Predicting Where the Top Unrestricted Free Agents Will Land

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

Now that the draft is behind us and teams are officially allowed to talk with pending unrestricted free agents, I’ve decided to take a stab at predicting where some of the top players may land on July 1st.

David Backes

It looks as though the St. Louis Blues captain is set to test free agency and by all accounts, it seems like Backes is set to move on. The veteran forward is coming off a down year from a production standpoint, and at 32 his best days are likely behind him. That won’t stop a GM from paying a large sum of money over far too many years in order to add the ‘veteran presence’ to the lineup.

New home: Colorado Avalanche – 6 years, $39m

Every time you listen to Patrick Roy speak about his team, you can’t help but picture him overpaying for a player like Backes. Colorado will offer far too much term for Backes to turn down.

Runner-up: Edmonton

Milan Lucic

After failing to get an extension signed in LA, Lucic appears to be on his way to the open market. Lucic is a good player, but he’s in the perfect situation to sign a contract that will look horrible in its last few years. At 28, Lucic isn’t old but his style of play suggests he’s the type of player that will wear down earlier than some.

New home: Vancouver Canucks – 7 years, $49m

Jim Benning has shown over the past month that he has no interest in rebuilding his team. He has mentioned that he’s looking to go for it, and what better way to do that than landing the hometown boy. Benning will offer more money than anyone else then claim Lucic was signed because he wanted to come home.

Runner-up: Edmonton

Kyle Okposo

Okposo is a bit of the forgotten man in this year’s free agency. He’s the player that should be getting the offers we’re going to see being made to Backes and Lucic. Okposo is 28-years old and a bonafide top-6 winger that will give his new team a new offensive threat.

New home: Arizona Coyotes – 5 years, $31.25m

Over the past week, John Chayka proved that he’s not afraid to go after a player that he identifies as a good fit for his organization. With the acquisition of Alex Goligoski, the team seems like they are ready to take the next step towards a run up the standings. Okposo would fit in really nicely with the high-end young talent in Arizona.

Runner-up: Buffalo

Jason Demers

Jason Demers is going to cash in. He’s the best defender available, he’s 28-years old, and he’s the coveted right-handed shot from the blueline that GMs are looking for. He’s younger and was better than Alex Goligoski last season so that new contract will likely be a starting point for Demers and his agent. Demers is the kind of player you want your team to be signing, the problem is there will be a bidding war and he could end up being far too expensive to justify.

New home: Boston Bruins – 7 years, $45.5m

With a lot of cap room and a huge need on defense, the Bruins will do whatever it takes to land Demers. It will be a big financial commitment but the Bruins will end up winning Demers by offering the coveted seventh year.

Runner-up: Edmonton/Colorado

Andrew Ladd

Ladd would almost certainly like to stay in Chicago. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks don’t have any cap space. The 30-year-old left winger is a legitimate second line winger that can help fill the void for a team that needs to bolster their top-6. Like Backes and Lucic, Ladd will likely get some bonus money thrown on to his contract because of the perceived value of ‘character and leadership’.

New home: Ottawa Senators – 5 years, $30m

The Sens seem to hate Mike Hoffman. The team doesn’t want to pay him and I could see them spending the money Hoffman should get on the older – less good – Ladd.

Runner-up: Montreal

Loui Eriksson

Eriksson is going to be another hot commodity on July 1. The winger is coming off a 30 goal season and will be viewed as a guy who can provide offense for a team that is trying to compete.

New home: Detroit Red Wings – 5 years, $32.5m

After losing Pavel Datsyuk and missing out on Steven Stamkos, Detroit will sign Eriksson to try to fill the void.

Runner-up: New York Islanders

Dan Hamhuis

Hamhuis only had 13 points last season but he was the best possession defender on a bad Canucks team. He’s ready to move on and would be a decent bottom-4 defender on a good team. Look for Hamhuis to move to a team that might not provide the highest AAV, but will give the most security.

New home: Montreal Canadiens – 4 years, $18m

Runner-up: Columbus

Eric Staal

Eric Staal hasn’t been good for a couple years now. He’s only 31, but he looks like he’s about to sign his last contract in the NHL. A contender might make him a bigger offer than expected but something tells me Staal is the kind of guy who will choose location over anything else.

New home: Carolina Hurricanes – 3 years, $12m

Even though he agreed to be moved at the deadline this past February, Staal seems like a guy who has his heart in Carolina. He’ll go back to what promises to be a decent young team in Carolina for a legitimate hometown discount.

Mikkel Boedker

After making an absurd trade for Boedker at the deadline, Colorado looks like they’re going to let him walk away. Boedker is a very young UFA that looks to cash in with a team that would see him as a fit on their second line for a long time – for some reason.

New home: Los Angeles Kings – 5 years, $28.75m

Dean Lombardi will be looking to replace Milan Lucic on the wing and he seems like the kind of guy that might overvalue the game Boedker plays.

Runner-up: Boston

Brian Campbell

At 37, Brian Campbell is on his last legs in the NHL. That said he was still a useful piece in Florida last season and will be a nice complimentary defender for a contending team. He won’t break the bank but the team that wins his services will likely be the one who offers that one extra year of certainty.

New home: Dallas Stars – 3 years, $9m

The Stars need to replace the puck moving ability of Goligoski and Demers. While. Campbell doesn’t do that fully, he’ll be a decent veteran to go along with a core that is ready to win now.

Runner-up: Detroit

Jiri Hudler

Hudler is a legitimate top-6 player that will look good on a good team. He’s 32 so his best years are behind him, but he will still give a good secondary offensive punch. He could be the kind of guy that takes a little longer to sign as teams circle back after missing out on the perceived bigger fish.

New home: New York Islanders – 3 years, $15m

The Islanders will be looking for a way to replace Okposo’s production and Hudler is the kind of guy that would be very good complement to John Tavares

Runner-up: Winnipeg

Steven Stamkos

It’s seemed for a long time now that Stamkos is ready to walk away from the Lightning. He may be the most coveted free agent in this history of the NHL. He’s 26, an elite scorer and the kind of player great teams need. His new contract will reflect that.

New home: Toronto Maple Leafs – 7 years, $77m

Because duh.

Runner up: No one else really ever had a chance.

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