With the mid-season just around the corner and the holiday season winding down, the trade deadline will make its way to the front of the discussion surrounding the hockey world. Will some of the big name free agents be used as ‘loaner’ players and have a chance to hoist Lord Stanley? Who will make the biggest splash in free agency? What teams are rebuilding and which are poised for greatness if they could land a big name player?
There are several big name players who will garner significant attention; Staal, Stamkos, Jagr, Byfuglien, Backes, Kopitar, just to name a few. While most of the hockey world will be talking about those players I have compiled a list of players that I think are worth talking about.
The players on my radar are:
- Nazem Kadri – I think he could be a point/game player with the right personnel around him. He has dealt with a significant amount of pressure in Toronto and never really had a chance to grow into a top two center role. He also never received the mentorship from an older player. Getting him for around $4M a year on a team where he can have a strong top center ahead of him and some decent wing partners and he could be a consistent 70 point scorer through the length of a 4 or 5 year contract.
- Nathan Mackinnon – He is probably on most people’s radar, he is just getting overshadowed by some of the aforementioned veteran players. Mackinnon will be a superstar in the league as shown by his playoff performance his rookie season and following up last season’s sophomore slump with a great season to date. At 20 years old his next contract will probably be in the $5-$8M/yr. range and will likely be 5-8 years. I am sure Colorado will make every effort to keep him there as I think he is comparable to a Steven Stamkos.
- Aleksander Barkov – He was taken #2 overall for a reason by the Florida Panthers. With 18 points in 25 games this year, he has consistently been increasing his production through his first three seasons. Unlike Mackinnon, he has yet to show what his potential upside could be, therefore I don’t think many teams will consider pulling him away from Florida. With that said, he is still a value player at this stage of his career that a team could secure for a song and a dance and get an excellent return.
- Seth Jones – Considering he is only 21 and is already in his third year of NHL experience, it speaks volumes of this kids game. He may not put up Karlsson number, yet, but anyone who understands hockey knows that only the most elite defensemen play in the NHL at such a young age. The learning curve for a defensemen is far steeper than that of a forward. Like Barkov, I think he stays put in Nashville, but I would expect some teams will be eyeing him up as the foundation of their defensive corps.
- Tyson Barrie – A defensemen who is a few years older than Jones, is actually putting up respectable numbers. He had over 50 points in 80 games last season and had 22 in 32 games this season. He was one of Colorado’s best players in the playoffs two seasons ago, but was limited by injury to only 3 games where he had two points. Ever since watching him those three games, he has always been on my radar. He has yet to disappoint and I am sure will increase his $3.2M/yr.
- Johnny Gadreau – Currently in the top 10 in scoring for the entire league and making $925K this season. I am sure he will be in line for a significant raise and deservedly so. I am sure he stays put in Calgary with a similar contract and situation to that of Chicago with Kane and Toews. His counterpart, also a free agent is
- Sean Monahan – Calgary is already grooming Monahan to be the next Captain of the Flames and rightfully so. The kid has yet to disappoint and will be Jonathan Toews while Gadreau will be the Patrick Kane (hopefully without the rape allegations and mullets).
- Rasmus Ristolainen – I know some people are not sold on him yet, but if Buffalo were to let them go, which they won’t, I am sure he could be a hot commodity. The interesting thing with him is he is still young enough where even if this season is a one hit wonder, a team can take a chance on him. Let’s not forget he is a towering physical presence on the ice and many analysts predicted him having a breakout season. If he was already on a lot of radars as a breakout player, the scouting report on him must show more positive upside. I doubt this is the last time we hear Ristolainen. He will not be another Tyler Myers.
- Mark Schiefle – A consistent point producer he will be a bonafide #1 center in a place like Winnipeg should he stay, or at worst a #2 center. As with the rest of the players on this list, he is still very young and has only improved every single season. While he may not be on many people’s list of big time free agents, if a guy like Kadri was getting paid $4M in Toronto, Schiefle should be somewhere in that range with this next contract. Probably more.
- Filip Forsberg – One of the most crucial parts of the Nashville offense, Forsberg will see a significant pay raise after this season. He recorded over 60 points last year and then had a great playoff run scoring 4 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. He has continued his point production and at 21 should be recording 65+ points for the next decade fairly easily.
As you look at the list, there are two things that most of you will probably realize, 1) All these players are young, 2) Most of them will probably stay put as they are just coming off entry level contracts.
Both of these points are correct, however, when you look back in 5 years at what happened this off-season, these 10 players will have a bigger impact than the rest of the players on the market (except, maybe Stamkos). These are the future players that will lead their team to the Stanley Cup.
Who are your top rated free agents?