Friday, January 29, 2016

2016 NHL Free Agents - 5 Key Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) Forwards

As it stands currently, there are some huge NHL names who are slated to hit the open market as unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in July of 2016.  That, of course, will likely change before July 1.  But....let's look at these players anyway, and see what the future might hold for their contracts and landing spots in the NHL.  Here are five key forwards whose contracts are set to expire on July 1, 2016:

1.  Eric Staal
Chances are that Eric Staal will not be traded before the February 29, 2016 trade deadline.  Why?  Well, the Carolina Hurricanes are pushing for a playoff spot and aren't far off.  With a chance to make a play for the Stanley Cup, GM Ron Francis will likely hang on to the big forward.  Not only will it help the team push for the playoffs, it will give the two parties (Hurricanes and Staal) more time in good stead to negotiate a contract extension.  And Staal has indicated previously that he would like to re-sign with the Hurricanes.

2. Steven Stamkos
Stamkos, although listed at number two here, is the biggest name in the pool of potential unrestricted free agents for 2016.  The former number one overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning is set to earn major money on his next contract.  He's still producing at the highest level and will just be turning 26 years old.  Although he would not confirm or deny details of a recent report, there were indications from the media, as reported by the Tampa Tribune, that Stamkos had been offered an eight-year deal worth $68 million recently.  There have been indications by Stamkos that he would like to stay in Tampa, particularly with the success the team has achieved recently.  That being said, there has been some clamor from the Toronto area, near where Stamkos grew up, to bring him to the Maple Leafs.

3.  Andrew Ladd
UPDATE:  Andrew Ladd went to the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade with Winnipeg on February 25
There's been much speculation of late regarding whether Ladd will re-sign with the Winnipeg Jets or be traded prior to the 2015-16 trade deadline on February 29.  Ladd's cap hit, at $4.4 million, is considered very economical comparatively given his high quality offensive production.  The former first round draft pick has 27 points in 49 games this season, and with the Jets currently out of a playoff position, Ladd will be a prime target for teams looking to add depth and character for a playoff push this season.

4.  David Backes
The big pivot has spent his entire NHL career with the St. Louis Blues, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him remain with the team by re-signing prior to the summer. Putting up fifty or more points consistently in the past few full NHL seasons, the Blues can count on Backes producing.  The big question will be what will Backes be looking for from a contract perspective?  Backes is a relative bargain right now, just like Ladd.  The Blues however, are square in the playoff picture.  St. Louis has the cap space right now to make a significant upgrade to Backes contract.  But they'll need to keep an eye on several key contracts coming due both after this season and next.

5.  Milan Lucic
The feisty forward last signed a contract while with the Boston Bruins, for three years at $18 million. The Vancouver native was traded to the Los Angeles Kings around the 2015 NHL draft, and he's continued to live up to his rather lofty contract, registering 29 points in 48 games and helping the Kings stand atop the Pacific Division pile.  Lucic made it clear recently that he'd like to remain with the Kings, and that being said, he'll likely work with the team to ensure contract terms are agreeable to both parties.  And with Los Angeles in first place, don't expect them to rock the boat with a trade.  Watch for Lucic to sign a long-term deal with the Kings.

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