Top 30 NHL unrestricted free agents in waiting

With Bobby Ryan signed long-term and star defenceman Erik Karlsson taking over the captaincy, the Ottawa Senators head into the season without the usual questions about their shaky future.

The unrestricted free-agent class of 2015 has the potential to be monstrous but is now looking like one of the thinnest yet, and the pickings should get even slimmer.

The Chicago Blackhawks squashed any notion of their two superstars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, hitting the open market by quickly re-signing them to twin, maximum-term extensions this summer. The New Jersey Devils didn’t hesitate to commit to Cory Schneider, who would’ve commanded a bidding war if his old deal expired. And, somewhat surprisingly, the Ottawa Senators locked up star winger Bobby Ryan before puck drop.

Yet there are still talents out there embarking on crucial contract years—players who could be traded mid-season by teams that fall out of contention, guys who could play out the year in hopes of getting that Matt Niskanen dough.

We rank the 30 most interesting pending UFAs for July 1, 2015, and take a wild guess as to their fate.


30. Zbynek Michalek
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Arizona Coyotes
Position: Defenceman
2014-15 cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chip: Dependable stay-at-home defenceman who can be counted on to log more than 20 minutes per game. Gives Coyotes some stability to allow play-making D-men like Oliver Ekman-Larssen and Keith Yandle get involved in the offence. Bonus: He rarely takes penalties.
Career curve: Declining due to injury. Michalek missed 23 games last season, mostly due to a nagging hip injury he says is feeling better every day.
Best guess: Re-signs a modest, multi-year deal as Arizona worries about plunking too much money down on a player who hasn't hit the 70-game mark since 2010-11. "We haven't really started anything, but we'll see how things play out," general manager Don Maloney told azcentral.com on Sept. 25. "He's feeling good, and we'll certainly entertain [re-signing him] at some point this year. We'd like to keep him, obviously."

29. Michael Ryder
Age on July 1: 35
Team: New Jersey Devils
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3.5 million
Bargaining chip: A Stanley Cup champion (Boston Bruins, 2011), Ryder has scored 25-plus goals five times in his career.
Career curve: Gradual decline. After a career season with Dallas in 2011-12 (35 goals), the aging winger has remained healthy but score just 18 goals and 16 assists for the defensive-minded Devils last season.
Best guess: Hits the market on July 1 and signs a short-term deal elsewhere as Devils (finally) decide to get younger.

28. Scottie Upshall
Age on July 1: 31
Team: Florida Panthers
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3.5 million
Bargaining chip: Upshall is coming off his most productive season as a pro. His 37 points in 2013-14 were good for second in team scoring. (Granted, we're talking about a club where 38 points makes you the top scorer.)
Career curve: Peaking? Upshall had never played more than 61 games in a season until last year, when he stayed relatively healthy and skated in 76, and the increased ice time paid off in confidence and points.
Best guess: Upshall re-ups with Florida for a couple more seasons, knowing he is unlikely to get as much playing time on another team.

27. Viktor Fasth
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Edmonton Oilers
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $2.9 million
Bargaining chip: In 2012-13, Fasth's save percentages in Sweden (.942) and with the Anaheim Ducks (.921) proved he is capable of shutting the door.
Career curve: Potential to be a No. 1. With the crease to crowded in Anaheim, Fasth joined the Oilers late last year and should battle Ben Scrivens for No. 1 minutes.
Best guess: After starting six different goaltenders in 2013-14, Edmonton is happy to get some stability between the pipes and re-signs Fasth mid-season, sticking with the Fasth-Scrivens tandem.

26. Josh Harding
Age on July 1: 31
Team: Minnesota Wild
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $1.9 million
Bargaining chip: When he was healthy last season, Harding was assembling an early case for a Vezina year, going 18-7-3 with a 1.66 GAA and .933 save percentage.
Career curve: Erratic. Harding's battles with multiple sclerosis have limited his playing time int he past, and this season got off to a horrible start when Harding reportedly kicked a wall in frustration, broke his foot and was suspended by the Wild while he heals.
Best guess: No team's goaltending situation is cloudier than the Wild's, but unless Harding can assert himself as the clear choice over Darcy Kuemper, Nicklas Backstrom and (maybe) Ilya Bryzgalov, he'll become a worthwhile gamble as a backup next July.

25. Antoine Vermette
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Arizona Coyotes
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $3.75 million
Bargaining chip: A standout for the Coyotes' during their deep playoff run in 2012, when he threw up 10 points, Vermette is a proven 20-goal centre on team thin up front.
Career curve: Consistent. Teams know what they're getting with Vermette, who was the Coyotes' best pivot last year. He's not going to light it up, but he is a reliable secondary scorer who plays an all-around game. With Mike Ribeiro gone, Vermette should be relied on heavily.
Best guess: Vermette re-signs with a slight raise. "It's early in the dialogue to see if there's a deal for us," GM Don Maloney, who's been in touch with Vermette's agent, told azcentral.com on Sept. 22.

