Sometimes the best strike is a pre-emptive one.
When the Edmonton Oilers signed superstar Connor McDavid to a lucrative eight-year contract extension, prior to him hitting restricted free agency in 2018, they guaranteed themselves having their centerpiece in the fold until 2026, when he will only be 28.
His $12.5 million dollar per year contract will be the richest in hockey. Hopefully he stays healthy enough to fulfill it.
He is not the only star or budding star who has been locked up long term and there will certainly be more inked to lavish deals in the coming months.
The New York Islanders, for one, have an expiring contract in John Tavares current deal and will have to decide what to do with him this season or risk losing him for nothing next July 1.
We have had a look at impending UFAs and RFAs and come up with each team’s important players needing contractual love. Of course, some will be left to free agency, while others might be signed prior to.
31. Anaheim Ducks – F Andrew Cogliano And D Brandon Montour
The Ducks just recently re-upped star defenceman Cam Fowler to a big eight-year deal, which may not be good news for up-and-coming rearguard Brandon Montour. A solid puck-mover that Anaheim plucked at no. 55 in the 2014 draft, Montour is a restricted free agent (RFA) in 2018 who is making a cap friendly $925,000 this season. The Ducks have many expiring contracts to deal with, but Montour has to be a priority. Second line left winger Andrew Cogliano is in a different boat as a UFA and will be 31 when the free agent spree starts next summer. He’s been a steady two-way presence and currently has a $3 million cap hit.
30. Arizona Coyotes – G Antti Raanta And F Max Domi
The Arizona Coyotes do find themselves with quite a bit of cap space (over $16 million) but have a team they might not know what to do with. After a horrible 2016-17 campaign, they made a few moves to get younger and cheaper, but are the youngsters worth re-signing. One they will definitely should not leave to restricted free agency is Max Domi. He scored 52 points in his rookie season and was tracking to that number in 2016-17 (38 points in 59 games). He’s just 22 and will be looking for a raise on his entry level $832,500 contract. Raanta, on the other hand, is a career back-up making $1 million and is UFA in 2018. He’ll be a no. 1 for the first time in his career this season, so we’re thinking the ‘Yotes will play wait and see where his contractual status is concerned.
29. Boston Bruins – F Ryan Spooner and G Anton Khudobin
Zdeno Chara is UFA next year, but we think the Bruins will waffle on whether they bring their aging captain back for another year. The Bruins may want to lock up RFA forward Ryan Spooner, who is arbitration eligible in 2018. The Ottawa native has percolated well in the Bruins system and has been relatively consistent in his first two full seasons. A second line right winger, Spooner had 88 points in 158 games over the last two seasons and currently has a cap hit of $2,825,000, which is right in line with players of his ilk. As for Khudobin, who is 31, good back-up goalies are in short supply and as a UFA he is making a very cheap $1.2 million. The Bruins, notoriously cheap, will probably let him test the waters after the 2017-18 campaign.
28. Buffalo Sabres – F Evander Kane And F Jack Eichel
With all the noise surrounding the big, fat extension Connor McDavid signed this year, the no. 2 man from the Buffalo Sabres could be looking at a big pay day too. Sabres management will have to sharpen the heck out of the pencils to re-sign impending RFA Eichel, who scored more points — in less games — than he did his rookie season. He had near identical totals of 56 points (in 81 games during the 2015-16 season) and 57 points (in 61 games last year). He is the face of a franchise in flux and should be signed long term. Evander Kane, who is manning Eichel’s left side on the top line, isn’t as cut and dry a case for re-signing. Yes, he led all Sabres in goals last year with 28, but his $6 million salary and $5.25 million cap hit are onerous for such an enigmatic player. They will likely wait and see but we’ll bet he’ll hit the open market.
