NHL’s top 15 UFAs of 2017: Latest rumours, reports

Sean Reynolds and John Shannon talk about the big moves made by Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving and the progress the team has made over the past few years.

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, especially in light of Friday’s re-signing of T.J. Oshie, Patrick Eaves and Kris Russell.

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. 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 upcoming “business of hockey” news will already be focused on the summer of 2018.

So, who’s left?

Well, the 2017 UFA class will still offer a compelling mix of top-four defencemen, a few goaltenders with No. 1 potential, and some wingers coming off 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, could lose some key veterans.

Here is a look at the NHL’s Top 15 unrestricted free agents of 2017, plus a list of the other household names whose next job is undetermined.

The negotiating window is open, and the rumours are flying.

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.

Shattenkirk (a “New Yorker at heart,” according to his Twitter bio) has been linked in rumours to the Rangers, who cleared space by buying out top-four D-man Dan Girardi.

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. The Capitals expended most of their UFA budget on Oshie, so count them out.

“I know I’m not Shea Weber,” he said, “but I’ve kind of done it all before.”

The Rangers aren’t the only team interested. The Lightning, who already took a run at acquiring Shattenkirk via trade, have reportedly reached out to him this week.

The Sabres, Devils and Maple Leafs are three other clubs looking to upgrade their blue lines.

Shattenkirk will be shooting for the moon — seven years times $7 million? — so which GM will be willing to go deep here?

2. 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 will earn a multi-year contract, though in light of the Jonathan Drouin trade-and-sign, it’s no gaurantee it’ll be with Montreal.

Radulov denied asking for an eight-year (maximum) contract extension on March 17 but is looking for more term and dollars than the Habs wish to commit.

“We have limits,” GM Marc Bergevin told reporters at the draft regarding the Radulov negotiations. “We talked prior, didn’t amount to anything.”

“I would love to stay here. I like it here. I love the fans,” Radulov told Sportsnet’s Eric Engels during the season.

“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.”

Radulov certainly has Weber’s endorsement:

3. 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 lb.) 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, Chicago and Nashville to inquire. Re-signing with cap-tight Minnesota is a non-starter, 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 faceoffs 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.”

4. 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 they won’t find at home.

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)? GM Brian MacLellan is one record saying he won’t be 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 was asking for $5.5 to $6 million per season from Washington in light of the hefty Brent Burns extension.

The Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Canucks, Golden Knights and Stars are all clubs that could be interested.

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.

5. 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).

The catch here is that San Jose should place a priority on extending 2018 UFAs Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones before fitting in Thornton and Marleau — and they could likely make more money elsewhere.

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?

6. 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.

Until the Travis Hamonic trade, Stone was definitely a candidate for re-signing.

“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.”

While Flames GM Brad Treliving says he’s open to bringing Stone back, logic dictates he’ll get more ice time and money elsewhere.

7. 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.”

If he decides to move on, Gagner could improve most teams’ power play and third line five-on-five. The Canucks have reportedly inquired.

8. 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, then 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?

Williams will reportedly meet with Caps management this week. If he leaves, Nashville, St. Louis and Toronto are three of many teams that should take a look.

9. 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 remaining members of the 2017 UFA class to put up more points this past season? 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.

A candidate worth exploring for Boston, Ottawa, Carolina and St. Louis if he doesn’t re-up with Arizona.

10. 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.

Several teams have reportedly reached out already.

“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.”

11. 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.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie reports that Markov is looking for a two-year, $12-million commitment from the Habs, who cannot afford to let another D-man walk this month.

12. 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 are in talks, keeping the door open for an extension. Miller was reportedly not interested in a deadline move to Alberta.

If a deal in Vancouver can’t be worked out, a few other teams — such as Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Winnipeg — could look to add a goaltender.

GM Jim Benning would rather sign Miller to a one-year contract, according to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre, bridging the gap for Jacob Markstrom to emerge as a bona fide starter.

13. 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 looked like one of the best Flyers on the ice; other times he was 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.

Potential fits: Edmonton, Boston, and Pittsburgh.

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

A post shared by Michael Del Zotto (@mdzofficial) on

14. 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.

15. Brian Elliott
Age on July 1, 2017: 32
Position: Goaltender
2016-17 salary cap hit: $2.5 million
Bargaining chips: An NHL-best .930 save percentage in 2015-16, followed by an excellent post-season that got the Blues over the hump and won the veteran goalie a No. 1 job in Calgary. Bounced back from a slow start to help position Calgary for the playoffs.
The latest: After the Anaheim Ducks swept the Flames in Round 1 of the playoffs (Elliott’s save percentage in that series: .880), Calgary made Mike Smith its new starter and cut ties with Elliott.

Determined to prove his critics wrong, Elliott wants one of the limited No. 1 gigs still open for debate. Multiple reports have linked him with the Winnipeg Jets, where he’d be a smart choice to take some of the load off young Connor Hellebuyck, though Andy Strickland of Fox Sports has linked the netminder to the Flyers.

Other notable UFAs in 2017: Dmitry Kulikov, Shane Doan, Dan Girardi, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Gionta, 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, Johnny Oduya, Antti Niemi, Nail Yakupov