The 2017 free agency class may not be the strongest, but the Washington Capitals have the most to gain (or more likely lose) if free agency doesn’t go their way. The Capitals, currently on the ropes, down 3-1, to the Pittsburgh Penguins (Game 5 tonight), have four of the top eight unrestricted free agents, according to Matt Larkin of the Hockey News, as he posts his Top-30 unrestricted free agents this summer.
Unlike previous years, Larkin writes that this year’s class falls short of firepower, which the scribe points out is bad news for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, who get a 48-hour window to negotiate with any free agents before any other teams. Regardless, it’s the Capitals who will find themselves on the clock as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is listed as the number one free agent on the list, while winger T.J. Oshie is third. Defenseman Karl Alzner is ranked fifth, while veteran wing Justin Williams is eighth on their list.
Larkin adds that he believes the Capitals will only be able to ink two of those players and will be forced to let two go. Shattenkirk, who was acquired in a February trade from the St. Louis Blues for their playoff run, has struggled in the playoffs this year, but is listed first due to the fact that blueliners in the prime of their careers, who can play 20 minutes a night, are always rewarded. Whether Washington can keep him at a high price tag is the tough question.
The team is likely to do everything to sign Oshie, however. The 30-year-old winger has had a breakout season with Washington on the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom. He has tallied 59 regular-season goals in the two seasons he has played for the Capitals since being acquired by trade from the Blues.
The Capitals then have to look at Alzner, a rugged blueliner who at age 28, could get a large contract in a weak year of free agent defensemen, while Williams playoff success could make him a well-paid second-liner as well. The Capitals have to decide what priorities they have as it’s unlikely they can afford to keep all four players.
Montreal Canadiens veteran winger Alexander Radulov, who returned to the NHL last year after a long stint in the KHL, is ranked second on the list, although he has said he would like to resign with the Canadiens. Goaltender Ben Bishop is listed fourth on that free agent list and the 30-year-old netminder should be in high demand. Veterans Martin Hanzal (No. 6), Joe Thornton (No. 7), Radim Vrbata (No. 9) and Patrick Eaves (No. 10) round out the first ten on that list.