The New York Rangers re-signing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to a seven-year, $59.5 million contract took the best player out of the NHL’s 2014 unrestricted free agent pool.
Though we’re still months away from the July 1 opening of the free agent market, Lundqvist’s signing could raise questions over how many of the remaining top UFAs could still be available by then.
The most notable names include Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks), Jarome Iginla (Boston Bruins), Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson (Buffalo Sabres), Mike Cammalleri (Calgary Flames), Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche), Marian Gaborik (Columbus Blue Jackets), Tim Thomas (Florida Panthers), Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens), Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey Devils),Thomas Vanek (New York Islanders), Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers), Milan Michalek (Ottawa Senators), Radim Vrbata (Phoenix Coyotes), Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks), Alexander Steen and Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues), Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Mikhail Grabovski (Washington Capitals).
I believe some of these players are certain to be re-signed by their respective teams.
Thornton, Marleau and Boyle all want to stick with the Sharks and they want to keep them, so much so contract talks were initiated back in the summer. The Sharks will need help from a rising cap, plus the trio could leave some money on the table to remain in San Jose.
The Leafs almost certainly will re-up Phaneuf, much to the chagrin of his critics who are under the misguided belief there’s a better defenseman available via trade or free agency (there isn’t), or that Cody Franson or Jake Gardiner will magically turn into superstars overnight (they won’t). Suck it up, Phaneuf haters, he’s staying in Toronto.
If Brodeur doesn’t retire, the Devils will re-sign him to a one-year deal. Same for Jagr if he wants to stay. Both have been invaluable this season preventing the Devils from sinking completely out of playoff contention.
I can’t see the Rangers parting ways with Callahan and Girardi, though Lundqvist’s signing takes a big bite ($8.5 million) out of their cap space for next season. If the cap rises back to $70 million next season, they’ll have $30 million to spend on 13 players.
I also believe the Coyotes will re-sign Vrbata. He’s been a reliable offensive forward for them, and with the club’s new ownership they should be able to retain him.
As long as Grabovski’s salary demands aren’t extravagant, I think the Capitals re-sign him to a longer-term deal.
As for the rest, some are certain to hit next summer’s UFA market, while for others the picture is murky.
There’s talk the Ducks could part ways with Hiller before the trade deadline, especially if a better option appears in the trade market by then. If they don’t move him by the deadline, Hiller must carry them deep into the 2014 playoffs if he hopes to remain a Duck.
Iginla’s having a decent season with the Bruins. His days as a dominant power forward are in the past but he’s still a good second-line option. Remains to be seen if he still has a future in Boston.
Miller and Moulson will be moved before the March 5 trade deadline because I don’t believe they’ll re-sign with the rebuilding Sabres. I think Miller wants to join a Cup contender, preferably in the Western Conference where he can be closer to his wife, actress Noureen DuWulf.
Cammalleri hasn’t ruled out re-signing with the Flames, but at 31 his chances of playing for a Cup contender are growing slim. He could test the market.
Entering this season Stastny seemed certain to move, but his performance has earned praise from Avalanche coach Patrick Roy. He’ll have to accept a substantial pay cut from his current annual salary of $6.6 million to remain with the Avs.
Before Gaborik was recently sidelined with a knee injury, word out of Columbus was the Blue Jackets won’t re-sign him and could in fact shop him before the trade deadline.
Thomas is playing well for a horrible Panthers team this season, which could improve his value approaching the March trade deadline, as well as in next summer’s free agent market. Given his age (he’ll turn 40 in April), he won’t get more than a one-year deal.
If Markov plays well throughout this season and remains injury free, I believe the Canadiens will try to re-sign him, albeit to a shorter deal for less than his current $5.75 million annual salary
Michalek’s injury history could result in the Senators cutting him loose in search of a healthier alternative.
The Blues wanted to re-sign Steen last summer, but he wisely decided to wait until the end of this season to talk contract. If he’s still among the league’s top scorers by April, he could be in line for a big payday. As for Halak, the Blues are sticking with him for this season, but if he fails to carry them deep into the 2014 playoffs, I think they’ll let him walk.
Ultimately, while several of the better potential UFAs will be re-signed before July, there will still be enough notable names available to provide considerable depth in the 2014 free agent pool.