Top 10 UFA NHL Defencemen

The NHL’s 2017 UFA defencemen class is relatively weak this year. While a few big names might hit the market, most are older, bottom four d-men. In fact, it’s likely a few of the top defenders entering free agency will retire instead of going into next year. Still despite the age, many players could still make an impact on a new team. They’re strong and all seem to have some fight left, which could gather them some interest.

Top 10 UFA NHL Defencemen

#10 – Nikita Nesterov

Age : 24
Previous Cap Hit : $725 thousand with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning

Monday was the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to their restricted free agents. On Tuesday the lists were revealed on who got the offers and who didn’t. One player who didn’t get one was Nikita Nesterov. Nesterov was traded to the Canadiens during the trade deadline, and played 13 games with the Habs. He only had five points in those games. In total this season, Nesterov had 17 points in 48 games. He’s a very young defenceman and could end up as a decent one if everything goes perfectly.

His rookie season was during the 2014-15 season. Since then, he’s played 132 NHL games and has had an unimpressive 33 points. But he’s young, and hasn’t gotten the chance to play a full season yet. If a team is willing to take the risk on the young defender, they could possibly get a great reward.

What the Off-season Could Hold

Since he hasn’t done anything eventful, Nesterov’s next contract will probably still sit around $1 million. This is a great price for any team who has an opening in their bottom pairing. Giving Nesterov the chance to play a full season could show a lot about how he’ll end up. He’s likely to only get a bridge deal, almost as a sort of tryout. If he’s able to produce well, he could see a lot better deal next year.

#9 – Ron Hainsey

Age : 36
Previous Cap Hit : $2.833 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes

Ron Hainsey is another player who is nearing retirement. He didn’t even make a playoff appearance until last season. Luckily that appearance was with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he won the Stanley Cup. He was a great part of the Penguins Cup run considering he was a bottom line player. Still, he had 8 points in 25 playoff games. During the regular season, he had 17 points in 72 games. For his age, that’s a great deal.

He’s had a successful career, and after a good Stanley Cup appearance, he might not be calling it quits just yet. He could gain a lot of interest from teams looking to add some defensive depth. He’s a great player to fill a seventh defenceman role. That’s what he filled in Pittsburgh, and it paid off for them.

What the Off-season Could Hold

Hainsey is nearing the end of his career, and could take a dive in cap because of it. He also won’t take a very long contract, which is another plus. For any team who adds Hainsey, they’ll get him for cheap. Hopefully there’s still one good season left for what’s been a good career.

#8 – Dan Girardi

Age : 33

Previous Cap Hit : $5.5 million with the New York Rangers

Dan Girardi was bought out of his contract prior to the expansion draft so that the New York Rangers could protect one more player. The 33 year old has spent 11 seasons in New York’s red white and blue jerseys, and it’s hard for teammates to see him having to leave the team. At the same time, Girardi was the clear choice for a buyout. He’s aging, and hasn’t been much of a factor on the offensive side of the ice. Because of that, some fans have been calling for his removal for a while now.

Last year Girardi played in 63 games and only managed 15 points. In fact, he hasn’t exceeded the 20 point mark since the 2013-14 season. Clearly, Girardi isn’t what he was during the beginning of his career. One thing he does have to offer is strength defensively. He is talented in the defensive zone and could help out his new team a lot by adding this perk to their arsenal.

What the Off-season Could Hold

The biggest issue with Girardi is his price. He was a $5.5 million cap hut, and he’s not worth that much money. He’ll have to come down to at least $2.5 million in order to gain any interest. Even then, he’s a risky pickup. While he adds defensive strength, he doesn’t add much on the offensive end of the ice. He’s only had two seasons with more than five goals, and they were both within the first few years of his career. Since then, he’s been relatively weak. If he decides to go cheaper, he might be a cheap risk to take. He adds a lot of veteran qualities, and is a good leader. So if he does join a new team, he could be a good bottom pairing player.

#7 – Michael Del Zotto

Age : 27

Previous Cap Hit : $3.875 with the Philadelphia Flyers

It’s been awhile since Michael Del Zotto was in the spotlight for something positive, but he could contribute a lot to a new team. Del Zotto hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season. The closest he’s ever come to playing a full season was his rookie year where he played in 80 of the 82 games. He’s still been able to put up a high amount of points in each of his butchered seasons, but he could do even better if he was able to play in 82 games.

Del Zotto had 18 points in 52 games last season. He was strong for the Flyers defence, but didn’t stay healthy. Because of his shortened seasons, it’s hard to get a gauge on how successful he’d be during a full year. He’s had three seasons where he’s netted more than 30 points. It’s very likely he could do this feat a handful more times, or exceed it, if he played 82 games. He’s still young, and has a lot of time to find a way to stay consistently healthy.

