Top 25 Free Agents & Predictions

With more than usual on the agenda, the 2017 NHL offseason was set to be a spectacle. The Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft and 2017 NHL Draft have already provided hockey fans with robust fireworks displays similar to Independence Day evenings. Now, it’s time for the grand finale.

As of June 25, we are now in the six-day window when NHL teams and free agents are allowed to negotiate deals ahead of the official July 1 signing day. This year’s class is not particularly strong or deep, but, with some teams licking their wounds after the expansion draft and seeing others come away as victors following the NHL Entry Draft, we’ll certainly see a flurry of new contracts handed out during the first day of July.

Based on apparent team needs and salary cap projections from Cap Friendly, here are the projected destinations for the top 25 free agents from this summer’s class.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk | D

Prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning

2016-17 Team: Washington Capitals/St. Louis Blues

2016-17 Stats: 80 GP – 13 G – 43 A – 56 PTS

Tampa Bay pursued Kevin Shattenkirk during the regular season but opted not to trade for a rental defenseman. GM Steve Yzerman has already stated that he’d like to add another defenseman and will find a way to fit Shattenkirk plus RFAs Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Andrej Sustr under the salary cap.

Washington Capitlas defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Steve Yzerman will get Kevin Shattenkirk after all. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Alexander Radulov | RW

Prediction: Montreal Canadiens

2016-17 Team: Montreal Canadiens

2016-17 Stats: 76 GP – 18 G – 36 A – 54 PTS

After enjoying his first season back in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, Alex Radulov will re-sign with the Habs after receiving offers during the free-agent negotiating window. Montreal will ultimately offer the Russian winger a five-year, $30 million contract to stay put.

3. Joe Thornton | C

Prediction: New York Rangers

2016-17 Team: San Jose Sharks

2016-17 Stats: 79 GP – 7 G – 43 A – 50 PTS

With Derek Stepan now in Arizona, the Rangers need to add another top-six center. Bringing in Joe Thornton on a one-year, $5.5 million contract will give the Rangers three great pivots—Thornton, Mika Zibanejad, and either Kevin Hayes or J.T. Miller—to match up against strong Metropolitan Division teams. Plus, they’ll have the freedom to pursue free agents in next summer’s strong class.

Joe Thornton's Beard
(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Nick Bonino | C

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres

2016-17 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

2016-17 Stats: 80 GP – 18 G – 19 A – 37 PTS

New GM Jason Botterill will sell owner Terry Pegula on Nick Bonino’s skill set and how the center combined with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to form a formidable 1-2-3 punch down the middle for the Penguins. Buffalo will have cap space available to create their own O’Reilly-Eichel-Bonino center trio.

Pittsburgh Penguins center Nick Bonino.
Nick Bonino could follow Jason Botterill to Buffalo. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Radim Vrbata | RW

Prediction: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Team: Arizona Coyotes

2016-17 Stats: 81 GP – 20 G – 35 A – 55 PTS

It would not be surprising to see Radim Vrbata back in Arizona after a strong season, but the team has too many top prospects ready for NHL action to warrant re-signing the winger. Instead, the 36-year-old will take a one-year deal to play for another former team: the Carolina Hurricanes.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

6. Karl Alzner | D

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres

2016-17 Team: Washington Capitals

2016-17 Stats: 82 GP – 3 G – 10 A – 13 PTS

Needing a capable defenseman to play top minutes alongside Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres will sign Washington’s Karl Alzner. The blueliner’s defensive nature and left-handedness will pair well with Ristolainen, but the eventual contract term and cap hit may be concerning for Sabres fans.

7. Justin Williams | RW

Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks

2016-17 Team: Washington Capitals

2016-17 Stats: 80 GP – 24 G – 24 A – 48 PTS

After losing Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa this offseason, the Blackhawks will sign a Cup-winning veteran to help mentor the younger players on the team. That veteran will be Justin Williams, who the Blackhawks will add on a one-year contract to help contend for the Cup once more.