27. Calgary Flames – F Mikael Backlund
The Flames, overall, are in a pretty good salary cap position, having locked up a good part of their core long-term and not having too many big-time signings until 2019 (Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, for instance). One player who will no doubt test their fiscal resolve will be 28-year-old center and impending UFA Mikael Backlund. He has really come into his own the last two seasons and finished with a personal best 53 points in 2016-17. For that kind of production, the second line pivot is making a modest $3.575 million on the last year of a three-year deal. We don’t believe the Flames should allow him to test the free agent waters, but they likely will.
26. Carolina Hurricanes – F Elias Lindholm, D Noah Hanifin And G Cam Ward
At present, the Carolina Hurricanes have the most cap space ($17 million) and a slew of RFAs and UFAs that they will have to deal with in 2018. Chief among them will be the impending — and probably long-term — deals they may want to sign 22-year-old right winger Elias Lindholm and 20-year-old defenceman Noah Hanifin to. Lindholm is a playmaking center (45 points in 72 games last season), who is now on the team’s top line and will only get better. Hanifin started in the NHL as an 18-year-old and at 20 will be an anchor on the blue line this season and years to come. One question on hockey minds is what to do with 33-year-old goalie Cam Ward? The last remaining member of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion squad, Ward has been a faithful warrior through thick and thin and is slated to be a back-up this year, with a relatively inexpensive cap hit of $3.3 million. Do they bring him back? Wait and see.
25. Chicago Blackhawks – F Ryan Hartman And F Patrick Sharp
One player is on the way up (Hartman) and the other (Sharp) on the downside of his career. The cap crunched Blackhawks have a lot of money tied up in nine players over the next three seasons, with four of them well over 30. For 23-year-old Ryan Hartman, who will be RFA in 2018, there won’t be a whole lot of money for a new contract, which may make him expendable at the trade deadline next year. He had a great first full season after playing in just eight games over two seasons previous. The Hilton Head, SC native scored 19 goals and 12 assists in 76 games, and even more impressive he accumulated those points in under 13 minutes average ice time. For former Cup winner Sharp, 2017-18 marks an inexpensive return to the team, a wait-and-see one-year $800,000 deal for the 35-year-old who will line up with Hartman on the third line.
24. Colorado Avalanche – F Nail Yakupov And G Jonathan Bernier
This is a make or break year for former no. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov. The Avalanche will test drive the up-and-down winger for one year at $875,000, a figure that should be much higher had he made anything out of his career thus far. As it is, future RFA Yakupov needs to prove his value to the team and as of today he is on the second line with Matt Duchene and Sven Andrighetto. Veteran netminder and 2018 UFA Jonathan Bernier presents a different case. Hardly over the hill at 29, Bernier has oodles of experience and was pretty good in 38 games with the Ducks last season, going 21-7-4 in 38 games with two shutouts and a 2.51 goals against average. He’ll back up Semyon Varlamov on a one-year pact worth a friendly $2.75 million. Only problem is, he’ll be fronted by a much more porous D than in Anaheim.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets – D Jack Johnson, F Cam Atkinson, F Boone Jenner, D Ryan Murray And F Matt Calvert
Decisions, decisions, decisions. The Blue Jackets, who are tantalizingly close to a breakthrough, will have to make some tough fiscal decisions in the very near future. They have around $8 million in cap space to play with and five key players to re-sign in the coming months. It’s a good bet that 30-year-old Jack Johnson walks (his cap hit is just over $4.3 million), but he’s still a steady and productive member of the blueline corps. Cam Atkinson, who broke out in a big way last year (35 goals, 62 points), is the first line right winger and will be in line for a raise after making $4.5 million this season ($3.5 million cap hit). Calvert (UFA) and Jenner (RFA) are both very productive fourth-liners who other teams would covet. Calvert has a cap hit of $2.2 million and Jenner $2.9 million. Murray, 24, has been decent since being drafted second overall in 2012 and is RFA. He will probably get some of the money the Jackets won’t give to Johnson.
