By re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos took himself out of the free agency frenzy that was expected for Friday when the signing period opens at noon ET. The big fish that as many as a reported 15 general managers had interest in making a pitch to is no longer an option.
That's good news for the remaining free agents in a forward crop that has some substance this season. The price just went up as the number of suitors can focus their full attention on the top remaining forwards. There are definitely some potential landmines in this free agent crop, considering most are on the wrong side of their primes. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of talent, there is. You're just paying a premium for it now.
So now that the big fish is off the table, here's a look at the 10 free agent forwards that may be worth spending top dollar on and some more affordable forwards that could provide more bang for their buck.
1. Kyle Okposo, RW: A power winger who just turned 28 this spring, Okposo has relative youth compared to most other UFAs. He also has three straight season over 50 points. Yes, a lot of that time was spent with John Tavares, but Okposo has made noticeable progression over the last three seasons. It took him a while to realize his full potential, and while a dip in production may be inevitable, he has the most upside of the available free agents, which is why the competition should be pretty heated.
2. Loui Eriksson, RW/LW: The Bruins couldn't seem to come to an agreement on term with Eriksson, which is unfortunate for them because he seemed to regain his scoring touch last season. He put up 30 goals, his second 30-plus goal season in his highly-productive career. Eriksson will turn 31 in a few weeks and whoever signs him should not anticipate 30 goals next season. That said, 20-plus goals is still pretty darn good. Get him with the right center and you've got yourself a strong scoring winger for your top-six.
3. Frans Nielsen, C: It's hard to see the Isles letting both Nielsen and Okposo get away in the same offseason, but it's still possible. Nielsen is a tremendous two-way player with skill. He's 32 years old and may have already played his best seasons, but his value remains very high. He has the versatility to play in the top six or he can be an exceptional No. 3 center, too. The competitive market might force teams to pay more than they want to, but Nielsen would be a fairly low-risk bet in free agency.
4. Milan Lucic, LW:
Lucic is the biggest name on the market, no question. He's coming off of a strong season with the Kings where he put up 20 goals and 55 points. Edmonton has been rumored as the most likely landing spot for Lucic, which only seems like a stronger possibility after the inexplicable Taylor Hall trade made Wednesday. Because of the term and dollar that Lucic can command on this market, he would appear to be a little bit more of a higher-risk add than some of the other available forwards.
5. Andrew Ladd, LW: He's been a lock for at least 20 goals for the last six years, aside from the lockout-shortened season when he had 18. The former Jets captain has two-way skills and still can produce. He'll turn 31 at midseason and should be looking at a raise from last season's $4.5 million cap hit. Teams might have to be a little more careful on term with Ladd as he enters the downward side of his career, but he should be one of the more sought after forwards Friday.
6. David Backes, C/W: The Blues captain looks highly likely to be leaving the only NHL organization he's ever known. A talented two-way player who was once a Selke finalist, Backes is coming off of what would be a down season for him. He had 21 goals and 45 points and that may be the start of a trend. He's now 32 and far removed from his two 31-goal seasons. The respect Backes has garnered in the game in terms of what he brings to the ice should get him a pretty sizable contract, but the risk of overpayment for what the team ultimately gets going forward is very high here.
7. Mikkel Boedker, LW: Among the youngest unrestricted free agents on the market at 26, Boedker is a bit of an enigma. He has had three straight seasons of at least 0.62 points per game, which is sure to attract suitors. However, Boedker's scoring is propped up a bit by his prowess on the power play. He's not the best at 5-on-5, which is why he may find a less competitive market for him than others will. That said, having a player that scores in any situation is important. Boedker has done that after a somewhat slow start to his young career.
8. Eric Staal, C: It appears that most have finally stopped expecting Staal to be the player he was when he was making massive money and considered one of the top players in the league. He's no longer scoring at a terribly high rate. If he's viewed for what he is, a quality bottom-six veteran center, and valued that way against the salary cap, he could really help a team. If he takes a discount to go to a contender, he's a nice depth addition. The question is, will a GM overpay for the name?
9. Jiri Hudler, LW: As expected, Hudler's numbers dropped off quite a bit last season. His 76-point campaign from 2014-15 was somewhat inflated by a 31-goal campaign propped up by an unsustainable shooting percentage. He had 46 points split between the Flames and Florida Panthers last season. That said, he has versatility and if a team can get him on a shorter-term deal, he still has the capability to produce.
10. Troy Brouwer, RW: With his awesome postseason performance for the Blues, Brouwer probably boosted his earning potential as a free agent. He had 13 points in 20 games, including eight goals - most of them pretty meaningful - during the Blues' run to the Western Conference Final. That said, Brouwer is a third-line guy with third-line production. Overpaying because of his playoff experience and success in the postseason is a recipe for disaster. He's almost certain to get a raise from the $3.66 million he made last year, but going much higher than $4 million per on a multi-year deal is assuming a fair amount of risk.
Potential value buys
Lee Stempniak: Only six UFAs on the market topped 50 points last season. Stempniak was one of them, and he did it on a one year deal at $850,000. While the 33-year-old is unlikely to hit the 50-point mark again, he is reliable in a secondary scoring role. Few players have bounced around as much as Stempniak, but he always seems to fit in wherever a team needs him. He's an interesting option on the cheap.
Brandon Pirri, C/W: Despite a noticeable talent for scoring goals, GMs are probably not going to be falling over each other to try to sign Pirri. However, a team that comes in with a short-term offer and an open roster spot could land a high-upside addition. Pirri had 22 goals in 49 games for the Florida Panthers two seasons ago and had 14 in 61 despite being derailed by injury. He's only 25 and definitely worth a contract.
Brett Connolly, RW: Connolly hasn't quite panned out the way anyone hoped as a former No. 6 pick, but at 24 years old, he's still the kind of player that screams low-risk, high-reward. He had 25 points in 71 games with the Bruins last season, which doesn't inspire much confidence, but he has shown flashes of the skill level that had scouts so enamored with him. If he can stay healthy, he still has a chance to find his game.