As it pertains to defensemen, the 2018 class of unrestricted free agents is a rather thin list with one marquee name above all others. John Carlson is not only far and away the top d-man available come July 1, he is arguably one of the top-three unrestricted free agents overall along with John Tavares and take your pick between Paul Stastny, Joe Thornton and James van Riemsdyk.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t quality defensemen available, though several are coming off surgery and some of the top names see their best days in the rearview mirror.
While Carlson is a sure thing, the other candidiates pretty much all have a question mark — or several — by their name.
Let’s take a lok at the Sporting News’ Top 10 UFA defensemen for 2018.
STATUS: John Carlson arrives at unrestricted free agency coming off his best offensive season, leading all NHL defensemen with 68 points on 15 goals and 53 assists this season. The 28-year-old followed that up by leading all defensemen in scoring during the playoffs — where he currently sits at 18 points in 22 games, including a goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. He has over 700 games of NHL experience in the regular season and postseason, is a workhorse who chews up big minutes as a top-pair d-man and has zero worthy competition as the best available defenseman. Cha-Ching!
STATUS: Neck surgery in March could put a crimp in Mike Green’s hopes for a big payday come July. However, the 32-year-old former teammate of John Carlson did appear in the NHL All Star Game this year and posted 33 points in 66 games with the Red Wings. Green is no longer the Norris Trophy candidate he was earlier in his career, but he’s still good enough to rank second on this list.
STATUS: There’s nothing fancy about Ian Cole’s game, but there is a lot to like for teams seeking a solid second or third-pair option on the back end. The 29-year-old was a valuable — if somewhat underrated — member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams in Pittsburgh and could help a lot of teams looking to get over the hump and win a championship themselves.
STATUS: Some teams are going to be scared off by the season-ending shoulder surgery which limited Calvin de Haan to just 33 games this past season, but there are still going to be plenty interested in a top-four blueliner who is 27-years-old, solid at both ends of the rink and who was a combined +26 the past two years for an Islanders team that was atrocious defensively.
STATUS: The former 3rd-overall pick probably could and should be listed higher up on this list, but following a year that featured subpar play, trade demands from Columbus and healthy-scratch status in the playoffs, Jack Johnson is a bit of enigma heading into July 1. However, Johnson could end up being a steal at the right price if he builds back his game in new surroundings next season.
Dan Hamhuis is one of the most consistent players on this list and would rank higher if not for the fact that he is 35-years-old. He appeared in 80 games this season with the Stars, surpassed 1,000 games played in his career and recorded 24 points, his most since 2012-13. He’s a solid lower-pairing add on a shorter-term deal for a Cup contender.
He was whipping boy at the end of his tenure in Montreal, but Alexei Emelin turned in a pretty consistent 17 minutes a night this past season with the Nashville Predators. He’s limited and 32-years-old, but on a good team, Emelin is a nice fit on the third pair, and can bump up to second-pair duties when needed.
Toby Enstrom is 33-years-old, played in 60 games or fewer in three of the last four seasons due to injury — including only 43 this season — and is no longer the 50-point threat he once was, but he is a quality teammate and leader, and — when healthy — a solid 17-18 minute-a night contributor.
A late season trade to the Capitals and subsequent strong play in Washington’s postseason run vaulted the late-blooming Michal Kempny into this Top Ten. How far it takes the 27-year-old this summer remains to be seen. His best fit might be just where he is, with the Caps.
At age 27, John Moore put together his most complete NHL season in 2017-18, appearing in 81 games and averaging 20 minutes of ice-time a night for the resurgent Devils. He is an excellent skater, can play on most team’s second power play unit, has an edge to his game and is much improved in his own end.
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