The Top 5 UFA’s of the 2024 Offseason

Shawn Ferris | June 21, 2024

On Wednesday, NHL general managers decided that they were fed up with waiting for the conclusion of the Stanley Cup. It’s too close to the draft and free agency! The Boston Celtics will have had their NBA Championship parade before the conclusion of the Stanley Cup.

The Sharks decided to pick up Barclay Goodrow on waivers, the New Jersey Devils acquired Jakob Markstrom from the Flames, the Capitals exchanged Darcy Kuemper for Pierre-Luc Dubois, and that was all after the Canucks extended Filip Hronek Tuesday afternoon. Just like the NHL GM’s, we are itching for the offseason too. So, prior to our typical free agency preview, we decided to do a sneak peek at the top 5 UFA’s in projected AAV.

Sam Reinhart

Contract Projection: 7 years x $10,930,000
2024-25 Projected GAR: 10.7

The top free agent available is Sam Reinhart, and for good reason. The Florida Panther had a breakout season, scoring 57 goals and 37 assists in 82 regular season games. And his playoff performance did not disappoint either. What makes Reinhart such an intriguing free agent this summer is that this season’s jump was dramatic. He went from an under-the-radar two-way forward to a superstar. However, unlike certain contract years where a player can get overpaid due to recency bias, the baseline for Reinhart is still a very good player.

While it is unlikely that Reinhart will finish another season at a shooting percentage of 24.5%, his ability to control play is extremely valuable. One might point to his recent form being bolstered by playing 72.8% of his 5v5 minutes with Aleksander Barkov this season, but that can perhaps be countered by the results Reinhart had displayed prior to becoming the Florida Captain’s sidekick – particularly his defensive play.

What Reinhart receives this summer may have raised some eyebrows last summer, but “overpaying” this level of talent is acceptable at the least.

Jake Guentzel

Contract Projection: 7 years x $9,678,000
2024-25 Projected GAR: 10.1

At the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins sent Jake Guentzel to Carolina in exchange for Michael Bunting and a package of picks and prospects. At the time, Guentzel was out with an upper body injury, and the Penguins playoff hopes were bleak. The transaction indicated that Kyle Dubas & Co. were moving on without Guentzel, and the Carolina Hurricanes indicated that as well once their playoff run was stopped in the second round.

The reason the Carolina Hurricanes acquired him, and the same reason a new team will pay a large sum for his services, is his shooting ability. Over the last three seasons, Guentzel has scored 1.43 goals per 60 minutes in all situations which ranks 28th out of 533 skaters who played 2,000 minutes or more. Unlike most of the top 50 goal scorers in the league, Guenztel’s goal scoring comes more from the quality of shots he creates rather than pure finishing ability. His expected goals per 60 of 1.64 ranked 6th and illustrates he is more similar to the Tkachuk brothers or Zach Hyman.

The Achillies heal of the winger’s game is his defensive play. He ranked 8th percentile in goals above replacement from defense over the last three seasons. A competing team with a playmaking center can easily absorb this and best utilize Guentzel’s services, but that does reduce the market for him.

Steven Stamkos

Contract Projection: 3 years x $8,443,000
2024-25 Projected GAR: 4.5

At 34 years old, Steven Stamkos has had an impressive career so far. He’s won two Stanley Cups, recorded 1,000 games and 1,000 points, scored 60 goals in a season back when no one was doing that, and has done it all in a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform. It’s rather unlikely that the captain of the Lightning will go anywhere else.

The model matches some of the early speculation that Stamkos will sign a 3-year deal this time around. It would be hard to imagine something longer for him, and the model is underwriting a 71% chance the deal is three years or less. Given that Stamkos has already surpassed $100 million in gross earnings throughout his career, he is also a candidate to take a large discount to market and destroy the model’s results.

There has been signs of aging in his most recent season where his defensive results were lackluster and his ability to create offense on his own wasn’t strong enough to offset it relative to his pay. And with a 34-year-old, there is always the risk of a sharp decline or an injury plague. However, the circumstances here are quite clear, and it looks like Stamkos should find a multi-year deal.

Elias Lindholm

Contract Projection: 7 years x $7,962,000
2024-25 Projected GAR: 2.9

In the 2021-22 season, the Calgary Flames constructed a line made up of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm. The trio played together in all 82 games, scoring 73 goals while conceding only 31 in 964 minutes. That summer, Gaudreau and Tkachuk would leave to go to the eastern conference, leaving Lindholm back in Alberta. From a box score perspective or an advanced metrics perspective, Lindholm wouldn’t come close to repeating his success in 2022-23, and 2023-24 was even worse.

There is certainly a wave of unpopularity that could hurt Lindholm’s pay day, specifically due to his time in Vancouver. The Swede was sent to the Canucks on January 31, which was over a month ahead of the trade deadline. When he didn’t fit in as well as Vancouver would’ve liked, they explored trading him away before the trade deadline. His past performance and reputation should hold up his salary, but it’s unlikely he will get paid the amount he might’ve if he entered free agency last season.

Brady Skjei

Contract Projection: 7 x $7,524,000
2024-25 Projected GAR: 3.1

The only defenseman to crack our top 5 projected highest paid UFA’s is Brady Skjei. Brandon Montour is not too far behind and has a higher projected GAR next season. The two players are essentially the same age with Skjei only being 16 days older than Montour. And with Montour’s 73 point season in 2022-23, and the role he has played in the Patnhers’ back-to-back Stanley Cup Final runs, it’s quite easy to see the reality that Montour is the top UFA defenseman. Regardless, the model picked Skjei.

The Lakeville, Minnesota native has had a bit of a rocky career. He put up a stellar rookie season in 2016-17 recording 39 points, 5.3 SPAR, and 1.6 xSPAR in 80 games for the Rangers. He was never able to follow up that season in New York, and would later be traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where he has had a bit of a revival over the last three seasons. This past season was the highest SPAR (2.5) since his rookie season. Over the last two seasons, Skjei has also showed a unique finishing ability with a shooting percentage of 8.4% which ranks 14th among defensemen who’ve played 1,000 minutes. His 31 goals also rank him 5th among defensemen.

Skjei certainly is a well-rounded player, but the upside in his game has revolved around his personal shooting and powerplay impact. Those are two areas of the game that can vary considerably year-to-year. Whoever chooses to pay Skjei will have to bear that risk.

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