24. Brad Richards
Age on July 1: 35
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $2 million
Bargaining chip: A Stanley Cup ring–having, Conn Smythe Trophy–winning two-time 90-point man. And more important: Richards took a pay cut to join a cap-strapped Chicago team that won't be satisfied with anything less than a championship.
Career curve: Back on the upswing. After a dismal 2012-13 found Richards in ex-coach John Tortorella's doghouse, the Rangers de facto captain thrived under Alain Vigneualt and was integral to New York's run to the 2014 Stanley Cup final.
Best guess: Re-signs with Chicago. Richards has nearly $86 million in career earnings. He'll be happy to take less to win, as long as he gets some power-play minutes.

23. Mike Ribeiro
Age on July 1: 35
Team: Nashville Predators
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $1.05 million
Bargaining chip: Western teams especially need talent up the middle, and Ribeiro is easily a 20-goal guy when focused.
Career curve: Climbing out of his nadir. After an ugly buyout from the Coyotes, due to what GM Don Maloney described as "behavioural issues," Ribeiro has been given a second chance in Music City.
Best guess: Tough to call. We've got a wild card here. Nashville looks to be more offensive under new coach Peter Laviolette, so if winger James Neal and Ribeiro click (the two played together in Dallas), Ribeiro could be looking at a big raise from his one-year, prove-it contract.

22. Karri Ramo
Age on July 1: 29
Team: Calgary Flames
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $2.75 million
Bargaining chip: A stud in the KHL, Ramo carried the load for the Flames last season, more often than not earning the rebuilding team a point (16-15-4). Serious question: Will there be a better UFA goaltender under the age of 30?
Career curve: Set back. Ramo wasn't cutting it as a No. 1 in management's eyes, so Calgary signed UFA Jonas Hiller. Ramo is also dealing with a nagging hip injury.
Best guess: Flames let Ramo test the open market next spring in order to give their young prospects a look in net. He's too expensive for a bad team's backup.

21. Drew Stafford
Age on July 1: 29
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chip: Scored 31 goals in 62 games in 2010-11. Capable of impressing with the right linemates.
Career curve: Slow decline. That Stafford plays for the league's worst team isn't helping matters, but he could benefit from a fresh start.
Best guess: Traded to a contender as Buffalo will be a seller at the deadline.

20. Jarret Stoll
Age on July 1: 33
Team: Los Angeles Kings
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $3.25 million
Bargaining chip: Key role player on franchise's only two Stanley Cup champion squads.
Career curve: Tapering off. It's been three years since Stoll was a 20-goal player, and as a bottom-six centre whose role has grown more defensive, he's failed to reach the 10-goal mark since 2010-11.
Best guess: Enjoys California — and winning — too much to leave. Re-signs mid-season and is happy to play his role in the sunshine for another four years or so.

19. Jaromir Jagr
Age on July 1: 43
Team: New Jersey Devils
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $5.5 million
Bargaining chip: Arguably one of the greatest players to ever strap on a pair. Legendary haunches, legendary hair, legendary devotion to the game.
Career curve: Science defying. With the speed of today's game, there is no good explanation for having a 42-year-old as your team's highest scorer. Yet, welcome to New Jersey.
Best guess: Signs a series of one-year extensions with New Jersey until death or it is revealed that he's actually an alien.

18. Francois Beauchemin
Age on July 1: 35
Team: Anaheim Ducks
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.5 million
Bargaining chip: A reliable workhorse on the Ducks' back end, the veteran averaged 23:05 of ice time per game last season while posting a plus-26 plus/minus. Finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting in 2013.
Career curve: Steady. Beauchemin is a select group of surefire top-two NHL defencemen.
Best guess: Re-signs a multi-year deal with Anaheim mid-season.

17. Joel Ward
Age on July 1: 34
Team: Washington Capitals
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3 million
Bargaining chip: Hot off a career year in which he potted 24 goals and added 25 assists, Ward was also named one of Canada's top three players at the world championships.
Career curve: Late bloomer. The undrafted Ward became the eighth-oldest NHLer to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Best guess: Capitals realize they have a solid offensive threat in Ward, and coach Barry Trotz appreciates his effort. Re-signs.

16. Johnny Oduya
Age on July 1: 33
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.375 million
Bargaining chip: Though overshadowed by Norris champ Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Oduya has been an underrated piece of the juggernaut that is the Blackhawks. Chipped in with seven points during Chicago's run to the conference final last season. Plus, he won a silver medal in Sochi.
Career curve: Steadily reliable. Rarely misses a game and puts in big minutes in a shutdown role.
Best guess: This one's tricky. Oduya could easily command a raise on the open market, and something has to give in Chicago with the club so pressed against the salary cap. We figure Oduya sticks around for another playoff run but is allowed to get rich elsewhere next summer.

