In large part, the heavy lifting of the NHL free agency season is complete. Almost all of the top names on the open market have found new homes and while some free-agent signings continue to trickle in here and there, many of them have been of moderate value in terms of dollar figures and the player’s prominence.
We did get a significant signing on Tuesday as former Islanders blueliner Devon Toews signed a four-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche after the Avs acquired the former second-round pick from New York earlier in the month for a pair of second-round picks, one in 2021 and the other in 2022.
Toews was a restricted free agent who was set for an arbitration hearing this upcoming Saturday, but that hearing is no longer as Toews agreed to the $4.1M annual cap hit offered by Colorado general manager Joe Sakic.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 27, 2020
Although that signing was of the RFA variety, let’s dip back into the unrestricted free agent side of things where some notable names remain unsigned.
Before we get into where the top names available could end up, let’s identify the top names available on the open market, on a position basis.
Top Remaining NHL Free Agents
- Erik Haula
- Carl Soderberg
- Alex Galchenyuk
- Brian Boyle
- Derick Brassard
- Frederik Gauthier
This year’s crop of free agents didn’t include a top-tier center as those types of players carry so much value that they earn long-term deal that rarely expire without an extension – or a trade – comes to fruition.
Haula and Soderberg are the top two pure centers on the open market while Galchenyuk has moved back and forth from center to left wing during his disappointing NHL career to this point.
Haula is coming off a 24-point season across 48 games split between the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, the latter of whom acquired him as part of a trade for fellow center Vincent Trocheck at last year’s trade deadline. The 29-year-old notched a career-high 55 points in the 2017-18 campaign with the Vegas Golden Knights but a major knee injury suffered the following season as set him back since.
Soderberg has been a reliable third-line center for much of his career to this point as he’s spent time with the Boston Bruins, Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. He tallied 17 goals and 35 points in 70 games last season with the ‘Yotes while he owns a career-high of 23 goals from the 2018-19 season with Colorado and a career-best year of 51 points with the 2015-16 Avs. Now 35, the former second-round pick will surely find a home given his steady production as a bottom-six center at this point.
Aside from perhaps Galchenyuk, the remaining UFA pivots could be hard-pressed to find an NHL contract given the financial limitations in the league, especially after the bulk of spending is already complete.
- Mike Hoffman
- Mikael Granlund
- Anthony Duclair
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Matt Martin
- Conor Sheary
- Colin Wilson
- Drake Caggiula
- Michael Grabner
The drop of left-wingers is far deeper than the center position as it would be a surprise to see many of these names not fetch an NHL contract for the 2020-21 season.
Hoffman is now the clear-cut top remaining UFA on the market coming off a 29-goal, 59-point season last year with the Panthers. A sniper with a deadly shot that can help out a power play in a big way, the 30-year-old tallied a career-high 36 goals just two seasons back with the 2018-19 Panthers and has notched at least 26 goals in five of the last six seasons. It does seem increasingly likely that he accepts a one-year pact before hitting the open market again next season when league wide spending could perhaps increase.
Granlund is another top-six left-wing talent who has twice notched 67 points or more in his career. His production has dipped over the last couple of seasons, but he notched 17 goals in 63 games with the Predators last season while the 28-year-old notched a career-high 26 goals in the 2916-17 season. Perhaps more of a middle-six forward given his dip in production of late, Granlund can still help an offense in need of scoring depth.
Duclair not receiving a qualifying this offseason was intriguing on the heels of a 23-goal, 40-point campaign with the offensively-inept Ottawa Senators. He cost just $1.65M last year in doing so and while his production dried up after the All-Star break, teams could do a lot worse than that type of production from the left side.
For his part, Kovalchuk will look to earn another short-term deal after a productive pre-deadline stint with the Montreal Canadiens in which he recorded six goals and 13 points in 22 games including a red-hot stretch of five goals and nine points across his first 10 games with the team.
Martin’s leadership and physical play should earn him another deal while Sheary has shown an ability to produce offense, although not so much when he hasn’t been lined up alongside Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line.
- Corey Perry
- Andreas Athanasiou
- Michael Frolik
- Melker Karlsson
- Trevor Lewis
We’re back to the role players/bottom-six barrel here with the remaining right wingers as no one on this list is expected to earn a notable contract that carries top-six expectations
The 26-year-old Athanasiou did not receive a qualifying offer from the Oilers after a deadline deal from the Red Wings, but he carries the most upside here by a landslide and could theoretically play as a second-line winger on a thin offense.
After all, he notched 30 goals and 54 points as recently as the 2018-19 season with a weak Red Wings offense while logging nearly 17 minutes a night. He notched just one goal and two points in nine games with the Oilers in the regular season and was held pointless in making four appearances in the postseason, but he also recorded a solid 10 goals and 24 points on a historically bad Red Wings team last season and one that finished dead last in offense. Surely someone will take a flier on a player of this caliber.
