Last week, I pondered Paul Stastny’s potential financial gains from what could be (and still is so far, even after being blanked in Game 3 along with the rest of the Colorado Avalanche) a truly outstanding run in these 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Beyond just looking at Stastny’s potential to bump up his value, the Dose pondered contract year guys and other possible overachievers in the Western Conference.
With the playoffs - and even, really, the opening round - still pretty much in its infancy with no series more than three games in, this seems like the perfect time to cover the Eastern Conference’s side of the equation.
In case you need me to jog your memory, I’m only going with eight teams per conference because … you know, there are 14 NHL teams who are already watching from the sidelines.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning will get an entry even though many are assuming that they’ll soon become team 15.)
Well, it doesn't get much more obvious than Jarome Iginla being the unrestricted free agent of greatest note. Yes, Iginla's past his prime, yet I feel like some people treat him like he's 40. At 36, he could very well have a couple contracts in him (especially since longer term deals are riskier since he's in the 35+ range). Still, things are winding down, so the future Hall of Famer has a lot to lose or gain in pushing the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
Iginla isn't the only guy with an expiring contract, though. One especially intriguing name is Torey Krug. The 23-year-old is an RFA, but he still is bumping up his value. After some nice moments in what felt like his debut games in the 2013 postseason, he managed a 14-goal, 40-point season in 2013-14. His shooting percentage is a tough high for your typical defenseman at 7.7, yet not ludicrous. If Boston goes long, he could have a chance to generate that much more production and could give his reps some more firepower at the negotiating table.
I'd also throw David Krejci's name out there. He's signed beyond this season, but only through 2014-15. He could turn up the heat on Boston to give him more than his affordable $5.25 million cap hit with yet another strong postseason.
The Detroit Red Wings have an interesting mix of guys fighting for something once you get beyond the guys with longer deals like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall and (teehee) Stephen Weiss.
Of course, you can narrow things down quite a bit in the cadaver category; Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary have to be long gone ... at least you hope. There are also guys who might not get much of a chance, as Jonas Gustavsson's redemptive work might have ended in the regular season.
Anyway, the guys who are especially interesting to watch are Daniel Alfredsson (is this it?) , Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar. Gustav Nyquist could also fight for an extension, as he'll be an RFA after his $950K cap hit dissolves following the 2014-15 season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins structure of core players + a supporting cast of rotating players really opens the door for some juicy contract year rushes. In fact, this might be the most impressive group of them all.
The sexiest name is Matt Niskanen, a guy who's truly had a contract year for the ages. His 46 points in 2013-14 top what he did the previous three seasons (14 in 40 games in 2012-13, 21 in 75 in 11-12 and 10 between the Penguins and Dallas Stars in 10-11). His Kris Letang-lite stats have been amazing, yet he’s not the only interesting player. Jussi Jokinen went from struggling to find an NHL job to maybe being an expensive free agent (probably somewhere else); Lee Stempniak (UFA) and Brandon Sutter (RFA) face interesting opportunities, too.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Blue Jackets lack much in the way of sizzle in this area ... except, of course, for Ryan Johansen(!). To give you an idea of how big a breakthrough this has been for the pending restricted free agent, consider that he combined for 33 points in 107 games over his first two seasons and nearly doubled that in 2013-14. That restricted status will make him easier to sign, yet Columbus cannot risk being too cute with it. After all, wouldn't you want to target such a promising 21-year-old with an offer sheet?
When you consider guys whose contracts expire after 2014-15, the list gets longer. Still, one name pops out the most (with all due respect to one of my fantasy favorites, Brandon Dubinsky) in Sergei Bobrovsky. Remarkably, "Bob" will be an RFA if he isn't signed by the time his latest deal expires after 2014-15.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The Lightning boast quite a few expiring contracts, yet most of them are easy to dismiss at this point. There are a few noteworthy fellows, however.
The first is Ryan Callahan. In case you're wondering, he currently has 11 points in 20 games with the Lightning and zero in three postseason contests with Tampa Bay. The thing I'm most disappointed with regarding his playoff production is that he only has three SOG.
Significant young players will need new deals. Ondrej Palat's name has been bandied about more than Tyler Johnson, yet the Washington native hasn't been that far behind Palat output-wise. Finally, we have Anders Lindback, whose future may be a real mystery; has he done well enough in a bad situation to get a backup job? Might he need to take a two-way contract?
The Montreal Canadiens have all kinds of interesting free agents-to-be. P.K. Subban has that extra motivation to continue doing amazing things and should get an enormous raise over his $2.875 million mark (Marc Bergevin's short-term bargain prompts admiration, but it's time to pay up).
Thomas Vanek's time might be brief in Montreal, but he needs to make the best of it. A long playoff run would only fatten his already should-be bursting bank account.
Subban and Vanek are justifiably the attention-grabbers, yet there are other key names, most importantly captain Brian Gionta and scoring blueliner Andrei Markov. Lars Eller also seems primed to make a nice raise, even as an RFA.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Hey, now maybe Benoit Pouliot's surge makes a little sense ... the former first-rounder could stay in the NHL longer. Maybe Mats Zuccarello's jump from borderline NHL to go-to scorer can be partially be explained by monetary motivation? (Of course, having an offense-friendly coach doesn't hurt.) Derick Brassard is another expiring contract to watch in his own right.
As far as two-year guys, plenty of interesting names there, too: Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan. If only expiring contract Chris Kreider didn't get hurt …
Steve Downie doesn't seem like he'll get a chance to bump up his pay, but there are others. Brayden Schenn could do some damage and Kimmo Timonen can call his shots, yet the biggest consideration is probably Ray Emery.
There's a chance Steve Mason could spoil things for Emery, but there's also a chance that the resilient netminder can turn the volume on his naysayers once again ... or at least earn another deal.
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