NHL·Preview

NHL free agency: Big names, bargains and busts

When the NHL's annual unrestricted free agent derby begins on July 1, who are the marquee players that are more likely to move? Who should teams go after? Who should they avoid? Here's a breakdown of this year's class.

Breaking down this year's class ahead of the July 1 frenzy

Kevin Shattenkirk will be the most coveted free agent available come July 1. (Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

When the NHL's annual unrestricted free agent derby begins on July 1, who should your favourite team target?

A number of high-profile names could be available, but many of them are unlikely to move. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both appear keen to stay in San Jose, Radim Vrbata has expressed publicly his desire to remain in Arizona, while in Montreal, Andrei Markov appears likely to stay put. And Mike Fisher? He's understandably quite happy in Nashville.

So who are the big names that are more likely to move? Who should teams go after? Who should they avoid? Here's a breakdown of this year's free-agent class:

5 big names

Kevin Shattenkirk: He's easily the best free agent available, but the offensively gifted defender had trouble fitting in on a Washington team that played a much more aggressive rushing game than his former team, St. Louis. His new club will have to hope he fits in better to make his (very large) contract worthwhile.

Jarome Iginla: He's no longer as effective as he used to be, but if he's willing to agree to a one-year contract at a greatly reduced salary from the $5 million US he earned last season, he could be a good fit on a team looking for veteran depth.

Alexander Radulov: Although the Habs have publicly stated that they would love to bring the Russian winger back, their recent signing of trade acquisition Jonathan Drouin may preclude Radulov's return.

Sam Gagner: After a renaissance season in Columbus, Gagner looks poised to get a pay increase from the modest $650,000 salary he earned last season. He proved that he can flourish in a sheltered scoring role, and could be a good fit on a Cup-contending team with lots of depth up front.

​Ryan Miller: He's still a serviceable starting goalie, and is likely to come in under the $6-million cap hit he carried with Vancouver unless a bidding war develops. Philadelphia and Winnipeg both need a starter and have plenty of cap space, but they also have other options.

Teams may want to think twice before offering a long-term contract to Dennis Wideman. (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Players to avoid

Dan Girardi: Although Girardi saw big minutes with the New York Rangers, he simply wasn't an effective player, let alone a good use of $5.5 million against the salary cap. Eventually, the Rangers realized it and bought him out, making him a free agent. Almost any team in the NHL would have a defenceman in their system who could do more for less.

Ondrej Pavelec: Pavelec's days as an NHL goalie are likely over, with the possible exception of a reclamation-project contract. Even then, Pavelec's only season above league average save percentage was in 2014-15, so there might not really be much to salvage.

Karl Alzner: He hasn't missed a single game since 2009-10, and is easily the most coveted shutdown defenceman in this year's UFA crop. The problem? He is likely to land a hefty contract and, although he does prevent a good amount of chances, his offensive zone possession stats are so limited that, on balance, it's a net loss.

Dennis Wideman: While he possesses a booming slap shot on the power play, his mobility has long been an issue at even strength, and at 34 years old, he is unlikely to change that. His last contract carried a $5.25 million cap hit 

Jonathan Bernier could make for an affordable platoon option for an NHL team in need of a goalie. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Potential steals

Martin Hanzal: He's defensively solid and has continued to produce at a decent clip as a 30-year-old. If a team is able to land Hanzal for reasonable money for three years or less, it could be a great depth move.

Jonathan Bernier: His .915 save percentage last season was better than those of Ryan Miller, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott and a slew of other UFA goalies. After a year of playing second fiddle in Anaheim, his price tag is unlikely to be prohibitive, making Bernier an excellent option as a platoon goalie.

Thomas Vanek: His defensive play isn't what he's known for, but Vanek can clearly still put up points and play in a sheltered scoring role. His great release makes him a potential power-play specialist.

​Cody Franson: A perennially underrated player, Franson no doubt has his flaws, but is also a solid option as a No. 4 defenceman. His time on the beleaguered Buffalo blue-line suppresses what he can demand in contract negotiations.

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