What the Off-season Could Hold

Similar with Cody Franson, Del Zotto is a shot in the dark for any team willing to sign him. He is a top four defenceman easily if he plays 82 games. If he doesn’t, he’s just a part time player who you’ll eventually have to replace. Needless to say, he’s more of a risk than he is a reward. Still, he’ll probably be a cheap signing during the off-season and could land a long-term contract considering his age.

If he does this, it takes a bit of pressure off of the team’s shoulders knowing that they at least don’t have to go through the stresses of re-signing him year after year. Other than his health, he doesn’t have many problems. He’s a strong, potentially top line defenceman who could do a lot for a team who needs that role filled. He’s a great player offensively, and has a lot of perks attached to him. So interest in the glass-boned defenceman could be very high, as landing him would be a big plus.

#6 – Michael Stone

Age : 27
Previous Cap Hit : $4 million with the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes

Michael Stone is a name that’s gone under the radar for the past few months. The still young d-man earned his piece in the 2015-16 season when he notched 36 points in 75 games. This past year, he jumped down in production. He only had 15 points in 64 games, but had to face being traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Calgary Flames. While it’s not excusable to see such a dramatic drop in points, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost for Stone. He’s still a young member of this year’s free agent class, and has the skill to be one of the better pickups.

Stone has two big issues facing him. The first is his lack of consistency. He played his rookie season in 2012-13, and only had nine points in 40 games. The next year he played 70 games and had 21 points. He’s continued fluctuating, and that’s not the most attractive trait for a team looking to cash in on a young player. He’ll have to find a way to stay consistent with his point values if he wants to continue making the big bucks. Until he does he’ll likely find himself continuously signing short term contracts and earning considerably less ice time.

What the Off-season Could Hold

Stone was also a $4 million cap hit, which is very expensive for a player of his caliber. If he finds a way to become a consistent 30 point defenceman, then the argument of his pay would be more valid. Until then, no team will want to take the risk. It’s likely he’ll have to come down in price a bit for this next season. If he does, he could easily find himself with a contract lasting a year or two. It’d be the perfect chance for him to prove his worth on a new team. He recently ironed out some notches in his play, and has become a well rounded player because of it. He has a lot to add to any new team, but needs to earn all the ice time and money he gets.

#5 – Trevor Daley

Age : 33
Previous Cap Hit : $3.3 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins

Trevor Daley is a stab in the dark for any team that signs him. Last season, Daley only managed to play 56 games because of injury. In those games, he had 19 points. Daley was acquired by the Penguins last season and had 28 total points between the Chicago Blackhawks and Penguins. He was an iffy player to trade for, because he’s a very offensive defenceman and has struggled in the defensive end. As he’s gotten older he’s become more evened out as a player, but still has struggled defensively.

Daley was a consistent 25-30 point player during his time with the Dallas Stars for the majority of his career. Most players start to decrease in points at that age, but Daley hasn’t shown much decline yet. If he can manage to play a full season next year, Daley could easily put up another 20 point season.

What the Off-Season Could Hold

He was a $3.3 million cap hit last year, which brought the Penguins down a bit since he didn’t play the latter half of the year. Because of this, he could see a mid-$2 million cap hit if he chooses to re-sign with Pittsburgh. If he doesn’t, he could stay within the $3 million price range. There isn’t much rumors about teams showing interest in him, but he could be a big name in free agency. A strong offensive defenceman could add a lot to a team that has issues on the scoreboard. He’s not the most expensive player, and is worth the price if he stays healthy.

#4 – Andrei Markov

Age : 38
Previous Cap Hit : $5.75 million with the Montreal Canadiens

Age is just a number. At least in the form of Andrei Markov it is. The 38 year old hasn’t slowed down a bit despite being in his upper thirties. At the age of 36, Markov had his third 50 point season. At 37, he had 44 points. Last year, he had 36. While there is a downhill slope in the numbers, it’s a slope Markov has rode his entire career. There aren’t many signs of any decrease or retiring yet.

Markov was a big part of the Canadiens defence last season, and has been for a long time. He has only had four seasons in the NHL where he’s had less than 30 points. This is excluding the injury prone 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons where he played a combined 20 games. He’s consistently received an average of 23 minutes of ice time throughout his 16 year career. He’s been a top line defenceman, and very important to Montreal.

The only thing holding back Markov is his age. The 38-year old was born back in Soviet Russia. While he is still producing at a rate higher than most players on this list, he isn’t as fresh as some. That’d be the main reason he isn’t offered a contract for at least one more year. At the same time, Markov is still a solid defenceman and could still have another successful year or two.