Otherwise, we’re looking a third and fourth line veterans. Perry chipped in five goals and nine points in 27 games with the Stars en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. A player that can still modestly chip in offensively with second-unit power play capability, I would expect him to land another one-year deal here at some point while the verdict is out on the remaining right-wing free agents.
- Sami Vatanen
- Zdeno Chara
- Travis Hamonic
- Mirco Mueller
- Ben Hutton
- Andy Greene
- Ron Hainsey
- Michael Del Zotto
- Madison Bowey
- Jan Rutta
- Karl Alzner
Among the remaining defenders on the list, I would expect less than half earn an NHL contract this offseason.
The most interesting case to watch is 43-year-old Zdeno Chara who has spent the last 14 seasons with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are said to be patiently waiting his decision on whether to continue playing or retire, although he has stated he wants to play again next season. There’s also the small possibility he signs elsewhere. Stay tuned.
The top offensive defenseman available is Vatanen, although he skated in just seven games – all in the playoffs – after a shoulder injury prevented him from suiting up in the regular season for the Hurricanes after a deadline trade from the New Jersey Devils. he tallied three points in seven postseason games, but the 29-year-old has a history of solid offensive production from the back end and can help a power play whether it be on the first or second unit.
Travis Hamonic is another name that should fetch a contract as a reliable, veteran defensive presence that can chip in at the other end as well. He notched 12 points in 50 games with the Flames last season where he has spent the last three years after a seven-year stay on Long Island.
- Ryan Miller
- Jimmy Howard
- Craig Anderson
- Michael Hutchinson
There’s a real chance none of these names fetch an NHL contract this season.
Both Miller and Anderson are retirement candidates at 40 and 39 years of age, respectively, and neither played all that well last season.
For his part, Howard was actually the worst goaltender in the NHL last season, posting a 2-23-2 record, 4.20 GAA and .882 Sv% across 27 appearances with the Red Wings.
Hutchinson struggled with the Maple Leafs before a trade to Colorado where he actually started three playoff games and appeared in four, turning in a solid 2.75 GAA and .910 Sv% in that time.
He owns a 2.80 GAA and .905 Sv% in 127 career NHL appearances between the Avalanche, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Winnipeg Jets and could potentially catch on somewhere on a two-way deal as a depth option as he’s been throughout his career.
Top Remaining UFAs and Potential Landing Spots
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
Now let’s check in with the top names available and where they could land a contract this season.
Mike Hoffman, LW
Hoffman is the top name on the market by a landslide at the moment and is apparently willing to accept a one-year deal while his agent has stated there are 13 teams that have expressed interest in the winger while six are considered serious contenders to sign the 30-year-old.
One of the top pure snipers in the game, Hoffman’s deadly shot is a big asset on the right side (one-time) spot on a power play. His 28 power play goals over the last two seasons are tied with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point for the fifth-most in the NHL in that time. His career-high 36 goals from two seasons ago included 17 power-play markers.
Most goals, Most game-winning goals, Most power play goals.
Take a look back at Hoffman’s 2018-19 campaign» https://t.co/GlXdR0d4yG pic.twitter.com/uaWX4nQd6G
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 7, 2019
Potential Landing Spots (with 2021 Stanley Cup odds): New Jersey Devils (+6000), Los Angeles Kings (+6600), Nashville Predators (+3300), Columbus Blue Jackets (+5000), New York Islanders (+2200), Boston Bruins (+1400)
Given the likelihood of a one-year deal, I don’t necessarily expected Hoffman to sign with a contender. A non-contender with ample cap space such as the Devils and Kings could theoretically sign Hoffman to a one-year deal and attempt to recoup assets in exchange for his services at the trade deadline.
Both clubs could use an offensive boost, of course, as could the Blue Jackets and Islanders, both of whom finished in the bottom 10 in both offense and power play efficiency a season ago.
The Predators could make sense given the lack of scoring depth on their wings while they are likely losing a left winger in Mikael Granlund. The Bruins make sense as a team that could sign Hoffman to a one-year deal in hopes that he can help lift them to a Cup in the immediate term. Remember, wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both out to start the season and in a shortened campaign, the Bruins could probably use an injection of offense during that time and beyond.
Erik Haula, C
Teams aren’t valuing Haula as high as they would have if he was on the open market after that 2017-18 season. He was coming off a career-year, of course, but it was also before that devastating knee injury that has seemingly hindered his production ever since.
We’re not necessarily looking at cap space here as a one-year deal at a small cap hit is the likeliest of outcomes here.
Potential Landing Spots: Buffalo Sabres (+6600), Florida Panthers (+5000), Ottawa Senators (+10000), San Jose Sharks (+5000), Los Angeles Kings (+6600)
The list of potential landing spots here could be endless given the expected low cost of a Haula signing.
