The free agency period in the NHL is upon us. We are only days away from July 1, 2016, and there has already been a lot of buzz. The NHL Entry Draft has passed, and we didn’t see any big moves with the biggest name on the market. Right now, Steven Stamkos is the most sought-after player entering the free market. At the age of 26, Stamkos’s impressive resume as an elite goal-scorer means there’s no shortage of suitors. It is still possible for Tampa Bay to reach a deal with him, but the first of July is fast approaching.
So far, there are three teams that are considered the front-runners vying for Stamkos. The first and most likely team, I believe, are the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings traded Pavel Datsyuk’s rights to the Coyotes, clearing his salary cap hit off the books, and they are looking for a big name to replace him. With a good supporting cast in Detroit, this would be a good fit for Stamkos, and it might be what the Red Wings need to get back into Cup contention. The Toronto Maple Leafs are also looking to acquire Stamkos’s services and bring him home. However, Toronto is a team that has been in a rebuilding period, and with Stamkos being close to the Stanley Cup twice in the past two years, it doesn’t look like a good situation for him there in terms of a short-term Cup window. The Buffalo Sabres are also looking at Stamkos. Buffalo has been rebuilding, but they are an improving team, and Stamkos might be what they need to put them in Cup contention.
Teams who cannot get the Stamkos golden ticket do have other options in the market. The Red Wings may also be interested in center David Backes from the St. Louis Blues. Backes would be a cheaper alternative to Stamkos and is still a good, productive player. He had a strong showing in the postseason, and he still has gas in the tank even at the age of 32. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for New York Rangers center Eric Staal. The 32-year-old had his worst season last year and looks to be on the decline.
Teams needing forwards may be in luck. Three very good ones may hit the market. The Boston Bruins are still negotiating with Loui Eriksson, but he is still a possibility for teams in need like Vancouver or Toronto. Chicago Blackhawks left winger Andrew Ladd will probably find himself another new home next season. The Minnesota Wild or the Red Wings could be possible destinations. Kyle Okposo would be a great addition to any NHL team. If the New York Islanders do not re-sign him, there could be many suitors. Possible places for Okposo include Detroit, Minnesota, Winnipeg, and the New York Rangers.
With Calgary acquiring Brian Elliott from the Blues to be their number-one netminder, it took them out of the running for both Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. There were plenty of rumors that both Bishop and Fleury would be on the move, but they remain with their respective teams for now. Don’t be surprised if they’re both moved at some point, whether it be this offseason or by next season’s trade deadline.
However this free agency period plays out, it will make this upcoming season an interesting one. Will Detroit replace Datsyuk? Will Toronto finally show improvement? These questions and the biggest one of where Stamkos will end up will be answered soon enough. We will see a shuffle of players before the 2016-17 season starts with this free agency period, and will probably extend into the season as teams prepare their rosters for next summer’s expansion draft.
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