The NHL playoffs are fun and all, but they’re also kind of the final audition process for players about to hit free agency.
You can spend 82 regular season games dominating the radars of your potential suitors, but can you perform on the highest stage? How these top targets play when the season or a Stanley Cup is on the line can shift their market value pretty severely in either direction.
Antti Niemi got hot and led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup one time. Now he’s making $4.5 million to play mediocre goaltending in Dallas. Justin Williams made himself a rich man as a veteran by becoming a Los Angeles Kings playoff hero.
So which impending free agents have helped or hurt themselves over the last month of playoff hockey? Thanks in advance to Cap Friendly for the help here.
Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota Wild
Hanzal scored at a 53-point pace after joining Minnesota at the trade deadline, a perfect pace you want from a two-way player like him. He killed penalties effectively, won faceoffs, and was a 57.7 Corsi For % in the playoffs despite starting 52.3 of his shifts in the defensive zone. In short, Hanzal was everything the Wild paid for.
Which probably makes him unaffordable to the Wild at this point.
As Hockey Wilderness points out, if Frans Nielsen and David Backes commanded $5-$6 million per year last summer in free agency, Hanzal will too. After that postseason, Hanzal will be one of the costliest players on the market.
T.J. Oshie, W, Washington Capitals
Oshie is a player who might be judged more by his regular season than his postseason. After putting up 33 goals and 56 points in 68 games, Oshie cooled off as the playoffs went along with just one score in his last eight games. The popular winger still finished second on the Caps with 12 points, though, and his value on the market rose in the process. If it comes down to Kevin Shattenkirk or Oshie, Washington may be inclined to keep the latter.
Alexander Radulov, W, Montreal Canadiens
Radulov was one of the shrewdest offseason signings any team made last summer. On a one-year, $5.750 million deal, Radulov returned to the NHL and racked up 54 points in 76 games. At times, he was electrifying. And in the playoffs, he led the Canadiens with seven points in six games.
Theeeere's that filthy Radulov playoff goal we've been waiting for. pic.twitter.com/gKme8en5zE— Patrick Iversen (@PatIversenSBN) April 17, 2017
Montreal may try to bring him back for a longer deal and expect the cap hit to rise at least one or two million dollars.
Brendan Smith, D, New York Rangers
As Rangers vets like Marc Staal and Dan Girardi continued their decline this postseason, New York’s deadline pickup shined. New York scored 20 5-on-5 goals this postseason, and Smith was on the ice for 12 of them. Smith was equally effective on the penalty kill and on the power play, too. He might not return to the Big Apple, choosing to maximize his rising value elsewhere.
Brian Boyle, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Hard to judge how his value changed over his Leafs playoff run for one reason: He seems like the kind of guy who might take less money to embrace the role of mentor on the NHL’s youngest team. His three-year, $6 million deal expires this summer. I bet the Leafs could get him to stay for something similar. Boyle just seems like a great fit for that club and played well in his checking role this postseason.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Washington Capitals
We’ll have to take a deeper dive on this cat eventually because no player did more to hurt his free-agency value this postseason than Shattenkirk. His possession stats (60.5 CF%, 61.8 Fenwick For %) are good yet misleading because Shattenkirk made some questionable defensive decisions that cost the Capitals more than a couple of goals, particularly in the Penguins series.
Shattenkirk might’ve commanded a massive contract before this postseason. Now teams will probably bring these two plays to the negotiating table.
Shattenkirk is still a terrific player, but now questions about his one-dimensionality will keep dogging him.
Brian Elliott, G, Calgary Flames
Elliott followed an unspectacular one-year gamble contract with Calgary with a wholly underwhelming playoffs. His regular season numbers were shaky enough (that .908 SV% is un-good), but then he was a big reason the Flames got swept by the Ducks in the first round. Game 3 was pretty disastrous: With a 4-1 lead, Elliott allowed four unanswered Ducks goals on home ice. The 32-year-old netminder enters free agency with a 3.89 GAA and .880 SV% in the playoffs on his ledger. Not great.
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
Thornton had a quiet playoffs (two points in four games) but you could hardly blame him. The 37-year-old played through a torn ACL and MCL late in the season and in all four playoff games.
It’s hard to see Thornton in another uniform as he closes out his career, even if he is clearly slowing down. If he decides to keep playing, Thornton will almost certainly return on a cap hit less than his current $6.750 million cost.
Patrick Eaves, RW, Anaheim Ducks
The injury bug finally returned to haunt Eaves, keeping him out of all but seven playoff games so far. But he raised his stock with a 30-goal season and raised it even more with four points in those seven games. The 33-year-old was already due for a raise, and that hasn’t changed.
Patrick Marleau, LW, San Jose Sharks
Somewhat surprisingly, Marleau led the Sharks with three goals in six games this postseason. It’s also unlikely he returns to the Sharks at his current $6.667 million cap hit. If he leaves in free agency, he might command somewhere between $4-$5 million on a Patrick Sharp-esque contract. That’s not a knock on his postseason play, though; it’s just risky giving lots of money to 37-year-old players.
Justin Williams, W, Washington Capitals
Mr. Game 7 didn’t save Washington in the second round, but he still racked up nine points in 13 games. Williams’ clutch reputation precedes him still as he enters free agency this summer.