NHL’s top 17 UFAs of 2017: Latest rumours, reports

NHL insider Glenn Healy says not only is Toronto now a desired destination for free agents, but owners and players around the league are envious of the Maple Leafs organization.

As hotly anticipated as the Kevin Shattenkirk Sweepstakes are for Kevin and the Shattenkirks, 2017’s NHL free agency class is shaping up to be one of the weakest in years.

Potential summer of ’17 UFA bank-breakers Jamie Benn, Victor Hedman, Brent Burns and Brad Marchand all inked maximum-term extensions with their current clubs months before becoming eligible to test the market. And Dallas and Carolina smartly got the jump on the UFA goalie class by trading for and locking up Ben Bishop and Scott Darling, well in advance of summertime.

(And with big tickets like Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Carey Price also eligible to re-sign new deals on July 1, some of the “business of hockey” news will already be focused on summer 2018.)

So, who’s left?

Well, the 2017 UFA class will still offer a compelling mix of top-four defencemen, a few teams' No. 1 goaltenders, plus a bunch of wingers enjoying stellar seasons.

Some of these stars will move on due to salary cap restraints, younger talent and decreased playoff hopes. Others will be retained at any cost (but, y'know, within reason) and subjected to rounds of Twitter rumours.

The Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks, in particular, are about to face some tough choices.

Here is a look at the NHL's Top 17 unrestricted free agents of 2017, plus a list of the other household names whose next job is undetermined.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk
Age on July 1, 2017: 28
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $4.25 million
Bargaining chips: U.S. Olympian. A top-four D-man on one of the league's best blue lines. Power-play beast. Good for about 50 points if healthy.
The latest: NHL teams salivate over puck-moving defencemen under the age of 30, so expect Shattenkirk to knock his next contract out of the park. Think Keith Yandle's seven-year, $44.45-million pact signed with the Panthers last year.

General manager Brian MacLellan hasn't ruled out re-signing Shattenkirk, but the Capitals are facing serious cap issues, and Shattenkirk (a "New Yorker at heart," according to his Twitter bio) has been linked in rumours to the Rangers.

After the Capitals were eliminated in the post-season, Shattenkirk told reporters he's not ruling out re-signing with Washington but he'd like a prominent role on his next team.

"I know I'm not Shea Weber," he said, "but I've kind of done it all before."

The Rangers shouldn't be the only team interested. The Lightning already took a run at acquiring Shattenkirk via trade. The Devils and Maple Leafs are two of several other clubs looking to upgrade their blue lines. And Vegas would surely make him a No. 1 D-man.

2. T.J. Oshie
Age on July 1, 2017: 30
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $4.175 million
Bargaining chips: U.S. national team member. A 33-goal, 56-point scorer this season, tops among all 2017 UFAs. Exploded for 12 points in 13 playoff games this spring. Great in shootouts.
The latest: Top-six roles for Washington's right wing will open up significantly after 2016-17. Trying to retain the services of Oshie seems like the smart play here, even if that means letting a solid veteran like Justin Williams (who's six years older than Oshie) walk in free agency.

Oshie struck incredible chemistry on the Capitals' top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He's loved by head coach Barry Trotz, and he has a family to move if a deal to remain in D.C. cannot be worked out.

““I love it here,” Oshie told reporters on locker clean-out day. "Right now, I feel like still a part of the team.… Right now, I’m a Capital, and I feel like that’s where I’ll be. If something changes, it changes.”

3. Alexander Radulov
Age on July 1, 2017: 30
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $5.75 million
Bargaining chips: A big body that provides a critical scoring punch to a Habs roster that needs it. Finished second only to captain Max Pacioretty in points, with 54. Led all Canadiens with 36 assists. Fan favourite.
The latest: A matured and well-compensated Radulov returned to North America for the first time since 2012 on a one-year, prove-it deal. He should earn a multi-year contract on or before July 1.

Radulov denied asking for an eight-year (maximum) contract extension on March 17.

A tight-lipped GM Marc Bergevin will exercise patience here, but it will be difficult to let a player who creates so much offence walk away. It's been a perfect fit for both sides, but Bergevin needs to be careful not to commit too much term.

"I would love to stay here. I like it here. I love the fans," Radulov told Sportsnet's Eric Engels.

