With many teams having hit the halfway point of the season and the trade deadline fast approaching, it’s time to take a preliminary look at the UFA Class of 2017. Here is the second half of our top-20 rankings, based on votes from our writers.
For rankings 11-20, click here.
- Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis – Shattenkirk has been no stranger to speculation about where he will wind up next year. He was part of trade discussions dating back to the draft and isn’t expected to be back with the Blues next season; some have wondered if they’d even consider trading him by the trade deadline to avoid losing him for free in July. He’s a premier offensive blueliner who should have numerous suitors if he makes it to the open market and was the only player to be ranked first or second by every writer.
- Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal – One of the more controversial signings last summer, Radulov has had a very strong return to the NHL this season. Not only are the questions about his attitude going away, he has been a legitimate front line player for the Canadiens. He was forced to take a one year, ‘show me’ contract last July – he certainly has been showing teams that he can be a core player and should have more luck landing a long-term contract this summer.
- Joe Thornton, C, San Jose – Although he’s not playing at a point-per-game pace like he did last year, Thornton has been a high end playmaker once again this season. It’s believed that he’s seeking another three year contract despite the fact he’ll turn 38 in July. One thing to keep an eye on in the second half will be his goal scoring or lack thereof. He has struggled considerably in that regard so far (both of his goals have been empty netters) and a repeat of that in the second half and the postseason will likely have him dropping in the rankings come the summer.
- T.J. Oshie, RW, Washington – Oshie continues to be a model of consistency when it comes to his production. He has picked up at least 50 points in four of the last five seasons and he’s on track for yet another 20+ goal campaign for the Capitals again this year. He will be one of the younger high-end wingers to hit the market and could be in line for one of the longer contracts to be handed out this summer.
- Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay – Although Bishop’s numbers are down this year, we saw how important he is to the Lightning when he missed nine games and the team fell out of a playoff spot. Bishop has been one of the top netminders in the league since joining Tampa Bay and given their salary cap situation, he’s all but guaranteed to be going elsewhere for next season. One thing that could hurt Bishop is the number of goalies that are slated to hit the market – although he is the best one, there will be more cap-friendly options for teams to choose from.
- Karl Alzner, D, Washington – The open market hasn’t been too kind to stay-at-home defensemen in recent years but Alzner is likely to buck that trend. He’s a key part of the Caps’ back end and there’s a chance he’ll be back with them next year. If he does get to the open market, Alzner is the type of player that a shutdown pairing can be built around. Considering how many teams are looking for blueline help, he should be in line for a strong payday.
- Sam Gagner, RW, Columbus – When he signed with the Blue Jackets, some speculated the deal could prove to be one of the better bargains of the past offseason but no one expected the breakout year he’s currently having. Gagner is being used in an offensive exploitation role and is making the most of it as he is on pace for a career year. Some teams may be wary that his resurgence is a one-time thing but he still should have more suitors if he makes it to the open market in July.
- Thomas Vanek, RW, Detroit – There have been quite a few underachievers in Detroit this season but Vanek isn’t one of them. He sits second on the team in scoring despite missing 11 games due to injury. While his days of being a high end front line player have come and gone after struggling in that role with Montreal and Minnesota (who bought him out in June), he’s still set to be one of the better pure goal scorers on the market this summer.
- Martin Hanzal, C, Arizona – Hanzal’s name has been involved in trade rumors all season long and that’s likely to continue through to the trade deadline. Moving past that into free agency, he projects to be one of the top centers available and at 6’6, his size will certainly be appealing to many teams. He’s not a top line player but would slot in as a strong middle six forward pretty much anywhere. He’ll be 30 in July and should be able to secure another long-term contract.
- Andrei Markov, D, Montreal – Despite being 38, Markov is still going strong for the Canadiens. He’s still an above average point producer that can help run a power play and while he is slowing down, he is still capable of playing 20 minutes a night in a second pairing role. Markov has eschewed free agency to re-sign with Montreal twice before so if there’s mutual interest in him sticking around past this season, history could wind up repeating itself here.