15. Curtis Glencross
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Calgary Flames
Position: Left wing
2014-15 cap hit: $2.55 million
Bargaining chip: Underpaid two-time 20-goal man who is a threat when healthy. Scored an impressive 24 points in just 34 games last season for the Flames.
Career curve: Steady rising. If healthy for a a full slate, there's no reason why Glencross couldn't break the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Best guess: Flames pony up and re-sign Glencross, an important part of their team. "My last contract proves that I love this organization," Glencross told the Calgary Sun on Sept. 10. "But I've seen the contracts that are going out now and the comparables, and I'm not going to sell myself short.

"When it comes down to it, I'm an unrestricted free agent come July 1st and I have a no-move clause in my contract. I'd like to get something done before the season started, but in the long run, the longer we wait, unrestricted free agency's July 1st."

14. Andrej Meszaros
Age on July 1: 29
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $4.125 million
Bargaining chip: He's going to be a minutes hog on this inexperienced basement team. Logged 29:39 in one pre-season game.
Career curve: Ready for a climb. A litany of health issues — back, shoulder, torn Achilles — set Meszaros back the last three years, but serving a prominent role on the Sabres should boost his stock.
Best guess: Sabres general manager Tim Murray, who knows Meszaros from their time with the Senators organization, re-signs his D-man before the deadline.

13. Antti Niemi
Age on July 1: 31
Team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $3.8 million
Bargaining chip: The 2010 Stanley Cup champion was nominated for the Vezina in 2013. He finished second overall last season among all NHL goalies in wins and games played.
Career curve: Consistently high. Since leaving Chicago, Niemi's save percentage has only improved. Last year his .913 dipped from 2012-13's .924, but it's hard to argue with a 39-17-7 record.
Best guess: Dangled at the deadline. With a cheaper, younger goaltender in Alex Stalock (.932 save percentage in 24 games last season), San Jose could use Niemi as trade bait or let him go July 1.

12. Marc Methot
Age on July 1: 30
Team: Ottawa Senators
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3 million
Bargaining chip: Six-foot-three, stay-at-home blueliner on a team that must improve its defence and start limiting shots. Respected veteran presence on a club brimming with youth. Invited to try out for Canada's Olympic team last summer.
Career curve: Hitting his prime. On the protypical defenceman's trajectory, Methot's game has improved with age. He posted a career-best 23 points last year while limiting his penalties to just 28 minutes.
Best guess: Senators, who opened their wallet for Bobby Ryan, make a concerted effort to lock up Methot early. Negotiations take time, but they eventually pony up for a player who would otherwise fetch $5 million per year in the summer.

11. Chris Stewart
Age on July 1: 27
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $4.125 million
Bargaining chip: Capable of catching fire, like he did for stretches in 2012-13 and 2009-10, when he scored 28 goals and 64 points for Colorado.
Career curve: Dealing with a hiccup. After a stellar showing in the lockout year (36 points in 48 games for St. Louis), Stewart proved inconsistent last season, resulting in his trade to Buffalo, where he failed to get on the score sheet in five games.
Best guess: Traded. As the rebuild continues in Buffalo, the team has committed to core forwards Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta. That makes Stewart expendable for future assets.

10. Christian Ehrhoff
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chip: A guy with a hard shot and crisp pass capable of returning to 50-point form took a Pens-friendly, one-year, show-me contract.
Career curve: Poised for a resurgence. A standout in Vancouver, Ehrhoff struggled on a sub-par Sabres squad. Now he gets to feed breakout passes to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Best guess: Penguins are impressed with Ehrhoff's ability and commitment. Re-sign him in January to a multi-year deal with a raise.

9. Justin Williams
Age on July 1: 33
Team: Los Angeles Kings
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3.65 million
Bargaining chip: Mr. Game 7 has three Stanley Cup rings, one Conn Smythe Trophy and 78 playoff points in 115 games.
Career curve: Slow decline. Williams won't be the back-to-back 30-goal scorer he was in his mid-20s, but his versatility and post-season magic suit L.A. just fine.
Best guess: Re-signs before Christmas. Why would he leave a good thing? Why would the Kings want him to? If GM Dean Lombardi sees the value in Mike Richards, surely he will in Williams.

8. Paul Martin
Age on July 1: 34
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: One of few bright spots during the Penguins' 2014 playoff exit, Martin racked up eight assists in 13 post-season games.
Career curve: Surging back from injury. Martin's absence from the Penguins' lineup for most of last season underscored his importance. He plays big minutes and contributes on the scoreboard from the back end: 38 points in his last 75 regular-season games; 19 points in his last 28 playoff games.
Best guess: In mid-September, Martin told TribLive.com he can't see talking to his team about a new contract yet. “I think we'll just play the year and see how it goes,” he said. We think he'll re-sign with the Penguins after the season is over.

