The 2016 free agent period is far from over, but the biggest parts of it have already concluded. So rather than focus on that today, let's look ahead to 2017 with an eye on 10 of the biggest or most interesting players that have the potential to test the UFA market after the 2016-17 campaign. These players might end up signing before then of course and others might be the subject of trade speculation near the deadline, but there is one common element to all these cases: They're entering an important year of their career.
Patrick Sharp (DAL) - Sharp suffered a significant decline in 2014-15 when he recorded 16 goals and 43 points, but he bounced back somewhat with Dallas last season, scoring 20 goals and 55 points. Ultimately this season will be a big one in determining if he has much left in the tank. A strong campaign, or even a resurgence to something near his 2013-14 levels, could earn him a multi-year contract even at the age of 35. If he just has a mediocre season then he'll probably have to settle for a modest one-year deal.
Joe Thornton (SJS) - Thornton ranks 28th on the all-time list in terms of points (1,341) and is tied for 13th with Doug Gilmour in assists (964). He also still managed to average a point-per-game in 2015-16 despite being 36 years old at the time (he turned 37 on July 2). So unless he suffers a hard drop off next season, he would command top dollar on the open market, even if it is for a short-term contract. It will be interesting to see how hard San Jose pushes to keep him.
This is the same franchise that stripped him of the captaincy and there was an incident in 2015 where Thornton said, "I think (Sharks GM Doug Wilson) just needs to shut his mouth. ... He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth." That was in response to Wilson telling season-ticket holders that the reason the Sharks took the captaincy away from Thornton is because he felt the pressure and stress was getting to the forward.
That being said, perhaps that's all behind them now, especially after a campaign that was great for both Thornton and the Sharks.
Kevin Shattenkirk (STL) - Excluding the lockout shortened 2013 campaign, Shattenkirk has recorded 43-45 points in five straight seasons going back to his rookie campaign. That degree of offensive consistency is unreal, although it also doesn't tell the full story as some of those seasons his PPG pace was significantly different, such as in 2014-15 when he was limited to 56 contests. Regardless he's a high-end top-four defenseman and you don't typically see those on the UFA market. The Blues might end up trading him over the summer and there's certainly been rumors surrounding him, but St. Louis almost certainly won't give him up for anything less than a King's ransom.
Ben Bishop (TBL) - The Lightning have already made a three-year, $10.5 million committed to Andrei Vasilevskiy starting with the 2017-18 campaign, so it seems unlikely that they'll re-sign Bishop. They might even trade Bishop this summer, but I think it's more likely that they'll enter the season with both netminders. Vasilevskiy didn't exactly set the world on fire in 2015-16 with his 2.76 GAA and .910 save percentage in 24 contests, so it might make sense for the Lightning to hedge their bets. If Vasilevskiy is able to wrestle the starting job away from Bishop relatively early in the season, then Bishop can be a trade deadline chip, if not then they'll probably keep Bishop for at least one more playoff run.
Alexander Steen (STL) - Steen is in a particularly unfortunate position because he's undergone shoulder surgery that will likely rob him of training camp and as much as the first two months of the season. That will make it pretty hard on him to make a good impression this season. It might not be as big a deal if he didn't also have a lengthy history of injuries as he hasn't played in more than 74 games since 2008-09. That being said, when he's healthy he is very effective. Over the last three seasons in particular he's recorded 74 goals and 178 points in 209 games.
Patrick Marleau (SJS) - Marleau is just a few months younger than Thornton and was at a time one of the Sharks' star forwards as well. The main difference is that he's declined substantially. Marleau went from recording 33 goals and 70 points in 2013-14 to 19 goals and 57 points in 2014-15 to finally 25 goals and 48 points last season. Unless he enjoys a resurgence this season - and given his age I wouldn't count on that - he'll likely have to accept a substantial pay cut for his next contract.
Alexander Radulov (MON) - I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but Radulov has the potential to be the most interesting player on the 2017 market, if he gets that far. He hasn't played in the NHL since 2011-12, so he's a major X-factor going into this season and there are some concerns about how he might be off the ice stemming back to him breaking curfew with the Nashville Predators back in 2012, but let's say there are no incidents with him and his success in the KHL translates well to North America. At that point he's an immensely talented forward in the prime of his career. He'll have the potential to command top dollar and unlike this summer where teams were reserved, there might be a lot of teams clamoring for him if he tests the open market.
Brent Burns (SJS) - The Sharks certainly have more than their fair share of potentially big UFAs for 2017. That said, Burns is by far the most noteworthy of them as unlike Thornton or Marleau, Burns is still just 31 years old. He's also coming off of two of the biggest seasons of his career as he had 60 points in 2014-15 followed by 27 goals and 75 points last season. That might inspire the Sharks to lock him up sooner rather than later, but he'll probably be seeking a meaningful raise from his current five-year, $28.8 million contract. The Sharks have to be careful though because a long-term contract (five years or more) might end up hurting them towards the end of it.
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