Washington Capitals right wing Justin Williams.
Chicago could use a playoff performer like Justin Williams after this year’s playoff exit. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

8. Martin Hanzal | C

Prediction: San Jose Sharks

2016-17 Team: Minnesota Wild/Arizona Coyotes

2016-17 Stats: 71 GP – 20 G – 19 A – 39 PTS

To replace Thornton, the Sharks will sign Martin Hanzal to a four-year contract. Hanzal’s size and defensive responsibility will round out the Sharks. Plus, maybe Hanzal can help former teammate and current Shark Mikkel Boedker break out after a disappointing first season in San Jose.

9. Sam Gagner | C

Prediction: Florida Panthers

2016-17 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 Stats: 81 GP – 18 G – 32 A – 50 PTS

With Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault now in Vegas, Florida will need to add offense from somewhere. Gagner is still relatively young and would not be overly expensive given his one year of success in Columbus. He can also play all three forward positions and contribute to the Panthers’ power play.

(Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

10. Andrei Markov | D

Prediction: Montreal Canadiens

2016-17 Team: Montreal Canadiens

2016-17 Stats: 62 GP – 6 G – 30 A – 36 PTS

GM Marc Bergevin gutted his defensive corps this offseason by moving Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, and top prospect Mikhail Sergachev in separate deals. Re-signing long-time Canadien Andrei Markov to a short-term deal will help them ease in Jakub Jerabek without requiring him to play high impact minutes right away.

11. Michael Del Zotto | D

Prediction: Washington Capitals

2016-17 Team: Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Stats: 51 GP – 6 G – 12 A – 18 PTS

After losing Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner as free agents and Nate Schmidt to the Golden Knights, the Capitals will need to address their blue line in one way or another. Signing Michael Del Zotto would give Washington a mobile, left-handed defenseman to slot in on the second pairing.

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
Michael Del Zotto could pair well with John Carlson. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

12. Brendan Smith | D

Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs

2016-17 Team: New York Rangers/Detroit Red Wings

2016-17 Stats: 51 GP – 3 G – 6 A – 9 PTS

Toronto wants to add a defenseman but knows that they cannot commit to a long-term expensive contract with Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and others needing post-entry-level contracts in the near future. Mike Babcock is familiar with Brendan Smith’s abilities from their Detroit days. Adding Smith on a reasonable three-year deal would be a great signing for the surging Leafs.

13. Patrick Marleau | LW

Prediction: San Jose Sharks

2016-17 Team: San Jose Sharks

2016-17 Stats: 82 GP – 27 G – 19 A – 46 PTS

Patrick Marleau will end up taking a team-friendly deal to remain with the only organization he’s ever known. The Sharks are still contenders, so there’s no reason for the 37-year-old to uproot his family at this point.

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

14. Evgeny Dadonov | LW

Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights

2016-17 Team: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)

2016-17 Stats: 53 G – 30 G – 36 A – 66 PTS

With former St. Petersburg SKA comrade Vadim Shipachyov already in the fold, Vegas is in prime position to sign winger Evgeny Dadonov out of the KHL. They’ll just need to shed some salary and roster players first (or later on) to make things work. Acquiring teammate Nikita Gusev from Tampa Bay during the expansion draft was a nice way for George McPhee to also incentivize Dadonov to sign with the Golden Knights.

15. Thomas Vanek | LW

Prediction: Washington Capitals

2016-17 Team: Florida Panthers/Detroit Red Wings

2016-17 Stats: 68 GP – 17 G – 31 A – 48 PTS

With Justin Williams signing elsewhere, Washington will sign Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract to push for the Stanley Cup once again. Both the Capitals’ and Vanek’s windows are closing, so the signing of a mutually beneficial deal can be had.

Florida Panthers right wing Thomas Vanek.
Thomas Vanek still has gas in the tank. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

16. Michael Stone | D

Prediction: Calgary Flames

2016-17 Team: Calgary Flames/Arizona Coyotes

2016-17 Stats: 64 GP – 3 G – 12 A – 15 PTS

Despite adding Travis Hamonic at the draft, Calgary will retain Michael Stone with a three-year contract. Hamonic and Stone will combine with Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton to form one of the deepest blue line groups in the Western Conference.

