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NHL Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for John Tavares, Rick Nash and More

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJune 29, 2018

New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) celebrates with teammate Tanner Fritz (56) after Fritz scored his first career NHL goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in New York, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

John Tavares' impending decision on whether to stay with the New York Islanders or become a free agent and sign somewhere else is expected to dictate the NHL free-agent market. 

Tavares met with five suitors and the Islanders, and now the process comes down to the 27-year-old making a choice regarding his long-term future.

While the wait for Tavares' announcement continues, there are plenty of other potential moves rumored, especially at goalie, where a few teams must fill needs at the position.

Thursday also brought with it a surprising bit of news that could alter the plans of a few franchises in need of a veteran forward.

Below is an update on the latest free-agent buzz, as the league tries to size up where the marquee players, led by Tavares, will land.

          

John Tavares

The only thing we know for sure about Tavares is he's done meeting with teams, including the Islanders, per Sportsnet's Chris Johnston: 

Chris Johnston @reporterchris

At this point, there are no further meetings scheduled between John Tavares and the Islanders. He's still absorbing everything he heard this week. All quiet on the #TavaresWatch for now.

The timeline for his decision is still unknown, but his camp could start making calls to the teams that miss out on him as early as Friday, per TSN's Pierre LeBrun:

Pierre LeBrun @PierreVLeBrun

The John Tavares camp could start informing a few teams as early as Friday morning that they're no longer in the running... beyond that hard to say when the UFA centre for sure will be ready to pick his team. Obviously if it's the Isles that call is no later than Saturday...

If he wants to remain with the Islanders, Tavares will make his mind up by Saturday in order to collect an eight-year deal with the franchise that drafted him.

Until definitive word comes out of the Tavares camp, there's still a possibility he bolts from the Islanders and joins a new team, with the San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs being the preferred destinations in that order, per The Athletic's Arthur Staple.

If Tavares values winning more than loyalty, he should pick up and leave New York to play for one of the perennial contenders in the Western Conference.

The Sharks built a nice core and added to it during the 2017-18 season with Evander Kane's acquisition through a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

San Jose has proved it isn't afraid of making a splash, and the team's ambition plus available spending money could be the perfect combination to lure away Tavares from the only NHL team he's played for.

Prediction: Tavares signs with the Sharks.

             

Rick Nash 

Rick Nash went from coveted veteran free agent to potentially retired hockey player Thursday. 

Nash's agent Joe Resnick told Johnston the 34-year-old suspended talks with teams because he is unsure whether he will play next season.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Nash's decision to halt any negotiations doesn't have anything to do with the offers he's received, but it focuses more on personal matters.

The Canadian left winger isn't retiring from hockey yet, but he is taking time to evaluate everything going on around him.

Nash's approach is worthy of praise, as he isn't leading on any suitors by being honest about his situation.

If he decides to play, he would be a valuable veteran commodity for most playoff teams, but at the moment, teams must turn elsewhere in order to fill that role.

Prediction: Nash contemplates retirement but chooses to play another season.

          

Goaltenders on the Move 

All sorts of variables are at play on the goalie market, but it seems clear that once one domino falls, the rest will tumble shortly after. 

Carter Hutton is the leading option in net for the Buffalo Sabres, while Jonathan Bernier is likely off to the Detroit Red Wings and Cam Ward is reportedly headed to the Chicago Blackhawks, according to LeBrun: 

Pierre LeBrun @PierreVLeBrun

Always subject to change between now and Sunday, but at this hour on the goalie carousel, it would appear Carter Hutton is the leading option in Buffalo, Jonathan Bernier likely headed to Detroit and as we said before, Cam Ward likely to Chicago...

Hutton, who played the past two seasons with the St. Louis Blues, would be in line to replace Robin Lehner, who wasn't extended a qualifying offer by the Sabres, in net for one of the teams expected to make a move up the standings next season. 

With Rasmus Dahlin and Jack Eichel leading the young core, the Sabres don't need a superstar in net, and Hutton fits the bill of a consistent netminder.

In 32 games with the Blues during the 2017-18 season, Hutton recorded career highs in save percentage and goals-against average. One of the concerns about the 32-year-old is he hasn't played more than 40 games in an NHL season.

Bernier is attracting interest because of the job he did with the Colorado Avalanche while Semyon Varlamov was out injured. With the 29-year-old in net, the Avalanche qualified for the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Bernier, who also spent time with Los Angeles, Toronto and Anaheim, would be a reliable backup for Detroit's starting goalie, Jimmy Howard.

Ward spent his first 13 seasons in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he appears set to move on and accept a new role with the Blackhawks behind Corey Crawford on the depth chart.

Barring a collapse in one of the deals, it appears the Sabres, Red Wings and Blackhawks have trusted veteran goalies coming into their organizations.

Prediction: Hutton moves to Buffalo, Bernier signs with Detroit and Ward ends up in Chicago.

             

Michal Kempny

After re-signing Devante Smith-Pelly to a one-year contract Thursday, the Washington Capitals appear to be in line to lock up another member of their Stanley Cup-winning team. 

Michal Kempny looks like the next player to join up for another season in Washington, D.C., as TSN's Darren Dreger reported the 27-year-old signed a multiyear deal: 

Darren Dreger @DarrenDreger

Michal Kempny won’t be leaving Washington. Sources say he’s agreed to a multi year deal, despite outside interest, to stay with the Caps.

The Czech played 53 games between the Capitals and Blackhawks last season, and he turned himself into a valuable asset for Washington during the postseason.

The defenseman provided two goals and three assists in 24 postseason appearances for the Caps, who are trying to keep most of their roster together as they attempt to repeat as champion.

Prediction: Kempny signs a new deal with Washington.

          

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.