22. Dallas Stars – F Antoine Roussel, F Devin Shore, D Dan Hamhuis, D Jamie Oleksiak
The Stars off-loaded some deadwood after a disappointing 2016-17 season, with Patrick Sharp and Antti Niemi headed elsewhere. The house-cleaning is quite done yet and a safe bet would be Kari Lehtonen and his $5.9 million cap hit off the books being a boon to the bottom line and freeing money to sign younger players. Antoine Roussel, a rabble rouser with a scoring touch is a UFA who will make $2 million this year and will be in line for a good raise. He has scored 124 points in 340 games, while accumulating 680 penalty minutes. Shore, 23, had a pretty good rookie season, firing 13 goals and 20 assists in just over 14 minutes of ice time. He is RFA and making entry level money at $870,000. On the blue line, older but still productive Dan Hamhuis has an expiring deal with a cap hit of $3.75 million, while improving RFA Jamie Oleksiak makes under $1 million on the last year of his deal.
21. Detroit Red Wings – D Mike Green, G Petr Mrazek, F Riley Sheahan, F Dylan Larkin
The Red Wings are really at a crossroads. They move into new digs this year, but are so cap-crunched that something will have to give. There may not be enough money to keep young guns Riley Sheahan and Dylan Larkin happy, unless the team can off-load a couple of big contracts in say, Henrik Zetterberg or Johan Franzen. Larkin and Sheahan, though, both regressed in 2016-17 after good seasons in 2015-16 and will have to prove they are worth a raise. Sheahan will make $2.075 million and his arbitration eligible, while Larkin is at $925,000. Mrazek, 25, and also RFA, had a horrid season by previous standards and has a cap hit of $4 million. He will have to earn an extension with a bounce back year. Green is still just 31 with loads of experience. He scored 36 points last season (best on the Wings among D-men), but isn’t likely to command anywhere near the $6 million he’ll get this year.
20. Edmonton Oilers – F Ryan Strome, F Patrick Maroon, F Mark Letestu, D Darnell Nurse And G Laurent Brossoit
The Oilers broke the bank to extend superstar forwards Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (who will eat up $21 million in cap space for several years starting in 2018-19). While there is still some left in the vault (around $8 million under the cap), they have many decisions on players to make in 2018. No fewer than 25 players, from big leaguers to AHLers. will need contractual addressing. The biggest is the decision on UFA Maroon. He’s 29 and coming off a career year (27 goals), albeit playing with Connor McDavid. Also on McD’s line is impending RFA Ryan Strome, who has a cap hit of $3 million to Maroon’s $2.1 million. They should both thrive on McDavid’s line this season. UFA Mark Letestu is a useful grinder who had 35 regular season and 11 post-season points and makes a friendly $1.8 million. Nurse, an RFA who has improved marginally since being a first rounder in 2013, will need a boost too. Which leaves RFA goalie Brossoit, who was excellent in relief of Cam Talbot and is cheap, right now, at $750,000.
19. Florida Panthers – D Alex Petrovic And F Radim Vrbata
The Panthers seem to be in a good place, both roster-wise and on the balance sheet, heading into the 2017-18 season. Five top young forwards are locked up and two premier defencemen are also signed long term. The goaltending is solid, too. Thus, with over $8 million in cap space and not too many NHLers to sign, they should have enough money to sign, first, defenceman Alex Petrovic. The 25-year-old rearguard has shown steady progress in the last two seasons and if he can play a full campaign will be a top-four for years to come. Vrbata, 36, was brought in to balance out a young forward corps and after a 55-point campaign with the awful Coyotes, his one-year $2.5 million cap hit is a bargain. He should easily earn another deal.
18. Los Angeles Kings – D Christian Folin, D Derek Forbort, G Darcy Kuemper And F Nick Shore
With Jonathan Quick manning the pipes and all key players signed — with nearly $8.5 million in cap space to spare — the Kings should enjoy a renaissance this season. Young RFA defenders Christian Folin (26) and Derek Forbort (25), will both benefit from another season in the league and will be in line for raises from entry level contracts. Nick Shore centers one of hockey’s better fourth lines with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis and is in the last year of his entry level deal that pays him $925,000 this year. Shore won over 50 percent of his face-offs last year and chipped in 17 points in limited ice time. Quick’s likely back-up, UFA Darcy Kuemper, was obtained for one year at $650,000 and if he plays to his level (career 2.60 GAA, .910 save percentage, 7 shutouts in 102 games), might get himself a longer-term deal in 2018.
