Is a long-term deal for Alexander Radulov a good idea? Is Kevin Shattenkirk really worth it?

ByJosh Cooper ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

On Saturday, NHL teams will have the ability to retool and revamp their rosters through free agency. This always has some level of intrigue, as players can pick their teams and teams try to fit them under the $75 million salary cap.

Below we answer some of the major questions about free agency and where some players could end up.

Can you trust Alexander Radulov with a long-term deal?

The Montreal Canadiens' 30-year-old winger resurrected his reputation to a degree last season, ranking second on the team with 54 points. Both he and the Habs went to great lengths to talk about how he had matured since his previous two stints in the NHL, which ended with him leaving for the KHL unceremoniously.

Radulov was on a one-year, $5.75 million deal, so in some respects, it was a "show-me" contract to prove he was worth a better deal this offseason. But should one strong season lead to a longer-term deal that Radulov reportedly wants? Some around hockey still aren't sold on the Russian winger.

"He had his back against the wall and performed really well, and now you're going to trust this guy?" said a former Western Conference team executive.

As a player agent said, "I think his personality issues are well-known around the league."

That being said, scoring is always needed, and Radulov can help put the puck in the net.

"He's a good player," said an NHL coach. "He might be the best free agent out there right now."

Did Kevin Shattenkirk's play in Washington hurt his value?

At the trade deadline, the Washington Capitals paid a large price to get Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues, then saw the offensive defenseman struggle defensively. There's a thought that his poor play could hurt the 28-year-old Shattenkirk, who is coming off a career-high 56 points, in free agency.

"I think teams, even before he got traded, had a little bit of trepidation, but I think it's a little bit more now from when he was in Washington," a team scout said. "I don't know if he was getting more minutes or worse matchups, but he got exposed a little bit, at times -- especially defensively."

Still, some say a weak free-agent class of defensemen should push up Shattenkirk's overall value, no matter how he performed with the Caps. And theRangers' need of puck-moving defensemen makes New York his likeliest landing spot, an opinion echoed by a current Eastern Conference executive.

As a former Eastern Conference executive added, "If he's the best player out there, he's the best player out there, and someone is going to spend a premium on him."

Will Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau return to San Jose?

Last season was tough for Thornton. He notched 50 points -- his worst full-season total since his second year in the league -- and suffered torn knee ligaments at the end of the campaign. Despite these issues, he still is viewed as a highly coveted asset and someone who can play an effective role on a team.

"Thornton, with injuries and all that, if he's 80 percent of Joe Thornton, he is probably 2,000 percent [better than] any team's second-line center, other than a couple of places," the Eastern Conference executive said. "Idon't know who wouldn't want Joe Thornton."

Marleau, who scored 27 goals last season, still is seen as a guy who can add offense.

"I don't know who wouldn't want Patrick Marleau," the executive added.

But at this stage of their careers -- both will turn 38 before the season -- do they think theSharksare the best option to help them win a Stanley Cup? Also, should the Sharks commit term to these longtime faces of the franchise, knowing their numbers likely will drop over the length of their contracts? Such questions could lead to big changes in San Jose, unless common ground is found.

Who cashes in with restricted free agency?

The primary focus is mostly on theEdmonton Oilers' 21-year-old forward Leon Draisaitl, who notched 77 points in the last season of his entry-level deal.

"They're going to give him a huge raise, and they're going to keep him long term," the coach said. "They're going to try to take him past free agency."

The secondary focus goes to the Nashville Predatorsand Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Both players will be rewarded with bigger deals for helping the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final. Johansen's previous salary cap hit was $4 million, and Arvidsson, who scored 31 goals last season, was at $631,667.

The Predators often have been good at signing players to commonsense, long-term contracts, and general manager David Poile will try to get both into a structure that will enable the team to stay competitive. Still, both will want large raises, and this could alter Nashville's finances.

"Johansen fills a long-term need for Nashville and is coming off a high number, so he will get his," said the Eastern Conference executive. "He played better late in the season and playoffs, so it's all set up for him. Arvidsson has established a top-six profile. Maybe he doesn't get a long-term deal but [last season was] timely for him, so he gets a good deal and stays put as part of their core."

What about the Vegas Golden Knights?

Vegas likely won't be able to woo high-end free agents, but the Golden Knights can certainly draw second-tier guys.

"I think they can be players ... [for] that 29- or 30-year-old who hasn't been able to get that long-term deal," the coach said.

Also, the Golden Knights could jump into the trade market -- in part because of their surplus of defensemen. Currently, Vegas has nine on the roster, after dealing Marc Methot to the Dallas Starson Monday.

"So now, if there's not a great market in free-agent defensemen, you may want to give [Vegas general manager] George [McPhee] a call," the former Eastern Conference executive said.

What influence will John Tavares have on this year's free-agency market?

In 2015, the possibility that Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos would become an unrestricted free agent in 2016 created a stir. He eventually returned to the Lightning, but until he did, the possibility of Stamkos' availability influenced moves around the league.

New York Islanders captain Tavares, 26, could hit the unrestricted free-agent market next year when his contract ends, the expectation of which could create a Stamkos-like trickle-down this offseason. This depends on whether the Islanders can sell their future to Tavares, with the team appearing to be on the outs in Brooklyn. He is eligible to sign a contract extension starting on Saturday.

"If the presentation to Tavares from the Islanders perspective is, 'Look, a new building is going up in two years and we're going to go to the cap and here's your money, but I promise you this building is going to get built and here's this and here's that,' I think John Tavares would stay," the former Western Conference executive said.

"But if they're not able to put that in front of him, I think the other thing will happen."

Which is to say, Tavares will explore free agency.