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Gaffney's 2024 NHL Free Agency Primer

In less than 48 hours from now, the opening of what should be a wild NHL Free Agency frenzy will begin, and there are already a ton of fireworks in the leadup. Although there are some excellent defenseman options like Brandon Montour and Brett Pesce, I wanted to focus on six forwards in what's a pretty good group of impact guys that should find new homes fairly early next week. So, with that in mind, here's what I think happens with these half-dozen players.

Chandler Stephenson (Vegas Golden Knights)

2023-24 Stats: 16 Goals, 35 Assists, 51 Points, -9, 18:29 TOI (75 Games)

New Team Projection: Nashville Predators (Six Years, $40,500,000)

Vegas has not one but two forwards on this list, and with an estimated 1.5 million in cap space, I have a hard time seeing both return, potentially neither. Stephenson's number took a slight dip this year, but he's consistently been a good assist guy over the last three years, averaging just south of 18 goals per. Elliotte Friedman made the point on 102.5 down in Nashville that he makes sense for Nashville given the Barry Trotz connection (he played for him in Washington) and given that he had (notably) more assists this season than any non-first-line forward set to be on this upcoming Preds team, there's enough there for me to say this happens.

One final note: Stephenson was massive for Vegas on their 2023 Cup run: 10 goals and 10 assists over 22 games, averaging a tick over 15 minutes per.

Jonathan Marchessault (Vegas Golden Knights)

2023-24 Stats: 42 Goals, 27 Assists, 69 Points, -2, 17:53 TOI (75 Games)

New Team Projection: Vegas Golden Knights (Five Years, $36,250,000)

According to Danny Webster of the Review-Journal out in Vegas, there's still some optimism that Marchessault could stay put despite their cap situation, which is still in a bad spot after trading Logan Thompson; because if you have the opportunity to trade an all-star goalie on a league minimum salary for two thirds, you have to take it. Regardless, Vegas could do much worse than making Marchessault a Knight for the rest of his days.

Elias Lindholm (Vancouver Canucks)

2023-24 Stats: 15 Goals, 29 Assists, 44 Points, -14, 19:41 TOI (75 Games)

New Team Projection: The Artists Formerly Known as the Arizona Coyotes (Six Years, $40,500,000)

I've heard Lindholm to Boston so much over the last five days that it will either get done seconds into free agency or not at all; there is zero in between. After thinking about it, I'm going to assume the latter here. Utah has some cash to burn and, without the benefit of an expansion draft like Vegas or Seattle, should be willing to take a risk or two on the open market.

Lindholm hasn't been anywhere near as good offensively as he was since the '21-'22 campaign (although he was over a point per game guy in 13 playoff games), but getting him on a line centering 30+ goal scorer Clayton Keller could do him some good.

Jake Guentzel (Carolina Hurricanes)

2023-24 Stats: 30 Goals, 47 Assists, 77 Points, +25, 20:01 TOI (67 Games)

New Team Projection: Carolina Hurricanes (Eight Years, $66,000,000)

Carolina is in quite the spot over the next two years, with many significant pieces set for restricted or unrestricted free agency. As far as their UFA's go, none is more significant than the trade acquisition of Jake Guentzel, who was a monster for the Canes from the moment he arrived in Raleigh. You don't typically let 30+ goal scores walk willingly, much less so after trading what they did to get Guentzel, and it appears they won't let it come to that, at least according to Elliotte Friedman when he was on with Pat McAfee on Friday.

Sam Reinhart (Florida Panthers)

2023-24 Stats: 57 Goals, 37 Assists, 94 Points, +29, 20:18 TOI (82 Games)

New Team Projection: Florida Panthers (Eight Years, $76,000,000)

It was not exactly a hot Cup Final on the whole for Sabres' legend Sam Reinhart after an epic regular season, but he showed up when it mattered in Game 7, so you can undoubtedly look past that no problem if you're a Panthers fan. Outside of that, I don't have a ton to say here. I can't see Bill Zito letting him walk after the year he just had. In a perfect world, Reinhart is a Panther for life.

Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)

2023-24 Stats: 40 Goals, 41 Assists, 81 Points, -21, 18:14 TOI (79 Games)

New Team Projection: Boston Bruins (Six Years, $36,000,000)

I was as surprised as anyone once the offer Tampa gave to Stamkos dropped on Friday. Eight years and $24,000,000 for the best player in franchise history, for what's likely his last big deal, is such a slap in the face. Even with the Mikel Sergachev trade, it still sounds like Stamkos is set to test the open market, and Tampa still needs to worry about a Victor Hedman extension as well. Given Stamkos' injuries over his last deal and age, I don't think anyone expects him to get an extraordinary deal, but I'd be floored if the AAV is a cent under $5,000,000.

So, why would Boston make sense as a landing spot for Stammer? For starters, they need another guy who can put the puck in the back of the net. David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Pavel Zacha, and Charlie Coyle were the only four guys who scored over 20 goals last season, and they are set to lose a pair of guys not far off in Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen. Additionally, given how (surprisingly) well they did in 23-'24, they could sell him on a title window. Regardless, Stamkos leaving Tampa for Boston would be quite the stinger for Julien BriseBois and co.

If not Boston, though, I'd keep a close eye on the Detroit Red Wings. I could see ole Yzerman wanting to get one of his old Tampa guys in the building to help the Wings along in their rebuild if Stammer is interested in that. Never mind the fact that they could outspend just about anyone.

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