For many NHL fans, the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final often comes with the crippling realization that there will be no hockey played for a few long months. However, there’s usually no shortage of action to be had at the beginning of the offseason thanks to awards season, the NHL Draft, free agency and trades.
With the Cup Final in our rearview, it’s a good time to look ahead to the free agent class of 2018 — one which could feature several big names if they don’t sign contract extensions prior to the start of free agency on July 1.
John Tavares of the New York Islanders is considered the prize of this year’s class, and he’s the most sought-after potential free agent since Steven Stamkos nearly hit the market in 2016. (Stamkos ultimately avoided free agency by re-upping with the Tampa Bay Lightning.) Tavares may be the only true superstar of this year’s crop, but there are plenty of quality players who could have a significant impact on whichever team lands them this summer.
Here’s a rundown of the Top 10 potential unrestricted free agents that could hit the open market, and which teams could be in the running to acquire their services.
The Islanders will desperately try to re-sign their superstar center, but their struggles to put together a contender around Tavares — the top overall pick in 2009 –might convince the 27-year-old to sign elsewhere on the open market. He is the undoubtedly the biggest prize of this summer’s class, and he’s coming off an impressive year in which he reached the 80-point mark for the third time in his career, including 37 goals.
The dynamic blue liner was always going to attract plenty of attention (and a boatload of cash) as the best defenseman on the market, but he may have earned himself a little extra with his strong postseason performance during the Capitals‘ Stanley Cup run. The 28-year-old is a top-pairing guy who eats up ice time and contributes on both ends of the ice. He’s a skilled puck-mover and a power play weapon and he led all defensemen with 68 points last season.
The 29-year-old JVR is a big-bodied winger who is an excellent net-front presence and can score goals in bunches. Toronto likely won’t be able to afford him given that the Leafs have to pay their young stars, but van Riemsdyk will be a very nice piece to add to another team’s top six. He tallied a career-high 36 goals in Toronto last season.
At 32 years old, Stastny is on the older side, so a long-term deal could be a bit of a gamble. However, he was very good addition down the middle to one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league this past season in Winnipeg. Stastny can bring a veteran presence and an all-around game at center. He’s a good facilitator and finisher; he’s sound defensively and kills penalties. There will certainly be a healthy market for his services.
After being claimed in the expansion draft last summer, Neal put up 25 goals for the Golden Knights in Vegas this year — his 10th straight season with at least 20 goals. The 30-year-old may be looking to cash in on one last long-term deal.
Possible landing spots: Golden Knights, Hurricanes, Sharks, Canucks, Islanders
6. Ilya Kovalchuk LW
The Russian winger is expected to return to the NHL after unexpectedly departing for the KHL in 2013. The 35-year-old can still play, as evidenced by his performance in the KHL (31 goals in 53 games) and Olympics (five goals in six games) over the past year.
Green, 32, is a talented veteran blue liner who is still effective when healthy. He missed time with a neck injury and underwent spinal surgery this spring, so there are question marks there. But he was an All-Star selection last year and could be a valuable add to a contender’s blue line if the price is right.
Possible landing spots: Devils, Maple Leafs, Stars, Avalanche, Red Wings
Perron had a solid year in Vegas, scoring 16 times and picking up 50 assists with the Golden Knights. That level of production will likely score the 30-year-old a pretty nice deal with a team looking for help offensively.
Possible landing spots: Golden Knights, Flyers, Sabres, Oilers, Rangers
Moore, 27, is a decent stay-at-home defenseman who plays nearly 20 minutes a night and is hitting the market at a pretty appealing age. He’s voiced his desire to stay in New Jersey, but we’ll see if that interest is mutual.
Possible landing spots: Devils, Flyers, Rangers, Sabres, Stars
The Bruins paid a pretty significant price to land Nash from the Rangers at last season’s deadline, and it seems they have interest in bringing him back next year. The34-year-old power forward is coming off his third consecutive 20-goal season, but he’s got health and consistency issues.