Sebastien Wiertz

Taking a look back. Photo by Sebastien Wiertz.

2017 NHL Free Agency Preview

The saying is that the biggest mistakes are made on July 1st in the NHL. As we saw last July 1st, long term contracts given to players like Mikkel Boedker (SJ), Matt Martin (TOR), Dale Weise (PHI), Loui Eriksson (VAN), David Backes (BOS), Frans Nielsen (DET), Andrew Ladd (NYI) and Darren Helm (DET) did not work out. Here are some of the big names that will be available in just a few days. Which free agents will work out, and which ones will bust?

Joe Thornton, C, San Jose, 37 ($6,750,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

The future Hall of Fame center is currently recovering from a torn ACL and MCL that occurred late in the 2016-17 season. Thornton surprisingly finished with 82 points in 2015-16, but that number slipped to 50 points this past season. Jumbo Joe remains an elite playmaker even though he does not shoot the puck all that much. Even though he will turn 38 on July 2nd, many teams will be lining up for his services. It’s hard to imagine him playing for a different team other than the Sharks since he’s been there so long, but GM Doug Wilson may not be willing to give Thornton the three year contract that he is reportedly asking for.

Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose, 37 ($6,666,667 cap hit in 2016-17)

Mr. San Jose Shark may not be a Shark for long, as teams will be lining up for the speedy winger much like his (former?) teammate Joe Thornton. While Marleau’s point total has dropped the last three years, he did score 27 goals last season. He knows how to put the puck in the back of the net, as evidenced by his 508 career goals. He also stays out of the penalty box. Marleau’s game should age pretty well (he’s turning 38 in September), so he might be able to land a three year contract. The Sharks could look very different next season if their two veterans leave.

Ryan Miller, G, Vancouver, 36 ($6,000,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

Miller will turn 37 in the middle of July. He has a lot of mileage in his body, but he can still be a solid goaltender. His below average goals against average has more to do with the team around him than his average-ish save percentage. If Miller goes to a better team, his numbers may increase a little bit. But the age wall may hit him. The problem for Miller is that most teams are set in goal already. Philadelphia could use him, but they may not want the aging netminder. Miller’s Vezina winning season has shaped up to be a huge outlier.

Alex Radulov, W, Montreal, 30 ($5,750,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

In his first year back in the NHL from the KHL, Radulov was an important piece to the Canadiens. His 54 points were second on the team, and his possession stats were very good. Even though he performed well, teams may be hesitant to give the soon to be 31 year old (on July 5th) a long term contract. He’s left for the KHL before, and who is to say that he won’t do it again? Some team is going to pay up for him, though.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Washington, 28 ($4,250,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

The Capitals traded for the talented blueliner, hoping that he would be the piece that would get them over the hump. Well, it didn’t happen. Shattenkirk is the premier offensive defenseman available on the free agent market this offseason, and many teams could use a puck mover who still potentially has another decade of hockey in him. He destroyed his career high with 56 points. 27 of them (nearly half) came with the man advantage. A power play quarterback that produces at this level is a type of player that every NHL team would love. Unfortunately, only one can sign him. We do know that he’ll get a substantial raise from what he made last season.

Steve Mason, G, Philadelphia, 29 ($4,100,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

The former Calder winner for rookie of the year revived his career in Philadelphia after a few lousy seasons in Columbus. His save percentage has dropped significantly over the past few years, and that may be a red flag for some teams. As with Miller, most teams do not need a starting goaltender, so Mason may have to settle for a 1A/1B situation.

Michael Stone, D, Calgary, 27 ($4,000,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

Stone was traded to Calgary from Arizona right before the trade deadline. He is not a fantasy stud by any means, but he can be a serviceable real life defenseman. He underwent knee surgery last April and missed the start of the 2016-17 season (which is why he only played 64 games). The Flames have shown interest in bringing him back, but they won’t be the only ones that want him. Stone had 15 points in his 64 games.

Justin Williams, RW, Washington, 35 ($3,250,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

Williams has been a steady but unspectacular producer over the last decade. He has not eclipsed 60 points since the 2006-07 season, but he has recorded at least 40 points in each of the last six seasons (not counting the shortened season). His playoff performances are well known, and he is still a solid player even at his age. Williams scored 24 goals last season, although it was on a loaded Capitals team. He should be able to get at least a three year deal from someone.

Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota, 30 ($3,100,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

The Wild had many people scratching their heads when they got him from the Coyotes because of the steep price. Hanzal is a third line checking center that wins a lot of faceoffs and plays with an edge. Hanzal’s rough style of play may take a toll on his body as he gets into his mid-30s, but until he gets to that point, a team will give him at least four years. Hanzal scored a career high 20 goals last season and had a 56.4% faceoff percentage.

Karl Alzner, D, Washington, 28 ($2,800,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

Alzner is a very durable defenseman that does not provide much to fantasy owners. His career high in points is 21, which he has accomplished twice. His advanced stats leave a lot to be desired, as there are a lot of shot attempts by the opposition while he is on the ice. Alzner is still in his late-20s, so he isn’t that old. But some team may be making a huge mistake by signing the longtime Capital.

Thomas Vanek, W, Florida, 33 ($2,600,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

After being bought out by the Minnesota Wild, Vanek signed with the Red Wings before being traded to the Panthers. He had a decent fantasy season, posting 48 points in 68 games. Vanek is in his mid-30s, so teams probably won’t be willing to give him more than three years. But he has shown in the past that he can put up points at a decent rate. He had recorded 40 points in every NHL season he’s played, even in the shortened season.

Radim Vrbata, RW, Arizona, 36 ($1,000,000 cap hit in 2016-17)

Vrbata bounced back from a forgettable season with the Canucks in 2015-16 with a decent campaign in 2016-17. He scored 20 goals and had 35 assists on a lousy Coyotes team. Surprisingly, he was not traded at the trade deadline, and the Desert Dogs may lose him for nothing. He can play as a top six forward, which some teams need. He has not produced much outside of the desert except his first season in Vancouver, so that may be a red flag. But a team needing a scoring winger will definitely have Vrbata on their wishlist.