2024 NHL free agency: Potential landing spots for Jake Guentzel

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

After being the prized target ahead of the 2024 NHL trade deadline, when he ended up being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jake Guentzel is now among the most sought after unrestricted free agents this offseason.

Though the Hurricanes have expressed interest in bringing Guentzel back and own exclusive negotiation rights to the high-scoring forward until he officially becomes a free agent July 1, it’s probably in Guentzel’s best interest to enter free agency and test the waters to see how much money he can make.

“I don’t think Guenzel has given up on the idea of Carolina,” NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said recently on NHL Network. “Honestly, I think he wants to know what the market is at some point before he makes a commitment.”

If Guentzel does reach free agency, he’ll have plenty of suitors to pick from and should be paid handsomely.

Guentzel’s coming off his fourth point-per-game season of his eight-year NHL career, tallying 77 points and 30 goals in 67 games. It’s the third straight season he’s finished with at least 30 goals, an illustration to his consistency and excellence.

To make the pot sweeter, he’s got an impressive postseason resume, scoring 38 goals and 67 points in 69 career Stanley Cup Playoff games. Plus he’s a Stanley Cup champion from 2017.

Guentzel’s spent the past five seasons on a $30 million contract that saw him earn $6 million annually. It’s hard to think of a better time for him to become a UFA. He and Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers are the top two UFA wingers available, and he’s one of the best forwards on the market overall, even in a pool that potentially includes Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault, and Elias Lindholm.

Given the large contracts that wingers like Artemi Panarin and Johnny Gaudreau received in free agency recently, there’s reason to believe Guentzel could end up receiving a deal that’s worth over $10 million annually. As Guentzel enters his age 30 season, this likely marks his last chance to take in a huge payday so make no mistake — he’ll be looking for a lot of term and a lot of dollars.

It won’t be an easy contract to fit under the salary cap for most teams, and likely takes most Stanley Cup contenders out of the running, but the teams that can fit him will no doubt be pushing hard to acquire a game-changing top-line forward.

Related: 5 best landing spots for Patrik Laine after trade request from Blue Jackets

Potential destinations for free agent Jake Guentzel

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On that note, here are some teams that could be a good fit for Jake Guentzel.

Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are a team that has a lot of salary cap space, plus a lot of decisions to make, this offseason. They currently have the eighth-most projected cap space in the NHL at $25.05 million, but that’s with nine unrestricted free agents to either re-sign or replace, including Elias Lindholm, Dakota Joshua, Tyler Myers, and Nikita Zadorov, and Filip Hronek and Artur Silovs needing RFA deals.

If they simply focus on re-signing their key pieces, there won’t be space for Guentzel. However, the big X-factor in this situation is Lindholm. Canucks players like JT Miller and Thatcher Demko have openly campaigned for Lindholm’s return after his standout play in their trip to the second round of the playoffs, and it seems like a nice fit for the organization. However, Friedman’s report on the Jeff Marek Show indicated Lindholm rejected a seven-year, $7 million AAV extension from the Canucks.

If Lindholm elects to go elsewhere in free agency, could Canucks general manager Patrick Allvin pivot to Guentzel as their major offseason signing?

“It’s not easy for Vancouver to do, but I think they’re gonna look at it,” Friedman said on NHL Network, adding that there have been many reports about interest from the Canucks.

It will all depend on how many players Allvin tries to bring back. If Joshua does not return, Vancouver could certainly upgrade with Guentzel in their top six.

It could also come down to what Vancouver values more — an elite scoring winger or a talented offensive center. Guentzel’s certainly played better than Lindholm the past two seasons, but depth down the middle can be a very valuable asset. Plus Guentzel will be the more expensive option.

Vancouver’s entering a window where they’ve got their sights set on a Stanley Cup, and signing Guentzel would certainly help that mission. So, they’ll be in on him.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks may not be quite ready to compete for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but signing Guentzel would expedite that process.

“I think Chicago is a team has considered it,” Friedman said, naming the Blackhawks as the other team reportedly in on Guentzel. “I think they would kind of like to move things along and find some guys who can play next to Connor Bedard.”

The Blackhawks finished this past season with 23 wins and 53 points, which was slightly better than the San Jose Sharks, who finished last in the entire NHL. Still, last year’s No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard had a successful rookie campaign, scoring 22 goals and 61 points in 67 games. And a Bedard-Guentzel tandem, 5v5 and on the power play, would be dynamic.

