NHL Free Agency 2018: Predictions Based on Offseason Buzz

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJuly 18, 2018

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

NHL free-agent frenzy was over before anyone could say "you've got to feel sorry for New York Islanders fans." John Tavares chose to bolt for the Toronto Maple Leafs, spurning the only NHL team he had ever known and shifting the power in the Eastern Conference.

While there aren't any big names left to be had, for squads that were left on the outside looking in, that could be a good thing—unless, for some reason, you're mad at your organization's general manager for not springing for Antoine Roussel or Jack Johnson.

There's still time and presumably cap space to burn, however, and a handful of NHL-caliber players and veterans are still looking for new homes. None of these options are going to put a team over the top, but depth is never a bad thing.

Here's the latest from around the league as far as free agents are concerned.


Rick Nash Still Undecided About His Future

There haven't been any updates from Rick Nash's camp, which, oddly enough, is newsworthy in itself. His agent, Jack Resnick, let teams that were interested in the forward's services know ahead of July 1 that he wouldn't be signing a contract on that day.

According to Resnick, the wing "turned down a lot of money" to take some time to consider his future in the sport. But it is now mid-July. For NHL teams still hoping to add some punch up front, that probably feels like an eternity.

To be fair, though, Nash has earned the right to take as much time off as he needs. Concussion issues are serious business, and there's no reason for the former No. 1 overall draft pick to push it if he doesn't think that's what is best for him moving forward.

He's 34, so he's no spring chicken. But he's still got a bit of gas left in the tank if he decides to give things another go. That's why so many teams were apparently interested in him ahead of July 1.

If Nash decides to return, it will be on a contract with a contender; both the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets would make a ton of sense. The former could use another scoring wing, and the latter is likely going to have to trade Artemi Panarin at some point this season.

Nash is no Panarin, but he could still be good for 15 or 20 goals in a secondary role.


Can the Winnipeg Jets and Jacob Trouba Avoid Arbitration?

Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets are no strangers to contract drama. The defenseman sat out for a bit in 2016-17, unhappy with the role he had been relegated to more than anything. Both sides say that the holdout is ancient history. But history has a way of repeating itself.

Here we are again, two years later, wondering whether the Jets and Trouba can avoid going through with the arbitration process.

Things are a bit different this time around. Trouba is no longer just a promising young player on the rise. He's established himself as a key member of the Winnipeg blue line and is in line for a pretty substantial raise.

Trouba isn't an offensive dynamo just yet, but he can safely argue that he's a top-pairing defenseman at the age of 24. Guys like that don't grow on trees—just ask any general manager in the NHL.

So what is a blueliner who looks great according to the eye test and has strong underlying numbers but no monster offensive stats to lean on worth? That's the million-dollar (or several million) question for the Jets.

According to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, the two sides are talking ahead of Friday's arbitration hearing: "What we know right now is there has been open dialogue between Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and agent Kurt Overhardt throughout the course of last season, though the numbers going back and forth remain mostly a mystery."

Is that a mystery that Winnipeg can solve before an anything-goes arbitration hearing unfolds? We'll just have to wait and see, but it's a deal that Winnipeg simply has to get right. Something in the ballpark of a $6 million AAV makes sense, with every grand over that being a win for Trouba and every grand below that being a win for the Jets.


Could the Chicago Blackhawks Sign Tobias Enstrom?

In what has seemingly become an annual summer event, the Chicago Blackhawks are trying to fill out their blue line on the cheap. That isn't a particularly easy thing to do in the NHL these days. Last season, it was Cody Franson who was brought in for pennies on the dollar.

This year, it sounds like general manager Stan Bowman could be looking at signing free-agent defenseman Tobias Enstrom to help solidify his back end.

A half-decade ago, it would have been an exciting move for Chicago. Enstrom was a 30-point player in 2013-14 and played in all 82 games for the Jets. He's missed at least 10 games in every season since, however, and has only skated in 103 of a possible 164 regular-season games over the past two years combined.

Across those contests, he's found the back of the net just twice and has consequently seen his role rapidly fade in Winnipeg. It's not clear where he would fit in with the Blackhawks or what they would be hoping to milk out of him, but at least he's got OK underlying numbers.

If he can help Chicago get the puck out of its own zone effectively from the third pairing, then perhaps this is one of those late signings that could make a difference for a team that is looking to get back into the playoffs.

As Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score noted, it's not like there's going to be a rush of teams interested in Enstrom, though, so maybe this is a deal that doesn't come together until training camp. At that stage, the Blackhawks could extend a professional tryout offer to Enstrom and see where things go from there. Guaranteed money seems risky in mid-July.


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