By now, you've probably heard a lot of talk about how the Capitals need to win the Stanley Cup this year because the team is going to look very different in 2017-18. The reason why is because Washington has several expiring contracts this year and some of those players will be hard to keep.
Luke Fox of SportsNet ranked the 17 top unrestricted free agents of 2017 and three of them made the top five. Deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk is ranked No. 1 with T.J. Oshie coming in just behind him at No. 2.
"NHL teams salivate over puck-moving defencemen under the age of 30, so expect Shattenkirk to knock his next contract out of the park," writes Fox. "Think Keith Yandle's seven-year, $44.45-million pact signed with the Panthers last year."
Shattenkirk is just 28 and is still very much in his prime. He was the biggest target at the trade deadline and will clearly cost top dollar to keep around. His expiring contract was an issue for St. Louis all season leading to his eventual trade. If the Caps hope to keep him in Washington, it may mean moving a significant piece of the roster to fit his cap hit.
As good as Shattenkirk is and as well as he may fit the modern NHL, many may still be surprised to see him ahead of Oshie. Oshie has scored a career-high 32 goals this season and clearly has developed chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, a forward pair that sometimes struggles to find a compliment.
What likely pulls Oshie to No. 2 is his age. This is the first 30-goal season of Oshie's career and it came at the age of 30. This is not a level of production you can expect from him for many more years.
The third Cap to make the list is Karl Alzner who ranks No. 5. Writes Fox, "is there room to keep the defensively responsible Alzner and the younger Dmitry Orlov (RFA again)? Oh, yeah. Now Shattenkirk is here too. ... Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported in the winter that Alzner is asking for $5.5 to $6 million per season from Washington in light of the hefty Brent Burns deal."
Alzner is the best defensive player on the team, but his style does not fit the modern NHL the way Shattenkirk's does. He is not a puck-mover and, for a Caps team with a lot of other players to sign, it may be difficult to find enough money to pay Alzner his reported asking price. Whether he is worth that much to Washington going forward is a question the team will need to ask.
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