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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018

Matt Larkin
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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018

Rick Nash and James van Riemsdyk. Author: (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018

Matt Larkin
By:

The remaining UFA class in 2018 offers a handful of high-impact players, but there's a rapid dropoff. It's an extremely shallow group this summer.

The 2018 free agent class is top heavy. The biggest names, from John Tavares to John Carlson, have come this far without re-signing, so they will likely reach the negotiating window in late June and hear offers from new teams. The open market will produce major bidding wars for some top-notch offensive players, many of them younger than 30. After the top 10 names or so, there’s a precipitous drop in talent. We get a sea of aging former stars and grinder defensemen. It's one of the shallowest UFA classes of all-time.

Here’s a look at the best names to watch approaching this summer, with salary info provided by capfriendly.com. I’ll update the list again between now and July 1. Ages listed are as of July 1, 2018.

1. JOHN TAVARES, C, 27
2017-18 cap hit: $5,500,000

Just as Steven Stamkos shaped up to be the most significant UFA in NHL history two years ago, the same goes for Tavares if he makes it to July 1 unsigned. He has a strong chance to surpass Jonathan Toews' and Patrick Kane’s $10.5-million cap hits and become hockey’s second-richest player behind Connor McDavid. Will Tavares leave the Islanders? It’s no sure thing. He’s comfortable in that market. Really boosting the odds of him staying are Matt Barzal’s mammoth rookie year and the Isles’ winning the Belmont Park arena bid.

2. JOHN CARLSON, D, 28
2017-18 cap hit: $3,966,667

He makes more money with each passing second. After leading all blueliners in points this season, he's enjoying a monster playoffs with the Caps, too. Would it surprise anyone if he got $7.5 million annually on his next deal? Maybe even $8 million? A right shot to boot.

3. JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK, LW, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $4,250,000

He's a one-trick pony, but it's a good trick. He's arguably the league's best goal scorer from inside three feet. If that skill dries up at any point, though, his next deal could weigh down his new team about halfway through the term.

4. PAUL STASTNY, C, 32
2017-18 cap hit: $7,000,000

Has found new life as a Jet centering a dynamite second line after being acquired at the deadline. Given his versatility and the dearth of great centers on the market, Stastny should command a medium-term deal with an AAV upwards of $5 million.

5. MIKE GREEN, D, 32
2017-18 cap hit: $6,000,000

Just as Green's neck injury scared teams away from renting him at the deadline, the cervical surgery required to fix it likely cost Green some money. In such a poor class for D-men, though, he's still one of the best options out there, risk and all.

6. EVANDER KANE, LW, 26
2017-18 cap hit: $5,250,000

Talent has never been the issue for Kane. He’s big, strong, mean and gifted, like a young Todd Bertuzzi. Kane is also quietly just 26, and his first taste of playoff hockey shows he's well suited to it.

7. ILYA KOVALCHUK, RW, 35
2017-18 cap hit: $6,666,666

Showed absolutely zero signs of slowing down in the KHL, where he continued to light it up, and he’s a proven NHL talent, one of the best goal scorers of his generation. Teams will still likely take a prove-it approach given his age, though. Something like a two-year pact sounds likely.

8. JAMES NEAL, RW, 30
2017-18 cap hit: $5,000,000

Had a sizzling start to his year with Vegas, then faded in second half, though injuries were to blame. That he's rallied with a great playoff showing should erase concerns that he's still a valuable power forward.

9. JOE THORNTON, C, 38
2017-18 cap hit: $8,000,000

‘Jumbo’ won’t win the Hart or scoring title again but remains a great playmaker and elite two-way center. The fact San Jose had to overpay him at $8 million last summer suggests he considered leaving. Might he actually do it next time, like buddy Patrick Marleau did in 2017? He won't cost as much this time given his age and health concerns.

10. DAVID PERRON, LW, 30
2017-18 cap hit: $3,750,000

David Perron, point-per-game stud? Dreams come true in Sin City. He’s played his way into a nice extension theoretically, but if Golden Knights GM George McPhee pays every player for his 2017-18 performance, he’ll run out of money. Someone will end up the odd man out and walk as a UFA, and it appears that'll be Perron.

11. RICK NASH, LW, 34
2017-18 cap hit: $7,800,000

He still brings a big, strong, athletic skill set to a scoring line, but he’s also a name brand who may never have a 30-goal season again, let alone a 40-goal season. It’s tough to see him earning more than a two- or three-year commitment on the open market.

12. PATRICK MAROON, LW, 30
2017-18 cap hit: $2,000,000

He didn't set the world on fire after a trade to New Jersey, but 13 points in 17 games showed he didn't depend on Connor McDavid for all his success. Maroon can play and he's a behemoth, too, so he'll have many suitors. It may make sense to stay with the Devils.

13. RILEY NASH, C, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $900,000

Did any player boost his value more than Nash did in 2017-18? He's a great checking center but also kept up with elite scorers Brad Marchand and Pastrnak when Patrice Bergeron was hurt. Nash was a point-per-game guy in 13 games. He should easily triple his current cap hit.

