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NHL Free Agency 2018: Rumors, Predictions for Rick Nash, Paul Stastny and More

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2018

Boston Bruins left wing Rick Nash (61) waits for the face off during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Much of the focus entering NHL free agency is on New York Islanders center John Tavares, but there are plenty of other useful players set to be available on the open market as well.

Although it can be argued that the free-agent class is lacking in terms of top-end talent aside from Tavares, many players capable of being supporting cast members on contending teams should generate a great deal of interest.

Prior to the official opening of free agency on July 1, here is a rundown of some of the biggest names available, along with predictions for where they will land.

        

Rick Nash

Veteran winger Rick Nash is no longer an elite goal scorer like he was earlier in his career, but the big power forward still holds plenty of value.

According to TSN's Darren Dreger, at least five teams are expected to pursue Nash in free agency.

The 34-year-old was dealt from the New York Rangers to the Boston Bruins prior to last season's trade deadline, and New York was able to land a first-round pick in the trade, which speaks to Nash's value.

In 71 games split between the Rangers and Bruins last season, Nash registered 21 goals and 13 assists for 34 points. He also added another three goals and two assists in 12 playoff contests.

Although the Rangers traded Nash last season, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reported this week that they "aren't ruling out interest" in Nash despite not viewing him as one of their top targets.

Last season suggests that the Rangers aren't close to Stanley Cup contention currently, so there may be more appealing options for Nash.

Among them is the team he began his career with—the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Per Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, Columbus is Nash's top choice in free agency. Portzline added that returning to Boston or signing with another contender are possibilities as well.

Nash spent nine seasons with the Blue Jackets, during which time he had seven 30-goal seasons and two 40-goal campaigns.

Overall, Nash has 437 career goals and 805 points in 1,060 regular-season games.

He is more of a 20-goal guy than a 30- or 40-goal man, but that still makes him a solid second-liner or a fantastic third-liner for a good team.

Columbus needs to add some offense since Artemi Panarin was the only forward on the team last season to reach the 50-point plateau, and due to Nash's reported interest in returning, a reunion makes a ton of sense.

Prediction: Blue Jackets sign Nash to a two-year, $10 million deal

        

Paul Stastny

After a strong performance down the stretch and during the playoffs for the Winnipeg Jets last season, center Paul Stastny is among the top players on the open market.

Stastny had 13 points in 19 regular-season games with the Jets, and he followed that up with 15 points in 17 playoff contests.

Overall, Stastny registered 16 goals and 37 assists for 53 points in 82 regular-season games split between the St. Louis Blues and Jets.

TSN's Pierre LeBrun noted that Stastny will have similar suitors to Tavares since they are the top two centers available.

LeBrun added that the Montreal Canadiens have already inquired about Stastny, while there is also mutual interest between Stastny and the Jets.

Last season was Stastny's best statistical year since putting up 60 points with the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14.

He recorded 70 or more points in three of his first four NHL seasons, but the 32-year-old veteran seems to be settling somewhere around the 40-55 point range depending on his role.

In 824 career games, Stastny has 220 goals and 426 assists for 646 points. Those numbers make him an ideal No. 2 center or perhaps even an excellent No. 3 center on a top team.

The Habs have a pair of young, talented players in Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi capable of playing center, although either could be moved to wing as well.

Quite simply, the Canadiens need to add more substance up front, and Stastny would give them precisely that.

In addition to being a solid playmaker, Stastny is good on faceoffs and is the type of experienced leader they are lacking in their forward group.

Since Montreal missed out on a meeting with Tavares, it may be desperate to land and potentially overpay its Plan B, and that figures to be Stastny.

Also, Stastny was born in Quebec, meaning there are enough connections present to make a working relationship between the Canadiens and Stastny a reality.

Prediction: Canadiens sign Stastny to a four-year, $24 million deal

        

Carter Hutton

Carter Hutton is the best UFA option among goaltenders, and that has already reportedly led to several teams expressing interest in signing him.

According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Islanders are among the teams that have inquired about Hutton.

LeBrun added that some of those teams are considering signing him to become their No. 1 goalie.

The 32-year-old Hutton appeared in 32 games for the St. Louis Blues last season in a partial timeshare with Jake Allen.

He finished with a 17-7-3 record, a .931 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against average, the latter of which was the best mark in the NHL among goalies who appeared in more than five games.

Although 2017-18 was a career year for Hutton, his overall numbers during his six-year NHL career are solid as well.

In 138 games, he is 63-39-17 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

Those are undoubtedly starter-worthy numbers, however, it is fair to question if he was simply the beneficiary of playing behind a strong defense in stints with the Blues and Nashville Predators.

Among the four teams mentioned by LeBrun, the Sabres, Hurricanes and Islanders could all offer Hutton the unquestioned starting job.

Of those three teams, the Isles stand out as the one that presents the best chance to win immediately, as well as the path of least resistance to a starting role.

New York's goalies struggled mightily last season, and a change is desperately needed.

Jaroslav Halak will be a free agent, and while Thomas Greiss is set to return, he had a miserable 2017-18 campaign with a 3.82 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.

With or without Tavares, the Islanders have plenty of young talent at forward and defense. A steady answer between the pipes is likely the main thing standing between them and a playoff run.

On top of that, new Isles head coach Barry Trotz coached Hutton during his time with the Predators, and that familiarity could give New York an even bigger leg up.

Prediction: Islander sign Hutton to a three-year, $10.5 million contract

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