"The people are nice, they’re not mean to me. Even when we lose some games, or when I wasn’t scoring for nine games before, people weren’t hard on me because they see how hard I’m working and trying."

He certainly has Shea Weber's endorsement:

4. Martin Hanzal
Age on July 1, 2017: 30
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3.1 million
Bargaining chips: A big top-two pivot (six-foot-six, 226 lbs) who creates plays and provides a threat on the power play. Free agent centres with first-line experience aged 30 and under are nearly impossible to find.
The latest: The Coyotes dealt Hanzal to an all-in Minnesota Wild club at the trade deadline, but the high-priced rental was just OK with his new team down the stretch and scored only once in the playoffs. A shortage of free-agent centremen, however, will help his efforts to land a raise and a multi-year commitment.

Expect Montreal to inquire. Vegas could be a fit as well. Re-signing with cap-tight Minnesota is a long shot, with RFAs Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter needing raises.

“I thought Martin did a good job for us and brought exactly what we thought he would in terms of face-offs and size and playing hard through the middle," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. "He was impactful and certainly made us deeper through the middle. He was a good pickup for us.”

5. Karl Alzner
Age on July 1, 2017: 28
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.8 million
Bargaining chips: Durable top-four, stay-at-home defenceman on a good team for a relatively low wage. Hasn't missed a regular-season game since becoming a full-time Capital in 2010. Excellent penalty killer. Broke NHL's longstanding sunglasses barrier.
The latest: Changes to the Capitals roster are inevitable. Washington is a, um, cap team, but a handful of regulars — Alzner included — will be looking for raises.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (RFA) should grab the biggest slice of pie, but is there room to keep the defensively responsible Alzer and the younger Dmitry Orlov (RFA again)? Oh, yeah. Now Shattenkirk is here too. Does Washington consider buying out the pricey Brooks Orpik, 36, whose lack of foot speed is becoming noticeable?

Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported in the winter that Alzner is asking for $5.5 to $6 million per season from Washington in light of the hefty Brent Burns deal. Elliotte Friedman expected Canada's western clubs to take a run at Alzner this summer. The Maple Leafs are another team to keep an eye on here.

Alzner broke his right hand blocking a shot against the Leafs in Round 1 of the playoffs and won't need surgery. He said he's open to re-signing in Washington but sounds like a man prepared to move on.

"This is a pretty good window that we had here, and unfortunately it's not there anymore," Alzner told reporters in May.

6. Joe Thornton
Age on July 1, 2017: 37
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $6.75 million
Bargaining chips: Slam-dunk Hall of Famer. One of the greatest passers to ever pick up a hockey stick. World Cup champion and Stanley Cup finalist. Dope beard. Our pick for the 101st greatest player of all time.
The latest: The love affair between Jumbo Joe and San Jose should continue, perhaps at the expense of fellow UFA forward Patrick Marleau. It's just too hard to imagine him elsewhere.

Even after having his captaincy stripped, the man is comfortable playing where he is, thank you. Expect a short-term, bonus-laden deal with a full no-move clause at a reasonable rate, perhaps in the $4.5 million range. Another 50-point season and an incredible 43 assists (easily tops in this UFA class) say Thornton is still worth the big bucks, even though his goal total was alarmingly low (seven, and a few were empty-netters).

A trooper of the highest order, Thornton battled through playoff games despite needing surgery on his ACL and MCL.

No extension talks were held in-season, but upon the Sharks' elimination, Thornton said he wants to remain in San Jose and sees the Sharks as a Stanley Cup–calibre club.

"There's no hurry [to re-sign], but yeah, I want to be back," Thornton said (watch below).

Pierre LeBrun reported in January that Thornton was looking for a three-year deal but that the Sharks would prefer to go year-to-year. Settle on two?

7. Michael Stone
Age on July 1, 2017: 27
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chips: Right shot. Top-four minutes. Well under 30 years old. Should provide good value with his low name recognition.
The latest: Traded from lottery-bound Arizona to the Flames as a deadline rental, Stone said he liked the fit in Calgary.

Definitely a candidate for re-signing, since Calgary will be happy to have veterans Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million cap hit) and Deryk Engelland ($2.9 million) off the books. But there will be other suitors if Stone wishes to test the market.

