Photo Credit: © Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agency 2017: The Market For Wingers

Free Agent Frenzy is almost upon us. We’ve gone through an Expansion Draft, the Entry Draft, and on Saturday, the annual tradition of throwing a bunch of money at players will begin. Over the next few days, I’m going to dive into the unrestricted free agent market and map out who’s available and who’s going to be interested.

I’ve looked at the market for goalies, defencemen, and centres, so I’ll finish off with the wingers on the open market this summer. You’re going to have a hell of a time adding a good centre or defenceman, but there’s actually a lot of interesting options for good depth up and down the wings this summer.

Who’s available?

Alexander Radulov (RW)

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Alexander Radulov left Nashville in 2008 to play in Russia, had a bizarre comeback in 2012, then returned again, cementing himself as the best player not in the NHL. After tearing up the KHL for half a decade, Radulov decided it was time to give North America another shot. His return went better than anybody realistically could have expected.

On a low-risk, high-reward, one-year, $5.75 million deal, Radulov put up 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games for the Habs last season. He really took the bull by the horns in the playoffs, scoring seven points in six games and earning a “he’s the best player in hockey right now” compliment from the notoriously-critical-of-Russians Don Cherry. 

Apparently Radulov is asking for $7 million annually for six years. That would be a massive price to pay for an enigma who’s turning 31 years old in a week. The Habs are in an unenviable situation with Carey Price set to hit the open market next summer and a possibly closing window to contend. 

Patrick Marleau (LW) 

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I said it was weird to think about Joe Thornton in a different jersey, but it’s actually much more difficult to visualize Patrick Marleau not wearing a Sharks jersey than it is his future Hall of Famer teammate. Marleau has been with the Sharks since he was drafted second overall behind Thornton in 1997. He leads the franchise in all-time games, goals, and points, but, like I said above, the Sharks seem to be moving forward without their relics. 

Marleau, who’s turning 38 years old in September, scored 27 goals last season. That was his highest total since 2013-14. There’s no doubt he’s still got game, but he’s also apparently seeking a three year deal. It’s troublesome, because at that age, players can quickly fall off a cliff. But, I’ll say it again, where else can you find a player that can immediately make your top-six better like Marleau can? 

Justin Williams (RW) 

Justin Williams lost a Game 7 for the first time this spring. Even Mr. Clutch’s magic couldn’t help push the hopeless Capitals over the hump. Williams heads into free agency coming off of a two-year, $6.5 million deal with Washington in which he produced 100 points over 162 games. His 24 goals in 2016-17 was Williams’ highest total since be scored 33 with the Hurricanes back in 2006-07. 

He’s turning 36 years old in October, but there’s no doubt Williams can still play. He’s still producing offence at a solid clip, his underlying numbers have consistently been positive throughout his career, and the clutch gene isn’t something that goes away. Obviously you have to be a little wary with handing out a +35 contract, but Williams proved last season he’s worth another multi-year deal on a contending team.

Jaromir Jagr (RW)

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Where will Jaromir Jagr’s NHL tour land this summer? Obviously the Panthers would love to have him back, but the ageless wonder is said to be exploring the free agent market this summer. He turned 45 in February, but that obviously doesn’t matter. Jagr is a sensation and he’s going to keep playing until he can’t stand up anymore. 

And as long as he’s producing, somebody’s going to give him a contract. Last season, Jagr scored 16 goals and 46 points in 82 games. That’s a 20-point dip from where he was the year before, but in today’s NHL, a 46-point winger isn’t something to scoff at. Digging a little deeper, Jagr had the second-best team relative shot attempt differential on the Panthers behind Jonathan Huberdeau. He can still play. 

Jarome Iginla (RW) 

On July 1, Jarome Iginla will turn 40 years old. He’ll also hit the open market for the first time since 2014. Iginla still wants to play in the NHL, and apparently there’s interest from a handful of teams. 

2016-17 wasn’t find to the future Hall of Famer, as Iginla racked up one 27 points between the hapless Avs and low-octane Kings, but in his first two years in Colorado, Iginla scored 29 and 22 goals. He obviously isn’t going to play a major role on a team anymore, but Iginla can still chip in a little bit offensively and provide veteran leadership on a contender. 

Thomas Vanek (LW) 

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Last summer, Thomas Vanek was bought out by the buried-deep-in-cap-hell Minnesota Wild. He was given a one-year deal by the Wings and performed fairly well in a sheltered, offensive role in Detroit. With the Wings, Vanek scored 15 goals and 38 points before being dealt to the Panthers, where his offence completely dried up. 

He 33 years old, has flaws in his game, and is basically as one-dimensional of an offensive player as they come, but Vanek scores goals. He’d make a good add for any team in need of a scoring winger so long as they’re willing to feed him easy minutes. 

Radim Vrbata (RW)

Radim Vrbata had a difficult 2015-16 season in Vancouver and ultimately wasn’t able to earn a contract until August last summer. He signed a one-year, bonus-heavy deal with the Coyotes and went on to lead the team in goals with 20 and points with 55.

Vrbata turned 36 a few weeks ago and likely proved enough last season to earn a move lucrative contract this time around. Save for that poor season in Vancouver a couple years ago, Vrbata has recorded at least 20 goals in three of his last four seasons, so he’s a good bet to be a productive winger again. 

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Patrick Sharp (LW)

A Chicago Blackhawks cap casualty from after the team’s Stanley Cup win back in 2015, Patrick Sharp is back on the open market for the first time in over a decade. Sharp’s first season in Dallas was excellent. He produced 20 goals and 55 points as a part of Dallas’ high-flying juggernaut 80s style offence. But last season was a struggle as Sharp produced only 18 points in 48 games thanks largely to injury. 