14. TYLER BOZAK, C, 32
2017-18 cap hit: $4,200,000

A Selke Trophy will never perch atop his mantle, but he brings decent offensive skill as a third-liner on a good team or a placeholding second-liner on a rebuilding team. Likely expendable in Toronto, so he could wind up in the latter scenario.

15. MICHAEL GRABNER, RW, 30
2017-18 cap hit: $1,650,000

A handy specialist who brings speed, penalty killing acumen and tremendous even-strength scoring on bottom-six assignments. Flopped as a deadline rental with the Devils, so he'll come cheaper than anyone would've thought even three months ago.

16. THOMAS VANEK, LW, 34
2017-18 cap hit: $2,000,000

A true gun for hire now but still an effective one. Helps a power play, offers veteran mentoring, disappears come playoff time.

17. CARTER HUTTON, G, 32
2017-18 cap hit: 1,125,000

A remarkable story this season, pushing Jake Allen into a timeshare, but isn’t it safe to say this will be Hutton’s career peak? It’ll be risky to gamble on a 32-year-old career backup expecting him to become the next Tim Thomas.

18. CALVIN DE HAAN, D, 27
2017-18 cap hit: $3,300,000

Not flashy, and he doesn’t log monster minutes for the Isles, but de Haan is a sturdy, physical top-four defender who blocks shots and isn’t a zero on offense. Any team could use that. Missed the last 49 games with a shoulder injury and will thus come at a discount.

19. JAROSLAV HALAK, G, 33
2017-18 cap hit: $4,500,000

With Antti Raanta staying in Arizona, Halak is a rare proven starting goalie on the market this summer. A desperate team could install him as a stopgap or place him in a platoon with an injury-risk starter.

20. VALTTERI FILPPULA, C, 34
2017-18 cap hit: $5,000,000

Can play center or wing in a team's middle six. Kills penalties. Wins draws. Now that his way-too-lucrative contract has expired, he's suddenly appealing again as a cheap signing.

21. MARK LETESTU, C, 33
2017-18 cap hit: $1,800,000

Wins faceoffs, can hold down a checking role, can even play on the power play a bit. The definition of a useful depth signing.

22. IAN COLE, D, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $2,100,000

Plays a simple, meat-and-potatoes game and offers Stanley Cup experience. A bottom-pairing target.

23. DEREK RYAN, C, 31
2017-18 cap hit: $1,425,000

A good driver of possession who chips in a bit of offenses. A bit undersized, though, which means he's not a dream fit for a checking role, and his talent isn't high-end enough for constant scoring-line duty, either.

24. KARI LEHTONEN, G, 34
2017-18 cap hit: $5,900,000

Entered season with no confusion about his role. He was a backup. Did it take the pressure off? He posted his best numbers since 2013-14. He's best suited to B or 1B duty on his next deal.

25. TOMAS PLEKANEC, C, 35
2017-18 cap hit: $6,000.000

Will never touch $6 million again. Still signable as a checking-line pivot who wins draws, kills penalties and can handle a scoring-line assignment in a pinch. Fared better when the Leafs gave him more responsibility higher in their lineup.

26. LEO KOMAROV, LW, 31
2017-18 cap hit: $2,950,000

Value took a hit this year. Defensive metrics have slipped, as has his offense. Still a good depth piece as a physical agitator. Needs a fresh start. He's done as a Leaf.

27. JOHN MOORE, D, 27
2017-18 cap hit: $1,666,667

Has added a little bit of offense to his game and still plays with a healthy amount of jam. You could do a lot worse for your No. 6 D-man.

28. JAY BEAGLE, C, 32
2017-18 cap hit: $1,750,000

Possession numbers look hideous, but that's because he plays the other team's top lines and starts most shifts in the defensive zone. His usage was so D-heavy that it squashed his overall numbers. He's still a viable checking pivot.

29. CHRIS KUNITZ, LW, 38
2017-18 cap hit: $2,000,000

The one-time first-team all-star has settled in as a rather high-end fourth-liner now. Assuming he doesn't retire, he still brings some useful experience, aggression and splashes of offense.

30. BLAKE COMEAU, RW, 32
2017-18 cap hit: $2,400,000

Nothing flashy about him and not much upside, but has double-digit goals and 30 or more points in three of past four seasons. Worthy of most team's bottom sixes.

OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS TO WATCH: Jack Johnson, Mike Fisher, Brian Gibbons, Antoine Roussel, Matt Calvert, Thomas Hickey, Lee Stempniak, Roman Polak, Ryan Reaves, Luca Sbisa, Benoit Pouliot, Drew Stafford, Cam Ward, Chris Stewart, Scott Hartnell, Alexei Emelin, Dominic Moore, Luke Schenn, Kris Versteeg, Antoine Vermette, Mike Cammalleri, Jonathan Bernier, Patrick Sharp, Joel Ward, Jannik Hansen, Jussi Jokinen, Radim Vrbata, Mark Barberio, Toby Enstrom, Ondrej Pavelec

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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018