With Nazem Kadri off the board, the NHL free agent market has taken a massive dip in talent, leaving only a few key contributors remaining for teams to sign.
Arguably the best of those available players is Paul Stastny, who is coming off an impressive season with the Winnipeg Jets and could assuredly help whichever team opts to sign him.
Who will that be? Let’s take a look at Stastny’s three best landing spots and determine how he could fit into his possible new homes.
2022-23 Cap Space: $3,910,000
Now that Nazem Kadri is no longer returning to Denver like everyone assumed he would, there’s another two-way center waiting in the wings for a reunion in the Rockies.
Sure, Stastny finds himself on the back nine of his career at this point, getting set to celebrate his 37th birthday at the midway mark of the 2022-23 season. But the veteran still has plenty left in the tank even at his advanced age, projecting to remain a play-driving contributor down the middle who possesses more than enough offensive pop for his role and can reduce chances in his own end, too.
What more could you want for an Avs team navigating life (potentially) without Kadri?
Even amidst a turbulent Jets season, Stastny still managed to tilt the ice in a positive direction whenever he happened to step on it, generating individual expected goal and scoring chance shares of 53.05 percent and 52.71 percent at even-strength, respectively. Couple that with his typical 20-goal, 45-point output, and Stastny was his same old dependable self last season, continuing to impact the game at both ends of the ice as a solid veteran leader.
On a one-year deal at around $3 million or so, Stastny would fit seamlessly in the Avs’ lineup that could then allow J.T. Compher to ease into the second-line center role he seems destined for.
It just makes too much sense, really. Make it happen! If not, there are still enough teams that would benefit from Stastny’s services.
2022-23 Cap Space: -$6,126,666
The Habs always need centres, making it a fun little coincidence that Stastny happens to be one. Is this a match made in heaven? I think so!
Under Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes, the Canadiens are clearly looking to rebuild, gobbling up as many high picks as they could carry at the draft back in July and prioritizing the acquisition of young talent such as Kirby Dach. Their roster, on the other hand, does not tell the same story, with a number of established veterans on pricey contracts occupying significant roles at each position group, making it seem as if the Canadiens might actually want to win this season.
Actively acquiring the likes of Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Matheson in the same summer doesn’t really scream “rebuild” to me.
So, if Montreal actually wants to win games next season, Stastny should be at the top of their list. With Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak, Jake Evans, and Dach lined up down the middle, the Canadiens’ centre depth is both extremely young and over their heads. Suzuki is a fine player who will grow with each year, but the guy looked totally overwhelmed as the club’s 1C last season, and dropping him into the deep end without a life raft could stunt his development. Dvorak had a brutal first year in Montreal, while Evans is a depth piece currently suited for a high-leverage 3C role, and Dach is an entirely different caliber project altogether.
Dropping Stasny into the team’s middle-six would provide some breathing room.
Perhaps Dach gets moved to the wing early on to gain some confidence. The same could be done with Dvorak, who might be best suited there anyway. Suzuki could still log heavy minutes while not being tasked as the club’s only high-end option, therefore allowing Stasny to step in whenever he stumbles as a safeguard.
The financials will be difficult to work around, of course. As things currently stand, the Canadiens are set to place a whopping $22 million on LTIR if each of Carey Price, Jonathan Drouin, and Sean Monahan are not ready to start the year. But if they can find some wiggle room, Stastny seems destined for La Belle Province.
Detroit Red Wings
2022-23 Cap Space: $9,246,111
Whereas the Canadiens have one foot in rebuild mode while still looking like a win-now team, the Red Wings are going full-steam ahead after a teardown of their own, throwing money at established veterans all summer long in an effort to make their roster competitive in the toughest division in hockey.
Stastny seems like the logical final piece to the puzzle GM Steve Yzerman has been building this offseason.
Not only do the Red Wings have a need for a useful middle-six centre to compliment Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp, but they actually have the cap space to give Stastny what he’s asking for, operating as one of the very few teams league-wide with upwards of $9 million in available funds to spend however they like.
No matter where Stastny goes, a short-term deal is likely all he’s getting — which works best for all parties involved, really. The Red Wings can exceed any offer Stastny receives, and their roster will be boosted in the immediate future by an effective and versatile veteran with plenty left in the tank.
What are they waiting for?