The NHL’s free agency period officially opens mere days from now and this is shaping up to be a rather interesting year on the open market. Okay, maybe it’s looking like “John Tavares spurns Long Island to sleep in Maple Leafs bedsheets”-level excitement, but it’s still going to be fun.
And while it’s hard to match the unpredictability level of the NHL market opens up on July 1.— I can’t remember the last time a hockey team barricaded a free agent inside his own house — it’s not entirely easy to guess what will happen when the
However, that’s not going to stop anyone from taking their best shot, including us here at CBS Sports. So without, further ado, here are six predictions — some bold, some not so much — for the 2019 free agent class.
Tyler Myers will get way too much money
This one already seems like a given at this point in time. Some of the projected contracts that have been floated around Myers’ name have been totally absurd, with the rumored ask being around $7 million a year or more.
If Myers sniffs even close to that number on an AAV it will be a massive overpay, especially if he gets significant term on the deal. The Winnipeg Jets want to keep him (it’s part of the reason they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers for pennies on the dollar) but they may not be able to afford him at this rate, and that could be a blessing.
Myers is a decent defenseman and he might be able to provide immediate help to a team that wants some defensive depth, but he’s not particularly great in any area of his game. He’s okay offensively but is a notable liability in his own end and doesn’t fare well against top competition.
At the end of the day, he’s a second-or-third-pairing defenseman who is most likely going to get paid like a first-pairing guy for some wild reason. (Spoiler: it’s largely because he’s 6-foot-8.) His contract will be an albatross for whichever team is dumb or desperate enough to hand it out.
Matt Duchene will sign with the Predators
Nashville played facilitator in the three-team trade that sent Duchene from Colorado to Ottawa a few years ago as he sought to play for a winner (whoops) and now it seems like they’re heading for a more direct connection.
Nashville needs to improve down the middle and Duchene is the biggest name at center in this year’s free agent class. It’s clear that the Preds are positioning themselves for a big free agent splash, as they dealt PK Subban to the Devils earlier this offseason in what was seemingly a glorified salary dump to help free up some money for July 1.
The fit is there and now the money might be too. Nashville has 21 players under contract with a little over $13 million in cap space available. Duchene is going to get PAID for a number of reasons, including:
- Best available center on the UFA market
- Coming off a career year with 70 points (31-39-70)
- Proved he can be a playoff performer
- Kevin Hayes, a lesser player, got a huge market-setting deal (seven years, $50 million — $7.14 AAV) from the Flyers this offseason
The stars might be aligning for Duchene, 28, to command more than he’s worth but the Preds committed to making a plunge when they dealt Subban. Duchene could be a big-time piece to help them improve up front and get over the postseason hump as they look to capture a first Stanley Cup. His deal might not look great on the back end, but the Preds might not care if he delivers on the front.
Sergei Bobrovsky or Artemi Panarin will go to the Panthers, but not both
It’s not a certainty that Duchene will be moving on from Columbus, but it seems to be a sure thing that Bobrovsky and Panarin are done with the Blue Jackets. The star goaltender and star winger haven’t exactly hid their desire to hit the open market and find a new place to live/work.
The Florida Panthers have frequently been discussed as a potential destination for both of them, as the Panthers want to add offense up front and need to improve in net, especially with the recent retirement of Roberto Luongo. With Joel Quenneville behind the bench leading an underrated roster core, the Panthers could be an attractive landing spot for available players this summer.
Oh, and they have a boatload of money to work with, as they now have about $24 million in available cap space following Luongo’s retirement.
But landing both could be difficult and incredibly expensive. Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina winner, is the best goalie on the market and the Panthers aren’t the only team that could use some goaltending. And Panarin, an elite offensive talent on the wing, is the prize of this free agent class who wants to go to a big market or a destination city. Is Sunrise, Florida close enough to Miami (it’s a 35 mile drive) to woo the the ‘Bread Man’?
Best guess? Bobrovsky will be between the pipes for the Panthers next year, while Panarin plays somewhere a little more sexy. New York could be fun!
Joe Pavelski will leave the Sharks
As soon as San Jose signed Erik Karlsson to that mega extension earlier this summer, it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to bring back all of their expiring pieces. The list of pending free agents in San Jose includes Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Timo Meier (RFA) and Gustav Nyquist.
Following the Karlsson extension and the Justin Braun trade, the Sharks have about $14.8 million in available cap space to work with.
There’s no doubt that the Sharks would love to bring back Pavelski, who is their team captain and one of their longest-tenured players. He had 38 goals last season and is one of the league’s most dangerous net-front presences, as well as a two-way force. He still has tremendous value in a lineup and in locker room.
But that value means a lot of teams are interested in his services, and unless he’s willing to take significantly less than his market price, it seems like he could be the odd man out in San Jose. Considering he’s about to turn 35 years old and this will likely be his last big NHL contract, he may not want to leave that kind of money on the table.
Wayne Simmonds‘ deal will look bad on Day 1
It feels safe to assume that some team is going to hand Wayne Simmonds a deal that will pay him for what he once was, not what he’s projecting to be. Simmonds has been a tremendous player in this league for quite some time, and he was known for bringing a hard-to-find package of skill, size, toughness and character — the kind of player that every GM would love to have.
Unfortunately, he’s no longer that player, and it feels like his best days are behind him, especially at even strength. He recorded just 18 points at 5-on-5 last season, his lowest production rate at even strength since his rookie year a decade ago. He only had three points (one goal and two assists) after the Nashville Predators acquired him at the trade deadline.
Still, it seems like some team is going to take a chance on Simmonds in the hopes that he’ll be able to rediscover his production. According to Evolving Hockey’s contract projections, Simmonds’ next contract could be in the ballpark of five years, $25 million. If he gets anywhere near that big of an AAV with that much term, it would be a terrible deal before the ink even dries.
Mitch Marner will stay in Toronto
Marner and the Maple Leafs seem to be engaged in a big game of chicken over his RFA negotiations. Marner, 22, wants Auston Matthews money and the Leafs, who are in a significant cap crunch, don’t seem to have much interest in making him the highest-paid winger in the league.
The longer the stalemate carries on, the more talk there seems to be about the Leafs potentially moving on from Marner. It’s gotten to the point where he’s officially visiting with other teams as part of the RFA process and now there are rumblings that an offer sheet may be presented by at least one of those teams.
Offer sheets rarely ever come into play in the NHL; the last player to be offer sheeted was Shea Weber, who received a 14-year offer from the Flyers in 2012. It’s even rarer to see a successful offer sheet, as the last one came back in 2007 when Dustin Penner left the Anaheim Ducks for the Edmonton Oilers.
There seems to be an unwritten “code of conduct” amongst NHL general managers that prohibits offer sheeting another team’s players, but the potential fallout could be worth it for the chance to sign an elite young playmaker like Marner.
However, if Marner sticks with his reported ask of over $10.1 million annually on his next deal, the team presenting an offer sheet will also have to surrender four first-round picks to the Maple Leafs as compensation if he signs. At that point, Toronto might just be inclined to take the picks. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has already said he’s not going to automatically match an offer sheet, so it’s possible Marner can be had if the price is high enough.
It seems more likely than not that this game of chicken will run its course without as much offer sheet drama as has been speculated and, ultimately, the Leafs will end up paying Marner more than they want, but less than he wants.
Sources from: CBS Sports