The Sabres have spent the offseason acquiring depth down the middle in Eric Staal and Cody Eakin, but with a likely battle between the disappointing Curtis Lazar and Casey Mittelstadt to this point, you wonder if a cheap Haula signing on a one-year pact really gives them that fourth line center and move depth down the middle than they’ve had in a very long time. As per their Taylor Hall one-year deal, the Sabres intend to compete.
A reunion in Florida may not be likely, but there’s a fit there as the Panthers’ forward depth has taken a big hit with a pair of top-six wingers in Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov departing in free agency. He could be a one-year stop-gap until the likes of Owen Tippet and Henrik Borgstrom are ready to assume full-time roles while the likes of Grigori Denisenko and Carter Verhaeghe are pegged for third-line duty.
The Senators, Sharks and Kings could all use depth at center and with none of those clubs likely to compete, perhaps a late-round draft pick could be had come deadline time while all three have plenty of cap space in what could essentially amount to buying an additional draft pick.
Corey Perry, RW
I’m trying to nab players from various positions here, but the market isn’t exactly robust for Perry.
In fact, it could be similar to the market for Haula in the sense that plenty of teams could afford what could be a league-minimum, one-year deal while he could provide a stop-gap in the bottom six for developing prospects while a trade deadline draft pick could be had if he were to show an ability to produce in his new home.
Potential Landing Spots: Dallas Stars (+2000), Nashville Predators (+3300), Florida Panthers (+5000), Boston Bruins (+1400)
We’re looking at teams with a need on the wing – preferably the right wing – and these teams qualify.
Perry skated in all 27 of Dallas’ playoff games last year, so clearly they valued him to an extent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them circle back.
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 27, 2020
Here are the projected wingers in the bottom nine for the Predators at the moment: Colton Sissons, Rocco Grimaldi, Nick Cousins, Luke Kunin, Yakov Treninen and Eeli Tolvanen. They also lost Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund to the open market and traded Austin Watson. Whether a veteran addition of Perry is an improvement could be splittin’ hairs, the Preds have plenty of cap space and a paper-thin crop of wingers.
The Bruins could use some help on the right side with Pastrnak out and the Panthers also lost plenty of depth up front this offseason.
Mikael Granlund, LW
Granlund is the second-best winger remaining on the market and is a fall-back option for teams that miss out on Hoffman. Teams that sign Granlund could also be looking for a buy-low opportunity over multiple years. He’s still just 28 and was on pace for a 20-plus goal season last year while he has 49 playoff games under his belt. He either scored 20 goals or was on pace to do so in three of the last four seasons with a 16-goal campaign mixed in.
Potential Landing Spots: Columbus Blue Jackets (+5000), Ottawa Senators (+10000), Carolina Hurricanes (+2800), Nashville Predators (+3300)
I’ve been over the Predators and Blue Jackets needs when it comes to a left winger who can score goals, but the Senators and Hurricanes intrigue me as well.
The Senators already made a splash with Dadonov signing, but it’s a team that could use more offensive punch, and Dadonov plays the right side despite shooting left. They have a ton of cap space to work with, and with Alex Formenton and Nick Paul currently projected as the third and fourth-line left wingers, they could use some more depth. With a ton of cap space available and an opportunity to grab a consistent 20-goal man on the left side, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Sens make a move here.
The Hurricanes don’t have the cap space that the Sens do, but they do have a ton of money coming off the books after this season, including a left winger in Ryan Dzingel who they signed to produce offense. Granlund could slide right into that spot for the next couple of years or more.
Sami Vatanen, D
Vatanen should be able to find a new home as right-shot defenders who can produce offense are a valuable commodity these days. He’s not going to rank among the league leaders in defensemen scoring, and injuries have hampered his production, but he did approach the 40-point mark earlier on two occasions with the Anaheim Ducks and was on a 40-point pace with the Devils last season before the injury and subsequent trade to the Hurricanes.
He is most likely in line for a one-year deal in order to re-establish his value on the open market next summer.
Potential Landing Spots: Detroit Red Wings (+15000), New Jersey Devils (+6000), Minnesota Wild (+5000)
While he provides skills that are valued from the right side of the blueline, there’s actually plenty of teams around the league who are set on the back end on the right side. Those needs will change throughout the season, and it’s not unheard of to see players sign mid-year.
That said, I can see these three clubs potentially in on Vatanen. The Wings and Devils could use help on the right side of the blueline and both should be in the market for draft picks at the trade deadline.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 30, 2019
While the Wild have Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba on the right side, Vatanen would be an upgrade over Brad Hunt on the bottom pair. He could be a defensive upgrade with sheltered 5v5 ice time, but also help on the second power play unit should need be.