Every summer hockey fans have a few big events that they look forward to in order to carry themselves through to the start of the season. The NHL Entry Draft is a big one for obvious reasons. The superstars of tomorrow are selected and teams who draft smartly start the process of turning themselves into contenders.
The other big event is none other than the beginning of the NHL’s free agency period on July 1st. The hockey world glues its eyes on televisions and social media to find out where the biggest stars have decided to move. After a particularly weak class of 2015, the summer of 2016 plans to absolutely blow it out of the water.
That’s not to say that some of the players on this list won’t sign contracts before the summer. As of the writing of this article, they haven’t which makes them all fair game.
The star power among the free agent forwards is absolutely astounding. Leading the charge are Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The former is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and one of the best two-way players in the league today.
The latter is a constant scoring threat who is not shy to backcheck and make his presence felt in every zone on the ice. Also on the list is the grinding David Backes, who captains the St. Louis Blues. He’s an American Olympian who produces points and plays with a physical edge.
Milan Lucic is another big name on the list. After seeing his production drop the last couple of seasons with the Bruins, he was acquired by the Kings in a massive deal. He’s pegged to have a massive year and playing with Marian Gaborik and the aforementioned Kopitar doesn’t hurt his chances.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd should also garner some significant interest. He plays a tough game and adds some solid scoring as evidenced by his 24 goals and 62 points in 81 games this past year.
There are also a host of lesser but still solid players on the list included Kyle Okposo, Tomas Plekanec and the ageless wonder that is Jaromir Jagr.
Not to be outdone by the strong forward candidates, the potential free agent defensemen are also chalked full of superstar talent. Mark Giordano, captain of the Calgary Flames leads the pack. Before staining an injury this past season, he was on pace to post Norris trophy winning numbers.
Continuing the trend of point producing defenseman, Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets is truly a monster whenever he steps on the ice. Not only is he a scoring threat from the point, but if you attempt to win a 50/50 puck against him, you better look out.
Brent Seabrook has been an integral part of the Chicago Blackhaws defense corps for a number of years. He’s also been a part of all three recent Stanley Cup victories and he won a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with the Canadian squad.
Other players of note include Erik Johnson, who came into his own this year with the Avalanche, the serviceable and steady Brian Campbell and Alex Goligoski of the Dallas Stars. Keith Yandle, who just went to the Eastern Conference Finals with the New York Rangers, is also a decent option for a team looking to upgrade their backend offense.
If we’re thinking realistically, many of these players will be re-signed by their current team before they hit the free agent market. But for those teams who are in cap crunches or are looking for a change, it may be time to deal certain players. Keep your eyes on social media, because the 2016 free agency period has the potential to be explosive.