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The 2024 free agent class is loaded with great talent, some of whom will find new homes this summer. One of the biggest spenders this offseason could be NHL Utah, which has some of the league’s largest salary cap space in its first offseason in franchise history. With owner Ryan Smith most likely wanting the team to be competitive in its first season in Salt Lake City, general manager Bill Armstrong will have a good selection of forwards to sign to help his core succeed next season. Here are three forwards Utah could sign during free agency.

Steven Stamkos

There’s no doubt that when Steven Stamkos hits the open market, he’ll be the most coveted free agent this offseason. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain has been instrumental in turning his team into one of the league’s flagship franchises, reaching four Stanley Cup Finals with the Lightning in 2015, 2020, 2021 and 2022, winning two Stanley Cups along the way. His team also won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019 and two Atlantic Division championships in 2018 and 2019.

Stamkos has been one of the best players of the last decade. He has won two Rocket Richard Trophies and has been an All-Star seven times. Statistically, he has posted seven 40+ goal seasons and multiple 80+ point seasons. He is a player who will automatically be one of the best players on any team lucky enough to sign him.

Related: Utah players who could be traded in the 2024 NHL Draft

The NHL Utah has enough salary cap space to add Stamkos to their plans if they so choose. The two-time Stanley Cup winner just signed an eight-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $8.5 million. After a season in which he scored 81 points in 79 games and six points in five playoff games, he will most likely demand a similar value on what could be his final contract. It all depends on what term he wants to sign for. Smith is a player who likes to go all out, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he convinced Armstrong to sign the best player on the market. While the 2008 first-round pick will likely return to the Lightning, Utah could be an underdog to get him in July.

Martin Necas

After two good seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, Martin Necas could be the first casualty of the upcoming salary cap and the changes the team wants to make. He was drafted 12th overall by the Hurricanes in 2017. After winning the Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers, the young forward secured a permanent spot on the NHL roster.

Necas has 24 goals and 53 points in the 2023-24 season, but he has shown he can be a dominant player in the league after scoring 71 points the season before. There have been rumors that the Hurricanes have been parting ways with the center for some time now, given their incredible need to sign free agents.

Martin Necas Carolina Hurricanes
Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Necas was signed by the Hurricanes to a two-year extension worth $3 million AAV in 2022. Now he will most likely double that amount after two fantastic seasons. While the Hurricanes most likely won’t be able to accommodate him, Utah has enough cap space to bring the forward on board. Utah will most likely want some more centers as well, as they continue their climb back to the playoffs. He is only 25 years old, which is about the average age of players on the team.

The only problem with signing Necas is that he is a restricted free agent, meaning the Hurricanes have the power to retain his rights, so Utah will most likely have to sell some assets to try to sign him. Utah has numerous draft picks, enough to pry Necas from the Hurricanes’ grasp. It just depends on whether Armstrong thinks it’s the right move for the organization.

Thomas B.

Tyler Johnson may not be the flashiest name, but Utah could land him with some luck. After winning two Stanley Cups with the Lightning, he was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for the final three seasons of his contract. On a terrible Blackhawks team, he managed two straight 30+ point seasons despite playing less than 75% of the season.

Johnson is now 33 years old and likely entering his final seasons in the NHL. As a bottom-six forward, he is still a valuable forward who provides a good veteran presence wherever he goes. With the departures of Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba at the trade deadline and even more young players entering Utah’s lineup, there is no doubt they will want to replenish that side of the team.

Johnson signed a seven-year contract in 2017 with an annual salary of $5 million. With his new contract, he will make less. The question is how much. Most likely, it will be in the $2-3 million range. The other question will be whether the Blackhawks will try to re-sign the forward. Much like Utah, they will most likely try to sign some veterans to bolster their youth. If Johnson hits the free agent market, he could be a fantastic pick for Utah.

It will be interesting to see what Utah will do in the first offseason to help their new core flourish and compete for a playoff spot next season. There will be many players hitting the open market this free agency that could help the team immediately and in the future. Utah could be an underrated free agent hot spot this summer and the league’s newest team could quickly become a competitive team.

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