Players nearing the end of their contracts come across the tough decision to stay or go; it’s even tougher for the organization. From trying to imagine the future of the team with/without the player to juggling the other contracts against the salary cap, the NHL is a tough business. One of the toughest jobs of the general manager is trying to reach an agreement that both they and the incoming free agent can shake hands too. Is it about chasing a Cup, longevity with the team, money? As we approach the offseason in a couple of weeks, we take a look at a few big-name free agents (Restricted and Unrestricted) that will decide to stay or go.
- Joe Thornton (C, San Jose Sharks: UFA)
Acquired in a trade from the Boston Bruins in the ’05-’06 season, Joe Thornton has become one of the staple players in the San Jose Sharks since his arrival. Since the start of the ’06-’07 season, Thornton has donned the “A” letter on his sweater, representing as an alternate captain for the team. Last year, while earning $8 million, “Jumbo Joe” played only 47 games due to recovering from an injured MCL in January. In those 47 games, he generated 13 goals, 23 assists, and 36 points. Recently, Thornton has stated he would like to remain with the Sharks, claiming “he bleeds teal”. At 38 years of age, we will see if the two sides can reach an agreement.
Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group
- Rick Nash (LW, Boston Bruins: UFA)
Admitting to a rebuild, the New York Rangers decided to give some of their big-named players a chance to play in the postseason. One of the names to get traded was longtime left-winger Rick Nash, who was sent to the Boston Bruins in exchange for three players and two future draft picks. Starting his career in the ’02-’03 season, Nash at 33 years finished last year playing 71 games while garnering 21 goals, 13 assists, and 34 points. In this past playoff appearance with Boston, Rick Nash played 12 games, had three goals, two assists, and five points. Last season, Nash was making $7.8 million. In a team already loaded with talent in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara, will the Bruins want to keep Nash, or help develop the young talent on the roster, including David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Ryan Donato?
- John Tavares (C, New York Islanders: UFA)
One of the looming stories it seemed like all of this season, especially in the New York City area, was what the future of Islanders captain John Tavares was going to be. Starting his NHL career in ’09 with the New York Islanders and being rewarded the “C” on his sweater in 2013, Tavares has been the face of the franchise and said he would love to continue his career in the Big Apple. Last season, he put up one of the best seasons he’s ever had in his playing career: 82 games played, 37 goals, 47 assists, and 84 points. Ending last year making $5.5 million and only 27 years of age, will the Islanders pull out the cheque book to keep Tavares an Islander for life? Many teams are rumoured to be very interested in signing the star center in free agency. The Islanders are hoping to sign their captain long-term but will have to fend off interest from around the league.
PHOTO CREDIT: BRAD PENNER-USA TODAY SPORTS
- James Neal (LW, Vegas Golden Knights: UFA)
From becoming a fan favourite in Nashville to being one of the star-studded players on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights team, James Neal is faced with an issue as the offseason nears: will he want to stay with Vegas or perhaps move on to a team that would pay him more money? In the ’15-’16 season with the Nashville Predators, he scored 31 goals, had 58 points, and set a new Predators franchise single-season record for plus/minus with +27. In all three seasons with Nashville, they made the playoffs while falling just short in last year’s playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Last season with Nashville, Neal played 70 games with 23 goals, 18 assists, and 41 points. This past regular season with Vegas, he played 71 games with 25 points, 19 assists, and 44 points. At 30 years old, the left-winger is making $5 million this year. If I were Vegas, I would keep James Neal for not only the playoff experience and leadership he brings, but also for the consistency he has displayed in the last handful of seasons.
- Tomas Hertl (C, San Jose Sharks: RFA)
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2012, Hertl has been one of the more electrifying young players in the National Hockey League. On October 5, 2013, the young center scored two goals in a game, becoming the youngest player in the Sharks franchise since Patrick Marleau in 1999 to achieve the feat. Three days later, Hertl (19 years, 330 days old) became the youngest player in the NHL to record a four-goal game since Jimmy Carson (19 years, 254 days old) in the ’87-’88 season with the Los Angeles Kings. After his entry-level contract expired in 2016, he signed a two-year, $6 million contract to stay with the Sharks. Now that his contract is up, will San Jose stay with the young gun? In this past postseason, he generated six goals, three assists, and nine points while playing in 10 playoff games. For Doug Wilson, GM for the San Jose Sharks, the decision should be easy. I would keep Tomas Hertl for a couple years.
- Connor Hellebuyck (G, Winnipeg Jets: RFA)
Signing his entry-level contract with the Winnipeg Jets in 2014, goalie Hellebuyck had been coming fresh off of a Mike Richter Award in college hockey, awarded to the top goaltender in college hockey. At UMass Lowell, he left as the school’s shutout leader with 12 in 54 games. He was chosen to play at the Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships in 2015, backstopping Team USA to a bronze medal. Meanwhile in Winnipeg this past year, the Winnipeg goalie finished the regular season with a 44-11-9 record in 67 games. That had set the record for the most single-season wins by an American goaltender in the NHL, surpassing Tom Barrasso of the Penguins back in 1992. Earning a nomination for the Vezina Trophy (league’s top goaltender), and only 25 years old, there should be no doubt that Winnipeg keeps this guy for a long time.
PHOTO CREDIT: BRAD PENNER-USA TODAY SPORTS
- William Karlsson (C, Vegas Golden Knights: RFA)
For those that have been watching and following hockey all season, this man needs no introduction. For how Karlsson has improved from last season to this season is the textbook definition of what you call a “turnaround season”. In his last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets before being selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, he played 81 games and posted only six goals, 19 assists, and 25 points. This year, William Karlsson had turned things around with his 43 goals, 35 assists, and 78 points. For the first time in his career, he was named one of the finalists for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, the league’s top goal scorer, placing third behind Patrik Laine and Alexander Ovechkin. After the regular season, he was also named a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, displaying sportsmanship and his high standard of play. Regardless of what happens in the Stanley Cup Final between Vegas and the Washington Capitals, this 25-year-old deserves to get paid the big bucks.
- Other Notable Free Agents:
- James Van Riemsdyk (LW, Toronto Maple Leafs, UFA)
- Tyler Bozak (C, Toronto Maple Leafs, UFA)
- John Carlson (D, Washington Capitals, UFA)
- Jonathan Bernier (G, Colorado Avalanche, UFA)
- Chris Kunitz (LW, Tampa Bay Lightning, UFA)
- Scott Hartnell (LW, Nashville Predators, UFA)
- Calvin De Haan (D, New York Islanders, UFA)
- Riley Nash (C, Boston Bruins, UFA)
- Phillip Grubauer (G, Washington Capitals, RFA)
- Dylan Larkin (C, Detroit Red Wings, RFA)
- Anthony Duclair (LW, Chicago Blackhawks, RFA)
Featured Image: By ASSOCIATED PRESS October 14, 2017