17. Brian Elliott | G

Prediction: New York Rangers

2016-17 Team: Calgary Flames

2016-17 Stats: 49 GP – 26 W – 18 L – 3 OTL – 2.55 GAA – .910 SV%

Henrik Lundqvist is not getting any younger, so it would be wise for the Rangers to fill their vacant backup goalie slot with someone who can be trusted to play 25-30 games a year, leaving Lundqvist fresh for the playoffs. Brian Elliott would be a great organizational fit for a team still contending for the Stanley Cup.

(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

18. Drew Stafford

Prediction: Ottawa Senators

2016-17 Team: Boston Bruins/Winnipeg Jets

2016-17 Stats: 58 GP – 8 G – 13 A – 21 PTS

With Viktor Stalberg, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, Tommy Wingels, and Tom Pyatt all becoming unrestricted free agents this summer, the Senators could turn to Drew Stafford to provide size up front. Stafford had a rough 2016-17 season split between Winnipeg and Boston, so Ottawa could be signing a motivated player.

19. Brian Boyle | C

Prediction: Boston Bruins

2016-17 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs/Tampa Bay Lightning

2016-17 Stats: 75 GP – 13 G – 12 A – 25 PTS

Now in the back-nine of his career, Brian Boyle will sign with his hometown Boston Bruins to replace Dominic Moore as their fourth-line center. A two-year deal with a cap hit of $2 million should be reasonable for both sides.

Brian Boyle of the Toronto Maple Leafs
After grabbing him from Tampa Bay, Brian Boyle played a major role for the Maple Leafs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

20. Steve Mason | G

Prediction: Colorado Avalanche

2016-17 Team: Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Stats: 58 GP – 26 W – 21 L – 8 OTL – 2.66 GAA – .908 SV%

The Colorado Avalanche could use another goalie with Calvin Pickard now in Vegas and top netminder prospect Spencer Martin needing more seasoning in the AHL. Signing Steve Mason to a short-term contract makes sense for the Avs. Let him compete with Semyon Varlamov and possibly trade one for assets down the road.

21. Mike Fisher | C

Prediction: Nashville Predators

2016-17 Team: Nashville Predators

2016-17 Stats: 72 GP – 18 G – 24 A – 42 PTS

It would be wise for Nashville to re-sign their captain. Generally, they are a young team and could use Mike Fisher’s leadership as they compete for a second Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Plus, Fisher still has plenty left in the tank, as evidenced by his 42-point campaign.

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

22. Dmitry Kulikov | D

Prediction: Los Angeles Kings

2016-17 Team: Buffalo Sabres

2016-17 Stats: 47 GP – 2 G – 3 A – 5 PTS

After losing Brayden McNabb to the Golden Knights and buying out Matt Greene, Los Angeles could use some defensive depth. Dmitry Kulikov could be a fit to play bottom-pair minutes and use this opportunity to revitalize his career after a brutal 2016-17 season in Buffalo.

23. Jaromir Jagr | RW

Prediction: Florida Panthers

2016-17 Team: Florida Panthers

2016-17 Stats: 82 GP – 16 G – 30 A – 46 PTS

Expect the Panthers to retain Jaromir Jagr despite his age. Jagr is a great ambassador for the game and helps to promote the NHL in Florida. Vegas will likely call for this reason, but Jagr has something good going on with the Panthers’ young forwards right now.

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr.
The ageless flow of Jaromir Jagr (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

24. Yanni Gourde | C

Prediction: Detroit Red Wings

2016-17 Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

2016-17 Stats: 20 G – 6 G – 2 A – 8 PTS

Think Jonathan Marchessault 2.0. Yanni Gourde had a nice stint with the Lightning after he was called up due to mounting injuries. He also had a great playoff run with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, who ultimately lost to the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate in the Calder Cup Finals. Detroit’s brass was on hand for the championship round games to watch their own players, but also saw Gourde performing well for the opposition.

25. Jordan Weal | LW

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Team: Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Stats: 23 GP – 4 G – 8 A – 12 PTS

Philadelphia is interested in re-signing their unrestricted free agent left wing. Jordan Weal is interested in staying in Philadelphia. The two sides will work out an agreement that will pay Weal around $1.5 million per season.