With July 1st and the start of free agency now less than a month away, the vast majority of NHL teams are looking forward to the upcoming off-season. Major decisions will have to be made, trades considered and players drafted before the 2015-16 NHL season gets underway.
One major aspect of the NHL off-season will begin on July 1st, 2015, the day which signals the beginning of the free agency period. From July 1st forward, NHL teams will evaluate players without current contracts, and, depending on the skills and relevance of such players, sign those who retain the abilities to bring significant benefit to a given team.
However, not all of those heading to market will necessarily begin the 2015-16 season with a new club, as for some, the potential to re-sign with their most recent team remains a realistic possibility, especially so for those who are restricted free agents.
With that being said, let’s take a quick look at one pending free agent, unrestricted or restricted, from each NHL team who, for the benefit of his team, should be re-signed this off-season.
Anaheim Ducks: Matt Beleskey (UFA)
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.35 Million
Come July 1st, Matt Beleskey will hit the open market as one of the top players available this off-season. An unrestricted free agent, Beleskey is poised for a huge raise in his next contract, especially so considering he scored a career high 22 goals in 2014-15, as well as 7 goals in 15 playoff games. A strong, rugged winger, Beleskey is a perfect fit for the Ducks’ high energy and physical roster. Nearing the age of 27, Beleskey has plenty of hockey ahead of him and could be an important player in Anaheim for years to come.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $2.55 Million
With ten free agents, both restricted an unrestricted in Arizona this season, Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney has a busy off-season ahead of him. One player in particular who Maloney will no doubt look to lock up long term is speedy winger Mikkel Boedker. Boedker has nearly played 400 NHL games, yet is only 25 years old, while at 6 foot, 210 pounds, Boedker has good size to compliment his puck skills. With the Coyotes in the midst of yet another re-build, re-signing Boedker long-term would be a terrific move in the right direction in Arizona.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $894K
In Boston, the Bruins currently have 16 players under contract for the 2015-16 season. Among those without contracts are Ryan Spooner, Carl Soderberg, Daniel Paille and most notably, Dougie Hamilton. Despite the success of all of these players, new GM Don Sweeney will need to emphasize locking up Hamilton to a new contract. Whether the Bruins will approach Hamilton will a bridge deal or a long term deal remains to be seen, however keeping Hamilton in Boston long term should be Sweeney’s top priority.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $223K
The transition to NHL has been far more difficult and frustrating for Mikhail Grigorenko than both he and the Sabres would have liked, as at the conclusion of his entry level contract, Grigorenko has played a mere 68 NHL games. Since Grigorenko has played and achieved so little, a contract longer than two years would be out of the question. Other than Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit, Buffalo’s pending free agents are nothing special, which makes re-signing Grigorenko of the utmost importance. The Sabres’ first round round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Grigorenko has good size and an amazing amount of untapped skill, making him a building block moving forward, if he can adapt to the NHL game that is.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $2.75 Million
Come 2015-16, the Calgary Flames find themselves in an interesting situation in the crease. Jonas Hiller, the Flames’ number one goaltender, is under contract for the coming year, while Joni Ortio’s two way contract becomes a one-way in 2015-16. So where does Ramo fit in, if at all? After taking over for Hiller in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ramo showed that he was a highly competent NHL goaltender who belongs at the NHL level. With that being said, it is highly unlikely Ramo would accept a contract which would feature considerable time at the AHL level. In the end, Ramo is a significant upgrade over Ortio who has solid NHL experience, making him a valuable asset to any team, especially the Flames.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $422K
The 2015-16 off-season will be an extremely boring one for Hurricanes Ron Francis, barring any monumental moves. On the free agent front, the top Carolina player without a contract is Andrej Nestrasil. Nestrasil, a 24 year old winger from the Czech Republic, is fresh off his first major stint in the NHL. In 41 games he scored 7 goals and registered 18 points. At 6 foot 2, 210 pounds, Nestrasil is a big, young body with decent skill. A third round draft pick of Detroit in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Nestrasil is an emerging player who could become increasingly valuable for the ‘Canes in the future.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $894K
