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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

John Carlson Image by: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

News

The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018

Matt Larkin
By:

The 2018 class offers plenty of stars…for now. If the big names re-sign, the market could be barren by July.

The 2018 free agent class is top heavy. At least until the best of the current pending UFAs re-sign with their clubs, which is always possible between now and July 1, 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, headlined by John Tavares and followed by the likes of John Carlson, James van Riemsdyk and James Neal, there’s a precipitous drop in talent. We get a sea of aging former stars and grinder defensemen. If the big names like Tavares sign early, we might end up with one of the weakest UFA classes of all-time.

FEBRUARY 2018 UPDATE: A few names have signed from this list since the November update, while several seemingly inconsequential UFAs have done wonders for their value with monster seasons. I’m looking squarely at you, Josh Bailey.

Here’s a look at the best names to watch approaching next 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

The decimation of Washington’s ‘D,’ with Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner gone as UFAs and Matt Niskanen sustaining an early-season injury, likely made Carlson a lot of money. He has logged a career-best 25:54 per a game in a bellcow role on defense. Carlson is also a right-handed shot. He’s 2018’s equivalent of Kevin Shattenkirk, poised to break the bank. Losing Carlson would be devastating for the Caps.

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

‘JVR’ appears to have hit his peak, but it’s a nice peak. He offers a floor of about 25 goals and 50 points, can slide in on any scoring line and makes life difficult around the net with his hand-eye co-ordination and athleticism. He should attract a bushel of suitors. The question now is whether the Leafs, too deep at forward, might be better off dealing him before the month is up. Demoting JVR to their third line felt like a harbinger of a trade.

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

The Caps must find the money to re-up Carlson, and it’s a decent bet they will, so it’s likely Green enters the summer as the top free agent blueliner. He could wind up signing an identical deal to his previous one in term and money: three years, $18 million. He’s helped his cause a lot with stellar scoring numbers this season on a middling Red Wings squad.

5. JOSH BAILEY, RW, 28
2017-18 cap hit: $3,300,000

Playmaking winger posting his best scoring numbers ever, but is he merely the product of playing with Tavares? That’s always the question with Bailey, who could wind up overpaid if he leaves the Isles. Tavares has gotten a point on 52.6 percent of Bailey’s 57 points this season.

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

Representing the shocking, first-place Golden Knights in the All-Star Game, Neal has enjoyed his best season since his halcyon days in Pittsburgh. Vegas has already begun rewarding its players for this record-breaking expansion year, handing out mid-season extensions to Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb and Jon Merrill. There’s a decent chance Neal isn’t going anywhere, either.

7. MIKAEL BACKLUND, C, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $3,575,000

Backlund is a poor man’s Patrice Bergeron, excellent defensively, elite in the possession game and skilled enough to center a second line. The Flames would be wise to re-sign him before he gets to open market, as he’d be attractive to pretty much every team.

8. 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 on pace for a career year. As long as his head’s on straight, which is never a guarantee, he’s a high-impact UFA.

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

Shows absolutely zero signs of slowing down in the KHL, where he continues 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.

10. 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?

11. PATRIC HORNQVIST, RW, 31
2017-18 cap hit: $4,250,000

Underrated. Hornvqist shoots the puck a ton, he hits, he agitates, and he scores a decent amount. His style does bang him up, though. He’s old for his age. A contract longer than a few years would be a risk for any team chasing him.

12. ZDENO CHARA, D, 41

2017-18 cap hit: $4,000,000

Odds are he keeps playing – and in a Bruins uniform. He hasn’t worn out his usefulness as a shutdown D-man and mentor to the youngsters like Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Chara has been a huge part of Boston’s success this year.

13. 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. Maybe it’s Perron?

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

After being asked to submit a no-trade list to Jeff Gorton leading up to the Feb. 26, deadline, Nash won’t be a Ranger for long. 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.

15. HENRIK SEDIN, C, 37
2017-18 cap hit: $7,000.000
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16. DANIEL SEDIN, LW, 37
2017-18 cap hit: $7,000,000

They’ve made it pretty clear that, if they do come back, it will only be to Vancouver. They’ve been effective this season with new coach Travis Green trimming their minutes.

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

If Maroon’s no longer joined at the hip with Connor McDavid on the Oilers’ top line, it feels like Maroon’s days are numbered. The Oilers have Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian, rendering Maroon’s big-man-with-a-scoring-touch skill set redundant. Maroon is a prime trade candidate this month if Edmonton can’t climb into realistic playoff contention.

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.

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

He was overpaid the day he signed that deal in St. Louis with a $7-million AAV. Maybe he stays in his hometown at a discount. It will have to be a major pay cut, though. We’re talkin’ millions.

20. 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. He can find work two ways: (a) on a short-term deal with a rebuilding team who can flip him to a contender at next year’s deadline or (b) on a contender looking to shore up its depth and penalty killing.

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

A true gun for hire now but still an effective one. He’s been such a nice mentor for Brock Boeser that I wonder if, even if they sell Vanek as a rental this month, the Canucks consider bringing him back for cheap this July.

22. LARS ELLER, C, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $3,500,000

He’ll never hit the offensive ceiling he was once perceived to have, but he’s settled in as a good No. 3 pivot. He’s big, he can score a little bit, and he’s responsible defensively.

23. ERIK GUDBRANSON, D, 26
2017-18 cap hit: $3,500,000

New-school hockey minds see him as too slow to be an effective modern-style defender. Old-school thinkers like the big body, mean streak and righthanded shot. We can debate forever whether Gudbranson is overrated, but someone’s going to give him decent money and term. If we believe GM Jim Benning, that team may again be the Canucks.

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

Fits as a third-liner on a good team and can fill in as a second-liner on a rebuilding team. Likely expendable in Toronto, so he could wind up in the latter scenario.

25. ANTTI RAANTA, G, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $1,000,000

Look through the smoke of Arizona’s tire fire and you’ll see Raanta has quietly enjoyed a good year, with a save percentage above his career mark. He’s been just good enough to earn a shot to compete for a starting gig somewhere.

26. AARON DELL
2017-18 cap hit: $625,000

Money talks. We can claim Dell has pushed Martin Jones for playing time this year, but Jones’ six-year, $34.5-million extension, which kicks in next year, tells us he’s entrenched as the long-term No. 1. San Jose will have to overpay Dell to keep him, as he’ll likely try to find starting work or at least a true platoon somewhere.

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

Plays a simple, meat-and-potatoes game and offers Stanley Cup experience, but winding up a healthy scratch at times this season will cost him money on the open market.

28. 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 continue his Tim Thomas-like trajectory.

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

Will never touch $6 million again. Still signable as a third-line pivot who wins draws, kills penalties and can handle a scoring-line assignment in a pinch.

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

Value has taken a hit this year. Defensive metrics have slipped, as has his offense. Still a good depth piece as a physical agitator.

OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS TO WATCH: Mark Letestu, Jonathan Bernier, Lee Stempniak, Antoine Roussel, Jan Rutta, Scott Hartnell, Patrick Sharp, Jack Johnson, Jay Beagle, Valtteri Filppula, Drew Stafford, Antoine Vermette, Jannik Hansen, Mike Cammalleri, Nick Holden, Joel Ward, Chris Kunitz, Benoit Pouliot, Luca Sbisa, Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Oduya, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Reaves, Jussi Jokinen, Toby Enstrom, Derek Ryan, Luke Schenn, Andrej Sustr, Radim Vrbata, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Gibbons, Riley Nash, David Desharnais, Blake Comeau, Dan Hamhuis

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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018