Think recency bias matters when it comes to contracts for unrestricted free agents? Just ask Nick Paul.

The burly checking center had delivered a piddly 29 goals across 227 games with the Ottawa Senators by winter 2022. But the Tampa Bay Lightning saw the potential. He moved well for a man his size. He was physical. He killed penalties. They bought low at the trade deadline, getting him for Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-round pick.

We all know what happened after that. Paul was an X-Factor for the Bolts in the 2022 postseason. He scored two goals in Tampa’s Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was crucial on the penalty kill as Tampa crusaded to a third straight Stanley cup Final. He also happened to be a pending UFA at the time. The Lightning had found their new third-line center, and they rewarded Paul with a seven-year deal at a $3.15 million AAV after the season. He scored all that security because of what he did in the postseason.

It’s thus safe to say the pending UFAs competing in the 2023 playoffs have plenty on the line and that many can change their respective fates with their performances in the coming days and weeks.

Which UFAs have the most to gain or lose right now? Consider these players.

(Note the absence of some big names on the list. The likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly have already proven plenty of worth with their new teams and I thus think they have less on the line in the postseason. Same goes for Dmitry Orlov. Damon Severson is headed for a big pay day no matter what happens with the New Jersey Devils this post-season, too.)


Ian Barbashev, Vegas Golden Knights

  • Pos: LW/C
  • Age: 27
  • Current cap hit: $2.25 million

What he has to prove: That he’s a viable top-six NHL forward. He looked the part during his 26-goal breakout in 2021-22 but sagged with the entire St. Louis Bues team this season, eventually dealt straight up for prospect Zach Dean. Barbashev does many things pretty well, most notably as a playmaker, but isn’t elite at any particular skill and has not typically profiled as a great defensive forward. He managed to put up 16 points in 23 games post-deadline with Vegas, functioning more often than not in a first-line role, but he is currently toiling in the bottom six as Vegas battles the Winnipeg Jets in the first round.


Laurent Brossoit, Vegas Golden Knights

  • Pos: G
  • Age: 30
  • Current cap hit: $2.235 million

What he has to prove: That he can be part of Vegas’ long-term plans in net OR worthy of a platoon on another NHL team. Brossoit missed most of 2022-23 due to injury but, with Logan Thompson and Adin Hill hurt and Jonathan Quick struggling, Brossoit got his opportunity down the stretch and helped carry Vegas to a division title, going 5-0-0 with a .946 save percentage in April. Thompson is Vegas’ only NHL goalie signed through next season. Is it possible Brossoit and Thompson form next year’s tandem, then?