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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 Tavares. Author: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

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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. Last year offered a nice selection of goaltending, whereas this season looks utterly barren in net. None of the top 30 UFAs will be a goaltender unless Antti Raanta finds a groove in Arizona.

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 periodically 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, and it really helps that his team looks plenty competitive so far in 2017-18.

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 more than 27 minutes 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 55 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.

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

Has any pending UFA upped his stock more than Neal so far this season? He’s been the Golden Knights’ heart and soul and should finish with his best numbers since his halcyon days in Pittsburgh. With Vegas in the playoff picture, though, might both parties consider a contract extension?

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. CAM ATKINSON, RW, 29
2017-18 cap hit: $3,500,000

Atkinson had improved his goal total every season of his career entering this one. Will be tough to top last year’s 35, though, and that’s fine. The underdog still brings handy speed and goal-scoring ability.

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. JONATHAN MARCHESSAULT, LW, 27
2017-18 cap hit: $750,000

Broke out for his first 30-goal campaign in 2016-17, and his reward was being shipped to the Vegas Golden Knights. They won’t make the same mistake Florida did. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Knights re-sign Marchessault, who isn’t out of upside yet.

13. HENRIK SEDIN, C, 37
2017-18 cap hit: $7,000.000

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14. 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’re flourishing this season with new coach Travis Green trimming their minutes.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

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

Playmaking winger posting some of his best scoring numbers ever, but 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.

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

Extremely physical, good defensively and agitates the heck out of opponents. Can be a difference maker on a contending team – even if it’s not Toronto next year.

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

Fits as a third-liner on a great 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.

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

Ignore the name brand and understand that Nash no longer scores at the rate of even a top-six winger. He’ll be a very tough signing to project. What’s a fair price for him at 34?

23. RADIM VRBATA, RW, 37
2017-18 cap hit: $2,500,000

He’s the anti-Nash, paid like a lower-tier player but still churning out 20-goal, 50-point efforts in his late 30s. Always a decent stopgap on a scoring line.

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

Plays a simple, meat-and-potatoes game. Likely more valuable in the Pens’ quick-pass-to-exit-the-zone system than on another team. His Stanley Cup rings might inflate his value, though.

25. ANDREW COGLIANO, LW, 31
2017-18 cap hit: $3,000,000

Brings speed, penalty killing ability and, of course, durability as the league’s reigning iron man.

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

Worth more to the Oilers than to any other team. Feels like he’d be almost guaranteed to disappoint if he signed elsewhere, but doing so also offers his best chance at a career-making payday.

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

Still young enough and good enough to earn a multi-year pact. Does a little bit of everything, albeit he isn’t an A+ in any category.

28. 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.

29. JAN RUTTA, D, 27
2017-18 cap hit: $925,000

Has shown he belongs in the NHL, even if the transition from the Czech League hasn’t been perfect. Most likely landing spot? Probably Chicago again now that he’s learned coach Joel Quenneville’s system.

30. JAROMIR JAGR, RW, 46
2017-18 cap hit: $1,000,000

Can still play. Just check the possession numbers. No guarantee any team gives him a deal, but if he doesn’t want to retire, he still has the skills to play in the NHL.

OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS TO WATCH: Antti Raanta, Lee Stempniak, Scott Hartnell, Patrick Sharp, Jack Johnson, Jay Beagle, Valtteri Filppula, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Antoine Vermette, Erik Gudbranson, Jannik Hansen, Mark Letestu, Mike Cammalleri, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Antoine Roussel, Joel Ward, Chris Kunitz, Benoit Pouliot, Luca Sbisa, Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Oduya, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Reaves, Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Jussi Jokinen, Toby Enstrom, Derek Ryan, Luke Schenn, Andrej Sustr

 

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The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2018