17. Minnesota Wild – D Matt Dumba, F Jason Zucker, F Chris Stewart
The Wild, with no cap space right now, may be in a tough spot when the season concludes. Excellent young defenceman Matt Dumba, who was third in scoring among wild rearguards with 34 points last year, is on a expiring two-year, $5.1 million contract and will command a lucrative new deal as a RFA. Ditto winger Jason Zucker, now in his sixth season and coming off a 22-goal, 47-point campaign. The RFA is no one-trick pony either, having tied with teammate Ryan Suter for the NHL’s plus-minus lead at +34. He’s arbitration eligible and making just $2 million this year. Rugged winger Chris Stewart, a veteran of 598 NHL games, may be odd man out as a 29-year-old UFA. However, for the $1.15 million he is making on a two-year deal, his production in the first year for Minny was admirable, with 13 goals and 21 points in just over 10 minutes ice time per game.
16. Montreal Canadiens – F Tomas Plekanec And F Philip Danault
When the Habs lost out on the Alexander Radulov sweepstakes it was a curse, and a blessing. The curse in that a team that may find it hard to score goals lost its second leading scorer to Dallas and the blessing being a save of $6.25 million in cap space (they have nearly $8.5 million to play with). Therefore, aging but still effect center and UFA Tomas Plekanec presents a conundrum. He sank to 28 points last season and is making $6 million this season. But, if he leaves, they would be woefully thin down the middle. Right behind him, too, on the 2018 bread line is RFA Philip Danault, who is slotted into the second line and enjoyed a great first full season in Montreal. He scored 40 points in 82 games, won 51.7 percent of his face-offs and was +5. His $912,500 paycheque this season will undoubtedly get a boost, maybe to the detriment of Plekanec.
15. Nashville Predators – D Alexei Emelin And G Juuse Saros
The Predators were oh so close to a championship this past spring and made a couple of small but not insignificant moves to get better and stay in the hunt. First, they brought in Cup winner Nick Bonino (on the second line) and rock hard defenceman Alexei Emelin, by way of a trade from Vegas. Speaking of the big hitter and shot blocker, Emelin is on the last year of a four-year deal he got from Montreal, with a cap hit of $3 million. He is 31, but as only played six years in the league. If he comes close to the 10 points, 241 hits and 127 shot blocks, he may be in line for an extension. The other area that needs to be covered off is goal. Pekka Rinne, who is 34, was excellent last year, however, succession will need to happen eventually. A candidate for being locked up long term is RFA Juuse Saros. He was 10-8-3 in relief of Rinne last year, posting a .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals against.
14. New Jersey Devils – D John Moore And F Drew Stafford
Improvement for the Devils came via free agency and the draft, where they got Nico Hischier no. 1 overall and then signed checking centerman Brian Boyle along with scoring winger Drew Stafford and trading for fellow playmaker Marcus Johansson. But, their first priority in free agency will be to re-up UFA defenceman John Moore, who was second among all Devils defencemen in scoring with 22 points in 63 games. Moore has 366 games of experience (81 points) and has a cap friendly hit of $1.67 million. Stafford, signed to a tidy $800,000 one-year contract, brings 725 games of NHL experience to the table. In 58 games last year, he scored eight goals and added 13 assists, while being a +6. He has 400 career points and is slotted on the second line with Johansson and Hischier.
