Big contract years: NHL’s top 30 UFAs-to-be

Henrik sandwich: NHL stars Henrik Sedin, Phil Kessel and Henrik Lundqvist are all entering their contract year, but we'd be surprised to see either Henrik test the open market (AP)
September 18, 2013, 7:22 AM

We realize there is still some talent left unsigned from the 2013 class of unrestricted free agents – we see you trying out, Tim Thomas and Damien Brunner – but with such a heavy group of NHL players entering significant contract years in 2013-14, we can’t help but take an early peek at the potential free agent class of 2014.

After spending some quality time with our crystal ball, we rank the 30 most interesting pending UFAs for July 1, 2014.


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The list is a deep and decorated one, peppered with Hart and Vezina winners, team captains, and a handful of guys who led their teams in scoring in 2013. More enticing: the NHL salary cap is expected to go up next summer, so expect some hefty contracts for these guys.

Note that this rundown doesn’t even include future Hall of Fame candidates like Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson, Ray Whitney and Martin Brodeur – four 40-and-loving-it legends who we believe will hang ’em up after this season. But who knows for sure?


30. Lee Stempniak

Age on July 1: 32
Team: Calgary Flames
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $2.5 million
Bargaining chip: Stempniak was a plus-2 player on a minus-32 team last season.

Career curve: Late upswing. The forward is coming off his most productive season ever (32 points in 47 games), and should see plenty of ice time on a weak Flames roster.

Best guess: Flames have cap space to spare. They decide to extend him, knowing proven NHLers are few and far between on their roster.

29. David Legwand

Age on July 1: 33
Team: Nashville Predators
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Bargaining chip: The highest-scoring forward on the Predators (for what that’s worth) and has stuck with the club since draft day 1998.

Career curve: Steady. The 33-year-old is a solid player who will never be a point-per-game guy but will always contribute and is responsible in all areas of the rink.

Best guess: Re-ups with a multi-year deal midseason.

28. Brian Gionta

Age on July 1: 35
Team: Montreal Canadiens
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: Has served as the team’s captain since September 2010.

Career curve: Set back. Gionta may not be ready to go on Opening Night because he’s still rehabbing from surgery on his left biceps tendon.

Best guess: Tricky one. Bad time for the normally healthy Gionta to get hurt. GM Marc Bergevin could be hesitant to give something long-term. Gionta will test the market.

27. Olli Jokinen

Age on July 1: 35
Team: Winnipeg Jets
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Bargaining chip: Seven NHL season with 20 goals minimum.

Career curve: Sliding hard. Jokinen’s last 30-goal season was five years and five teams ago.

Best guess: One of Winnipeg’s oldest players re-signs with the Jets (centres are hard to find) but slips into one-year contract territory.

26. Ales Hemsky

Age on July 1: 30
Team: Edmonton Oilers
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: A two-time 20-goal scorer… five years ago.

Career curve: Slight downward trend. A round-one pick on a team full of ’em, Hemsky has underachieved to the point where the Oilers dangled him as trade bait almost annually. Important season for this guy.

Best guess: Despite GM Craig MacTavish’s public endorsement (for this year) of Hemsky, he’ll consider a trade. Hemsky goes to free agency in July and takes a pay cut from another team.

25. Mike Cammalleri

Age on July 1: 32
Team: Calgary Flames
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $6 million
Bargaining chip: The Flames’ most prolific scorer in 2013 had 32 points in 44 games.

Career curve: Shaky. Cammalleri is a great team guy and a hard worker, but the veteran has played just three seasons in which he skated in more than 67 games.

Best guess: Brian Burke Jay Feaster trades him to a contender for picks or prospects before the March deadline. Both sides are happy.

24. Mikhail Grabovski

Age on July 1: 30
Team: Washington Capitals
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $3 million
Bargaining chip: Thrice a 20-goal scorer, the speedy Grabo nearly had 30 in 2010-11.

Career curve: Expected to bounce back after a big dip in 2013.

Best guess: With his American papers in order, Grabovski flourishes in D.C.’s high-octane offence and re-signs midseason for two more years.

