NHL’s Top 10 UFAs of 2018: The best left wingers available

Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk. (Nick Wass/AP)

With the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and NHL Draft in the books, the NHL’s 31 general managers have turned their attention to building a winner in 2018-19. Step one comes on July 1 when the league’s free-agency period officially gets underway. Sportsnet.ca has all you need to know on the top 10 UFAs at each position likely to be available.

This year’s crop of available left wingers looks to be among the deepest of the free-agent groups at any position. Clubs hoping to shell out for a significant offensive upgrade should have the option to do so, while a few other veterans who bring different skills to the table will make things interesting.

Let’s take a look at the top left-wing options set to hit the market this summer…

Top 10 UFAs by position: C | LW | RW | D | G

1. James van Riemsdyk

2017-18 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
2017-18 Cap Hit: $4.25 million

Fresh off two career-best campaigns heading into free agency, James van Riemsdyk won’t be short on suitors come July 1. He’s tied for the most 2017-18 goals of any UFA this summer with 36 on this year’s offensively dominant Maple Leafs squad, and he posted a career-high 62 points just last season as well. At 29 years old, with four seasons above or near the 30-goal plateau, van Riemsdyk provides an immediate offensive boost for any club with room in their top six.

Potential Fits: Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Vegas, Anaheim, Calgary, Chicago

2. James Neal

2017-18 Team: Vegas Golden Knights
2017-18 Cap Hit: $5 million

He’s scored at or near a 30-goal pace for his entire career, and, coming off two straight Stanley Cup Final appearances, brings a fair bit of playoff experience to the table. The 30-year-old has had trouble staying in the lineup as of late, playing more than 71 games just once in the past five seasons, but regardless, he’s still a good bet to hit that 25-30-goal pace once more in a top-six role.

Potential Fits: Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Anaheim, Vegas, Calgary

3. David Perron

2017-18 Team: Vegas Golden Knights
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3.75 million

It might’ve been buried on the endless list of feel-good stories linked to Vegas’ Cinderella season, but 2017-18 was a redemption campaign for veteran David Perron. After trudging through some down years following his breakout 28-goal season in Edmonton, Perron dominated for the inaugural Golden Knights, amassing a career-best 66 points. If he moves on, the million-dollar question is whether teams pay up for that lone big-ticket season, or if they’re more cautious given the mediocre numbers he posted over his past three.

Potential Fits: Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Anaheim, Vegas

4. Rick Nash

2017-18 Team: New York Rangers/Boston Bruins
2017-18 Cap Hit: $7.8 million

His brief Bruins tenure was derailed by injury, and he’s slowed over the past few seasons, but at this point Rick Nash’s abilities are well-understood. He’s still an above-average goal scorer and, with a 42-goal season as a 30-year-old just a few years ago, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him rediscover a 30-goal pace in the right situation. A significant pay cut will be needed, but he can still be an effective top-six scorer.

Potential Fits: Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Vegas, Anaheim, Columbus

5. Pat Maroon

2017-18 Team: Edmonton Oilers/New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2 million

While his goal-scoring rate dipped without Connor McDavid feeding him quality chances, Patrick Maroon did still manage to post 13 points in 17 games after a mid-season trade to the Devils. His size and penchant for physicality mask his deceptively good hands, and he proved in Edmonton that he can thrive as a running mate for a team with talented centremen.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Nashville, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago

6. Thomas Vanek

2017-18 Team: Vancouver Canucks/Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2 million

Thomas Vanek has suited up for five different teams in the past three seasons, and enters the free-agency market at a ripe 34 years old, so he clearly isn’t a long-term addition. But for some temporary scoring punch, his track record speaks for itself — he has 11 seasons of 20-plus goals in the bag, and managed to post his best goals-per-game mark in four seasons in 2017-18. Ranking as the second-highest scorer among all left-wing UFAs available this summer, he’s still a worthwhile depth signing.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Nashville, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Columbus

7. Matt Calvert

2017-18 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.2 million

His numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but Matt Calvert is another veteran with some underrated skill to work with. Injuries are a key concern — the 28-year-old has missed time in each of the past five campaigns — and inconsistency is another. But he has plenty left in the tank, some intriguing offensive upside and the ability to contribute on special teams. In the right situation, he could make for an interesting depth gamble.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Edmonton, Vegas, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim

8. Blake Comeau

2017-18 Team: Colorado Avalanche
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.4 million

He’s in the twilight of his career and at risk of losing a step, but Blake Comeau remains a consistent bottom-sixer for those needing offensive help in the lower half of their forward corps. He’s produced in the 30-point range in three of the past four years (aside from Colorado’s abysmal 2016-17, which the veteran bounced back from nicely this season), and is a good bet for double-digit goals. He filled a key role on the wing of a very successful shutdown line in Colorado this season.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Edmonton, Vegas, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim

9. Chris Kunitz

2017-18 Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2 million

Removed from the plush assignment on Sidney Crosby’s wing in Pittsburgh, Chris Kunitz still came up with a solid effort in Tampa Bay, posting 13 goals and 29 points in a limited role. On a reasonable deal he could be a useful third- or fourth-line addition, contributing some physicality, occasional offence, and — with four Cups and an Olympic gold to his name — some mentorship for younger bottom-sixers.

Potential Fits: Calgary, Vegas, Nashville, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh

10. Antoine Roussel

2017-18 Team: Dallas Stars
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2 million

The NHL may be getting quicker with an emphasis on skill even in the bottom-six, but some teams still seek out a touch of sandpaper for their depth lines. This is where Roussel would fit if he hits the market on July 1. After scoring 12-14 goals four years in a row, Roussel slowed to just five goals in 2017-18, while his penalty minute total stayed as high as usual. He does kill penalties from time to time and could add as many as 10 more goals as he scored this past season without costing too much to acquire.

Potential Fits: Pittsburgh, Vegas, Florida, Dallas, Toronto, Montreal

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