This off-season, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in an incredibly difficult situation. With very little in cap space available heading into 2015-16, GM Stan Bowman will have to be extremely creative in order to ice a team of similar competence next season. Not only are the likes of Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Marcus Kruger and Michal Rosival in need of new contracts, but so too is budding star Brandon Saad. Fresh off of his best NHL season in which he scored 23 goals and 52 points, the Blackhawks must lock down Saad to a long term deal, however, such a decision will force familiar faces out of town via free agency.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $622K
In Colorado, the list of quality free agents is relatively short this off-season. Other than Jan Hejda, next year’s team will look largely the same. Despite a fair amount of money in cap space, GM Joe Sakic must be patient, as Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie will all be in need of new contracts a year from now. Sakic’s focus this off-season should be to ink goaltender Calvin Pickard to a contract extension. Pickard saw considerable playing time this past season and was stellar, recording a .932% SVP and 2.35 GAA in 16 games played in 2014-15. Although Semyon Varlamov is under contract long term, Pickard’s play has earned him a new contract, if not a full season in the NHL.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.25 Million
Similar to Colorado, the pending free agency situation in Columbus is quiet this off-season. The top free agent who could seek a new team is center Mark Letestu. In 2014-15, Letestu had an injury shortened season, playing in a mere 54 games, recording 7 goals and 13 points. Signing Letestu would be a solid depth move by the Blue Jackets this off-season, as Letestu is a solid centerman who can also contribute offensively. Other than Letestu, the Blue Jackets will need to sign a goaltender to back up Sergei Bobrovsky.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $650K
Once again, we have a team with few pending free agents. Shawn Horcoff is unrestricted, while young defenders Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka are restricted and in need of new contracts. One player in particular who the Stars should re-sign is Patrick Eaves. Despite an injury shortened 47 game season, Eaves had his best offensive season in terms of points per game, scoring 14 goals and 27 points. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Eaves is a strong depth forward who should fit nicely into the Stars’ top-9 forwards at a relatively low cost.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $950K
In Detroit, the off-season emphasis of GM Ken Holland will be to lock up young star Gustav Nyquist to a long term contract. In his first full season, Nyquist scored 27 goals and set a career high in points with 54. Nyquist is a major piece in the Red Wings’ recent youth movement, which has seen other young stars such as Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan make their mark at the NHL level. Nyquist will receive a decent raise, of that there is no doubt, however his cap hit remains to be determined. A salary similar to Tatar, in the $2.5 to $3 Million dollar range would be a steal for the Red Wings.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1 Million ($559K w/EDM)
Yes, the Oilers have key players such as Justin Schultz and Martin Marincin in the restricted free agent boat this off-season, however the focus of new GM Peter Chiarelli should be to offer veteran center Derek Roy a new contract. Roy and Nail Yakupov developed amazing chemistry this past season, while the veteran presence of Roy would do wonders in easing the transition of future centermen Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl into the NHL. To boot, re-signing Derek Roy would not be a costly move. A contract in the range of $1-2 Million dollars would secure Roy. One issue could be term, as while Roy is likely looking for a 2-3 year deal, while the Oilers could be willing to offer only one year considering the wealth of young centers Edmonton is poised to retain.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $894K
In Florida, the free agency situation is quiet this off-season. Other than Scottie Upshall and Jimmy Hayes, GM Dale Tallon has few players to re-sign despite having a large amount of cap space. The most important piece for Tallon to lock up is former Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who recently completed the most successful NHL season of his career. In 2014-15, Huberdeau scored 14 goals and 54 points, good for best on his team. A bridge deal could be reached with Huberdeau, however a long term contract could be the more attractive option given Huberdeau’s importance in the Panthers’ direction as a team.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $3.65 Million
