The NHL free-agency period is about to get wild.
We’re looking at one of the best free-agent classes in NHL history. Names such as Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Jeff Skinner and Joe Pavelski, mixed in with the restricted free agent crop of Brayden Point, Mitch Marner and Jordan Binnington, and you’ve got talent galore. It’s a strong group, and we could end up seeing one of the most expensive summers in NHL history.
But that doesn’t apply to everyone. The sad reality is that, while some players will spend a few weeks spending the summer celebrating their new contracts, many others, including former league stars, will be doing everything they can just to secure a new deal. We’re talking about the bruised skaters and the struggling goaltenders that maybe could use a small contract to their advantage and prove people wrong, but others may just simply call it a career.
Let’s take a look at some NHL veterans who will have their work cut out for them in an effort to get a new contract for 2019-20:
Chris Kunitz, LW, 39
Chicago was a good place to get your career back on track on this season. But at 39, Kunitz wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Playing on a $1-million deal, Kunitz had just 10 points in 56 games while spending considerable time in the press box. Kunitz was was once capable of 60-point campaigns with the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins and even played for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. But as he has gotten older, his value in the NHL has quickly deteriorated to the point where the Hawks used him less than 10 minutes a night on most occasions. If he signs somewhere next season, don’t expect much offensively.
Chad Johnson, G, 32
Just imagine: if Johnson didn’t struggle in his time with the Blues to kick off the year, maybe we wouldn’t all be talking about Binnington right now. Just how rough was it for Johnson? In 10 games with the Blues, he finished with a 2-6-0 record, filling in for Jake Allen in two other games. Johnson posted a 3.55 goals-against average and .884 save percentage before Anaheim picked him up on waivers in mid-December. It didn’t get any better in sunny California, with Johnson losing all nine games he played before taking a puck off the head in February, sidelining him for the rest of the year. Johnson’s NHL options are really limited.
Jason Spezza, C, 35
Spezza is still serviceable in a bottom-six role and a team might look at his five-point playoff contribution and consider bringing him in for leadership purposes, but his options have to be rather limited. Spezza won’t return to the Stars after five years with the team, including two seasons with at least 60 points. Set to turn 36 on June 13, Spezza was a healthy scratch on multiple occasions this year and had just 27 points in 76 games and 53 points over the past two seasons combined. Spezza has said he still has ties to the Ottawa Senators, the team he spent his prime years with and will be remembered as one of the team’s top all-time players, but do they have any interest in bringing him back? That remains to be seen, especially as the team continues its rebuild.
Drew Stafford, RW, 33
Stafford arrived on the scene with Buffalo’s wicked 2006-07 team that was destined for a long playoff run but came up short. For a couple of years, the Sabres’ fan-favorite showed he was capable of hitting 50 points a year and brought a great mix of size and skill. But inconsistency plagued his career and his big 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame just isn’t holding up like it used to. Stafford impressed the Devils enough to earn a second chance this season on a tryout deal, but with a career-low 13 points in 57 games, he won’t exactly have a long list of teams wanting his services this summer. It’s a shame, truly, because he was beloved wherever he played.
Brooks Orpik, D, 38
Scratched for a good portion of the season, Orpik is still unsure if he’ll return for a 17th NHL season. Orpik was once viewed as a valuable shutdown defender, representing the United States at two Olympics while taking home Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2009 and Washington in 2018. But at 38, and with knee surgery this season limiting his performance, Orpik simply can’t keep up with the younger talent in the league anymore. If he does sign next year, it’ll be in a No. 6 or No. 7 role with lots of time in the press box to allow him to rest.
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