23. Brian Elliott

Age on July 1: 29
Team: St. Louis Blues
Position: Goaltender
2013-14 cap hit: $1.8 million
Bargaining chip: Won a William Jennings Trophy in 2012. Played remarkable in the playoffs last season (1.90 GAA, .919 save percentage)

Career curve: Resurgent. Granted, he’s playing for arguably the league’s best defensive coach and in front of its best defence, but Elliott has flourished in a co-starring role in St. Louis and deserves a raise.

Best guess: First half of season determines which No. 1 goaltender the Blues keep for the future. Incumbent Jake Allen will move into No. 2 role next year (if not sooner), as St. Louis is forced to let either Elliott or Jaroslav Halak go to free agency. We say they pay Elliott.

22. Jaroslav Halak

Age on July 1: 29
Team: St. Louis Blues
Position: Goaltender
2013-14 cap hit: $3.75 million
Bargaining chip: Has a William Jennings Trophy and a sparkling 115-72-22record.

Career curve: Slight dip. After a brilliant 2011-12, Halak took a step back last year with a groin injury and inconsistent play. Rumblings that he and coach Ken Hitchcock did not see eye-to-eye in terms of playing time.

Best guess: Unless he plays out of his mind, the Blues dangle Halak as trade bait and try to exchange the goalie for some scoring power. Goes to the highest bidder this summer.

21. Jonas Hiller

Age on July 1: 32
Team: Anaheim Ducks
Position: Goaltender
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Bargaining chip: Played in the 2011 All-Star Game.

Career curve: Steady, strong. Hiller posted a 15-6-4 record for the Ducks in the shortened season.

Best guess: Hiller’s splendid backup, Viktor Fasth, played so well last season that it complicates things. Would be in Hiller’s best financial interest to test the market – the consolation prize for teams bidding on Ryan Miller, perhaps — or risk being a No. 2 sooner than later.

20. Dany Heatley

Age on July 1: 33
Team: Minnesota Wild
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $7.5 million
Bargaining chip: Two-time 50-goal scorers don’t grow on trees.

Career curve: Slowly declining over last four years. Underwent shoulder surgery in April.

Best guess: With the pressure on and money in the balance, Heatley has his best season in years. Takes a significant pay cut but remains with Minnesota, a team in need of depth scoring.

19. Milan Michalek

Age on July 1: 29
Team: Ottawa Senators
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $4.33 million
Bargaining chip: Scored 35 goals in last healthy season (2011-12).

Career curve: On upswing until a knee injury kept him out for half of the half-season in 2013. Says he’s now 100 per cent healthy and ready to go.

Best guess: Re-signs in Ottawa during season as the team continues to be an exciting one on the rise.

18. Jarome Iginla

Age on July 1: 37
Team: Boston Bruins
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $6 million
Bargaining chip: Active streak of 11 consecutive 30-plus-goal seasons when the NHL gives us a schedule longer than 48 games

Career curve: Slowing down but can still contribute

Best guess: On his 37th birthday, Iginla becomes a free agent for the second time in two years. Only re-signs with Boston if the club makes it as far as the semis.

17. Andrei Markov

Age on July 1: 35
Team: Montreal Canadiens
Position: Defence
2013-14 cap hit: $5.75 million
Bargaining chip: Hey, guys, I’m healthy again.

Career curve: Coming back strong. After injuries robbed the Habs of some of Markov’s best years, he returned last season and was a power-play beast.

Best guess: Canadiens lock up Markov for three more years, but not until after he threatens to re-join the KHL.

16. Dan Girardi

Age on July 1: 30
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Defence
2013-14 cap hit: $3.325 million
Bargaining chip: Logged more ice time than any other Ranger in 2013.

Career curve: Steadily improving.

Best guess: Coach Vigneault loves Girardi’s work ethic and effort as much as Tortorella did. Rangers know they have a good thing and re-sign the Ontario native to a multi-year deal before the deadline.

15. Jason Pominville

Age on July 1: 31
Team: Minnesota Wild
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $4.5 million
Bargaining chip: Leadership. Pominville served as captain of the Sabres before being traded last season.

Career curve: Quietly consistent. An all-star just once but a 20-goal guy six times over.