Apparently the Blackhawks want to bring Sharp back. That’s kind of been the theme in Chicago, as Stan Bowman had re-acquired Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Johnny Oduya, Brian Campbell, and, most recently, Brandon Saad. If that doesn’t work out, Sharp makes yet another solid middle-six option of a team in need of a scoring winger. 

Ales Hemsky (RW) 

Sticking with injured Dallas Stars forwards, Alex Hemsky is back on the market. Hemsky signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Stars back in 2014 and was decent when healthy. Last season, though, Hemsky was limited to just 15 games due to a knee injury. Injuries have been the theme for Hemsky for most of his career, as Oilers fans know all too well. Still, he’s turning 34 years old and is an excellent talent, making him worth a cheap, short-term deal. 

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Daniel Winnik (LW)

For many, many years, Daniel Winnik has been a solid depth player. He’s 32 years old and has 717 NHL games under his belt. After a 25-point season with the Capitals in a defensive role, Winnik has certainly earned himself another contract. He’s versatile, can play up and down the lineup, and has always been defensively responsible. He’s a very solid, underrated depth player who can make a team better. 

Benoit Pouliot (LW)

The Oilers bought out the remaining two years of Benoit Pouliot’s contract on Thursday, making the former fourth overall pick a free agent once again. He’s bounced around the league quite a bit, finding a varying amount of success. He had two solid years in Edmonton but completely fell off a cliff in 2016-17, scoring just 14 points in 67 games. Pouliot is only 30 years old, which is nuts because it feels like he’s been around forever. He’ll certainly catch on somewhere in a depth scoring role. 

Scott Hartnell (LW) 

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Like Pouliot, Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets on Thursday. He had a decent enough season, putting up 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games with positive shot attempt differentials, but the Jackets are a team pressed right up against the cap and needed some breathing room. He’s only one year removed from a 23-goal season, so it’s easy to see Hartnell finding another job next season. 

Nail Yakupov (RW)

At this point, it looks like Nail Yakupov has taken Patrick Stefan’s crown for worst first overall pick in NHL history. He was acquired by the Blues last summer, but played only 40 games in St. Louis. The Blues clearly didn’t like what they saw and not to offer Yakupov a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. 

He’s certainly interesting case. Yakupov was an incredible scorer in junior and even had a solid rookie season with the Oilers back in 2013. It’s hard to imagine Yakupov not being offered a one-year show me deal somewhere, but this could be his last chance to prove he can stick at the NHL level. 

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What does the market look like? 

Maybe it’s because the market for centres and defencemen is so thin, but the crop of wingers available this summer isn’t half bad. Obviously the biggest prize left on the table is Alex Radulov since T.J. Oshie signed a long-term deal to stick around in Washington. Radulov’s price tag is massive as he’s asking for $7 million annually, so teams might stray away and instead set their sights on one of the older players who won’t require as much of an investment.

Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, and Jaromir Jagr are all old guys who can still play, and unlike Radulov, won’t come with much of a risk attached to them. Beyond that, this market is littered with solid veterans who can chip in playing a middle-six role. Obviously there aren’t really any high impact players available, but that’s kind of become the reality of the league. Elite players seldom reach the open market.

Reminder: This is an NHLNumbers article cross-posted on all Nation Network sites. As a result, the comments section will also be crossed among the sites. 

Read also: 2017’s free agent market for goaltenders2017’s free agent market for defencemen 

  • Slipknot 8

    I got time for Marleau even on a three year contract,, he was arguably the best Shark in the playoffs against the Oilers, at 27 goals I would think he could get 30 with McDavid.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Setting aside ancient history for a second (3 of the first 5 first overall picks never played in the league, but the draft was different back then), the worst first overall choice was Alexandre Daigle. He stuck around the league for awhile because of his pedigree, but two of the three guys taken after him in the draft were Hall of Famers. (I suppose you could say that about Stefan too, depending on how you feel about the Sedin twins, but 1999 was also a historically weak draft). Nail Yakupov is scuffling, and a few decent players went after him, but there’s no way he’s going to be able to top the generational bust status that the massively overhyped, “blue chip, Next One” Daigle was.

    Erik Johnson kinda sucks too, I think the Blues wish they had Toews, Backstrom or Kessel instead.

    • Cfan in Van

      I remember being really excited to have Daigle’s upper deck rookie card, back in the day. Woohoo, first overall… Oh wait, damn. Into the bike spokes you go.

  • gwright

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the Oilers pick up one (or two) of the older wingers on a short term deal. I doubt any of these players would fit the long term goals, so paying extra for a younger player doesn’t necessarily make sense. Bring in that calming vet presence for the next little bit to help the growth of the young core.

  • Up North

    We will not have the cap space to sign any high end wingers so if we are in the winger UFA market it is for a depth player with secondary scoring.
    I honestly don’t see any on this list that are better options than Tyler Pitlick

  • Redbird62

    I suppose Pittsburgh had Guerin in ’09 (obtained at the deadline) and Boston had Recchi in ’11 to fill that type role. I could maybe see Marleau in that role. Iginla seems to be fading fast and his presence didn’t bolster Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado or LA enough. Jagr’s last good playoff year was 2008.

  • neal

    Hockey is a cruel game. It has become a young man’s game.Players older than thirty will be lucky to get a one-year show me contract. I truly believe the Sedins have represented Vancouver and the Canucks well for a number of years. I also believe the Canucks will not move forward until the Sedins retire.