Also, the Blackhawks will pick second overall in this year’s NHL Draft with hopes of landing another stud to build around.

Last offseason, Chicago attempted to surround Bedard with experienced NHL players like Taylor Hall and Corey Perry. Unfortunately, Hall played just 10 games before sustaining a season-ending knee injury and Perry was released after 16 games with the organization. Guentzel would be on a whole other level.

Bedard had a fine enough season playing on a pretty barren Blackhawks team — now imagine what he could do with a perennial 30-goal scorer in Guentzel on his wing.

Guentzel’s made the playoffs in seven of his eight NHL seasons and might not have the appetite to join a Blackhawks team that could still be several years away from returning to the postseason. But playing with Bedard is a massive selling point. And money talks, too.

With $32.94 million in projected cap space, fourth-most in the League, Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has plenty of room to offer a truckload of money to Guentzel. If the Blackhawks want Guentzel, they’ll likely have to offer more than any other team, and can afford to do so.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have $19.71 million in cap space and some holes to fill. Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, a few defensemen, and goaltenders Martin Jones and Ilya Samsonov are all on expiring contracts, and Nick Robertson needs a new RFA deal.

Their present cap situation doesn’t leave much room to add Guentzel. However, if they decide to move Mitch Marner, whose future is uncertain after a poor postseason and a coaching change, Guentzel would make an intriguing replacement.

Trading Marner would free up an extra $10.9 million in cap space, which would allow the Maple Leafs to make a competitive offer. Their clearly looking to change things up after another postseason failure — hence the decision to fire Sheldon Keefe and hire Craig Berube as their new coach. It’s not unrealistic to think that shipping off Marner could be part of those changes.

For an iconic hockey city like Toronto that hasn’t seen a Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1967, the last time they won the Cup, Guentzel’s playoff resume has to be a big draw. Guentzel hoisted the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2017, leading all skaters that postseason with 13 goals.

Considering the Maple Leafs have won just one postseason series since 2004, they could sure use a top-line playoff performer like Guentzel to join an already talented core of Austin Matthews, William Nylander, and John Tavares.

Carolina Hurricanes

Even if Guentzel doesn’t sign a contract with Carolina prior to July 1, it’s still very possible that he ends up staying there.

“They’re not afraid of saying, ‘Ok, this is what we consider our limit. You can kinda see what’s out there and you can always come back if you don’t like what you find,'” said Friedman. “It doesn’t scare Carolina.”

The Hurricanes turned heads at the deadline by making a rare big splash, giving up a big package to acquire Guentzel from the Penguins. While the move was made in hopes that it would put them over the edge to win the Stanley Cup, you have to wonder if part of the reason they felt comfortable making the trade was that they had interest in signing him long term.

The Hurricanes have been a very good regular-season team under coach Rod Brind’Amour, but have seen their offensive production dwindle in the playoffs. They added Guentzel as a major offensive reinforcement, but still felt short in the second round, losing to the New York Rangers in six games.

It’s hard to fault Guentzel, who had three goals against the Rangers and nine points in Carolina’s 11 postseason games, which ranked third on the squad behind Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

The Hurricanes haven’t had many pure goal scorers like him in recent years, so keeping him around would be a nice complement to their fast and aggressive playstyle.

Carolina has the sixth-highest projected cap space with $26.23 million, but, like Vancouver, they’ve got a lot of contracts to address. They’ve already extended Jalen Chatfield, but Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, and Teuvo Terravainen, just to name a few, will be unrestricted free agents, and Seth Jarvis is due for a sizeable RFA deal.

Martin Necas is also due for a new RFA deal, but the latest reports indicate that Carolina may be shopping him as a trade target and Necas has expressed interest in a change of scenery. If the Hurricanes do indeed elect to deal Necas, who scored 24 goals and was third on the Hurricanes with 53, it would really help to keep Guentzel in the top six.

Carolina’s not known for giving out massive contracts, but they’ve ponied up when they’ve needed to, as seen with the long term deals that Aho and Svechnikov got. Keeping Guentzel might come at the loss of some depth pieces, but there’s plenty of long term value in keeping his scoring touch around for years to come.

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