“It’s a great place for me and my family, and I think it’s a good situation with the team,” Stone told the Calgary Sun. “The guys are awesome, and it’s going to be a good team. We have some young players that are going to turn into some stars in this league. It’s something that you should want to be a part of.”

8. Sam Gagner
Age on July 1, 2017: 27
Position: Centre
2016-17 salary cap hit: $650,000
Bargaining chips: Incredible production for low cost. Coming off first career 50-point season. Tied career high with 18 goals.
The latest: One of the best bargains in the NHL, the versatile Gagner boosted the Columbus power play and is deserving of a significant raise and a multi-year deal after signing a one-year contract for peanuts (relatively speaking) as a UFA last summer.

Upon the Jackets' playoff elimination, Gagner told The Dispatch his representatives have had preliminary talks with the club about a new deal.

“I thought it was a good fit,” Gagner said. “It’s a team that’s on the rise, and as the year went on I felt like more and more a part of things and a big part of things. Yeah, I’d like to come back, but we’ll see where things go.”

9. Patrick Eaves
Age on July 1, 2017: 33
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $1 million
Bargaining chips: Can play both wings and up and down the lineup. Enjoying the most productive season of his career. An out-of-nowhere 32-goal scorer.
The latest: With no contract negotiations started in Dallas, Eaves wasn't surprised to see himself traded to Anaheim at the deadline. He's fit in nicely on captain Ryan Getzlaf's wing, scoring 11 goals in his first 20 games as a Duck. Simple math will make it difficult for Bob Murray to re-sign Eaves unless he loses, say, forward Jakob Silfverberg in the expansion draft (not a good idea).

Some sense of "buyer beware" here, as Eaves had only reached the 30-point mark once before his 2016-17 breakout. He suffered a significant injury to his right leg in the Edmonton series that has limited his playoff action.

10. Justin Williams
Age on July 1, 2017: 35
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3.25 million
Bargaining chips: Mr. Game 7. A confident leader who's survived hockey's good, bad and ugly. Production rebounded in Washington with back-to-back 20-goal seasons.
The latest: The veteran Williams was a stellar fit on Washington's second line, averaging 50 points over two seasons in D.C., and he chipped in 16 points in 25 playoff games there.

Like all Capitals UFAs, Williams said he would like to return, the added: "Saying something doesn't mean it's going to happen." Changes are coming, and what contender wouldn't want to add Williams in 2017-18?

11. Radim Vrbata
Age on July 1, 2017: 36
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $1 million
Bargaining chips: Another 20-goal campaign proves he can put the puck in the net. Excellent shootout man. Has already lowered salary expectations. Skates 17 minutes a night.
The latest: A brilliant summer pickup, Vrbata surprisingly went unmoved at the trade deadline despite reported interest from teams such as Boston, Ottawa and Florida. The only members of the 2017 UFA class to put up more points this season are Oshie and Shattenkirk.

Vrbata has spent the bulk of his career in the desert, so there's a chance he re-signs with more term and dollars. “This is where we want to be as a family. This is where I want to be as a player," Vrbata said at season's end.

12. Patrick Marleau
Age on July 1, 2017: 37
Position: Left wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $6.67 million
Bargaining chips: Cagey veteran who will hit the 1,500-game mark next season. Member of the 500 Goal Club. Stays healthy and important. Scored more goals this season (27) than in previous two.
The latest: With a good chunk of San Jose's young forwards Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi receiving pay bumps, it may be difficult for GM Doug Wilson to keep both Thornton and Marleau in teal.

Marleau requested a trade in the past, but has excelled at age 37. Hard to imagine him with another team; also hard to imagine another big-money commitment from San Jose. Wilson says any contract talks with Marleau and Thornton will remain private, and Marleau said he'd prefer a multi-year deal.

"I still feel like I got another, at least, five good years in me," Marleau said. "Maybe more."

Marleau scored in each of the Sharks' final three playoff games despite playing with a broken thumb.

“I love those guys,” teammate Logan Couture said of Thornton and Marleau. “They play hard. If you guys only knew what they play through. The respect level that I have for those two guys is just through the roof.”

