Sunday, January 31, 2016

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

So we've looked at 5 of they key unrestricted free agent (UFA) forwards, those whose contracts are currently set to expire on July 1, 2016.  Now let's look at their defensive bretheren.

1.  Dustin Byfuglien
UPDATE - Byfuglien signed a five year contract extension with the Winnipeg Jets
Byfuglien is finishing up a five-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets that carries a $5.2 million cap hit.  The big defenseman is producing well above that market rate, with 29 points in 49 contests this season.  As reported by SportsNet, there are several NHL teams who would be interested in trading for Byfuglien's services as a playoff rental, but the Jets will be making a significant run at extending him.  Recent comments from Byfuglien have been categorized as "lukewarm" on remaining in Winnipeg.  Although it's certainly possible that the comments determined to be lukewarm are rhetoric intended to provide a more significant contract offer from the Jets.  

Coming over to the New York Rangers after a significant trade with the Arizona Coyotes which sent prospect Anthony Duclair west, Yandle became a key asset for the New York defensive corps.  The 29 year-old blueliner has 26 points in 49 games prior to the All-Star break this season.   Yandle's current contract was signed carrying a $26.5 million tag over five years.  I'd expect an uptick on that number, at least in terms of average annual value.  The Rangers have just under $12 million in cap space as of this post, but they will have several UFAs coming up in July.  Most of their top-notch talent is signed for next season, so assuming there is mutual interest, the financials will be there for the Rangers to re-sign Yandle.

Campbell actually carries the largest contract of current defenseman who are slated to become UFAs in July.  With a cap hit of just over $7 million annually, Campbell's average annual value and cap hit are most certainly going to decrease with his next NHL contract.  The veteran blueliner is still contributing at a high level, no doubt.  Just look at where his Florida Panthers sit in the standings, and his role on that team.  Florida will certainly have the cap space to re-sign Campbell, but just expect it to be at a much lower total value than his current contract carries.

Schenn was dealt by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Los Angeles Kings in a trade this season, along with Vincent Lecavalier, in what was deemed a cost-cutting trade.  Now, Schenn's cap hit wasn't astronomical at $3.6 million annually, but it certainly wasn't anything to sneeze at either.  Signalling a re-loading move, if not a re-building move, by the Flyers, Schenn and his defensive skill was sent west.  Schenn is a solid player and former number five overall draft pick, who still has a lot of stuff left at the highest level of hockey, filling the role of the shutdown defenseman.

Hamhuis has become a key asset for the Vancouver Canucks as set-up defenseman, notching 20 or more assists in three of his past four seasons.  He's coming off a contract covering six years at a $4.5 million cap hit.  Hamhuis is coming off a significant injury in which he took a puck to the face, but he's expected to be back on the blueline, passing to his teammates shortly.  Vancouver is still in the playoff hunt, and they will need Hamhuis' services to make the final push.  Don't expect a trade this year, in particular given the injury, but do expect Hamhuis to be re-signed to a short-term contract carrying roughly the same cap hit as his current contract.  



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