Back in January, PHR published our Midseason UFA Power Rankings: 1-10, 11-20, and several honorable mentions. With the NHL Trade Deadline now passed, the next chance that teams have to shake up their rosters is the off-season, with the majority waiting until July 1st, when the free agent market officially opens. However, the question always is how many would-be free agents actually make it to the open market? Mark Stone, Eric Staal, and Jakob Silfverberg – three of our top 20 – have already signed or agreed to extensions. Will many more follow suit? With the trade deadline shaking up the status quo for several teams and players, how many more top free agents will skip free agency and sign extensions?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are now the team to watch for not just two but four of the best potential UFA’s. Artemi Panarin (No. 2) and Sergei Bobrovsky (No. 6) have long been expected to test the market, perhaps even as a package deal. Ottawa Senators imports Matt Duchene (No. 5) and Ryan Dzingel (No. 16) could now join them. The conditional first-round pick tied to re-signing Duchene would seemingly make it less likely that Columbus opts to extend him, while Dzingel, and Ohio State University alum, looks like a more natural long-term fit.
Another team of interest are the San Jose Sharks. Superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson (No. 1) and respected veteran forward Joe Pavelski (No. 7) are both heading for free agency and the Sharks may be hard-pressed to sign both. There’s also now deadline addition Gustav Nyquist (No. 14) to consider. How the season ends for the Cup contending Sharks could determine if any of the trio return to San Jose. The same could be said for the Western Conference rival Winnipeg Jets. Between rental center Kevin Hayes (No. 8) and big defenseman Tyler Myers (No. 10), the Jets have a pair of coveted free agents on the roster, but their impending cap crunch is severe and could make bringing back just one of the two nearly impossible.
After losing John Tavares last summer, going through the same with top forward Anders Lee (No. 9) would be devastating for the New York Islanders franchise. For that reason, it is fair to put faith in the team coming to a new agreement with their captain. However, that line of thinking if awfully reminiscent to last year. Less likely to return are center Brock Nelson (No. 11) and winger Jordan Eberle (No. 15), although either one could opt to re-sign after a strong playoff run. The big question is resurgent goalie Robin Lehner (No. 23). Will the Islanders lock up the young keeper who has been so solid this season? Or will they refuse to pay market value for a player that has benefited from their system while splitting time with Thomas Greiss?
Generally, playoff rentals proceed to hit the free agent market rather than re-up with their new teams. In addition to Duchene, Dzingel, Hayes, and Nyquist, Nashville’s Wayne Simmonds (No. 13), Dallas’ Mats Zuccarello (No. 21), and Colorado’s Derick Brassard (No. 24) could very well be headed to yet another destination. Some may also consider Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner (No. 12) and Carolina forward Micheal Ferland (No. 18) as “own rentals” given the high likelihood that both leave. However, there is room for a surprise or two in this group to sign an extension.
Safer bets to land a new deal rather than test free agent waters are a pair of long-time veterans and a breakout star. If there was any doubt that the Buffalo Sabres couldn’t re-sign Jeff Skinner (No. 4), there would have been talk of his availability at the trade deadline. Instead, it was dead quiet. Skinner has been a great match with Jack Eichel and certainly looks like a long-term fit in Buffalo. Vancouver’s Alexander Edler (No. 22) and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (No. 25) both stated their preference not to be dealt at the recent deadline and are known to be working on new contracts. Yet, until pen meets paper they are still impending free agents. Similarly, Semyon Varlamov (No. 17) has expressed an interest in remaining with the Colorado Avalanche, but it’s unclear if the feeling is mutual.
Compared to recent years, this impending free agent class does look to have fewer locks for extensions among top players. Any of these 22 names could hit the market, although odds are they won’t all choose to do so. Regardless, this could be a healthy market come July 1st. Just how deep could it be? That’s for you to guess. How many of these top free agents will sign extensions? [Mobile users click here to vote]