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Silly Season – An NHL Free Agency Primer

Silly season is upon us! 

It’s that magical time of year when NHL GM’s all across North America get together and collectively decide that it’s time to grossly overspend on players of all skill levels, in hopes that maybe… just maybe… the guy they lure is the guy that can get their respective teams over the proverbial hump (or at least out of the basement). It’s an exciting time for followers of just about every NHL team, because until the dust settles later in July, rumors will most certainly be swirling about for every franchise, as fans and media alike try to figure out who of the available players will be the best fit for their club. 

Since the last CBA was put in place, teams have been allowed to talk to prospective signees for six days prior to the official July 1st opening of free agency, a departure from the utter lunacy that used to occur immediately upon the commencement of the month of July. Forbidding contact between teams and UFA’s—which was the norm prior to this rule change in 2014—created complete chaos, as GM’s and AGM’s across the league raced to get in touch with their most coveted UFA’s to try to quickly get an overly hasty deal done before rival clubs even knew what had occurred. Now, with teams having the ability to flesh out contracts with players and their agents prior to July 1st, there’s generally a lot more calm when free agency opens, and a lot more legitimacy being churned out of the rumor mill in the days leading up to it.

In Seattle, we’re a couple years away from being able to actively participate in free agency, but we can certainly dream of a day when our future GM says it’s time to “make a splash.” To help prep you for this year’s NHL free agency, here is a look at some of the available players that are primed to help teams make said splash. 

John Tavares

Ok, we all know that Tavares is the hottest commodity out there. Recently-hired GM Lou Lamoriello is trying desperately to re-sign the Islanders’ perennial 30ish-goal scorer and all-around superstar. But Tavares has opted to at least test the waters during the courting period, something Lamoriello says his team’s captain has “earned.” During the courting period, Tavares and his agents have welcomed representatives from the Maple Leafs, Bruins, Sharks, Lightning, Stars, and Islanders to give their pitches to the JT camp in Los Angeles. Tavares is the lynchpin that is going to completely sway how things go during and after free agency, as teams that have been in the mix have put their trading and signing plans on hold for the time being. 

After making $5.5 million last season, Tavares will likely get close to doubling that salary number with his next contract, in what will surely be this offseason’s super crazy outrageous megadeal. 

With New York-based establishments offering Tavares free bagels and beer for life to remain in their metropolitan area, my money is on the 27-year-old center sticking with his current team… but again, dreams are free!

John Carlson (re-signed)

The best defenseman on the free agency market is no longer on the free agency market. Carlson re-signed with the Cup-winning Washington Capitals for 8 years and $64 million, meaning that vast blueline improvement through this avenue will be quite challenging this offseason.

Paul Stastny

After a somewhat shocking deadline move sent Stastny from the St. Louis Blues to divisional rival Winnipeg, the 32-year-old pivot proved that he was worth the price paid by Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to get him. Winnipeg sent a first round pick in this year’s draft (which St. Louis ultimately traded), plus a 4th-round pick in 2020 and prospect Erik Foley to obtain just a couple months of Stastny’s services. He didn’t disappoint in Manitoba, posting 15 points in 17 playoff games. Stasty’s impressive postseason once again indicated that the six-time 20-goal scorer (who has surprisingly never broken 30 in his career) will be a welcome addition to most teams, assuming that they can afford what will likely be close to a $5-million annual price tag.  

James Van Riemsdyk

JVR picked a heck of a time to have one of the best offensive seasons of his nine-year NHL career. After posting a career-high 36 goals this year in Toronto, somebody is going to throw a lot of cash at this guy, because every team in the league needs goals. Van Riemsdyk has made a career of picking up the trash in front of the net, and now he’s about to cash in as one of the world’s richest garbage men.

James Neal

After a fantastic season as one of the cornerstones of the Vegas Golden Knights’ shocking run to the Stanley Cup Final, last year’s Expansion Draft castoff is this year’s coveted physical goal scorer. Initially taken by Vegas GM George McPhee with the expectation that he would be moved at the deadline for assets, Neal played so well on the Strip—leading his fledgling team to unthinkable inaugural success—that McPhee was left no choice other than to keep the “Real Deal” around through the playoffs. 

Now, Neal is back on the market, and although the Golden Knights would still like to keep him, at 30 years old, he will likely be looking for a long-term deal. Neal has notched 20 or more markers ten times in his eleven-year career, and remains an outstanding offensive talent. 

David Perron

Speaking of Expansion Draft outcasts that forced Vegas GM George McPhee to keep them around longer than initially anticipated… 

Perron is a little more enigmatic than his aforementioned VGK teammate. He’s had some good seasons, like in ’13-’14, when he scored 28 goals and 29 assists for Edmonton, but he’s also had some very bad seasons. Perron needs the right cast of characters around him and the right role to be effective. He definitely found that in Vegas, and posted a career-high 66 points. Also at 30 years old and after having bounced around the league quite a bit, Perron too will likely be seeking some stability. Those enigmatic qualities will make him a bit more reasonably priced than Neal, but Perron still could end up north of $4 million a year. 

Joe Thornton

Believe it or not, “Jumbo” Joe Thornton may not play for San Jose next season. After making a whopping $8 million in ’17-’18, the biggest money seasons are now finally in the rearview for the 38-year-old big man with the gray beard. Hampered by injuries this past year, Thornton ended the season with 36 points in 47 games, one of his least productive seasons. As such, he could end up as a short-term bargain for a team seeking veteran leadership. 

Mike Green 

With Carlson locked up long-term in our nation’s capital, Green now leads the way among available defensemen. At 32 years old, his best years are probably behind him, but he remains a solid puck mover that can add offense on any team’s blueline. Green is coming off of season-ending surgery on his cervical spine, so health is a bit of a concern here. He made $6 million with Detroit this past season, but that may come down with his next contract. 

Rick Nash

Let’s face it… Nash is no longer the player he was when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, slicing through defenders and potting nightly highlight reel goals en route to 40-goal campaigns. But the guy can still play, and at 34 years old, he’s actually just three seasons removed from notching 42 with the Rangers in ’14-’15. In the right situation (perhaps that’s remaining with the Bruins, who acquired him at the trade deadline, or returning to Columbus?), an Eric Staal-esque resurgence is certainly a possibility for Nash. With his whopper of a contract that featured a $7.8 million annual cap hit finally at its end, Nash could actually end up being a bargain for somebody out there. 

Tyler Bozak

After nine seasons of Bozak playing in the proverbial center of the hockey universe, it would be fascinating to see him in a uniform that doesn’t prominently feature a Maple Leaf on the chest. Bozak is one of those guys that has remained steady throughout his career, producing on a very consistent mid-tier basis. He is what he is, and for teams seeking quality depth at the center position, Bozak could be the guy. He’s coming off of a contract that—considering his offensive production that generally landed him in the 15-goal/40-point realm annually—was probably a bit generous at a $4.2 million cap hit per year. Again, Bozak could be something of a bargain, though quality centers do come at a premium. 


Salary cap numbers come from 

Player stats come from 

Darren Brown
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