That’s right folks! July 1st is upon us and NHL players are salivating at the thought of entering the free-agent market. Over the last few years, we have seen regrettable contracts handed out that have already backfired. The likes of Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Karl Alzner and many more are now making way more than they deserve. Why is that? Because the free-agent crops are getting worse every year, while teams are getting more desperate. This is a trend that might lead to another eventual lock-out in 2020 if the rapid increase in salary is not controlled. The highest paid player in terms of salary used to be Alex Ovechkin at $9.3 million. Today, McDavid makes $12.5 million per year and is currently the highest paid player in the NHL.
The problem isn’t that the best players have had a drastic increase in salary, as the difference between $9.3 million and $12.5 million isn’t that high. The issue seems to be with the rapidly rising salary of non-elite players, especially on July 1st. The rapidly declining quality of top-end talent available on July 1st has paved the way for insane contracts. This year’s crop obviously has John Tavares in it, but he’s already narrowed his teams down to 6. This paves the way for the other 30 NHL teams that do not sign Tavares to overpay elsewhere. With Tavares holding up a lot of the unrestricted-free-agent market, his signing will mean that desperate teams will overpay to save face this summer. Such teams like San Jose, Dallas, Toronto, and Boston will aggressively create a bidding war and here are the most likely candidates to benefit from the Tavares aftermath:
Free Agent: Tyler Bozak – C
Tyler Bozak is leaving the Maple Leafs after 9 years. The future salary constraints with the Matthews, Marner and Nylander extensions have pushed him out. That being said, the added shortage of available centres make Bozak very attractive for contenders. In an era where teams roll three offensive lines, he would slot into any team’s third line and contribute. He would also be able to pop into a top-6 in case of injuries and this is great insurance.
The early numbers being speculated by hockey analysts see Bozak’s camp aiming for $6 million per year. For a player that has only ever put up 50 points once in his career, that is simply too much. He played with Van Riemsdyk and Marner all season and was limited to 43 points. It won’t get any better on another team because no team has two 60+ point players on their 3rd line. Well, except the Leafs last year. As a 40-point player, anything above $5 million would be a gross overpay. Furthermore, the 32-year-old is looking at his last big pay-day and will certainly as for significant term. Anything above 3 years would be horrible, but we believe he just might get it.
Projected Deal: $6million X 4 years.
Free Agent: Paul Statsny – C
Do not get us wrong, Paul Statsny was money for the Winnipeg Jets this spring. This was the first full 82-game season the 32-year-old completed in the last 6 years. He has scored at a 55 point pace over the last few seasons, but this year’s point-per-game playoff performance will get him paid. He is the only player in this free-agent class that could arguably call themselves a top-6 C. However, the aggressive pursuit of the Winnipeg Jets, along with centre deprived teams like Montreal will create a bidding war.
Stastny, similarly to Bozak, is 32 and looking for his last big contract before he fizzles out. Any team throwing him more than 4 years, based on his recurring injury history, will regret it. We love Stastny, but anything north of $7.5 million for 4 years would make us back out. Unfortunately, you know there will be a team that will push the envelope. The feeling is a team will either offer 5 years or $8million per in order to woo Stastny. They would get their money’s worth in year 1, maybe even year two, but that is only if he stays healthy. This is not something that can be ignored, but GMs have memory loss on July 1st.
Projected Deal: $7.5 million X 4 years.
Free Agent: Jack Johnson – D
The 31-year-old has been on sharp decline points-wise over the last four seasons in Columbus. This is in part due to the rise of star defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. It is also because Johnson has begun to slow down considerably. Is he still a top-4 defenseman in the NHL and should he be paid like one? Probably not, and you bet your ass he will. The former 3rd overall pick in the 2005 draft is looking to get paid after a troubled financial past. He will thus ask for the absolute most amount of money possible. He is arguably the most attractive defensemen for a team looking for experience and talent.
Johnson is looking for something north of $5 million per for the next 5 years. As an aging player, any form of term north of 3 years would be a huge risk to take. Johnson was relegated to third pairing duty in Columbus and had a very hard time remaining consistent. A defenseman that put up a meager 11 points in 77 games doesn’t necessarily scream top-4 defenseman to us. However, after Montreal offered Karl Alzner a $4.6 million 5-year contract, anything is possible.
Projected Deal: $5million X 5 years.
That’s just the most head-scratching contract numbers that have come in over the last week. With a day or so to go, we could get wind of some even more ludicrous deals. The theme of this UFA crop seems to be “Buyer Beware”. It’s come to the point that, besides Tavares and JVR, fans are hoping their team strikes out entirely. We strongly believe this is one of the weakest UFA classes ever, but team desperation is at an all-time high. The growing need for drafting and development has made the days of free-agent shopping look like a trip to the dollar store. Gone are the days where you can sign both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez in one summer.