Best guess: Wild re-sign Pominville soon. He played well in his short time with the team last season, and they need another winger to complement their investment in Zach Parise.

14. Dan Boyle

Age on July 1: 37
Team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Defence
2013-14 cap hit: $6.67 million
Bargaining chip: A smart Stanley Cup champion who is a rock on the Sharks’ point.

Career curve: Steady as she goes. Yes, Boyle is getting older, but he’s still one of the most dependable defencemen in the league.

Best guess: Boyle re-ups with San Jose for one year. If the Sharks drop out of the playoff picture, however, Boyle becomes a rental.

13. Paul Stastny

Age on July 1: 28
Team: Colorado Avalanche
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $6.6 million
Bargaining chip: He’s an under-30 centreman with five 20-goal seasons to his name.

Career curve: Underwhelming dip. After three 70-plus-point campaigns in his first four years, Stastny has come back down to Earth. He’s more of a 50-point guy now, although we expect that to change in his contract year.

Best guess: This one gets interesting. Stastny is making significantly more than younger, more exciting teammates like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, but it’s hard to fathom him wanting to take a pay cut. The Avs have room to sign him, but Stastny will go get more money on an open market looking for pivots.

12. Ryan Callahan

Age on July 1: 29
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $4.275 million
Bargaining chip: After two years of whiffing on the playoffs, the Rangers named Callahan captain. They’ve won three playoff series since.

Career curve: Slowly rising. Thrice a 20-goal scorer, there’s no reason to think Captain Cally can’t crack 30 if he plays a full season under Coach Vigneault’s let-’em-create system.

Best guess: Once they come to terms with Lundqvist, Callahan becomes the main priority for the Rangers brass. They can’t let a heart-and-soul guy like this walk. Expect a nice pay bump.

11. Matt Moulson

Age on July 1: 30
Team: New York Islanders
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $3.13 million
Bargaining chip: Should surpass 30 goals for the fourth time this season. Great chemistry with captain John Tavares.

Career curve: Steadily improving with age. A prolific scorer to be sure, Moulson has quietly improved his passing and all-around game since joining the Islanders. Bonus: he stays out of the penalty box.

Best guess: Moulson could get rich on the open market, but the Isles cannot afford to let him walk. Re-signs, maintains bromance with Tavares.

10. Dion Phaneuf

Age on July 1: 29
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Position: Defence
2013-14 cap hit: $6.5 million
Bargaining chip: Team captain logs more minutes than any other Maple Leaf. If the immediate goal in Toronto is to win championships, with whom do you replace Phaneuf on the blue line?

Career curve: Steady. As a rookie, Phaneuf came in blazing for the Flames, scoring a career-best 20 goals. At this point, you know what you’re getting: a workhorse with a booming shot, but also a guy who can get caught out of position defensively and will commit a penalty at least once every two games.

Best guess: Leafs try to shop Phaneuf if they fall out of playoff picture – the Phaneuf-to-Flames quips started the second Brian Burke was hired in Alberta — but Phaneuf ends up getting more than most believe he’s worth from Toronto on an open market bereft of under-30 D-men.

9. Ryan Miller

Age on July 1: 33
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Position: Golatender
2013-14 cap hit: $6.25 million
Bargaining chip: Won both the NHL’s Vezina and MVP honours at the Olympic hockey tournament in 2010.

Career curve: Must rebound from a bad year. Miller saw his first sub-.500 season in 2013, going 17-17-4 as his GAA ballooned to a career-worst 2.81.

Best guess: Frustrated with the lack of direction in Buffalo, Miller is traded during the season for youth; Sabres excited to name improving Jhonas Enroth their new No. 1.

8. Patrick Marleau

Age on July 1: 32
Team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $6.9 million
Bargaining chip: Far and away the franchise’s all-time leader in points (861) and goals (404).

Career curve: Slowly starting to decline. The old guard may be gradually passing the torch in San Jose, but Marleau is still capable of 30 goals and 70 points and has 140 games of playoff experience.

Best guess: Marleau re-signs with the only franchise he’s ever known and continues to contribute.

