Sports

Best and Worst Landing Spots for the NHL's Top 10 Available Players

Erik Karlsson to Vegas? John Tavares in San Jose? Between free agency and trades, the NHL landscape is likely to change dramatically this offseason.
June 28, 2018, 8:53pm
Photos by Aaron Doster, Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Predicting where unrestricted free agents will sign is difficult. It's also sort of boring once you get past the first five guys on any list of the best available players. Who will win the services of... Riley Nash? Which team will pony up the bucks to land... Ian Cole?

Like, why is anyone going to get worked up over a "top" unrestricted free agent like Jack Johnson? At best, he may get a PTO offer from a few teams but it's not like... I'm being told he will sign a five-year, $16 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Is that right? That is apparently right.

We will only consider the most helpful players available in free agency and those rumored to be available in trades as we predict where they will land when the dust settles after July 1. Here are six UFAs and four trade targets and their 2018-19 teams, predicted perfectly from start to finish.

10. Rick Nash, left wing

2017-18 numbers: 21 goals, 34 points
Contract status: Free agent

Worst-case scenario: The Bruins lose out on John Tavares and give Nash two years and $12 million to post 33 points a season. Don Sweeney and Cam Neely praise Nash for his "two-way game" even though he only has 11 goals in 75 games and fails to register a point in six postseason contests.

Best-case scenario: Nash retires and never suffers another concussion, because there's probably a correlation between his steep decline in recent years and the frequency of brain injuries. Take your millions of dollars and live your best life.

Prediction: He signs a cheap, one-year deal with the Lightning, because if there is one thing Tampa loves, it's ex-Rangers with their best years behind them.

9. Mike Green, defenseman

2017-18 numbers: 8 goals, 33 points
Contract status: Free agent

Worst-case scenario: He re-signs with the Red Wings, because if there are two sides that don't need each other at this stage of their existences, it's the Red Wings and Green. Taking a bunch of money to play for any bad team with a lot of cap space (Rangers, Islanders) would be a mistake for both parties in the transaction.

Best-case scenario: How about a smallish deal to come back to Washington? Would that be weird? Or would it be a clever way to make people think years from now that he was part of the Cup-winning team? "Ah, I see they're honoring the 20-year anniversary of that Cup team. Hope Mike Green is there. He was always great!"

Prediction: He's easily the best free-agent defenseman on the market so it's more likely he gets a bunch of money from some middling team desperate for defense depth. Let's say he signs with... Dallas. Why not?

8. Max Pacioretty, left wing

2017-18 numbers: 17 goals, 37 points
Contract status: 1 year, $4.5 million remaining

Worst-case scenario: A loophole is discovered in his contract that states by scoring exactly 17 goals last season, a eight-year extension is activated that keeps him in Montreal for the rest of his career. Pacioretty chooses to fake his death and assumes the identity of Chuck Stalwart, Wyoming's best private investigator. The alias works for a few years until a client walks into his office and asks him to take on the case of his life—finding out who stole the turtlenecks of Tomas Plekanec.

Best-case scenario: Pacioretty creates a fake controversy involving his wife creating dummy Twitter accounts that mock Marc Bergevin's suits. When the news leaks, the team decides they have no choice but to trade him, and a contender gets him for cents on the dollar. It's eventually discovered the tweets weren't from his wife but were from accounts set up by someone in Wyoming under the name of Chuck Stalwart.

Prediction: It probably makes sense for him to start the year in Montreal, considering he's coming off a poor year and his value is at its lowest. This is also the second worst-case scenario.

7. James Neal, left wing

2017-18 numbers: 25 goals, 44 points
Contract status: Free agent

Worst-case scenario: It probably doesn't get worse than turning down a five-year, $25 million to play more hockey in Las freaking Vegas. Neal reportedly wants six years and $6 million per season but what if that money is in Vancouver? What sort of twisted logic is it to not want to spend five years in Vegas but spend six years in Vancouver or Buffalo or Calgary? I'm all for squeezing every dollar you can out of teams when you're a professional athlete but man, five over five seems really good.

Best-case scenario: After realizing his mistake, his agent tells him the Vegas offer is still on the table and he signs it.

Prediction: He'll probably get a decent chunk of money from a team that isn't going anywhere, so let's say Neal is an Islander if John Tavares doesn't come back. That feels like a real Lou Lamoriello type of signing.

6. Jeff Skinner, left wing

2017-18 numbers: 24 goals, 49 points
Contract status: 1 year, $5.73 million remaining

Worst-case scenario: When you're leaving the Hurricanes after eight straight seasons, is there actually a worst-case scenario? A trade to Ottawa? Staying in Carolina? At least Raleigh has that sweet, sweet barbecue so one year in Ottawa with the owner licking his lips at the thought of using you as a blood bag is probably worse.

