At the start of every new season, fantasy owners need to be aware of players entering the final year of their contracts.
Whether a player ends up outperforming or falling short of expectations, the results of this season are bound to affect the potential free agent landscape. Unfortunately for fantasy owners of players in contract years (especially in keeper leagues), there are no guarantees surrounding their value, especially with the possibility of in-season trades and the expansion draft for Las Vegas looming next spring.
Here are 10 storylines involving players who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2017. This list does not include possible 2017 restricted free agents (e.g. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ryan Johansen, Tyler Johnson) or players on one-year contracts (e.g. Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Radulov, Jiri Hudler, PA Parenteau). You can find the full list of players entering contract years on General Fanager.
1. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau
Three important pieces of the San Jose Sharks' core each have expiring contracts. Burns, off a career year and a top-five fantasy finish, is entering the final year of his five-year contract. Thornton, who had a throwback season for the ages (82 points in 82 games; eighth in Yahoo rank), looks to replicate that elite point production at age 37 on San Jose's top line alongside Joe Pavelski. Marleau, also 37, remains a power-play force but could face questions surrounding his future with the Sharks after the season. Burns, a hybrid offensive weapon, will be San Jose's priority, but the keeper-league value of Thornton and Marleau is murky. Draft Burns in the late first or early second round without flinching, but try to get Thornton as a bargain in your draft to minimize the risk. Don't draft Marleau until the late rounds.
2. Ben Bishop
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Bishop stones Malkin, freezes the puck
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22, to a three-year extension July 1 that runs through the 2019-20 season. Bishop's contract ends after this season. It's not unusual for teams to carry two strong goalies, but the Lightning have limited salary cap flexibility, meaning it's possible Bishop could walk in free agency or be traded at any point this season. Bishop was a more well-rounded fantasy goalie than Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals last season, but this contract uncertainty pushes him down in NHL.com's rankings behind Holtby, Carey Price and Cory Schneider. If you draft Bishop in fantasy, you need to get your hands on Vasilevskiy for insurance outside the top 150.
3. Brian Elliott
Things could get interesting if the Calgary Flames wait until after Elliott's first season with them to consider extending the efficient goalie. Elliott had the best goals-against average (2.01) and second-best save percentage (.925) among goalies with at least 50 games played during his five seasons as mostly a time-share goalie for the St. Louis Blues. His value in fantasy and reality is high after being traded to the Flames, making him worth targeting in the 11-15 range at his fantasy position ahead of a heavier workload. That said, there are no guarantees if Elliott is injured or struggles in a full-time starting role. With contract uncertainty and concerns about whether his numbers can translate for an inferior defensive team, refrain from drafting Elliott among the top 10 goalies, especially with how high the position is going on average.
4. Kevin Shattenkirk
Shattenkirk, the Blues' power-play quarterback, has Colton Parayko in his rearview mirror and one year left on his contract. He has the third-most power-play points (77) among defensemen during the past three seasons combined behind Erik Karlsson (87) and Keith Yandle (82). In light of some offseason trade rumblings, Shattenkirk is being drafted outside the top 20 defensemen. Such a low stock with consistent offensive production makes him a potential steal regardless of whether he stays in St. Louis. You could do much worse than snagging Shattenkirk in the seventh or eighth round of a 12-team draft.
5. Patrick Sharp
Video: DAL@MIN, Gm6: Sharp beats Dubnyk for a 3-0 lead
Sharp always has a high shots on goal volume (six straight full seasons of at least 200), but his goal scoring has dipped the past two seasons; he had 34 goals, 78 points and 313 SOG in 2013-14 (82 games) with the Chicago Blackhawks, but has 36 goals combined in his next two seasons (144 games) with the Blackhawks (2014-15) and Dallas Stars (20-1516). If Sharp, dual eligible in Yahoo (LW/RW), can gain continuity on a line with either Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza and Hudler, he could improve at even strength, continue to produce on the power play (24 PPP) and finish among the top 50 fantasy assets. But if the 34-year-old continues to decline, he could be phased out of the Stars' long-term plans.
6. T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in February that his team has a "two-year window" to win the Stanley Cup before "evaluating where we're at." The first season ended in playoff disappointment after winning the Presidents' Trophy. Oshie and Williams flanked Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov, respectively, on the Capitals' first two lines for much of last season; each produced more than 50 points. These serviceable right wings have a strong chance to finish among the top 100 players each year, but likely don't have higher ceilings that what we've seen. They are fine to employ in a one-year fantasy league, but keeper-league owners should look elsewhere for staying power in their lineups. If the Capitals don't make a deep run into the playoffs next spring, they may go in a different direction from Oshie and/or Williams.
7. Thomas Greiss
Greiss started an NHL career-high 38 games last season for the New York Islanders and seized the opportunity to replace injured Jaroslav Halak to help the Islanders win a postseason series. But can fantasy owners safely expect Greiss to replicate a season when he won more than 60 percent of his decisions with a .925 save percentage? The task becomes even more daunting after Halak's impressive showing in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where Halak separated himself from Greiss and excelled as the starting goalie for Team Europe. Greiss should be one of the more active time-share goalies in the League and is absolutely worth owning if you also have Halak. That said, the thought of drafting Greiss on his own comes with serious risk in the final year of his contract.
8. Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason
The Philadelphia Flyers are tied for the third-most back-to-back sets (18) in the League this season, meaning this could have the makings of an even starts split between Neuvirth and Mason. Injuries will be a big factor with each goalie entering his contract year and hoping to win the starting job for good. Neuvirth and Mason are being completely overlooked in fantasy drafts, going outside the top 150 on average. The Flyers had the sixth-best team SV% (.917) last season, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. These are not keeper-friendly goalie options if drafted on their own, but targeting them as a tandem could pay dividends if the Flyers make the playoffs again as a result of one or both goalies.
9. Jarome Iginla
Video: ANA@COL: Iginla scores off of feed from Landeskog
Iginla has a chance to rebound under new Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar; whether he does so will likely determine his future in the League. The 39-year-old is coming off the worst plus/minus (minus-22) of his NHL career and had his first full season of fewer than 50 points since 1997-98. If Iginla resurfaces as a grizzled offensive commodity who can produce 25 goals and 25 assists for a contender, he career could extend in Jaromir Jagr-like fashion. But if his ending in Colorado mirrors that of last season, there won't be nearly as many potential suitors with his contract set to expire next summer.
10. Trevor Daley
Daley was brilliant two seasons ago, scoring 16 goals and 38 points in 68 games with the Stars. Since then, he's been traded twice, with mixed results. Daley struggled to mesh with the Blackhawks but looked rejuvenated with the Pittsburgh Penguins; he had 22 points, seven on the power play, and was plus-8 in 53 regular-season games. Daley's strong postseason came to an abrupt end after breaking his left ankle in the Eastern Conference Final, but he is an under-the-radar fantasy threat to do some serious offensive damage behind Kris Letang for the defending Stanley Cup champions. If Daley matches or exceeds his 2014-15 totals, he would vastly out-perform his average draft position (167.5) and could become one of the most coveted defensemen options on the market if he hits free agency.
Other fantasy-relevant players entering final year of contracts: Chris Kunitz (LW, PIT), Nick Bonino (C, PIT), Mike Fisher (C, NSH), Martin Hanzal (C, ARI), Andrei Markov (D, MTL), Mark Streit (D, PHI), Ryan Miller (G, VAN), Ondrej Pavelec (G, WPG)