One of the top free agents in 2015, Justin Williams is a key player who must be re-signed by the Los Angeles Kings. The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP, Williams is a solid depth winger who has historically produced around the half a point per game level. This past season, Williams scored 18 goals and recorded 41 points in 81 games. At the age of 33, Williams still has plenty of hockey ahead of him, especially if he can continue to play to the level he has in the past few years. In reality, a long term contract in the range of four to five years could be out of the question, however a three year deal in the $4-5 Million dollar range could soon become a reality.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $800K ($378K w/MIN)
Re-Signing Devan Dubnyk must be of the utmost importance for Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. In 2014-15, the Minnesota Wild rode the hot play of Dubnyk straight into the post-season after an extremely slow start. A Vezina Trophy nominee, choosing not to re-sign Dubnyk would be a monumental mistake for the Wild, especially so considering the lack of goaltending depth currently on the Wild roster. Could Dubnyk’s 2014-15 season be simply a flash in the pan, or can Dubnyk become a consistent, elite starting goaltender? Surely these questions will be considered before a contract is offered, however a one to two year contract would be most likely.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $925K
With Jeff Petry re-signed to a long term deal, the focus of Canadiens’ management now shifts towards Alex Galchenyuk. Fresh off of a career best NHL season in which he scored 20 goals and 46 points, Galchenyuk is dripping with raw talent and is poised to one day become the first line center ice man in Montreal. Galchenyuk’s play has steadily improved throughout his first three years in the NHL, so much so that the Canadiens could be willing to pass up a potential bridge deal and move straight into a long term contract.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $2 Million
There is a ton of work which needs to be done in Nashville this off-season as 11 players are currently without contracts. Of these 11 players, approximately seven are NHL regulars who will be seeking multiple year, one way contracts. Cody Franson, Mike Fisher, Mike Ribiero, Matt Cullen, Mike Santorelli and Colin Smith are among those who are free agents. In particular however, the Predators will need to re-sign center Craig Smith. Smith, who is 25 years old, recently hit the 20 goal mark for the second time in his career, while he recorded 44 points in 82 games.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $900K
In New Jersey, 14 players are set to become free agents. However, only a select few of these players are true impact players at the NHL level. Michael Ryder, Steve Bernier and Adam Larsson are among those, while Eric Gelinas is one young player who the Devils should focus on re-signing. At 6 foot 4, 210 pounds, Gelinas has great size and poise despite his young age. In 61 games this past season, Gelinas recorded 6 goals and 13 assists.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $900K
Following a breakout NHL season, the New York Islanders should be quick to lock up Brock Nelson to a new contract. The 23 year old centerman scored 20 goals for the first time, while he recorded 42 points, a new career high in 2014-15. The Islanders’ first round pick, 30th overall in 2010, Nelson has great size at 6 foot 3 and is coming off a strong performance for Team USA at the World Hockey Championship. A long term deal is down the road for Nelson if he continues to develop at his current pace. In the mean time, a one to two year bridge deal could suit Nelson and the Islanders just fine.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $3.075 Million
The New York Rangers have a couple of major pieces set to become free agents this off-season. Marty St. Louis, Carl Hagelin and J.T Miller are in need of new contracts, however Derek Stepan should be the Rangers’ point of interest. Stepan had yet another strong playoffs for the Rangers, while he recorded a solid 55 points in 2014-15, including 16 goals. Coming off of a two year bridge deal, it could be time for the Rangers to lock up Stepan to a long term contract. Such a contract, likely four to five years in length, could see Stepan earn $4-5 Million dollars per season.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $603K
The Ottawa Senators don’t have a ton of work ahead of them in terms of free agents, however one player who must be inked to a new deal is breakout star Mark Stone. The Senators made an amazing run to the playoffs in 2014-15, largely due to the play of Stone and Andrew Hammond. In his first full NHL season, Stone scored 26 goals and 64 points and was named a nominee for the Calder Trophy. A big bodied winger, Stone is an amazing building block for the Senators moving forward and is poised to become a star in the NHL.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.3 Million
The Philadelphia Flyers took a chance on Michael Del Zotto in 2014-15, and it was a decision which paid of for both parties. Signed by the Flyers to a one year contract, Del Zotto enjoyed a bounce back season, scoring 10 goals and 32 points in only 64 games. The Flyers are thin on defence, so re-signing Del Zotto would be a smart decision by Flyers GM Ron Hextall, who has under $5 Million dollars in cap space to work with this off-season.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $5 Million
