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2017 NHL Free Agent Class May Be Thin With Elite Talent

Now that all the major NHL free agents have signed, it’s a good time to take a sneak peak at next year’s class. As of today there are seven upper echelon – elite players who will become unrestricted free agents next July 1st. However, depending upon how many of them sign an extension between now and then will dictate the quality and depth of players available. It is very likely the 2017 NHL free agent class will be all but dry of the Benns and Burnses, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look at who would be out there.

2017 NHL Free Agent Class May Be Thin With Elite Talent

The Las Vegas Factor

Come next July 1st the Las Vegas franchise will have yet to play an NHL game but will be very active in terms of transactions. They will also have just completed the expansion draft as well as their first amateur draft. The team that will hail from Sin City could be a major player in free agency next July 1st. Keep in mind come July 1st, 2017 the Las Vegas team will likely have a very low salary cap number. Owner Bill Foley has stated he will be very aggressive with payroll from the get go.

Players who are just one year away from free agency can tell their current clubs that they could very easily land a big contract with the franchise on July 1st. This will be used by the players and their agents in terms of contract negotiations. Also keep in mind the state of Nevada is one where there is no state income tax, an advantage the organization will have for drawing free agents.

The Elite

As of today there are seven scheduled to become UFAs on July 1st. This group includes three forwards, three defenseman and one goalie. Up front there is Jamie Benn (turns 28 next July), Brad Marchand (29 next July) and TJ Oshie (30 next July).

Benn won the scoring title in 2014-15 and finished second in points last season with 89. Marchand scored nearly 40 goals (had 37) this past season, while Oshie lit the lamp 26 times during the 2015-16 campaign. Both the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins have already talked about locking up both Benn and Marchand this summer. If either Dallas or Boston allow one of this duo to hit free agency next summer, shame on them. Given the Washington Capitals salary cap (Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Karl Alzner are all free agents), it would be shocking if Oshie doesn’t hit free agency next July 1st.

On the blue line the top trio is Brent Burns, Kevin Shattenkirk and Dmitry Kulikov. Burns will be 32 next July but given this year’s production of 27 goals and 75 points, he would score a gigantic contract next summer ($10 million?) if he is on the open market. Shattenkirk brings another offensive game and will only be 28 next July. He is hoping Burns is not on the market so he can land a big deal of his own. Kulikov is a solid defender but given the fact he will only be 26 next July he would land a solid deal as well as a hard-hitting blue liner.

Between the pipes there is only one goalie who you can call elite that could be on the free agent market next year. That is the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s Ben Bishop. Bishop has been one of the best goalies in the NHL the last three seasons and had a strong case for the Vezina Trophy this season leading the NHL in GAA and save percentage. But with the recent extensions by the team and the emergence of Andrei Vasilevskiy, it is clear the Bishop’s days in a Lightning uniform are numbered. The 6’7 net minder will be 30 next July but the team that adds him could easily turn itself from a good squad into a contender.

It will be interesting to see how many actually hit the market come next July. I expect the current teams of these pending free agents to try and sign them well before they think of doing so, like the Lightning did this past week with Victor Hedman who was scheduled to be part of this group next year.

Tier 2

The problem with next year’s free agent class is the drop off after the first tier. There is plenty of quality in the second tier but a lot of players long in the tooth as well. As of now the forward group includes Cal Clutterbuck (29), Jaromir Jagr (45), Patrick Marleau (38 in Sept 17), Alexander Radulov (31), Patrick Sharp (35), Alex Steen (33), Joe Thornton (38) and Justin Williams (35). On the blue line there could be Trevor Daley (33), Andrei Markov (38), Johnny Oduya (35) and Dennis Wideman (34). In between the pipes you could have Brian Elliott (32), Thomas Greiss (31) and Steve Mason (29).

All of these players can be an asset to teams for the 2017-18 season, including the expansion squad that hails from Las Vegas. However it will be critical that the majority of these players are signed to short term deals.

Some of these players will be signing extensions over the next 12 months taking themselves off the free agent market next summer. The likely scenario is many hockey fans will be complaining about how few high grade free agents there are next July.

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