NHL Free Agents 2019: Predictions for Top Players Who Will Hit Open Market

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJune 10, 2019

San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson against the Colorado Avalanche during an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Even though the Stanley Cup Final is still going on, there is plenty of buzz surrounding NHL free agency. 

The Buffalo Sabres set the tone for free agency, and the potential value some players may have, by signing Jeff Skinner to an eight-year, $72 million deal last week. 

The top remaining unrestricted free agents will look at Skinner's deal and hope to receive a similar payout, whether it be from the team they played for last year or a new suitor. 

San Jose's Erik Karlsson is considered the top player who will hit the open market, while Columbus is the team with the most focus on it, as it could lose up to three high-profile free agents this summer. 


Predictions for Players Who Will Hit Open Market

Erik Karlsson

Sportsnet's Luke Fox rated Karlsson as the top unrestricted free agent in the middle of May, and that valuation still rings true with July 1 getting closer. 

Josie Lepe/Associated Press

San Jose's recent history of winning could be one of the factors that keeps Karlsson with the team, and the 29-year-old is reportedly taking a hard look at that possibility, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area's Ali Thanawalla).

"The word is that Erik Karlsson is taking a long, hard look at deciding if he wants to stay in San Jose," Friedman said during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"And I think we're going to know in about a week if he's going to stay or if he's going to investigate his other free agency options," Friedman continued. "He wants to win. The Sharks are perennially in it. They've made a good impression on him." 

If he decides to leave San Jose, Karlsson will have plenty of interested suitors, including Ottawa and Montreal. According to Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sunsources told him Karlsson hopes to receive competitive offers from the Canadiens and Senators. 

The New York Rangers could also be in the mix for Karlsson. Sportsnet's Chris Johnston (h/t SNYsaid during a radio interview in May that the Rangers are the most likely destination for the defenseman.

"The Rangers are probably the most likely destination," Johnston said. "The time is probably right to scale up a little bit, and I can just see a fit there for him."

The Rangers have plenty of reasons to escalate their rebuilding process since they have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft and plenty of cap space to work with. 

If the Rangers can persuade Karlsson to move back to the Eastern Conference, it could be a great fit for a team in need of a superstar boost. 

However, there is still a chance Karlsson turns away from the open market and remains in San Jose due to the consistency in winning the franchise has had. 

Prediction: Karlsson lands with Rangers. 


Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene is one of three high-profile free agents who could move on from the Blue Jackets this summer, with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky the other two. 

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The Arizona Coyotes were the latest team mentioned in the race for Duchene, per TSN's Darren Dreger.

"There is the possibility he stays with Columbus, but among the suitors the Arizona Coyotes," Dreger said. "They've got a new injection of ownership there so perhaps there's more capital to work with, and I'm told Matt Duchene is Arizona's primary focus." 

On a recent episode of his 31 Thoughts podcast, Friedman reported: "I think the most likely destinations [for Duchene] are Nashville and Montreal. Not to say that something else can't happen here and there. But when I look at Duchene, I think those are the two."

"He's always wanted to play for Nashville, we all know that," Friedman added. "And on the other side, I think Montreal's got cap room and I think they're interested. But I've said this many times: Until Nashville's out of the picture, I always assume they're very much in the picture when it comes to him."

Duchene, who was traded from Ottawa to Columbus during the 2018-19 season, racked up 31 goals and 39 assists in 73 games for the Senators and Blue Jackets. 

If Duchene's heart is set on Nashville, that appears to be the best option for him, but with other suitors coming in with plenty of cash to spend, he will have a tough decision to make if he wants to earn the most money possible. 

If he lands in Nashville, Duchene will make the Predators one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. The Predators advanced to the championship series two seasons ago, and they are looking to make a splash after falling in the first round to Dallas. 

Prediction: Duchene signs with Nashville. 


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