175 million. The 30-year-old could command a five-year deal worth up to $6 million per season. 

1. Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Shattenkirk topped our previous stock watch of this summer's top free agents. His trade on Feb. 27 from the St. Louis Blues to the league-leading Washington Capitals should ensure he remains this year's top UFA. 

    With 42 points in 61 games with St. Louis, Shattenkirk was among both the Blues' leading scorers and the league's top-scoring defensemen. Though held pointless in his first two games with the Capitals, it's only a matter of time until this puck-moving blueliner starts cashing in with their powerful offense. 

    Should Shattenkirk help the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, it will only improve his efforts to land a significant raise over his current $4.25 million annual salary-cap hit. He could command $7 million per season on a long-term deal. If he doesn't get that from the Caps, clubs such as the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers could come calling.

    All stats (as of March 5, 2017) via Salary info via Cap Friendly


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