Who Has the Most at Stake in Final Playoff Games?

Big changes are coming to Chicago as the Blackhawks are tight against the expected salary cap next season, with Bradon Saad, Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger, and David Rundblad all becoming RFAs this July. On top of that, Chicago has seven players on its roster set to become UFAs. You can expect noise on the trade market over the offseason and a different looking Blackhawks squad for the 2015-16 campaign.

The Tampa Bay Lightning won’t need quite the same kind of overhaul, as they only have three players – Vladislav Namestnikov, Mark Barberio, and Andrej Sustr – becoming RFAs, and one player – Brenden Morrow (who’s probably near the end of his career) – set to become a UFA. Here are the players whose contracts can be influenced the most by the remaining two, three, or four games in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Andrej Sustr

The Tampa Bay blueliner probably won’t be scoring a ton during his NHL career. The 24-year-old’s value lies in playing a clean defensive game and using his 6-foot-7 frame to limit the opposition’s room.

The Czech native is a plus-6 through 23 playoff contests, but has seen his ice time reduced recently. Sustr averaged 17:42 of ice time during the regular season, and has an overall playoff average of 15:42. Over the last five games Sustr has failed to hit even the 15-minute mark and has only eclipsed the 11-minute threshold twice. A pending RFA, Sustr can up his worth a little by turning in strong performances over the remaining games and earning more trust from head coach Jon Cooper.

Antoine Vermette

Vermette’s allure has taken a bit of a downturn following his trade to Chicago from the Arizona Coyotes this season. It took the veteran centre 21 games to score a goal with the Hawks and he spent time in the press box as a healthy scratch during the first and third round.

He’s 32 years old and still will make money as a solid two-way player, but a big performance over the final games could give the St-Agapit, Que. native more bargaining power come July 1.

Brandon Saad

Saad has been a solid contributor on the wing for the Blackhawks this postseason, with seven goals and nine points in 20 games. He’s shown he’s already developing into a major offensive threat at the age of 22, especially with this shorthanded goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.

A couple more big moments in the final games would make it that much harder for the Blackhawks not to give the soon-to-be RFA the money he deserves.

Brad Richards

Richards isn’t quite the center he was with the Lightning when they won the Cup in 2004, but he’s been productive with three goals and 12 points over 20 postseason games for Chicago. The 35-year-old P.E.I. native scored a big power play goal in Game 3 of the Final to tie it 1-1. He may be able to land himself a short-term deal worth a few million on a team looking for a number two centre and someone that can play the point on the man advantage.

Johnny Oduya

Oduya has been one of the four “D” Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville has playing regular minutes during this postseason. He had an injury scare after a collision with Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov in Game 3 of the Final, but returned later in the game. (For more on Game 3, check out Dan Rice’s three stars.)

If Chicago wants to re-sign Oduya, who is one of their pending UFAs, they’ll have to free up some serious cap space by shipping out someone like Brent Seabrook or Patrick Sharp. A second Cup ring for Oduya would cement his value immensely on the free-agent market this summer.