7. Johnny Boychuk
Age on July 1: 31
Team: New York Islanders
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.37 million
Bargaining chip: Not many top-four blueliners in their prime will be available, which spells a significant raise for Boychuk, who logs more than 21 minutes a game and was a plus-31 last year.
Career curve: Hitting peak performance. As he becomes more depended upon, Boychuk has responded well. He's coming off a career-best 23-point season and will be depended upon heavily with his new team on Long Island.
Best guess: Boychuk could be used as a trade chip for the Islanders (see: Thomas Vanek, 2014) is New York falls out of playoff contention. But we're guessing the Isles made enough significant changes to at least contend for the post-season till the bitter end. Betting Boychuk swings for the fences on the open market.

6. Mats Zuccarello
Age on July 1: 27
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Left wing
2014-15 cap hit: $3.5 million
Bargaining chip: Led all Rangers in scoring in 2013-14, despite making less than half of Rick Nash's salary.
Career curve: Soaring late. After lighting it up in the KHL during the lockout, the Norwegian Demon has boosted the Blueshirts. Had a combined 72 points last year in the regular and post seasons and became first player from his country to play in the Stanley Cup final.
Best guess: Rangers re-sign him. Zuccarello was happy to settle a one-year deal this summer and avoid arbitration. That short-term commitment should be met with a heftier extension.

5. Mike Green
Age on July 1: 29
Team: Washington Capitals
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $6.08 million
Bargaining chip: A career-long Capital, Green is a two-time all-star and one of the most talented blueliners under 30 entering a contract year.
Career curve: Starting to decline. After posting consecutive 70-plus-point seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10, Green's value has dropped off.
Best guess: Depends on how well Washington fares. If the Caps stumble out the gate, expect Green's name to hit the trade rumour mill. Washington made off-ice changes this summer, so now it's on the players to perform. Nice rental for a Western power if the Caps aren't contending.

4. Marc-Andre Fleury
Age on July 1: 30
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Position: Goaltender
2014-15 cap hit: $5 million
Bargaining chip: World juniors MVP in 2003, Stanley Cup champion in 2009, Penguins MVP in 2011... but what have you done for me lately?
Career curve: Course correction. After a dismal 2013 playoffs, which saw Fleury lose his starting status to Tomas Vokoun, Fleury bounced back admirably last season, finishing second overall in wins with 39. He wasn't the reason the Pens were bounced in Round 2.
Best guess: Unless the Penguins win the Cup, Fleury will find a new employer on July 1. "I just want to go play, go win," Fleury told reporters about his contract year in September. "What’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I’m not worried too much about it."

3. Martin St. Louis
Age on July 1: 40
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Right wing
2014-15 cap hit: $5.625 million
Bargaining chip: A respected leader, Cup and Olympic winner and two-time NHL scoring champ who wants to be in New York so bad he demanded out of Tampa Bay.
Career curve: Still elite despite his birth certificate. St. Louis left Tampa as the Lighting's leading scorer, and shone up for the Rangers in the playoffs, racking up 15 points in 25 games.
Best guess: Re-signs a reasonable two-year deal mid-season that takes him to retirement. Does either side want a Martin St. Louis contract dispute over the next 82 games?

2. Marc Staal
Age on July 1: 28
Team: New York Rangers
Position: Defence
2014-15 cap hit: $3.975 million
Bargaining chip: Try to find a better defenceman under the age of 30 on this list.
Career curve: Back on track. After a horrific eye injury in 2013, Staal has returned to form, logging top-four minutes for a club that leans heavy on its defence.
Best guess: Rangers do their best to wrap up an extension in quick order, but things get complicated. The ongoing contract talks with pending-UFA Henrik Lundqvist proved a distraction last season, and the Blueshirts watched defenceman Anton Stralman walk this summer. Staal is a key piece of the D core here, so New York should eventually pony up.

1. Jason Spezza
Age on July 1: 32
Team: Dallas Stars
Position: Centre
2014-15 cap hit: $7 million
Bargaining chip: Spezza has scored more than 20 goals in 10 seasons and has reached the 90-point mark thrice. Centres are hot UFA commodity, especially in the arms race that is the Western Conference.
Career curve: Gradual decline. Injuries have cut into Spezza's production slightly, but he did score 34 goals as recently as 2011-12, and with more offensive weapons in Dallas than Ottawa, he could leap back to that level.
Best guess: Re-signs mid-season for about five years. Early indications are that Spezza likes his new surroundings—with a no-trade clause, Spezza had a big say in ending up where he did—and a veteran with a family isn't likely to want to pick up and move again next summer. GM Jim Nill tells us he's "pretty confident" Spezza re-ups before the 2015 trade deadline.