The recent new contracts handed out to Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Cory Schneider, combined with the limited talent remaining in this year’s UFA market, has shifted my focus toward next summer’s free-agent pool.
Let’s face it, all the good talent in this year’s UFA market was snapped up on opening day of the free-agent period. Almost all were signed within three hours of its opening, a trend which began last year and will continue over the remainder of this CBA, thanks to the six-day interview period for all free agents leading up to July 1.
Yes, there are some notable names still available in this summer’s market, like Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas, Daniel Alfredsson, Ray Whitney, Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Ed Jovanovski, Saku Koivu and Sami Salo. And if this were 2010 instead of 2014, we’d all be marveling over why those players remain unsigned, because they were all still in their respective primes back then. Indeed, all would’ve been quickly signed on opening day. But now they’re all fading stars, which explains why they’re still available. Some of them will likely retire this summer.
Rather than wonder if there’s a market for this year’s free-agent fossils, let’s look ahead at who’s eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2015.
The recent re-signings of Kane, Toews and Schneider puts a dent into the depth of talent, but there’s still plenty of notable names.
The stars include Jason Spezza, David Krejci, Bobby Ryan, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ben Bishop, Brad Richards and ageless wonders Martin St. Louis and Jaromir Jagr.
Other players of interest include Mike Green, Marc Staal, Johnny Boychuk, Justin Williams, Christian Ehrhoff, Antti Niemi, Brandon Dubinsky, Craig Anderson, Andrej Sekera, Francois Beauchemin, Paul Martin, Chris Stewart, Antoine Vermette, Zbynek Michalek, Johnny Oduya and Curtis Glencross.
Notables with fading skills include Sergei Gonchar, Lubomir Visnovsky, Erik Cole, Shawn Horcoff, Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Fisher, Daniel Briere, Eric Brewer and Martin Havlat.
Of these players, how many will still be available when the curtain rises on July 1, 2015? Probably not most of the best talent.
Figure the Dallas Stars, who recently acquired Spezza, will try to lock him up to a new deal, especially if he turns into a good fit centering their second line. The Boston Bruins have made no secret of their willingness to re-sign playmaking center Krejci and all-round defenseman Boychuk, though it remains to be seen if they’ll have the cap space to keep both. The Tampa Bay Lightning will almost certainly retain Bishop, who was a finalist this year for the Vezina Trophy.
After that, the list is less certain.
Ryan stands to become the best available player in next summer’s market. He was acquired by the Ottawa Senators last summer to play on Spezza’s wing but the pair failed to gel. With Spezza gone and the Senators a budget team, Ryan could opt to sign elsewhere for bigger bucks with a club that has a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup. He was linked to the Philadelphia Flyers in trade rumors two years ago, but the Flyers have plenty of scoring punch up front and a more dire need for a top-two defenseman.
Fleury’s been the Penguins starting goalie for nearly a decade, but questionable playoff performances have raised questions about his future in Pittsburgh.
Richards signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, but their limited cap space could mean his tenure in the Windy City will be a short one.
St. Louis’ future with the New York Rangers and Jagr’s with the New Jersey Devils will depend upon their respective performance in 2014-15. If their respective performances drop off, they could encounter the same contract limbo Martin Brodeur now faces.
Green is likely a goner with the Washington Capitals, especially following their recent additions of blueliners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik.
The Rangers undoubtedly want to re-sign Staal, but he could feel the pull of joining brothers Eric and Jordan in Carolina if the Hurricanes are willing to pay big for him.
Williams has a reputation as a clutch playoff performer, which was enhanced this year by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The Kings have a reputation for keeping their roster intact as much as possible, so expect them to do what they can to keep Williams in the fold.
It’s likely next summer’s pool of UFA talent will be a shallow one for notable talent, with Ryan, Fleury, Green, Richards, St. Louis and Jagr potentially headlining the list, while there is likely to be a reasonable amount of second-tier talent to be had.
In other words, another summer just like this one.