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Tavares decision may dictate where rest of NHL free agents sign

Stastny, Bozak, Neal among those in holding pattern

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The hockey world was still waiting for New York Islanders captain John Tavares to make up his mind about his future.

Tavares' pending decision, which was not announced Saturday, will have a trickle-down effect on several other players who are expected to become unrestricted free agents July 1.

What we know so far is Tavares met with the Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning in Los Angeles this week.

 

[RELATED: Tavares taking another day to decide]

 

The Islanders, Tavares' only team since they selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, could have signed him to a maximum eight-year contract before midnight ET Saturday. Now they and the rest of the teams can't sign Tavares until Sunday at noon ET, and the contract can't be longer than seven years.

Many of the other pending unrestricted free agents were in a holding pattern, unsure how Tavares will impact them. 

Paul Stastny is widely considered the second-best center who could be available. The Winnipeg Jets would like to re-sign him, but NHL salary cap constraints could prevent that from happening. 

Winnipeg defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey; and goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist, are restricted free agents. In addition, the Jets are looking ahead, because forwards Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are each entering the last year of his contract.

The Montreal Canadiens have an obvious need for help at center. They didn't get a chance to make a pitch to Tavares, but Stastny, who had 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games for the St. Louis Blues and Jets, could be on the table for them.

Centers Tyler Bozak (Toronto), Riley Nash (Boston), Tomas Plekanec (Toronto) and Jay Beagle (Washington Capitals) will all likely land in new places. 

Beagle, who helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, could be heading to the Vancouver Canucks, according to TSN, which also reported Plekanec could be going back to the Canadiens, his only team for 981 games until they traded him to the Maple Leafs on Feb. 25.

James van Riemsdyk would have been the top UFA wing available, but the 29-year-old Toronto forward is heading back to the Philadelphia Flyers, according to TSN.

Video: Chris Johnston talks Tavares' future, free agency

The Bruins have mutual interest with Rick Nash, who is undecided on his playing future, according to his agent, Joe Resnick, and will not sign with a team immediately.

James Neal, Patrick Maroon and David Perron are pending UFA wings of interest. Van Riemsdyk's decision could affect their market.

Neal and Perron helped the Vegas Golden Knights get to the Stanley Cup Final this season. Maroon helped the New Jersey Devils get into the playoffs after they acquired him in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. 

Perron had an NHL career-high 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) in 70 games, but he struggled in the playoffs (nine points in 15 games) and was a healthy scratch for Game 4 of the Cup Final. Neal had 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) in 71 games. Maroon had 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 74 games. 

Thomas Vanek was another forward to watch, but he reportedly could return to the Detroit Red Wings. The 34-year-old had 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 19 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets after they acquired him in a trade with the Canucks. He had 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 61 games with Vancouver.

Anthony Duclair is an option for a team looking to give the young forward another chance. Duclair, who turns 23 on Aug. 26, has already played for the New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks in four seasons. He has 89 points (37 goals, 52 assists) in 213 games and has yet to play in the playoffs.

Teams interested in a forward who can play shorthanded minutes and provide some offensive pop could look at Michael Grabner, 30, and Tobias Rieder, 25. 

Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson is the best defenseman who could be on the move, but he's only available in a trade this offseason. 

Video: Mike Kelly discusses stats of Tavares, free agents

John Carlson would have been the best UFA defenseman available, but he took himself off the market by signing an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain with the Capitals. Michal Kempny also stayed with Washington on a four-year, $10 million contract.

Jack Johnson (Columbus) and Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings) were arguably the top two UFA defensemen available.

Johnson has been linked in reports to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who shed $5.25 million in salary cap space Thursday by trading forward Conor Sheary ($3.0 million) and defenseman Matt Hunwick ($2.25 million) to the Buffalo Sabres for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

The Red Wings are expected to sign Green to a two-year contract, according to MLive.com. 

Other defenseman drawing interest are John Moore (Devils), Calvin de Haan (Islanders), Luca Sbisa (Golden Knights) and Ian Cole (Blue Jackets). 

The Islanders, Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, depending on how much rope they're willing to give Scott Darling, are in the market for a No. 1 goalie, although it's not clear if there is a No. 1 goalie available. 

The Sabres reportedly are interested in signing Carter Hutton and giving him his first chance to be a No. 1 at 32 years old. He's coming off his best season, 17-7-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .931 save percentage with the St. Louis Blues.

The Bruins, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Stars, Blues, Rangers and Capitals could be in the market for a backup.

Cam Ward (Carolina) is reportedly a target for the Blackhawks, who are hoping Corey Crawford returns healthy. Jonathan Bernier (Colorado) is a reported target for the Red Wings, who also have Jimmy Howard.

The Rangers could stay in the organization for Henrik Lundqvist's backup. Rookie Alexandar Georgiev and Marek Mazanec are their best options. 

The Capitals, who traded Philipp Grubauer to Colorado on June 22, could promote Pheonix Copley to be Braden Holtby's backup. Ilya Samsonov, one of Washington's top prospects, is expected to come from Russia and start the season in the American Hockey League.

Jaroslav Halak, Kari Lehtonen, Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek, Anton Khudobin, Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Chad Johnson are expected to be available.

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