13. New York Islanders – F John Tavares, G Jaroslav Halak, F Josh Bailey, D Calvin de Haan, F Brock Nelson
There are almost too many names to list when it comes to New York Islanders free agents to be. Their front office is going to have to get real creative, especially with a new deal involving superstar John Tavares. And then having enough money left over to pay a few other key players. Tavares is an elite player not making elite money (last year of a deal that pays him $6 million), so the impetus for management is to sign him long term, and better during the season. Compounding the problem is the fact the team has under $3 million in cap space and they may not want to lose guys like Halak (better than average back-up), Bailey (56 points, second in scoring last year), de Haan (25 points, +15) or Nelson (20 goals, 45 points). It’s going to get dicey in Brooklyn.
12. New York Rangers – F J.T. Miller, F Kevin Hayes, D Nick Holden, F Michael Grabner And F Jimmy Vesey
Across the East River, the Rangers are in the same boat as the Islanders in terms of impending contracts for key personnel. With just over $1.5 million in space, it’s pretty much assured that overpaid sniper Rick Nash is gone to free agency, unless he takes a huge hometown discount. The near $8 million in cap space alleviated when Nash walks should be allotted to J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes and a lesser extent Grabner and Vesey. Miller (24) had 56 points and was second in scoring last season, while Hayes (25) with fifth with 49 points. Miller will get a significant bump from $2.75 million, while Hayes should go much better than his $2.6 million. Holden was their third highest scoring defenceman with 34 points, while logging a respectable +13. Lots to do on Broadway, for sure.
11. Ottawa Senators – F Mark Stone, F Kyle Turris, D Cody Ceci, D Mark Borowiecki And D Chris Wideman
Among Canadian teams, the Senators have a tall task ahead in free agency. Two of their better scorers, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris (fourth and third in scoring last year), head to free agency after both making $3.5 million. Stone, 25, is RFA and is arbitration eligible. Turris, 28, will have a tougher fight to get a new pact and will get plenty of interest from opposing clubs. On defence, youngsters Cody Ceci (23) and Chris Wideman (27) had identical point totals at 17. Ceci is making $2.8 million and is also arbitration eligible as a RFA, while UFA Wideman is on the last year of contract that pays him $800,000. Last, but not nearly least, the Sens have to figure out how much big hitter and UFA Mark Borowiecki is worth. The 28-year-old masher had 364 hits last year, while averaging 14 minutes of ice time. His cap hit is $1.1 million.
10. Philadelphia Flyers – F Valtteri Filppula And D Brandon Manning
Having plugged second overall pick Nolan Patrick into the line-up and taking Steve Mason’s contract off the books, the Flyers saved some cap space and got way better down the middle. They have very few contracts of consequence expiring this year, with Valtteri Filppula’s being the biggest at $5 million. He’s 33 and has substantial regular and post-season experience, having played 795 regular season contests (430 points) and 152 playoff tilts (79 points). In a season split between Tampa and Philly last year, he had 12 goals and 30 assists. Manning is a good third-pair man who should get better with experience. He had 12 points in 65 games last year, was -12 and had 121 hits.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins – F Patric Hornqvist, D Ian Cole And F Bryan Rust
It’s a good thing the defending champs don’t have a lot of big names to re-sign. The Penguins are nearly up against the cap and should think about what to do with playoff hardened veterans Hornqvist, Cole and Rust. Hornqvist is 30 and coming off a 44-point campaign, followed by nine points in 19 playoff games. The excellent two-way forward has a cap hit of $5 million and plays on the second line with Evgeni Malkin. Rust has played just 112 games in the NHL, scoring 41 points (20 goals), but elevates his game in the playoffs, where has 13 goals and five assists in just 46 games. Rust is RFA and is arbitration eligible. On defence, invaluable puck-mover Ian Cole had a superb 2016-17 campaign, recording 26 points and a +26, before adding nine points in the playoffs. His cap hit is just $2.1 million and he’ll be attractive in free agency.
