There is always a lot of talk about NHL players in contract years with the pressure on them to perform in order to earn new deals. While players like Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov have made their case for big money with excellent seasons there are also cases like Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who has struggled in his contract year. Here is a look at the top NHL players that are looking good heading in to free agency.
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
Shattenkirk is in the final season of a four-year, $17 million contract and he has made the most of his free agent audition with 38 points. Shattenkirk leads the Blues with seven powerplay points and is sixth in scoring among NHL defensemen this season. The demand for top veteran defensemen around the NHL means Shattenkirk is primed for a major payday with rumors he is looking for a seven-year deal at around $7 million per season. At 28-years-old, there is a good chance Shattenkirk gets the contract that he wants in free agency.
What’s also helping his stock (and likely going to raise his value even more so as the season progresses) is that the Blues have been playing well since firing head coach Ken Hitchcock. The general assumption was that the Blues were a contender in the Western Conference but they had not played like it through the first half of the season. Firing Hitchcock has lit a fire under them as they’ve won five straight and seven of 10.
Alexander Radulov, Montreal Canadiens
Radulov signed a one-year, $5.75 million deal with Montreal to prove he can play at an elite level in the NHL and he has delivered big time with 42 points in 54 games. Radulov leads the Canadiens in assists and powerplay points and he is on pace for a 20-goal, 60-point season. Radulov could be in line for a deal that pays him around $6 million annually and it will be interesting to see whether he decides to stay with Montreal or test his value once the free agent market opens.
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
Oshie is looking for a big payday this offseason and his play certainly indicates he deserves one as he has 23 goals and 40 points in 47 games. Oshie is second on the Capitals in scoring and he’s tied with Jay Beagle for the most shorthanded points on his club with three. The fact that the skilled forward also leads his team in blocked shots by a forward and takeaways is a testament to his complete, all-around game and that will only enhance his value. Oshie is reportedly looking for around $6 million per season and he should find a strong fit somewhere once he hits free agency. A strong playoff performance will help Oshie’s cause. As of now, the Capitals are in first place in the Eastern Conference and are expected to be a chief contender for the Stanley Cup. If the Caps finally do make that deep playoff run and Oshie performs well, he’ll get the six or seven million per season that he’s looking for.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner and Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal both deserve honorable mention here but there is no doubt that Thornton will be among the most talked about free agents heading in to this offseason. Thornton is in the final year of a three-year deal and at 37-years-old it will be very interesting to see what he is offered. Thornton’s numbers are down form last year’s 82-point season as he has four goals and 34 points in 55 games but he is second among Sharks players in assists, third in powerplay points and forth in points. Thornton’s production isn’t what it once was but the veteran forward still brings a lot to the table and he could have enough left in the tank for a decent salary on a one or two-year deal this summer. The Sharks are currently in third place in the Western Conference and their playoff performance – as well as Thornton’s – will determine his value in NHL free agency.
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