Editor’s Note: Joe Banish is a new writer for Puck Junk. Please welcome him in the comments below.
Each season, at least one high-profile free agent is available, causing fans to speculate if he will stay with his current team, or go to another team that can give him more money — or a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. Here are five high-end free agents that will make a splash wherever they sign in the offseason.
1. Artemi Panarin (LW)
The Blue Jackets’ winger is on an offensive tear this season, with 77 points through 72 games. Alongside fellow winger Cam Atkinson, and the strong defensive play of Seth Jones and Adam McQuaid, Columbus remains in the thick of the Metropolitan division race. However, Panarin has given every indication that he will test the free agent market at the conclusion of the season. Teams with cap space looking for an offensive spark may be able to offer more than Columbus, tempting him to consider other options.
2. Mitch Marner (RW)
Although he is a restricted free agent, meaning Toronto must extend a qualifying offer, the Maple Leafs’ cap situation makes Marner’s future with the team slightly uncertain. Forwards John Tavares, William Nylander and Auston Matthews have all signed lucrative multi-year deals, leaving Toronto with extremely limited space to resign both Marner and defenseman Jake Gardiner. Given Marner’s offensive output (90 points to lead the team) and young age, he is an extremely valuable commodity. Some predict Toronto is willing to offer him a contract in the neighborhood of $8-9 million annual adjusted value, which makes it feasible that some teams will be willing to match or exceed that salary.
3. Jake Gardiner (D)
A left-handed defenseman, Gardiner has been crucial in the Maple Leafs’ recent run of success. He is having a solid season, with 29 points and a +17 rating. However, as mentioned above, Toronto will most likely be unable to sign both Gardiner and Marner under salary cap constraints. Gardiner will receive several offers from teams lacking defensively.
4. Sergei Bobrovsky (G)
Columbus’ netminder is certainly the most high-profile free agent at his position. The Blue Jackets have a talented roster, yet no playoff success to show for it. Bobrovsky and his compatriot Panarin may be motivated by the opportunity of contending for the Stanley Cup elsewhere, and will have several alluring offers to consider.
5. Jeff Skinner (LW)
An offensive stalwart and former Calder Trophy winner, Skinner was traded by Carolina to Buffalo at the beginning of this season. Skinner is having a career season; 37 goals and 22 assists in 75 games. He also leads a core of impressive young players such as Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, acquired through years of rebuilding and high draft picks. Seeing a bright future, Buffalo will likely match offers that Skinner receives. ■
Joe Banish is a die-hard Red Wings fan who lives in the pro hockey vacuum of the Pacific Northwest. He also likes beating goalies high glove side, playing basketball, and cheering on his alma mater, Michigan State.