If and when John Tavares re-signs with the New York Islanders this off-season, there will be a lot of teams left in need of a center with few options to turn to. The trade route is an option, although a costly one when searching for a top-six pivot. Not many teams are openly shopping their top centers either. The draft is no help in a class largely devoid of pro-ready talent down the middle. The restricted free agent offer sheet has all but gone extinct. For those teams in need of center help, this leaves the free agent market as the most realistic choice and, behind Tavares, pickings are slim. Tyler Bozak, Riley Nash, and Derek Ryan are all top-five scorers among free agent centers despite all being two-way focused forwards best suited for third-line roles. Joe Thornton, Valtteri Filppula, and Tomas Plekanec are all well past their primes and their recent production proves it. There are simply very few good options.
For these reasons, it is no surprise that teams are already lining up for the services of Paul Stastny. Easily the top UFA center behind Tavares, Stastny is coming off a 53-point season with St. Louis and Winnipeg. Add in a dominant 15-point postseason with the Jets, and Stastny has greatly improved his stock heading into the open market. Both an offensive threat and a defensively responsible player, Stastny is a complete, two-way player. He is also a twelve-year veteran who dismissed talks of being past his prime this season and seems capable of high-end play over the course of another long-term contract.
In fact, the 2017-18 season was Stastny’s best offensively since his early days with the Colorado Avalanche. Ironically, the Avs reportedly would like to see if he still has that 70-point potential he showed as a younger player in Denver. Both Fox Sports’ Andy Strickland and BSN Denver’s Adrian Dater believe that Colorado is the leader in the chase for Stastny. As a team with which he has chemistry, as well as a young, exciting roster in need of a leader, it would be easy to see why a return to the Avalanche could be appealing to Stastny. Strickland also names the Winnipeg Jets as a top suitor. After acquiring Stastny at the deadline and seeing him fit in so well down the stretch and in the playoffs, it is no wonder that they would like to retain him. However, the Jets are inundated with valuable restricted free agents in need of extensions and may run out of the cap flexibility needed to compete for one of the market’s biggest names. Dater hears that the Montreal Canadiens, one of the more desperate center-needy teams in the league, is also in the hunt for Stastny. The Canadiens would be able to keep up with any bid the Avalanche could make and it would likely come down to which team Stastny feels is the best fit.
While these three teams are surely not the exclusive list of contenders, they are three teams that are logical fits for Stastny. Two teams that whose absences are noteworthy though are the St. Louis Blues and Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, the Blues traded away Stastny and when they had him it wasn’t enough to be a true Stanley Cup contender. However, a healthy St. Louis team would have been much more competitive this season and one of the holes they now need to fill to return to that place is at center. Bringing back Stastny is an idea that no one would dismiss, yet Strickland – a Blues beat writer – makes no mention of them. The Hurricanes, like the Canadiens, are simply a team in drastic need of a top center. While Stastny may not put them over the top, he would be yet another piece to a roster that has the potential to turn things around next year. Carolina also has near limitless cap space to contend for the rising price of Stastny’s services. At the end of the day, Strickland states that Stastny just wants to go somewhere where he will have a “chance to win”. Winnipeg and Colorado fit the bill, while Montreal, St. Louis, and Carolina may not. Others are sure to enter the fray too in a free agency market that may end up being defined by the choice made by Paul Stastny.