What the Off-season Could Hold

He’s the most expensive player on this list though, which is important to note too. He’s likely to only get a year or two on any deal he gets, but he’s also likely to stay set at just under $6 million. That’s another big problem with Markov. Will teams be willing to bet $6 million on a player who is 38 years old? Even Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla have cheaper contracts.

Markov is also very native to the Habs. He was drafted by the team, and has spent all 16 seasons of his career with them. It’d be hard to imagine him in any other jersey. These two factors could make it hard for Markov to receive interest from anyone else. If he doesn’t get a deal from Montreal, he probably won’t get a deal at all. Luckily, Montreal still needs help on defence and Markov is a great go-to.

#3 – Cody Franson

Age : 29
Previous Cap Hit : $3.325 million with the Buffalo Sabres

Cody Franson is a strong defenceman, and hasn’t had the chance to prove it in Buffalo. Since joining in the 2015-16 season, Franson has only played a combined 127 out of 164 games. In those he’s had a respectable 36 points, but he hasn’t been able to play a full season. During his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Franson was able to put up a consistent 30 points and was a strong top four player. If he’s able to play a full season again, he might be able to have another high scoring season.

Franson is still young compared to some upcoming UFAs, and that gives him an advantage over a lot others. He hasn’t shown much weakness, and still has time to develop on any weaknesses that may arise. The biggest issue is the fact that he hasn’t been very healthy, which means a team is paying for a player that will only play in so many games compared to a full season. This would be the main reason he isn’t sought after during this year’s off-season. If he’s able to fix that next season, he could be a great pickup for any team that signs him. He has the ability to put up 30 points in the season which is a big deal for teams looking for a top four defenceman.

What the Off-season Could Hold

He’ll likely make a few more thousand bucks next season. Still, he’s a moderately priced player and well worth the price. The Buffalo Sabres will be hoping to bring Franson back to the team to add a little insurance to what is a weak defence. Other teams that may be interested include the Toronto Maple Leafs, who Franson previously played with. Franson is probably also interested in returning to the Leafs as well, especially since they’re a playoff team.

Franson has only played a total of 28 playoff games in his eight year career so far. Every player dreams of a Stanley Cup, and returning to Toronto might be the easiest route to one for Franson. He adds a lot of stability on defense. This is crucial considering Toronto’s biggest struggle was their bottom four defensemen last season. Whether he goes to Toronto, or any other of the 30 NHL teams, Franson is a big boost on the blue line.

#2 – Karl Alzner

Age : 28
Previous Cap Hit : $2.8 million with the Washington Capitals

Karl Alzner is another big name defenceman leaving the Capitals this year. While he had a rough season last year, 13 points in 82 games, Alzner still has potential. He has shown that he has the ability to put up 20 point years consistently. That’s his biggest problem though, Alzner has to be more consistent.

Alzner didn’t bring a lot of points to Washington, but he was a strong defensive presence. On a team that was lined with strong offensive players on the blue line, Alzner was the strong defensive player. That’s what would bring him the most interest from teams. It’s been rumored that the Montreal Canadiens, amongst other teams, have scheduled to meet with Alzner.

What the Off-season Could Hold

Because of his low point numbers in recent years, Alzner probably won’t make more than $3.5 million. He also probably won’t see a long contract, or too much of a bidding war. He could come at such a cheap price that the Capitals may get the chance to re-sign him. Despite coming at a relatively cheap price, Alzner still adds some strength to any team he joins. He’ll probably stay bouncing between the first and second pairing, until he proves a bit more consistent.

#1 – Kevin Shattenkirk

Age : 28
Previous Cap Hit : $4.25 million with the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues

Kevin Shattenkirk is easily one of the biggest names going into free agency this year. Shattenkirk had the most points in the past season than any player going into free agency. He was picked up by the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, in an attempt to add a little extra oomph going into the playoffs. Shattenkirk had 14 points in 19 games with the Caps, and 42 points in 61 games with the Blues this year.

Shattenkirk is one of the most versatile right defencemen in the league right now. He has a very strong offensive playing style, but can keep the other team’s offense shut down at the same time. Overall, he is going to be a very big pickup wherever he goes.

It’s likely Shattenkirk gets a slight pay raise. He’s also likely to sign a long deal to get him into his mid-thirties. Rumor has it that Shattenkirk wants to go back to his hometown and sign with the New York Rangers. However, it’s also been reported that the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning have also already met with Shattenkirk. Whoever lands him will see a huge payoff though.

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