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. We ranked the top 20 pending unrestricted free agents based on votes from writers Gavin Lee, Brian La Rose, Nate Brown, Zach Leach and Holger Stolzenberg. You can find numbers 1-10 right here, and 11-20 here.
Today, we’ll look at those names that just missed the cut but will still be interesting options this summer. All of these players were included on at least one ballot, but did not accumulate enough points to crack the top 20.
Michael Grabner, F, New York Rangers — Included on three of five ballots, Grabner is a useful player that nevertheless doesn’t grab many headlines. Despite scoring 20 goals already this season and having a career-high of 34, there aren’t many teams who would slot Grabner into their top-six without hesitation. That’s because he’s best used as a straight speed threat and penalty killer, who counter-punches extremely well but has trouble creating opportunities for his linemates. In fact, Grabner has just 86 assists in 519 career games and has only once registered more helpers than goals in a full season. There’s no doubt he’ll be gobbled up quickly in free agency, but it’s hard to claim he’s one of the absolute top options.
Ian Cole, D, Pittsburgh Penguins — Included on two ballots, Cole is an interesting free agent case that may be clouded by his relationship with his coach this season. Despite being one of Pittsburgh’s more reliable defenders over the past few years, he’s clashed with head coach Mike Sullivan and spent time in the press box as a healthy scratch this season. Whether that plays a role in determining how much he can get on the open market is still to be seen, but there is certainly value in a two-time Stanley Cup defenseman that will be just 29 when he hits free agency.
Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver Canucks — Amazingly, Sedin was included on just one ballot and was left out of the top 20 despite his twin brother Daniel making it in. He’ll be going wherever Daniel ends up, and you have to wonder whether it will be Vancouver or nothing. Today, agent J.P. Barry told Rick Dhaliwal of NEWS 1130 that he’ll have discussions with the Canucks on the future of the twins before the trade deadline, but there’s a real chance the club will decide to go in a different direction.
Lars Eller, C, Washington Capitals — Included on just one ballot, Eller is an example of how valuable centers are in the NHL. Though he’s never scored more than 30 points in a single season, his consistent effort at both ends of the rink will surely land him a multi-year contract around the league. Whether the Capitals are able to keep him around might be dependent on what happens with John Carlson, as the team doesn’t have a lot of money to give out on July 1st. If he’s able to convince people that he’s closer to Nick Bonino than Jay Beagle and not the other way around, he might be able to land himself a nice chunk of money for the next few years.
Erik Gudbranson, D, Vancouver Canucks — The fact that Gudbranson, the third-overall pick form 2010 was included on just one ballot shows how far he’s fallen. The rough defenseman doesn’t give you any offensive upside, but still could be sought after for his youth and physical play. He’s still logging lots of time in Vancouver, and has a really impressive pedigree to ride into at least one contract. What he does with it will determine his future in the league.
Luca Sbisa, D, Vegas Golden Knights — If Sbisa had been healthy all year and part of the Golden Knights run he may have been ranked higher, but his time on injured reserve has hurt his upside going into the summer. If he comes back and proves that he can still use his skating ability to help the team in the playoffs, teams will certainly add him as a depth defender with upside.
Leo Komarov, F, Toronto Maple Leafs — Komarov is still one of Mike Babcock’s favorites in Toronto, but the media and fans alike have started wondering why exactly that is. Though he’s physical, works hard and is one of the best penalty killers in the league, Komarov’s offensive game has fallen off a cliff with just 11 point on the season despite playing regularly with Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri. If those numbers don’t improve, he may find it hard to secure anything but fourth-line minutes (and money) on his next team, especially as he heads into free agency at 31.