13. Andrei Markov
Age on July 1, 2017: 38
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $5.75 million
Bargaining chips: A top-pair defenceman since forever. Completed his 11th NHL season scoring between 30 and 64 points.
What the future holds: Yes, Markov is old. But he still ranks second among all impending UFA D-men in points (36) and time on ice (21:50). He's old but fit.
We see no reason why the franchise that drafted him nearly 20 years ago wouldn't re-sign him to a one- or two-year extension to help ease the development of Montreal's young defencemen.

Markov expressed a desire to stay in Montreal “for the rest of my life” on garbage-bag day, and Bergevin said he has no plans to blow the team up. Good bet he re-signs.

14. Ryan Miller
Age on July 1, 2017: 36
Position: Goaltender
2016-17 salary cap hit: $6 million
Bargaining chips: Consistent resume as a proven No. 1 goalie: 709 games, 358 wins, 39 shutouts. Posted a .914 save percentage behind one of the NHL's weaker blue lines this year.
The latest: The Canucks and Miller have not closed the door on an extension. Miller reportedly was not interested in a deadline move to Alberta.

If a deal in Vancouver can't be worked out, a handful of other teams — such as Philadelphia, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vegas — could look to add a goaltender.

"I have had a season-ending talk with Ryan. He's taking some time off. He will start thinking about his future in mid-May," Miller's agent, Mike Liut, told News 1130's Rick Dhaliwal.

15. Michael Del Zotto
Age on July 1, 2017: 27
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $4 million
Bargaining chips: Skates 19:30 a night. Proven defencemen this young are few and far between. May still have another 40-point season in him.
The latest: Some nights Del Zotto looks like one of the best Flyers on the ice; other times he's been scratched. Consistency is an issue here, but the Ontario native will surely get some looks. He can move the puck.

Though he kept Del Zotto at the deadline, GM Ron Hextall reportedly told the defenceman that the Flyers will be moving on to give younger players more ice time. Another down year offensively (five goals, 18 points) and the fact he's been a minus player five years running could spell a pay cut.

Weekend morning core. #abs #coreworkout #gym @studiolagree

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16. Kris Russell
Age on July 1, 2017: 30
Position: Defence
2016-17 salary cap hit: $3.1 million
Bargaining chips: Blocks shots all day, every day. Has been a nice addition to the Oilers blue line, despite his critics. Coming off a reasonable contract after setting too-high a price at the outset of 2016's free agency. Led all Edmonton skaters in ice time 5-on-5.
The latest: Some unconfirmed reports that the Oilers have already looked at signing Russell to an extension. The second-pair, stay-at-home defenceman is still a source of heavy online debate, but there's no question he's enjoyed a nice season. He logs more than 21 minutes a night, and though he won't pile up points (13), coaches continue to trust him in the D-zone. He'll doubtlessly be looking for more money and more term than last time on the open market.

"They showed faith in me by going out and signing me there, so obviously I'd like to come back, but there's a business side to this and you never know what's going to happen," Russell told reporters.

"They have to make decisions too, the brass here. I'm an Oiler and I'm not going to look past that until I'm told otherwise or come July 1 maybe, but I want to be here."

17. Thomas Vanek
Age on July 1, 2017: 33
Position: Right wing
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.6 million
Bargaining chips: Nine-time 20-goal guy. Easily one of the most productive offensive players on the open market. Accustomed to changing teams. Can play both wings and boost your power play.
The latest: A strong showing on a bad Red Wings team earned Vanek a trade to Florida, only to see him score twice through 20 games as a Panther, although he did have eight assists. This has rental written all over it, as the Panthers have a good young core of forwards and are unlikely to outbid others to keep Vanek next season.

Would be surprised to see any team go long term here, but Vanek's scoring touch should earn him another shot in the league. The Red Wings didn't rule out bringing him back when he was rented to Florida.

Other notable UFAs in 2017: Dmitry Kulikov, Shane Doan, Jaromir Jagr, Brian Gionta, Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Mike Fisher, Ales Hemsky, Trevor Daley, Brian Campbell, Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Bernier, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Sharp, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit, Cody Franson, Chad Johnson, Darcy Kuemper, Drew Stafford, Nick Bonino, Kris Versteeg, Johnny Oduya, Brenden Smith