By: Nick Lanciani
12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).
Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. RFAs are fun, RFAs are cool, but here’s the thing, other general managers will hate you forever apparently if you offer sheet one of their guys.
1. LW Johnny Gaudreau (30-48-78 totals with the Calgary Flames)- $925,000 cap hit, 22 years old
If you’re going to offer sheet somebody, better offer sheet the best. And scoring wise, newsflash, it’s Johnny Gaudreau. He had 24-40-64 totals in 80 games his rookie season with the Calgary Flames in 2014-2015 and improved his sophomore year with 30-48-78 totals in 79 games this season. It shouldn’t be hard to tell that he’s in for a major payday coming off of his entry level contract with the Flames. And if you’re going to be that GM that goes hard in the paint, you might as well go hard in the paint from the gate.
Now watch all these RFAs (re)sign a deal before free agency opens, or just stay put and not touch any offer sheets that might come in.
2. RW Nikita Kucherov (30-36-66 totals with the Tampa Bay Lightning)- $711,666 cap hit, 22 years old
Nikita Kucherov has averaged 65.5 points in the last two seasons. Talk about consistency. That’s also quite an improvement from his rookie year totals of 9-9-18 in 52 games in 2013-2014. Since then he’s emerged as a high-end talent for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a plethora of young, pending RFAs both now and in the future to concern themselves with (and the expansion draft in June 2017). So good luck to Lightning general manager, Steve Yzerman, or then again, maybe he doesn’t need any luck, since he was able to keep Steven Stamkos around for as long as his roster is going to be lighting them up in Tampa.
3. C Alex Killorn (14-26-40 totals with the Tampa Bay Lightning)- $2.550 million cap hit, 26 years old
And for even more consistency, we have Alex Killorn, who’s averaged 39.7 points in the last three seasons. Surely Tampa’s going to have a handful with this offseason when it comes to keeping their talent happily signed under the salary cap. Killorn came into the league in the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season and had 7-12-19 totals in 38 games in his rookie year, which isn’t too shabby either, considering everything. Do I have to keep repeating myself now?
4. C Nathan MacKinnon (21-31-52 totals with the Colorado Avalanche)- $925,000 cap hit, 20 years old
Mixing up the order a bit (if you had’t noticed, I inadvertently arranged them by points), Nathan MacKinnon falls to fourth on my top-5 list, not because’s he’s bad, but rather because Tampa is all but sure to see some chaos in the offer sheet department this offseason. I pretty much guarantee it with Jim Benning as the Vancouver Canucks general manager, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton and some hungry, hungry, hockey teams around the league.
Because of this factor, Colorado might see some intrigue if they cannot lock up MacKinnon or Tyson Barrie. Of note, MacKinnon had 24-39-63 totals in 82 games in his rookie season of 2013-2014. He suffered a set back due to injury in 2014-2015 with 14-24-38 totals in 64 games.
5. LW Marcus Johansson (17-29-46 totals with the Washington Capitals)- $3.750 million cap hit, 25 years old
Marcus Johansson has been a 40+ point scorer in four of his six seasons so far with the Washington Capitals. A bit older than some of the other quality pending RFAs, Johansson finds himself at a crossroads where he plays with the Capitals, but could easily slide into another lineup and become just another overpaid player if someone’s not careful. It kind of helps when T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and others are on your team, but then again Johansson has been consistent, regardless of whatever you believe. If you’ve got the time, money and draft picks, go for it. I’m all for watching teams get into a war of words over offer sheets.
LW Chris Kreider (21-22-43 totals with the New York Rangers)- $2.475 million cap hit, 24 years old
The New York Rangers are aging and up against the salary cap. Knowing that Rick Nash is potentially at play on the trade market, will they be able to keep Chris Kreider around long enough to resign him or will someone swoop in and toss him an offer sheet?
C Vladislav Namestnikov (14-21-35 totals with the Tampa Bay Lightning)- $874,125 cap hit, 23 years old
The formula for this one is simple, steal a good, young Lightning forward before they notice while they work out deals with their other good, young, pending RFA forwards.