8. San Jose Sharks – F Joe Thornton, F Joel Ward, F Tomas Hertl, F Jannik Hansen
Depending on the seasons they have, it may be very easy for the Sharks to wave buh-bye to oldsters Thornton (38), Ward (36) and Hansen (31). Hertl, for the record, is just 23. Now that Patrick Marleau is in Toronto, Thornton’s $8 million on the last year of his deal is still signficant, yet he remains an elite playmaker (registered 43 of his career 1,007 assists last year). He will, though, have to take a discount if he wants to remain in San Jose beyond 2018. Ward has been more than a useful utility man who brings it when the chips are down. He’s on an expiring deal that pays him $3.275 million and may find a taker somewhere, or be trade deadline fodder. Hansen is also a nice complimentary piece who had 20 points in 43 games last year and has a cap hit of $2 million. Hertl, who is arbitration eligible and has a cap hit of $3 million, needs a healthy bounce back year to prove he’s worth the outlay.
7. St. Louis Blues – F Paul Stastny, G Carter Hutton And D Joel Edmundson
By the time the season is half done, premier face-off man and reliable offensive threat Paul Stastny will be 32. He’s on the last year of a four-year contract with a cap hit of $7 million and a player the Blues could ill afford to lose. He has one about 56 percent of his draws in three seasons with St. Louis and scored 135 points in 204 games. Even more pressing might be the need to re-sign valuable — and cheap — back-up goalie Carter Hutton. His $1.125 million cap hit is extremely inexpensive for a guy who posted a 13-8-2 record in 30 games, with four shutouts, a 2.39 goals against average and .913 save percentage. The Blues, who don’t have a lot of wiggle room under the team cap, also have to think about signing RFA D Joel Edmundson. He had 15 points and dished out 122 hits, along with 95 blocked shots in his sophomore season. In the playoffs, he was indispensible, scoring three times, assisting on three others and logging a +12 in over 20 minutes ice time per game.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning – D Andrej Sustr And F Vladislav Namestnikov
They may not be household names anywhere else, however, Tampa UFA Sustr and RFA Namestnikov play vital roles on a Lightning team due for a bounce back this season. Sustr, whose cap hit is a very friendly $1.95 million, is a reliable third pair defenceman who moves the puck fairly well (56 points in 274 games). GM Steve Yzerman will have to be ultra-creative at contract time, though, as the Bolts have a little under $2.5 million in cap space and many RFA’s to sign too. One of them is third line center Namestnikov, a 24-year-old who will benefit from playing with newly acquired Chris Kunitz and veteran winger Ryan Callahan this season. He centers the second powerplay unit and given a little more ice time than the 14 minutes on average that he has logged in 201 games, could be a 40-point producer.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs – F James van Riemsdyk, F Tyler Bozak, F Leo Komarov and F William Nylander
The Leafs cap situation can be looked at in a couple of ways. With no space under the cap, they may have to let some valuable UFA veterans test the free agent waters, like van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Komarov. However, with a glut of young talent on the big club, like RFA Nylander, letting them go may not be so bad. Of the three key UFA’s, the Leafs will probably prioritze van Riemsdyk’s contractual situation. He’s 28 and has scored 118 goals and 122 assists in 332 games. His cap hit is $4.25 million and there is no doubt he’ll be looking for a long-term deal. Bozak, van Riemsdyk’s center on the second line, is 31 and enjoyed a career year in 2016-17, with 55 points. He is also adept on the draw, having won 53.6 percent of his face-offs in 513 games with the Leafs. The other big decision will on noted plugger Komarov, a fearless hitter and decent offensive threat whose cap hit is $2.9 million. Of the four here, the highest priority signing will be Nylander. Slated to open the season on the first line with Auston Matthews, Nylander broke out big in 2016-17, registering 61 points in 81 games. They’ll want to sign him long term.
