There are some absolute titans up for unrestricted free agency next summer – Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, the Sedin twins – but they’re in the twilight stage of their careers. Younger UFAs in the class will have a bigger impact, whether they re-sign with their current team or test the open market. Who are the top five who will have NHL GMs – and fans – salivating?
John Tavares, New York Islanders (current cap hit: $5.5 million)
This is the big one. Speculation has run rampant on J.T. for more than a year already, mostly because the Islanders’ arena situation has been such a gong show. Tavares, the team captain and leading man, has been committed to the organization for a long time and has always done more than his share both on and off the ice. But will this latest arena kerfuffle finally push him away?
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (current cap hit: $4.2 million)
He’s been a bargain in Toronto, but that won’t last if ‘JVR’ hits the open market. Since he arrived in the NHL so early, van Riemsdyk, 28, can become a free agent while still in the prime of his career, which makes him an attractive UFA option. Thanks to his size and hands, van Riemsdyk brings a net-front presence most teams could really use.
Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators (current cap hit: $3.5 million)
A solid faceoff man and two-way producer, Turris is underpaid right now and due for a significant raise. He teeters between being a top-line center and a second-line center, depending on the cast around him, but he is undoubtedly a key contributor in Ottawa. If the Senators want to keep him, it’ll cost them.
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets (current cap hit: $3.5 million)
Atkinson has seen his production climb steadily the past few seasons and happens to be cresting just when he needs a new contract. Undersized but effective thanks to his speed and hockey sense, he’s the type of player who is no longer overlooked by teams, and the Blue Jackets will have to pay a pretty penny to keep him from being lured away by outside suitors.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals (current cap hit: $4 million)
The top defenseman available, Carlson gets a bonus push on that alone. He gets another bump for being a right-handed shot, plus his Capitals already have three other blueliners under contract for more than $5 million each this season and in 2018-19. Can Washington hold on to this two-way gem, or will Carlson continue the exodus out of D.C.?