7. Thomas Vanek

Age on July 1: 30
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $7.14 million
Bargaining chip: Won the NHL’s Plus/Minus Award in 2007. Led all Sabres in scoring in 2012-13.

Career curve: Back on the upswing. In the shortened season, Vanek scored 20 goals in just 38 games, putting him back on the 40-plus pace he hadn’t been playing at since 2008-09.

Best guess: The Sabres are forced to commit to a rebuild and trade Vanek midseason to a contending team looking for scoring. Makes great money in offseason.

6. Marian Gaborik

Age on July 1: 32
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $7.5 million
Bargaining chip: Capable of scoring more than 40 goals, as he’s done three timesbut never consecutively.

Career curve: Snakelike. A supreme talent, Gaborik’s reliability – as any poolie who’s drafted him knows too well – is very much dependent on his temperament and his health. He still has years left, and pure scorers are hard to find.

Best guess: Gaborik quietly thrives in Columbus and is happy to extend his stay with a multi-year deal.

5. Joe Thornton

Age on July 1: 34
Team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $7 million
Bargaining chip: Gold medal and Hart Trophy winner. Only player other than Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky to post back-to-back 90-assist seasons.

Career curve: Gradual decline since his prime five years ago, but even while the Sharks appear to be Logan Couture’s team in the future, the ’13 playoffs proved Big Joe has plenty left in the tank.

Best guess: As long as San Jose is a contender, Thornton re-signs on a deal that should last the rest of his career; if the Sharks falter hard, what a tempting playoff rental…

3b. Daniel Sedin

Age on July 1: 33
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Position: Left wing
2013-14 cap hit: $6.1 million
Bargaining chip: Hasn’t scored fewer than 29 goals in a full season since 2005-06.

Career curve: Production-wise, the Canucks peaked when Daniel did – in 2011, when he racked up 104 points in the regular season, another 20 in the playoffs and helped draw Vancouver within one victory of the Cup.

Best guess: Daniel goes where Henrik goes, and vice versa.

3a. Henrik Sedin

Age on July 1: 33
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Position: Centre
2013-14 cap hit: $6.1 million
Bargaining chip: Won the Hart Trophy in 2010. Holds Canucks’ all-time records for assists (610 entering 2013-14) and points (792). Half-decent passer.

Career curve: Slight dip. Though he’s gradually tailing off from his 112-point dominance in 2009-10, when he surpassed Pavel Bure and scored the most points of any Vancouver player in a single season, Henrik remains an ironman capable of scoring a point per game.

Best guess: The twins seek long-term security in Vancouver, but the Canucks hesitate to commit for too many years. The sides settle somewhere around five years but only after the team and the players test out the John Tortorella relationship for a couple months.

2. Phil Kessel

Age on July 1: 26
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Position: Right wing
2013-14 cap hit: $5.4 million
Bargaining chip: Since becoming a Maple Leaf, he has led the team in goals and points every year. He was the team’s most dangerous weapon against his old club, Boston, in the 2013 playoffs.

Career curve: Trending upwards. Not only has Kessel asserted himself as a 30-goals-or-more guy, his overall playmaking has improved and his assists-per-game rate has gone up in five seasons in a row.

Best guess: The Leafs recognize Kessel’s performance with a hefty raise in July; Kessel recognizes the Leafs’ efforts to retain their star (i.e., re-signing buddy Tyler Bozak to a five-year pact this summer) and returns on a seven-year deal, agreed to in June.

1.Henrik Lundqvist

Age on July 1: 32
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Goaltender
2013-14 cap hit: $6.875 million
Bargaining chip: The Rangers’ all-time leader in shutouts (53 if you combine regular and postseason) has been named team MVP for seven straight years and counting.

Career curve: While his Vezina-nominated 2012-13 wasn’t quite as sparkling as his Vezina-winning 2011-12, don’t believe for a second Lundqvist has lost a step. With all due respect to Jonathan Quick, King Henrik is the best goalie in the world right now.

Best guess: The Swede hits it off with new coach Alain Vigneault and re-signs long-term before Christmas, sticking with the only NHL club he’s ever known. More time in New York means more time to jam with buddy John McEnroe.

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