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2017 NHL Free Agency: The top players available

With few quality options available, the first day of free agency will be an exercise in separating the wheat from the chaff.

Edmonton Oilers v San Jose Sharks - Game Three Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Contracts are expiring across the league, and there are several players who will be free to sign with any of the 31 teams at 12:00 EDT today.

There are some good players available, but the quality ones are few and far between. Filling the gaps are some players who will be taking advantage of the shallow pool to demand more than their actual worth. It will force general managers to tread lightly, with more than a few getting trapped into bad contracts in the rush to fill out their 2017-18 rosters.

These are some of the top players who will be in demand on Saturday.

Defencemen

Kevin Shattenkirk

At the 2017 trade deadline, Shattenkirk was looking to go to a contender; not only for a chance at a Stanley Cup, but also to boost his stock for free agency. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t make much of an impression with the Washington Capitals. The 28-year-old had just six points in the Capitals’ 13 playoff games. His lauded power-play abilities never materialized for the team, as he recorded just a single point on the man advantage.

How much that performance will affect his value today is unknown, but it’s important to remember just how great of an offensive defenceman he’s been in his career. He also had 56 points just last season, ranking fourth behind the Norris Trophy finalists: Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Victor Hedman.

Andrei Markov

With his production still at a high level, it seems a new contract from the Montreal Canadiens would be a formality for the career Hab, but that is seeming less likely to happen.

Other than Shattenkirk, you’re not going to find a more offensive defenceman than Markov today, and if general managers don’t focus solely on his age, they will see a lot of value in The General. He still has the ability to play on a top pairing, and would be a great addition to just about any team in the NHL.

At the end of the day, hopefully that team is Montreal, but it’s possible he will be donning a new jersey next season.

Brian Campbell

Campbell still has the ability to play on a top pairing as well, though would be Plan B if a deal couldn’t be reached with Markov. He still has some offensive ability, posting a respectable five goals and 12 assists last season, but he shouldn’t be counted on to lead the offence from the back end.

He is a good transition defender, and will help a team that struggles that get the puck to the other end of the ice. Coming off a $1.5 million deal to join the Blackhawks for a Cup run, he will be looking for more of a raise to go elsewhere, and, as one of the top options, could very well find a taker.

Karl Alzner

No blue-liner seems to be in demand more than Alzner. The former Capital has played his last game in Washington, and will be hoping to cash in in a weak market. He’ll be wanting more than the $2.8 million he made each year with his last contract he signed while still a restricted free agent. How much more, and which team is willing to pay it, won’t be known until later today.

Other notable defencemen

Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto
Johnny Oduya
Cody Franson

Forwards

Joe Thornton

The future Hall of Famer and his prodigious beard are available, and he’s still racking up the points at 37 years of age.

With their perpetual status as a contender not amounting to anything in recent years, it seems the San Jose Sharks have decided to part with their veteran core, allowing both Thornton and Patrick Marleau to test free agency.

For a team with good offensive wingers but a lack of top-quality centremen, Thornton would be an excellent fit, and his two-way game would be an immediate boost to a strong team’s Stanley Cup aspirations.

There are some health concerns with the veteran, as he had surgery to repair both his ACL and MCL in the off-season. Speed wasn’t exactly one of his strengths before the injuries, so as long as there are no complications his game should be relatively unaffected.

Alexander Radulov

Radulov earned a one-year contract worth almost $6 million when he wanted to rejoin the NHL. The Canadiens were the ones who took the chance on him, and were rewarded with an excellent season from the Russian winger.

Now searching for a more substantial deal, Radulov is reportedly asking for $7 million a season for six years. That has proven to be too rich for Montreal, and they are prepared to see him leave the organization.

The team that lands him will be getting a top-line talent who brings energy every game. He’s an atypical winger, more a playmaker than a finisher, but still has the ability to score 20 goals. It’s a steep price to pay, but if he’s able to replicate what he did in his season with the Canadiens, the reward will have been worth it.

Patrick Marleau

Marleau hasn’t fared as well as Thornton in recent years, with his point totals declining in the last four years. Ironically, his goal totals have been increasing in the last three, to the point he nearly reached 30 goals last season; something he hasn’t achieved since the 2013-14 season.

If paired with quality linemates, like he was with Thornton and/or Joe Pavelski in San Jose, he can still contribute to a team’s offence. Which team believes they have that situation, and can still take on a veteran like Marleau, will become known once free agency begins.

Justin Williams

Even Mr. Game 7 couldn’t exorcize the Capitals’ playoff demons, and now he’s free to take his services elsewhere.

He still had nearly 50 points in the regular season, and nine in his 13 playoff games, so there’s still some offence left in the tank for another team to offer him a contract.

Nick Bonino

Bonino played third fiddle for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their run to a second consecutive Stanley Cup. Behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, he put up 37 points to help give them balance throughout their forward lineup.

He’ll be an effective second-line centre on just about any other team, and should expect to earn a significant raise on last year’s $2.1 million salary.

Other notable forwards

Jarome Iginla
Jaromir Jagr
Martin Hanzal
Patrick Sharp
Brian Boyle
Jiri Hudler
Nate Thompson
Alex Burmistrov