With the halfway point of the season now behind us and the trade deadline fast approaching, it’s time to take a preliminary look at the UFA Class of 2018. Here is the first half of our top-20 rankings, based on votes from writers Gavin Lee, Brian La Rose, Nate Brown, Zach Leach and Holger Stolzenberg. We’ll run numbers 1-10 tomorrow, and release an honorable mention group on Friday.
11. David Perron, F, Vegas Golden Knights — When Perron was scoring 20 goals as a 21-year old in St. Louis, he likely wouldn’t have believed that he’d be joining his sixth NHL team just a few days after his 30th birthday. That’s what could happen this summer if Perron isn’t re-signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, and he hits the open market as one of the most consistent forwards available. The winger has 34 points in 37 games and could realistically set a new career-high should he stay healthy down the stretch. For teams looking for secondary scoring from a do-it-all forward, Perron is the easy answer.
12. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks — Thornton ranked #3 on our midseason list last season, and ended up taking a one-year, $8MM deal to stay in San Jose. This summer could be much of the same, after he proves his seven-goal 2016-17 was just a fluke. Thornton is still one of the great setup men in the league, and has 32 points in 43 games on the year. After playing through torn knee ligaments in the playoffs, he’s shown off inexplicable health once again by suiting up for all 43 games. At 39 next year there is still time for him to bring home that elusive Stanley Cup.
13. Patric Hornqvist, F, Pittsburgh Penguins — We’ve seen the Penguins lose key players to free agency in the past, and if they can’t find the salary room to fit Hornqvist in there won’t be a shortage of teams calling his agent on July 1st. The 31-year old has never scored fewer than 21 goals in a season in which he played at least 64 games, and it doesn’t look like that streak will end this year. A weapon in front of the net on the powerplay and still capable at both ends of the rink, Hornqvist comes with the added bonus of some recent Stanley Cup experience.
14. Tyler Bozak, C, Toronto Maple Leafs — There’s a lot to like in Bozak’s profile, as an elite faceoff man with solid offensive upside, but he does come with some risk. No one would ever claim he’s a defensive specialist, and his game has slowed considerably over the past few seasons. He also will hit the open market at 32, and has seen his minutes diminished this season. Still, a 40-50 point center with plenty of powerplay experience will be an exciting prospect for a team looking to upgrade their depth down the middle.
15. Rick Nash, F, New York Rangers — Nash has certainly not lived up to his $7.8MM cap hit this season (or the last few), but there will surely be some teams convinced they can bring out some of the greatness that was once so apparent. The 427-goal man has just 11 this season, but can still skate well and kill penalties. Like fellow 33-year old Eric Staal, who has found a career renaissance after a stint in New York (albeit a much shorter one), Nash could be a sneaky bargain on the open market for a team willing to take a chance.
16. Thomas Vanek, F, Vancouver Canucks — Vanek was actually #8 on this list last season, but had to settle for a one-year deal with Vancouver after waiting until September to sign. This year, he’s done what he’s always done and continued to find a way to put up points despite obvious red flags in his game. With 32 points in 45 games and nice chemistry building with Brock Boeser, the Canucks could decide to keep him on for another few seasons as they continue their rebuild. If not, his market is about as easy to predict as the lottery numbers.
17. Patrick Maroon, F, Edmonton Oilers — After last year’s breakout playing mostly with Connor McDavid, Maroon looked like a key piece to the Oilers success going forward. Just a few months into the 2017-18 season though, and he looks like a sure-fire deadline rental with an unclear future. Save for the 27-goal output Maroon had last season, he has scored just 45 goals in 264 career games. If those point totals can creep back up in the second half, maybe someone believes he can be a real top-six option on a multi-year deal.
18. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins — He’ll be 41. He’s lost much of his mobility. He’s on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. But he’s still 6’9″ and logging more than 23 minutes a night for the Bruins. Chara isn’t the perennial Norris candidate of a decade ago, but there’s no reason why he can’t be an effective option going forward. He’s still a capable defenseman at even strength and one of the top penalty killing options in the league. With a reduced role he could be even more effective. It would be shocking to see him make it to the open market, but stranger things have happened.
19. Jack Johnson, D, Columbus Blue Jackets — The fact that Johnson wasn’t even in the top-20 of two ballots shows just how far he’s fallen in recent years. Once seen as an integral part of the Blue Jackets blueline, with the ability to quarterback a powerplay and log huge minutes, he’s now asked for a trade out of Columbus to get a bigger role somewhere else. At 31, there’s a real chance that his game may have taken a drastic negative turn and teams could stay away from giving him a long-term contract.
20. Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver Canucks — Interestingly it’s Daniel, not Henrik Sedin that finds himself in the final spot on our rankings despite the latter having more points this season. Though his twin only missed the cut by a few spots, it’s likely Daniel’s better goal total (ten, to Henrik’s two) that makes up the difference. They won’t be going anywhere separately, but it would be a real shame to see them as part of a franchise other than Vancouver at this point in their careers. At 38 to start the 2018-19 season, it might be Canucks or bust.