The projected 2017 NHL free-agent group doesn't feature much high-end talent, and the amount of impact assets available will likely continue to dwindle as more players re-sign with their current teams. That's great news for those who do hit the open market this offseason.
A limited number of game-changing players available should increase the demand for the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie. They are the best options among the possible unrestricted free agents, and a bidding war will probably ensue for their services during the summer.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the top free agents from around the league and make predictions about where they will land for the 2017-18 season.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals
Although Shattenkirk hasn't provided much in the goal-scoring department since joining the Caps in a trade with the St. Louis Blues in February, he's still tallied just under a point per game. He'll also be expected to log plenty of minutes come playoff time.
A strong postseason run would also boost his free-agent stock. There aren't many roles more valuable in the NHL than a puck-moving, smooth-skating, offensive defenseman, which is why most of them get locked into new deals long before hitting the market.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in early March he'd be interested in keeping the 28-year-old Boston University product but admitted the roster situation could make it tough, per Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post.
"I don't know how that would work," he said. "We're going to have three of the top UFAs of the free-agency market. I think a lot depends on what happens down the stretch, how everybody's role pans out, and we'll make decisions after it's all over."
With a star-studded roster, multiple free agents and Shattenkirk prepared to command top dollar, keeping him in Washington would face an uphill battle. He'd still prove worth the short-term investment if he can help the team win a Stanley Cup, though.
The New York Rangers should emerge as a top contender to land him. They could use another offensive-minded defender, and getting a chance to play for the Blueshirts should be an attractive option for the New York native.
Prediction: New York Rangers
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
Oshie is set to hit free agency after enjoying the most productive season of his career. He's topped the 30-goal mark for the first time and, more importantly, provided the Caps with some much-needed production behind the stalwart tandem of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin.
The question is whether teams will be willing to pay him fair market value for those numbers. It's a risky bet for a couple reasons, including the uncertainty about whether he could produce at a similar level without playing on a line with two superstars.
In addition, Todd Cordell of HockeyBuzz.com pointed out his scoring jump has come with an unsustainable increase in his shooting percentage:
That's not to say Oshie won't be a useful contributor moving forward. He's scored at least 18 goals five times in his NHL career while maintaining a more reasonable shooting percentage. But giving him a top-tier contract would come with risk.
A team like the New Jersey Devils, who desperately need more offensive weapons and will have ample cap space, can afford to take that chance. Playing alongside Travis Zajac and Taylor Hall would give the team a potent first line to build around.
Prediction: New Jersey Devils
Alexander Radulov, Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Radulov has enjoyed a terrific return season in the NHL after a stint in the KHL. The 2004 first-round selection has topped 50 points to rank second on the Montreal Canadiens in scoring, which makes him one of the best offseason signings from last year.
Being able to put up those type of numbers on a one-year, prove-it deal should allow him to land a more lucrative long-term agreement this summer. The Habs will probably try to get him under contract before he's officially a free agent, though.
Eric Engels of Rogers Sportsnet provided more information about the possible timing:
That makes sense. Players under contract will need to get protected from the Vegas Golden Knights, and with limited spots, waiting until after those expansion picks are made would help.
Staying with the Canadiens makes the most sense. He found a comfort zone quickly and would continue to get prime minutes in the top six and on the power play.
Prediction: Montreal Canadiens