Best-case scenario: I think it's the Blues in a one-year scenario but over the long-term it's probably the Penguins freeing cap space to acquire him and extend his contract.

Prediction: Who the hell knows with the new loan shark owner? Maybe Tom Dundon watched Skinner eat lunch and decided to trade him because he drinks milk through a straw or some shit. WINNERS CHUG THEIR MILK FROM THE TINY CARTON! My guess is he stays because someone on that team has to put the puck in the net and he's pretty good at that.

5. James van Riemsdyk, left wing

2017-18 numbers: 36 goals, 54 points
Contract status: Free agent

Best-case scenario: Get this man to Vegas if Neal doesn't want to stay. JVR will cost a lot more than Neal but doesn't he feel like that Vegas sort of guy who won't disrupt the precious chemistry? Works hard, team guy, blah blah blah. I have no idea if that's true. Maybe he's a dick. But taking Neal's spot on that second line in Vegas would be a pretty great situation.

Worst-case scenario: He winds up taking an Okposo Deal—a shit ton of money for a lot of years to play hockey for a bad team like the Sabres. I feel like this happens a lot with really good free agents, because good teams are usually spent to the cap and bad teams have room to spend, and this his how you get a guy like JVR on a lottery team. The salary cap sucks.

Prediction: He signs with the Devils. He's a Jersey guy and the Devils need someone besides Taylor Hall to provide offense. The Devils have the cap room (as do the Flyers) so I'll say he comes "home" one way or the other to Jersey or Philadelphia.

4. Paul Stastny, center

2017-18 numbers: 16 goals, 53 points
Contract status: Free agent

Best-case scenario: He works out a deal with Winnipeg after the Jets find a way to make room under the cap. Have you ever heard about so much mutual love in your life? They're like that Instagram couple that posts selfies together every day doing innocuous things like watching TV on the couch or sitting in a dentist's waiting room and it's like, we get it, stop shoving your happiness in our sad faces.

Worst-case scenario: It's Montreal, right? It's Montreal.

Prediction: I want to believe in love but you know that Instagram couple isn't as happy as the photos. That's why I'm saying the Devils are loading up their offense and shelling out money to get Stastny and JVR (or maybe just Stastny, I'm hedging a little here).

3. Ryan O'Reilly, center

2017-18 numbers: 24 goals, 61 points
Contract status: 5 years, $37.5 million remaining

Best-case scenario: He is traded to a city with mass transit that doesn't require the use of a car or fancy truck all that often.

Worst-case scenario: Again, it's Ottawa. Not just Ottawa—five years in Ottawa.

Prediction: There seems to be a lot of smoke coming from St. Louis. So let's say the Blues. I'm utterly sick of this guy and all his shit and hearing about how gritty he is so I don't care where he goes. I just hope he finds the love of hockey in his heart again.

2. John Tavares, center

2017-18 season: 37 goals, 84 points
Contract status: Free agent

Best-case scenario: San Jose! It's not even close. Maybe Vegas is close but the Knights don't seem to be involved for some reason. The Sharks have a nice core set up to make the playoffs in a crappy division for a long time and Tavares could be the difference between second-round exits and a Cup. THIS IS EVERYTHING HE HAS EVER WANTED IN A TEAM AND HE HAS TO TAKE IT.

Worst-case scenario: Out of a sense of misplaced loyalty or guilt or a desire to not move his stuff across the country, Tavares returns to the Islanders for the rest of his professional life. This is the only sport where a player of this caliber on a team this bad wouldn't be traded at the deadline and the player would seriously consider coming back because a 75-year-old man that hasn't won a Cup in 15 years and has three postseason series wins in 11 seasons (all in one year) is running the team. It's bonkers personified. It would be the dumbest decision in hockey history.

Prediction: He comes back to the Islanders.

1. Erik Karlsson, defenseman

2017-18 season: 9 goals, 62 points
Contract status: 1 year, $6.5 million

Best-case scenario: Vegas.

Worst-case scenario: Ottawa.

Prediction: Vegas. Nobody has ever needed Vegas more than Karlsson needs it now. This guy has been through hell off the ice and nothing but misery awaits him on the ice if he stays with the Senators. He deserves a fresh start with a good team and Vegas has the cap room and assets to make it happen. A trade with Bobby Ryan attached in the deal was reportedly in the works at last season's deadline so let's hope it happens for real this time. Let's hope his biggest locker room problem over the next couple years is having the second-best hair among Karlssons on his own team.

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports CA.