Steven Stamkos (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
There wasn’t an all-star crop of free agent talent on the market this off-season, but next year projects to be a summer with some top-level talent available for the taking. Some big names may sign extensions before free agency comes around, but others have a chance to set new benchmarks in free agency.
This summer's pool of unrestricted free agent talent was the shallowest in recent memory, but next summer's crop promises to be considerably deeper. Here's a look at several NHL stars who could be available by July 1, 2016.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. It's assumed the Lightning will re-sign Stamkos, but it's been over a month since his agent, Don Meehan, told TSN talks had yet to commence. Re-signing Stamkos could cost the Bolts over $10-million annually on an eight-year deal. If they can't or won't pay top dollar, another club will gladly do so next summer.
Both sides give the appearance a deal can be reached. However, the longer the Lightning captain is unsigned, the more speculation will grow over his future in Tampa Bay.
Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings opened contract talks with Kopitar's camp over a month ago. NHL.com's Jon Rosen speculates they could re-sign the center, who turns 28 on Aug. 24, to a multi-year deal worth around $10-million annually. Lucic, acquired from Boston in June, will earn $6.5 million in actual salary this season. Re-signing the 27-year-old power forward will also prove expensive.
Cap space beyond 2015-16 will be an issue for the Kings. It could become more limited if an arbitrator rules in Mike Richards' favour regarding his grievance over the recent termination of his contract.
Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks. Speaking of teams with limited cap space in 2016 hoping to re-sign a key player, the Blackhawks could face that problem with Seabrook. On June 28, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told the 30-year-old defenseman he wasn't going anywhere.
It could cost the Blackhawks over $7-million annually on a long-term deal to keep Seabrook in the fold. Bowman has sufficient space for 2016-17 to do so, but that move won't leave much to fill out the remainder of the lineup.
Eric Staal and Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes. On June 25, The News & Observer's Chip Alexander reported Hurricanes GM Ron Francis claimed contract talks with the duo were continuing. However, there's no indication a deal is close for either player. To remain in Carolina, Staal and Ward must accept shorter-term deals for less than what they're currently making.
Mark Giordano and Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames. While much of the focus is on the Flames' crop of rising young talent, Giordano and Hudler are their top veterans. Retaining them won't be easy. On June 24, TSN's Frank Seravalli reported the Giordano camp sought an annual average salary of $9 million, which is a considerable raise over his current $4.020-million cap hit.
Hudler, winner of the 2015 Lady Byng Trophy, is coming off a career-best performance and will seek a substantial increase over his $4-million cap hit. Complicating the picture next summer is the need to re-sign RFA stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets. With the Jets considered a budget team, they could have difficulty retaining the duo. Rumor blogger chatter about Byfuglien's trade status prompted SI.com's Allan Muir to ponder the 30-year-old blueliner's future in Winnipeg. Ladd appears the most likely to be re-signed, as the Jets have the blue-line depth to offset Byfuglien's potential departure via free agency.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.