Speaking about the impending unrestricted free agent class on Sportsnet’s “31 Thoughts Podcast“, Elliott Friedman updated the statuses of several prominent UFA’s-to-be. Of course, few names will draw as much attention (and money) as Matt Duchene. Following a 70-point season and point-per-game postseason, there is little doubt the Duchene is the best available center and will soon cash in on a contract worth upwards of $60-70MM. What remains is simply who has the means and the interest to make that offer to Duchene. Although they would have to move out salary, Friedman echoes the sentiment that the Nashville Predators should not be counted out of the Duchene sweepstakes until a deal is done. The mutual interest between the two sides is well-documented, but the hurdles of clearing the necessary space remain. As such, Friedman also mentions that the Montreal Candiens are expected to be one of the front-runners for Duchene. The Habs have approximately $11.7MM in projected cap space with almost their entire 2018-19 roster locked up and are simply looking to add pieces to help them get into the playoffs after narrowly missing out this season. Duchene is the top center they need and fortunately can afford and Friedman hears that there is interest.
- Friedman believes that the goalie market will be more active than many realize. With the growing trend of having a 1A-1B tandem or at least a well-rested starter, the value of backup goalies is going up and Friedman feels a veteran player like Mike Smith could be a beneficiary. Smith, 37, endured one of the worst seasons of his career in 2018-19, but played much better in the postseason despite the Calgary Flames’ early exit. There is still a chance that Smith could stay in Calgary and continue his tandem with David Rittich. However, the Flames are reportedly considering an upgrade. Yet, Smith could be of value to many other teams looking for an established veteran to be their backup. Smith is no longer a 50-game or maybe even 40-game goaltender, but Friedman feels he still has the pedigree to land a significant deal. Of course, if the goalie market is active, that means others like Semyon Varlamov, Brian Elliott, Cam Talbot, or Curtis McElhinney will be in the running for those priority backup jobs as well.
- Another player whose market may be greater than once expected is power forward Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds had a dreadful year, recording just 30 points on the season, his lowest total since his rookie campaign. Just three of those points came after he was traded to the Nashville Predators and then Simmonds missed a chance at redemption as injury kept him out of all but two of the Predators’ postseason games. With his stock at its lowest, many were reasonably expecting Simmonds to draw considerably less interest this off-season than he may have just one year ago. However, Friedman warns that the performance of a player like the St. Louis Blues’ Pat Maroon may change that. Maroon has shown that hard-nosed, physical forwards still have a place in the game, particularly in the playoffs. Friedman feels Maroon – who is also a UFA – has reinvigorated the market for similar players, such as Simmonds or an experienced two-way forward like Derick Brassard, who himself had a down year. Simmonds is still unlikely to get the kind of contract he would have just a year or two ago, but he won’t be unemployed for very long despite his poor season.
- Friedman wonders what the market will be like for veteran forward Thomas Vanek. After back-to-back seasons of being a valuable trade deadline commodity, Vanek finally stayed put this year with the Detroit Red Wings after requesting not to be dealt. Yet, Vanek finds himself on the move again as a free agent. The 35-year-old saw a major drop-off in production this year and is unlikely to be a fit back in Detroit. In fact, Friedman doesn’t see an obvious fit anywhere for Vanek, who has played for eight different teams in his long and successful NHL career. A veteran “hired gun” who also isn’t keen on moving is a tough player to fit and Friedman says there’s a chance that Vanek is done.