For the most part, this summer’s free agent frenzy has come and gone. Just don’t tell Cody Franson. So, naturally, that means it’s time to look into the future to see which players are about to enter the final year of their current deals in 2015-16.
The 2015 crop featured some decent pieces for teams to add, but there wasn’t really much star power available on the open market (sorry, Matt Beleskey). That figures to change next summer in a potentially big way.
Granted, some of these guys will get re-signed before next July. Still, it’s worth knowing the names — whether it means they are more likely to get dealt as the season unfolds, they actually do reach free agency next July or they simply raise their level of play in their contract year.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the top players who can become unrestricted free agents next summer.
Anze Kopitar, Kings
Of all the players on this list, Kopitar certainly seems like one of the least likely to ever leave his current team. The Kings are a perennial Stanley Cup contender. He’s a huge reason why and he’s essentially been the face of the franchise since way back before they were even remotely good.
Take the 2006-07 campaign, for example. Kopitar notched 61 points as a rookie, fans started spray-painting his face all over Los Angeles and the Kings won 27 games. Total. For his career, he averages 0.89 points per game (610 points in 683 games) while also getting the job done in his own zone. Although unlikely to actually hit the open market, clubs will be lining up if he does.
Eric Staal, Hurricanes
Like Kopitar, Staal has been the face of the franchise in Carolina for quite a while now. And, like Kopitar, he has his name on the Stanley Cup. Unlike Kopitar, things have gotten tougher over the last few years.
His 54 points in 77 games this past season aren’t bad by any means, but they’re a far cry from the 100-point campaign he turned in back in 2005-06. What’s worse, the ‘Canes haven’t even played a playoff game since 2009.
Jiri Hudler, Flames
The reigning Lady Byng winner was a huge part of Calgary’s success this past season, notching a career-high 76 points and stealing the show at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. He’s always been a productive player, but his emergence as a leader on a young Flames team has made him that much more valuable.
Obviously his current team would like to hold on to the talented Czech, but they’re going to have quite a few talented people to pay in the not-too-distant future.
Mark Giordano, Flames
Remember when I said Calgary was going to have to pay some big names about nine seconds ago? Well, Giordano is one of them. Over the course of his nine-year NHL career, he’s gone from undrafted free agent to a Norris Trophy candidate. He’s the anchor of the Flames’ impressive blue line, the captain of the team and someone who’s about to be very, very rich.
Jakub Voracek, Flyers
There was a time when Philadelphia fans were up in arms about the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus for Voracek. And, to be fair, Carter has been pretty good — for LA. Meanwhile, Voracek made a strong push for the NHL’s scoring title last season. Unfortunately for the Flyers, he can’t solve their defensive issues.
Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks
Not only is Seabrook an excellent defender on his own, he makes Duncan Keith that much better by allowing him to run around the ice. As such, Chicago would understandably like to keep the 30-year-old blueliner around. Problem is, there’s only so much cap space and about a billion dollars (roughly) are already promised to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Kyle Okposo, Islanders
He really broke out with 69 points in 71 games during the 2013-14 campaign, and has now managed 120 points over his last 131 contests. The Isles have a few potential UFAs to deal with, but Okposo is clearly priority No. 1.
David Backes, Blues
Another player who would just look weird in a different club’s jersey. Not only has Backes spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, he’s the captain of the team, a two-time Olympian, a physical presence and someone who is usually good for about 50-60 points.
Dustin Byfuglien, Jets
He can be controversial at times, but at 6-foot-5 and 265-pounds, there aren’t many players like him in the league. Byfuglien’s a matchup nightmare who can punish the opposition both physically and on the scoresheet. Every year the price of quality D-men seems to go up, and there are quite a few worth bidding on in 2016.
Steven Stamkos, Lightning
There’s a lot of talent on this list, but no one with the scoring prowess of Stamkos. Just how prolific of a weapon is he? In 492 career games, the former No. 1 overall pick has 276 goals. Goals, not points. If you’re looking for points, he has 498 — more than one per game over the course of seven seasons.
Yes, he had a tough time in the Stanley Cup Final, but he still managed 18 points during Tampa Bay’s postseason run. And he’s a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner. The Lightning have an embarrassment of riches up front, but that shouldn’t make Stamkos expendable at all. He’s been one of the two or three most talented goal scorers in the world since he broke into the league, and a bidding war for his services would be unlike any we’ve seen in a long time.
Then again, if you ask any Maple Leafs fan, Stamkos — and every other talented player in the history of the sport — is just going to sign in Toronto the second he has the chance to anyway.
Honorable Mentions: Jonas Hiller, Justin Abdelkader, Milan Lucic, Shane Doan, Tomas Plekanec, Keith Yandle, Erik Johnson, Brandon Sutter, Loui Eriksson, Mikkel Boedker, Jaromir Jagr (no, seriously), Radim Vrbata, Andrew Ladd, Cam Talbot, David Perron and Frans Nielsen. Just to name a few.