2018 NHL Free Agency Preview: Right Wings

Updated: June 28, 2018 at 2:32 pm by Brock Seguin

The NHL Free Agency period opens on Sunday, July 1st and there are a number of big fish on the market. 

Over the course of the week, I will be previewing the top names at each position. Included in each report is the player’s Corsica Player Rating, their Positional Ranking and their Predicted Contract from Matt Cane at HockeyGraphs. 

We also have a free agency big board, where all of the top UFA’s are ranked and I will be updating as they sign their new contracts. 

Rick Nash

Age: 34
Corsica Player Rating: 74.54
Positional Ranking: #34 RW
Projected Contract: 1 year x $4.627M AAV ($4.267M) 

Nash was acquired from the New York Rangers at the deadline last season and picked up six points (3G / 3A) in 11 regular season games and five points (3G / 2A) in 12 playoff games with the Boston Bruins. 

Nash, who has been on of the streakier goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career, has not been the same performer in the postseason. The 34-year-old has scored just 18 goals in 89 career playoff games. 

Nash dealt with a concussion at the tail-end of the 2018 season and is reportedly thinking about retirement. Despite the health concerns, Nash is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career and is in for another big payday—he’s coming off of an eight-year, $62.4M deal ($7.8M AAV). 

While he is contemplating retirement, Nash is also seeking a multi-year deal and there are several teams with interest in the veteran winger. Nash also has not ruled out a return to Columbus or re-signing in Boston. 

James Neal

Age: 30
Corsica Player Rating: 74.29
Positional Ranking: #37 RW
Projected Contract: 1 year x $4.310M AAV ($4.310M)

Neal was a big member of the Golden Knights’ historic season, scoring 25 goals and 19 assists (44 points) in 71 games. The 30-year-old has scored 20-plus goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons—averaging 26.3 goals per season or 30.7 goals per 82 games. 

Durability has been a bit of a concern during his career, but he has been one of the most consistent producers throughout. Neal is coming off of a six-year contract with a $5.0M cap-hit and is expected to see a similar number in free agency. 

It has already been announced that Neal will not return to Vegas and his list of suitors will likely be long. It’s hard to find a consistent 20-plus goal scorer, who has a 53.7 career CorsiFor% and a +3.0 relative Corsi while playing on some very good Pittsburgh, Nashville and Vegas teams. 

Thomas Vanek

Age: 34
Corsica Player Rating: 73.66
Positional Ranking: #45 RW
Projected Contract: 1 year x $2.862M AAV ($2.862M) 

Vanek, like Nash, has had a difficult time producing in the playoffs, scoring 21 goals in 69 career postseason games. The veteran winger went from Vancouver to Columbus at the deadline last season. He has now played for eight teams over the last five seasons. Despite bouncing around from team-to-team-to-team, Vanek has averaged 23 goals and 34 assists (57 points) per 82 games. 

Vanek isn’t expected to have shortage of teams calling him, but he could be one of the last dominoes to fall. Vanek will likely end up on a team that strikes out on James van Riemsdyk, Nash and Neal. 

The one team we know for sure that has reached out to Vanek, is one of his former teams, the Detroit Red Wings. With a lot of youth coming up through the pipeline, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Detroit. 

Michael Grabner

Age: 30
Corsica Player Rating: 71.36
Positional Ranking: #88 RW
Projected Contract: 4 years x $3.826M AAV ($15.304M)

Grabner is a speed-demon who has been really good in each of the last two seasons after struggling in Toronto in 2016. He has scored 27 goals two years in a row, but hasn’t hit 100 assists in 553 career NHL games. Grabner is also a reliable penalty killer and has been leaned on heavily in that role in recent years. Only Luke Glendening and Pierre Edouard Bellemare have played more time on the penalty kill per the last three seasons. 

Teams that favour analytics likely won’t pursue Grabner, a player who has had a CorsiFor% under 45.0 in the last two years. He’s been a minus relative Corsi player for four straight seasons as well. 

Grabner is reportedly drawing a lot of interest on the free agent market. 10 teams are said to be in talks with the speedy winger, including the Rangers and the Penguins.

Blake Comeau

Age: 32
Corsica Player Rating: 70.87
Positional Ranking: #95 RW
Projected Contract: 4 years x $3.063M AAV ($12.252M) 

Comeau scored 24 goals back in 2011 but hasn’t scored more than 16 in a single season since. In three years in Colorado he scored just 33 goals with 57 assists (90 points) in 237 games. 

Comeau owns good size (6-foot-1, 202 lbs) and can chip in offensively while being a sound defensive forward. The 32-year-old led the Avalanche in shorthanded time on ice per game (2:31) last season and is 12th in the league overall in shorthanded time played (508:34) over the last three seasons. 

It is unclear how many teams are pursuing Comeau, but one thing we know for sure is that he will not be returning to Colorado. 

Blake Comeau, James Neal, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, Thomas Vanek