When it comes to scoring goals, there’s Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and everyone else. If the conversation turns to points, the NHL’s No. 1 free agent has more company.
One of the players in Stamkos’ group is also on the market.
Since 2009-10, Stamkos’ second season, the goal-scoring category is a blowout. Ovechkin has 306 goals and Stamkos has 289, and they carry the same average of .59 goals per game because the Tampa Bay captain has played 25 fewer times. Sidney Crosby is a distant third at .49 goals per outing.
Teams covet goal scorers, which is why Stamkos is in line for a contract of $10 million per season or more when free agency opens Friday.
Plenty of other players are looking for contracts, too. Though Kyle Okposo doesn’t have the same name recognition as Stamkos, he should have a similar number of suitors. He’s earned them.
Okposo’s game has blossomed with the New York Islanders during the last three seasons. The strong right winger has shown a soft touch with the puck, totaling 67 goals, 117 assists and 184 points in 201 games. Those numbers put him among the league’s best – free agent or otherwise.
During the three-season span from 2013-14 to 2015-16, Okposo recorded .88 points per game. It ranks 17th in the NHL. Stamkos is just ahead at .90, good for 14th. Crosby leads the way at 1.15 points per game.
Though the overall production for Stamkos and Okposo is similar, their contract offers will be wildly different. Okposo will get a raise from his salary of $4.5 million, but he won’t approach Stamkos’ category. Differences in position (Stamkos is a center, Okposo a right wing) will affect the offers, and so will their perceived status.
Stamkos is an undeniable game-breaker, capable of scoring on his own. Okposo is viewed as a sidekick to Islanders captain John Tavares. While that’s partially true, the 28-year-old Okposo works well with others.
According to the line-combination data on LeftWingLock.com, Okposo played more with center Frans Nielsen last season than Tavares. Okposo lined up alongside Nielsen 41.09 percent of the time, while he skated with Tavares during 39.37 percent of his shifts. The trio played together for 11.46 percent of the season.
Okposo finished with 22 goals, 42 assists and 64 points in 79 games. Stamkos recorded 36 goals, 28 assists and 64 points in 77 games.
Teams have undoubtedly delved into the numbers, which should lead to numerous conversations for Okposo’s agent. The Buffalo Sabres are among those with heavy interest.
Fourteen more unrestricted free agents have averaged at least half a point per game over the past three seasons: Jiri Hudler (.78), David Backes and Thomas Vanek (.69), Andrew Ladd (.68), Loui Eriksson (.66), Milan Lucic (.65), Nielsen and Eric Staal (.64), Mikkel Boedker (.63), David Perron (.58), Troy Brouwer and PA Parenteau (.51), with Teddy Purcell and West Seneca’s Lee Stempniak at .50.
The Sabres are also in the market for a backup goaltender. The best one available wore their jersey last year.
Chad Johnson has edged Anton Khudobin, James Reimer and Al Montoya in save percentage during the past three seasons. Johnson posted a .915 in 80 starts. Khudobin recorded a .914 in 73 starts. Reimer (96 starts) and Montoya (57) each had a .913 save percentage.
Other goalies on the market include Karri Ramo and Alex Stalock (.911), Carter Hutton (.910) and former Buffalo netminder Jhonas Enroth (.909).
Three defensemen head the list of capable UFAs, including old friend Brian Campbell. The former Sabres blue-liner has averaged .39 points per game during the past three seasons while skating a class-best 24:08. Fellow left-hander Kris Russell was also at .39 points and averaged 23:25 while leading the NHL with 694 blocked shots.
Dallas’ Jason Demers was nearly as productive as Campbell and Russell, recording .38 points per game, and he did it with much less ice time. The right-handed defenseman skated just 19:44 per night. The other UFAs include righty Luke Schenn and lefties Dan Hamhuis, Kyle Quincy and Jared Cowen.
The Sabres still need to work out contracts with their top restricted free agents, but they made sure to retain the rights to seven of them Monday.
Buffalo has issued qualifying offers to Rasmus Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, Jake McCabe, Casey Nelson, Jason Kasdorf and Dan Catenacci.
They declined to keep minor-leaguers Nathan Lieuwen, Alexander Guptill, Jack Nevins, Colin Jacobs or Andrey Makarov, with all five eligible for unrestricted free agency. Makarov has already signed in Russia.
NHL teams had a 5 p.m. deadline for qualifying offers, which entitle the Sabres to compensation should the players sign elsewhere.
Foligno’s qualifying offer matches last season’s salary of $2.25 million. Ristolainen, McCabe and Nelson are entitled to 105 percent of last season’s $925,000 salaries, while Girgensons’ qualifying offer is 105 percent of his $832,500 contract. All are expected to negotiate new deals rather than sign their qualifying offer.