NHL free agency: Tavares, van Riemsdyk headline UFA class

We’re fast approaching July 1, with the 2018 class of free agents ready to hit the market.

While the market has thinned greatly in recent weeks—Evander Kane’s seven-year deal with the Sharks took a chunk out of the guesswork—the great prize of the summer is still out there in John Tavares.

In a group short on impact players, Tavares is easily the biggest of them and could be looking for a new home after nine seasons with the New York Islanders, who drafted the center with the top pick in 2009. Tavares is due a big raise from his soon-to-expire six-year, $33 million contract, with the expectation that he’ll garner a deal in the $10 million-plus per season range.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson is coming off a career-best season and is also due some big money, and he’ll get it, especially with the salary cap projected to rise from $75 million to $78-82 million for 2018-19. That could help Washington retain Carlson’s services, though they have some restricted free agents like goalie Philipp Grubauer due new contracts as well.

Another matter potentially complicating upcoming deals is a possible expansion to Seattle. Having learned from the Vegas draft, this will be a factor in how things shake out, especially in regards to no movement clauses.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger names who will be getting new contracts this summer:

Note: Projected contracts come from Matt Cane’s 2018 Free Agent Predictions sheet.

John Tavares – C

Age: 27

2017-18: 81 GP,  36G-47A-83 Pts

Projected: contract: 8 years, $10.7M AAV

The crown jewel of the 2018 free agency class, Tavares is a bona fide top line center and is sure to be weighing each and every option available to him. He’s been tight-lipped about his process, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if he stayed with the Islanders to finish what he started. He’s been tight-lipped about his process, though new Isles GM Lou Lamoniello has been making his push in recent weeks, including a shakeup that saw Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight given the boot.

James van Riemsdyk – LW

Age: 29

2017-18: 81GP, 36G-18A-54 Pts

Projected: Contract: 3 years, $5.35M AAV

The No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft is a two-time 30-goal scorer coming off a career-high 36 this past season with the Maple Leafs. He excelled in one of the tightest areas in 2017-18, using his size and skill to pop in goals from the doorstep. JVR is still in his prime and should have plenty of suitors to choose from.

Joe Thornton – C

Age: 38

2017-18: 47GP, 13G-23A-36 Pts

Projected: Contract: 1 year, $5.4M AAV

Age and multiple knee surgeries over the past few seasons mean Thornton’s upside is limited. Still, one of the greatest playmakers in recent league history still has some magic left in that epic beard and he could be a cheap depth forward that benefits the locker room of a contending team.

Rick Nash – W

Age: 33

2017-18: 71GP, 21G-13A-34 Pts

Projected: Contract: 1 year, $4.26M AAV

Nash’s 40-goal days are far behind him, but the power forward still has some of the skill that made him the top pick in 2002. He wasn’t as productive down the stretch as the Bruins would have liked—an upper-body injury, believed to be a concussion, didn’t help. He’s in line for a big pay cut from $7.8 million AAV. Does he head back to Broadway to join a rebuilding Rangers team?

Paul Stastny – C

Age: 32

2017-18: 82GP, 16G-37A-53 Pts

Projected: Contract: 3 years, $5.41M AAV

One of the most sought-after centers when he hit the market in 2014, Stastny reinvigorated his game with a trade deadline move to Winnipeg where he excelled as a veteran on a young Jets team. A model of consistency, you can write him in for another 40-point season and a mid-term contract.

John Carlson – D

Age: 28

2017-18: 82 GP,  15G-53A-68 Pts

Projected: Contract: 8 years, $8.635M AAV

Carlson’s dominant breakout performance—career highs in goals, assists, points, shots and TOI have the defenseman slated for a major upgrade from the contract that averaged just under $4 million per over the last six seasons. The U.S.-born blueliner is sure to find himself on a seven-plus year deal at No. 1 defenseman money.

James Neal – W

Age: 30

2017-18: 71 GP, 25G-19A-44 Pts

Projected: Contract: 1 year, $4.31M AAV

One of the NHL’s most consistent scorers since debuting in 2008-09, Neal has notched at least 22 goals in each of his 10 seasons. He was an integral part of the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, though his want for a long-term deal could complicate his future in Vegas.

David Perron – W

Age: 30

2017-18: 70 GP, 16G-50A-66 Pts

Projected: Contract: 4 years, $4.683M AAV

Perron took a liking to hockey on the Strip, netting career highs in assists and points, and it could lead to a swath of suitors. Whether or not his scoring surge proves to be an outlier, Perron is a consistent secondary option for offense and is reportedly looking for a deal with some term on it.

Mike Green – D

Age: 32

2017-18: 66GP, 8G-25A-33 Pts

Projected: Contract: 5 years, $5.64M AAV

The Red Wings are reportedly interested in bringing back the hard-shooting defenseman, who is recovering from a season-ending spinal surgery. The right-handed shooter is a source of offense and a veteran presence on a rebuilding team, but might not be a great fit long-term.

Kari Lehtonen – G

Age: 34

2017-18: 37 GP, 15-14-3, 1 SHO

Projected: Contract: 2 years, $3.371M AAV

His days as a starting goalie are behind him, but Lehtonen proved his value as a backup last season. There’s always a market for capable No. 2 goalies, though most likely at around half of his $5.9 million AAV over the past five seasons.

Jaroslav Halak – G

Age: 33

2017-18: 54 GP, 20-26-6, 1 SHO

Projected: Contract: 1 year, $3.27M AAV

He’s the best in a weak market for goaltending. His 2017-18 season was pretty bad, made even worse playing behind a non-existent defense. Halak will have to settle for a short-term, lower-money deal, though he may be stuck with the Islanders, who don’t have a better answer for 2018-19.

Carter Hutton – G

Age: 32

2017-18: 32 GP, 17-7-3, 3 SHO

Projected: Contract: 2 years, $3.1M AAV

Hutton finished the season atop the league in goals-against average and save percentage, but there’s little chance he magically morphs into a starting goalie at this stage of his career. Still, as far as backup goalies go, Hutton should attract plenty of interest on the free agency market.

Ilya Kovalchuk – LW

Age: 35

2017-18: 53 GP, 31G-32A-63 Pts

Maybe the biggest enigma of the 2018 summer, Ilya Kovalchuk has asserted his want to return to the NHL after spending the last five seasons dominating in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. His sublime sniping skills were put on display during a gold-medal performance in PyeongChang, and you can be sure North American GMs noticed. The rumor mill has him returning to the NYC Metro area, perhaps for a reunion with Lou Lamoriello in Brooklyn or with former Devils coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose.

Patrick Maroon – LW

Age: 30

2017-18: 74 GP, 17G-26A-43 pts

Projected: Contract: 4 years, $5.288M AAV

Maroon racked up 13 points in 17 games down the stretch after being acquired by the Devils at the trade deadline, and had surgery for a herniated disk following the team’s postseason exit. He excelled playing on Connor McDavid’s wing in Edmonton and will likely be getting much bigger deal, both in money and term, than the $2 million he earned in each of the last three seasons.

Tyler Bozak – C

Age: 32

2017-18: 81GP, 11G-32A-43 Pts

Projected: Contract: 3 years, $4.378M AAV

After nine years in Toronto, it appears Bozak could be looking for a new home. At 32 with limited offensive contributions and not-great defensive abilities, he still ranks high among a shallow crop of second-tier free agent centers.

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