If you’re looking for blueliners, this is not a good offseason for you and your team. The crop is thin and some marginal talent is likely to get overpaid. Nonetheless, here’s a look at the top defensemen who will hit free agency on July 1st.
Niskanen is in line for a big payday after leading the league with a +34 rating (among defensemen). He also had a career-high 42 points. In truth, he’s a pretty good stay-at-home defenseman who’s owed a raise on the $2.3 M he earned last season. The question is how big of a contract can he get in a free agent market that’s lacking quality?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Niskanen end up getting $5M per year (or higher), but he’s really worth only about $4 M. Desperate teams with cap space – like the Florida Panthers – are likely to overpay.
Possible Match: Florida Panthers
Boyle has been an excellent puck-moving defenseman in his career, but he’s nearing the end. He’s still effective at 37-years-old, but his minutes will have to be monitored. He’s previously topped 50 points in his career six times, but had just 36 in 75 games during the 2013-14 season.
He’s still a top-four defenseman who can play power play minutes, provide quality puck-moving and leadership. A Cup contender that’s missing a final piece of the puzzle on the blue line might make sense. Don’t be surprised if he ends up back in Tampa Bay.
Possible Match: Tampa Bay Lightning
Stralman has proven to be a good all-around defenseman. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t stand out for any one reason, but any team that wins a Stanley Cup usually has a guy like him in their top-four.
The problem is that at 190 pounds, he’s not huge, which means he’s not great at clearing the front of the net. He also doesn’t – or hasn’t – played a ton of minutes, averaging 19:24 this season. He rejected $3 M per year from the Rangers and he’s likely to get about $5 M, or more. At $3 M, I’d be happy to have him. At $5 M, it’s too much.
Nonetheless, look for someone like Detroit or Colorado to spring for him. They both could use a quality, dependable blue liner.
Possible Match: Colorado Avalanche
Orpik is a big, physical defenseman who can muscle up with the biggest of NHL power forwards. He’ll add grit, toughness and a steadying presence to any defensive corps.
Where he lacks is at the offensive end as Orpik is strictly a defensive defenseman. He’ll be 34-years-old this season, which means he shouldn’t command a long-term deal. In any case, look for someone like the Toronto Maple Leafs to be interested. They are desperate for help.
Possible Match: Toronto Maple Leafs
Gilbert is another non-flashy, somewhat no-name defenseman who will fit into someone’s top-four. He has some offensive capabilities as evidenced by his 28 points, and he’s a quality player in his own end, too. He’s worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2-$2.5 M, and if a team signs him for that, they should be fairly content. If teams start loading him up with $3.5 or $4 M (like he was paid last season), they’ll probably be a little disappointed. He’s an under-the-radar type of guy that will help someone out at the right price.
Possible Match: Detroit Red Wings as one of your NHL picks.