The dust hasn’t even settled on the 2018 UFA market yet, so I acknowledge that any serious talk about the 2019 UFA class is premature, but there are some very big names that could be members of that group. That’s even after Drew Doughty, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Logan Couture, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ryan McDonagh all signed extensions already.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most interesting players that are eligible to become UFAs next summer and discuss what the future might hold for them.
Erik Karlsson – The first player most people think of when they think of the 2019 UFA market is Erik Karlsson, both because he’s an elite defenseman and because of the constant reports that he might be traded. A couple weeks ago it sounded like the Tampa Bay Lightning were on the brink of acquiring Karlsson, but it’s been quieter on the trade front more recently. It could be a complicated trade to make work from a cap perspective, especially if the Senators are hoping to use Karlsson as a means of getting rid of the four seasons remaining on Bobby Ryan’s seven-year, $50.75 million contract. There’s also the question of if Karlsson would be willing to immediately sign an extension with his new team, because if he isn’t then the club would be taking a risk by paying top dollar in assets for what may end up being a rental.
Artemi Panarin – Like Karlsson, there is a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin over his willingness – or lack thereof – to re-sign. Panarin’s agent suggested that the issue is that his client isn’t sure if he’s ready to make a long-term commitment to Columbus and if all they were talking about was a two-year deal then something probably would have gotten done by now. After that story came out, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen met with Panarin, but that reportedly didn’t change the player’s position. If that’s true, then Columbus needs to decide if the plan is going to be to continue to sell Panarin on Columbus or explore the trade market.
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Tyler Seguin – It would be somewhat surprising at this point to see Karlsson or Panarin re-sign this summer given the reports that have surfaced, but it would be far less shocking if Tyler Seguin re-signed with Dallas. He’s owed a big raise though. The six-year, $34.5 million contract he signed back in 2012 has proven to be a huge steal given that he’s recorded over 70 points in each of his last five campaigns and over 30 goals in four of those seasons. That could make things more complicated for Dallas as it wouldn’t be shocking if Seguin was hoping to get something in line with John Tavares’ seven-year, $77 million contract. After all, while Tavares has 160 goals and 372 points in 378 games over the last five years, Seguin has scored 173 goals and 384 points in 387 games over that same span.
Sergei Bobrovsky – It would be unfortunate if Columbus can’t convince Panarin to re-sign, but it would be devastating if they can’t re-sign Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is who the Blue Jackets have been built around and he’s been a great cornerstone at that. He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner with his most recent victory coming in 2016-17 and last season he posted a 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage in 65 starts to help lead Columbus to the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne – Pekka Rinne is a pretty interesting case because while he’s an elite goaltender that just won the Vezina Trophy, he also turns 36-years-old in November. So how many good years could he really have left in him? That’s the question the Predators need to answer and concerns about his age will probably lead to the Predators waiting until we’re a decent ways into the 2018-19 campaign before they engage Rinne in serious negotiations. Nashville also recently inked Juuse Saros to a very reasonable three-year, $4.5 million contract and Saros is a candidate to succeed Rinne.
Joe Pavelski – As mentioned at the top, the Sharks have already re-signed Couture, but they still need to agree to terms with Joe Pavelski. He’s the team’s captain and has surpassed the 30-goal milestone on four occasions. While he’s been less effective recently, he still scored an impressive 22 goals and 66 points in 82 games last season, making it his fifth straight 65-plus point campaign. That being said, Pavelski celebrated his 34th birthday on July 11, so unlike Couture, a long-term contract isn’t appropriate here.
Matt Duchene – There’s been so many other storylines surrounding the Ottawa Senators that Matt Duchene has actually managed to largely fly under the radar this summer, but he is entering the last season of his five-year, $30 million contract. He wanted to be traded to a contender and ironically he was dealt from a Colorado Avalanche team that made the playoffs to an Ottawa Senators club that completely collapsed. It’s not clear if Duchene would entertain an extension with the Senators after what he’s seen them go through, but like Ottawa itself, Duchene is a big question mark. Would he expect to be paid like a star? That might be a big ask given that he hasn’t reached the 60-point milestone since 2013-14. Duchene is certainly capable of being an offensive leader, but he might need to step up in 2018-19 if he is to secure a massive payday.
Jordan Eberle – While Jordan Eberle might never come close to repeating his 2011-12 showing of 34 goals and 76 points, he’s become a solid contributor. After recording 47 and 51 points in his final two seasons with Edmonton, he bounced back somewhat with the Islanders in 2017-18 with 25 goals and 59 points in 81 contests. Eberle is no John Tavares, but after the Islanders let their star forward walk for nothing as a UFA, they should avoid repeating that scenario with Eberle.
Blake Wheeler – Blake Wheeler is coming off the best season of his career with 23 goals and 91 points in 81 contests, but that’s far from his only good season. He’s surpassed the 70-point mark in each of the last three campaigns and ranks fifth in the NHL in total points over that span, behind only Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane. In other words, Wheeler should get a big payday at the end of his current six-year, $33.6 million contract, though the fact that he’ll turn 32-years-old on August 31st will limit things from a term perspective.
Jeff Skinner – Jeff Skinner has been somewhat hit-and-miss throughout his career, but when he’s good, he’s been very good. He’s surpassed the 30-goal milestone three times in his career with his most recent coming in 2016-17 when he scored 37 goals and 63 points in 79 contests. The 2017-18 campaign was a step back at 24 goals and 49 points in 82 contests, but going into his contract year he still has a lot of value. Carolina might end up trading him instead of re-signing him and there certainly have been rumors to that effect so far this summer.
Cam Talbot – This is a critical season for Cam Talbot when it comes to his earning potential. He played a huge role in Edmonton making the postseason in 2016-17 by posting a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage in a staggering 73 starts. The 2017-18 campaign was rough for the Oilers in general and Talbot in particular as he had a 3.02 GAA and .908 save percentage in 67 starts. Now 31-years-old, he needs to a solid showing this season in order to secure a big contract.
Wayne Simmonds – There aren’t many players that provide the same level of skill and grit as Wayne Simmonds, so if he did enter the UFA market he would definitely be in high demand. He struggled a bit last season with 24 goals, 46 points, and 57 penalty minutes in 75 games, but he also played through a lot of injuries. There’s a very good chance that he’ll bounce back in his contract year.
Eric Staal – When Eric Staal completed his previous contract, he was coming off a low point in his career. He had just 13 goals and 39 points in 83 games with Carolina and the Rangers in 2015-16. The Wild got him for a price of just $10.5 million over three seasons as a result and he’s more than covered that salary by scoring 70 goals and 141 points in 164 contests. If he comes up big again in 2018-19 then he’ll be in line for a nice payday, though the term will still be limited given that he’ll turn 34-years-old on Oct. 29.