Similar to the Flyers, the Penguins are also thin on defence heading into the 2015-16 NHL season. With Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy and Olli Maatta the only Penguins defenders under contract, re-signing Paul Martin should be the focus of Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. Coming off of a five year, $25 Million dollar contract, Martin could demand a contract of similar term and salary considering the Penguins’ current situation on defence. At the age of 34, Martin is a strong veteran defender who posted a plus 17 rating in 2014-15 alongside three goals and 20 points.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $900K
Could any pending free agent on the St. Louis Blues be more important than Vladamir Tarasenko? At only 23 years old, Tarasenko scored 37 goals this past season and was one of the NHL’s most electrifying and entertaining players. GM Doug Armstrong should be quick to sign Tarasenko to long term deal, as he is undeniably one of the league’s premier young players.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $550K
Like many teams this off-season, the San Jose Sharks have little work to do in terms of their free agents. Antti Niemi is an unrestricted free agent, while defenders Matt Irwin and Brenden Dillon are both restricted and in need of new contracts. One player GM Doug Wilson should offer a new contract is winger Melker Karlsson. Karlsson spent time on the Sharks’ first line this past season, while he potted 13 goals and 24 points over the first 53 games of his career. A 24 year old, Karlsson is a solid winger who could see increased playing time under the Sharks’ current re-tooling period.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $874K
Are the Tampa Bay Lighting poised to become the NHL’s next great dynasty? With a wealth of young, star players under contract for the next couple of seasons, the Lightning could become one of the NHL’s most dominant teams. Because of terrific work by GM Steve Yzerman, the Bolts have few players they must re-sign this off-season, one of them being Andrej Sustr. Sustr has been an intimidating presence on the Tampa Bay blue line, standing in at 6 foot 8, 225 pounds. Sustr isn’t known for his offense, however defensively he has been sound. A top-six defender, re-signing Sustr will add to the Lightning’s depth at defence.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.1 Million
Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to re-sign Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri, but one player who the Leafs should re-sign is David Booth. After a slow start, Booth ended the season on an impressive offensive run, while he scored seven goals and 13 points in 59 games while battling injury. One characteristic of Booth’s game is his determination and willingness to play all 60 minutes, a trait which many current Leafs would do well to grasp. Re-signing Booth wouldn’t be a move to add an elite scorer, instead it would ensure the presence of a veteran leader who could teach younger Leafs how to play the game with integrity and passion.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $1.75 Million
Of the Canucks’ 16 pending free agents, 27 year old Shawn Matthias is Vancouver’s most lucrative player set to head to the open market. After seven seasons in the Florida Panthers’ organization, Matthias enjoyed a resurgence in his play following his arrival in Vancouver. In 2014-15, Matthias scored a career high 18 goals and 27 points. Surely Matthias will be looking for a raise as a result, however the Canucks are tight on cash, meaning Matthias could have to take a lower salary to remain with the Canucks who desperately need secondary scoring in their lineup.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $3 Million
The Washington Capitals are in an unfortunate situation, as they have a large number of their regular roster players in need of new contracts. Braden Holtby deserves a substantial raise, while Marcus Johansson and Evgeni Kuznetsov also need new deals. One player who has been extremely important to the success of the Capitals is Joel Ward, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1st. Ward had yet another great playoffs in 2015, while he also scored 19 goals and 34 points in the regular season. At 34, Ward has hockey ahead of him, however, a four year contract similar to the one he signed previous could now be out of the question.
2014-15 Cap Hit: $4 Million ($645K w/WINN)
In Winnipeg, the Jets have a ton of cap space to work with. With that money, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to re-sign a number of depth forwards, such as Michael Frolik, Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak and Anthony Peluso. The most important however is likely Drew Stafford, who was tremendous following his arrival from Buffalo. In 26 games with the Jets, Stafford scored nine goals and 19 points and was a force during the Jets’ drive to the playoffs. At the age of 29, Stafford could demand a contract of similar term to his previous four year contract, however it would be difficult to see Stafford earning $4 Million dollars or more in his next contract.