4. Vancouver Canucks – F Henrik Sedin, F Daniel Sedin, F Sven Baertschi, D Troy Stecher, F Markus Granlund
To re-sign, or not to re-sign? That is the question facing the Canucks pertaining to the Sedins. The two are clearly on the downside of their careers, but still finished two-three in scoring for the Canucks last year, with Henrik recording 51 points and Daniel 44. They are still on the team’s first line this year and will be counted on to score. However, they are both 37 and identical cap hits of $7 million. In order to have enough cap space to sign key RFA forwards Sven Baertschi (25 this week) and Markus Granlund (24), the Sedins will either have to take a hometown discount, or be gone to free agency. Baertschi, the second line left winger, scored 18 goals (5 game winners) and added 17 assists in 68 games last year. Granlund, slated as center on the fourth line, also had a good season, scoring 19 goals and adding 13 assists in 69 games. On the back line, RFA D Troy Stecher had a decent rookie campaign, chipping in 24 points in 71 games and gaining experience as a second unit powerplay specialist.
3. Vegas Golden Knights – F James Neal And Just About Everybody Else
The list of RFA and UFA players that Vegas GM George McPhee will have to deal with in the coming months is exhaustive, headed by the impending free agency of elite shooter Neal. With 238 goals and 213 assists in 632 games, he is the expansion franchise’s most dangerous scoring threat. He’s just turned 30 and has a cap hit of $5 million and will probably looking for long-term security. Depending on how the rest of the roster fares, McPhee may have to let him walk come next summer. Others requiring contractual love could be first line left wing Jonathan Marchessault (UFA who scored 30 goals and 21 assists last year), D Luca Sbisa (UFA), D Brayden McNabb (UFA), C William Karlsson (RFA), G Calvin Pickard (RFA), D Shea Theodore (RFA) and RW Teemu Pulkkinen (RFA).
2. Washington Capitals – D John Carlson, F Lars Eller, F Tom Wilson And G Philipp Grubauer
Forever looking for the secret sauce to a championship, the Capitals will have to be extremely crafty with their free agent crop going forward. With no money under the cap, right now, and the bulk of their money going to seven players until at least 2020, hard decisions will have to be made. Chief among their UFAs is Carlson, their second best puck-moving defenceman after Matt Niskanen. In 526 games, all with Washington, the Natick, MA native has 265 points. His cap hit is a shade under $4 million and he will be looking to sign a multi-year deal. Meanwhile, third line center Eller (UFA) and dogged right winger Wilson (RFA, arbitration eligible), will also need to be negotiated with. We believe that unless Eller replicates his 2016-17 season (25 points, +15) he’ll be gone, since Wilson is much younger (23 to Eller’s 28) and has way more sandpaper to his game (19 points, 133 PIM). The last piece of the free agent puzzle is back-up netminder Grubauer. He has quietly bided his time behind Braden Holtby and player very well, with a 2.26 GAA, .923 save percentage and three shutouts in 65 games.
1. Winnipeg Jets – D Tobias Enstrom, D Jacob Trouba, G Connor Hellebuyck, F Adam Lowry, F Joel Armia, F Nikolaj Ehlers, D Josh Morrissey, F Marko Dano
Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to be a busy man in the near future. With an eye to re-signing budding superstar sniper Patrik Laine in 2019, he has a glut of young talent who will require long term contracts by 2018. Which means that 32-year-old defenceman and UFA Tobias Enstrom is likely on his way out with a cap hit of $5.75 million. Chevy undoubtedly knows he’ll need Enstrom’s money to ink 23-year-old RFA Trouba, who is arbitration eligible and is top pair with fellow RFA Morrissey. Trouba had 33 points in just 60 games last year and will only get better. Ditto 22-year-old Morrissey, who had 20 points and a +6 in his first full season. On forward, up-and-coming young RFA’s Lowry, Ehlers, Armia and Dano represent a formidable fiscal task for Cheveldayoff, who has about $9 million in projected cap space to play with. Ehlers, 21, will command the most attention, as he finished tied for third in team scoring last year with 64 points. Last year’s starting goalie, Connor Hellebuyck (he’ll back up Steve Mason this season), is just 24 and with decent second-stringers in short supply, will be looking for a multi-year deal too.