Josh Bailey, RW – New York Islanders
Despite his solid 2016-17 campaign (13 goals, 43 assists), few likely thought Josh Bailey would be the top scorer at this juncture of the NHL season among upcoming free agents.
But at 40 points through 33 contests he’s tied for that honor with teammate John Tavares.
That’s no coincidence as many of Bailey’s 31 assists, sharing with Steve Stamkos and Blake Wheeler the second-best total in the league, are fed to Tavares helping generate his thus far 19 goals.
No doubt this year has been stellar for Bailey, a longshot Art Ross trophy candidate believe it or not, but much of his free agent value will be determined by how much teams feel his success depends on setting up Tavares. Teams without such an offensive calling card might shy away.
With all the instability their ongoing stadium saga presents, the Islanders will likely want their successful forward duo to remain intact.
And with Tavares as their franchise player and also a UFA, if he wants Bailey to return, they’ll likely cut payroll elsewhere to help woo both back.
With a little over $34M in 2017-18 cap room projected prior to signing any of their upcoming eight UFAs (Bailey, Tavares, Halak, Seidenberg, Hickey, De Haan, Kulemin, and Chimera) it’s not impossible we see both back in Brooklyn, Nassau, Belmont Park or wherever the Islanders will call home at the expense of many others on this list.
Jonathan Marchessault, RW – Vegas Golden Knights
In addition to his sweet revenge game against the Panthers Sunday night, registering a goal and two assists in Vegas’ 5-2 victory over Florida, Marchessault is again tearing up the ice at a point-per-game pace (11 goals, 18 assists in 29 contests).
The diminutive (5-9, 174 pounds) soon 27-year-old, has been discounted in nearly every stop.
Left unprotected in the expansion draft after landing 30 goals and 21 assists for Florida in 2016-17, and slipping away from Tampa Bay as a free agent the previous campaign after solid play in limited minutes, he’s been an excellent bargain.
Skating next to William Karlsson and Reilley Smith, Marchessault is in the final year of a deal paying just $750K AAV. He should up that significantly next summer, unless Vegas and he decide to get a deal done prior to the offseason.
With so much going right for the first-year club, it might be the best move for both parties. Why ruin an extremely surprising good thing?
As the Knights’ current leading scorer, and a key component of their prolific (tied for third in the league in goals scored with 44) power play, Marchessault might want to take a sizable chunk of their projected $40.2M in salary cap space starting in 2018-19 and stay put for at least the next three or four years.
While another squad might be motivated to blow away a hometown offer, now on his eighth squad (NHL and AHL combined) in seven years, Marchessault would seem eager to get some measure of security and settle in for a while.
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