Initially published on June 21st, 2016.
With free agency less than two weeks away, it’s time to unveil our Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agent List. The rankings were voted on by the PHR writing team and were based on talent and projected demand, not what we forecast for their new contracts.
Last summer, we saw GM’s show more restraint when it came to opening their wallets. That was due to the salary cap only increasing slightly and with the predictions that it won’t change much for 2016-17, we’re projecting that teams won’t be free spending again this time around. Sure, the top players will still get the big bucks but some of the middle-tiered players may not have quite the market they’re hoping for. We also have taken into consideration that some free agents may take a little less to stay where they are.
All predictions are independent of each other and no specific consideration has been given to no-trade or no-move clauses. Any players that have been or will be bought out are not included on this list.
Without further ado, here are our rankings and projections.
1. Steven Stamkos – Lightning – 8 years, $72MM. It’s extremely rare that a player like Stamkos ever gets to the market. He’s one of the top pure goal scorers in the league (only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin has more goals in the last five seasons) and at 26 years old, he’s in the prime of his career. A blood clot he sustained late in the year may give a couple of teams pause but if he makes it to free agency, he still should have no shortage of suitors. (Signed with Lightning, 8 years, $68MM)
2. Kyle Okposo – Sabres – 7 years, $47.25MM. Okposo has been under the shadow of linemate John Tavares for most of his career but he has quietly become a legitimate front line player in his own right. He has been one of the more consistent point-producing right wingers (a position that’s not too deep in terms of top-end talent) and is young enough that whoever gets him shouldn’t have to worry too much about a drop off towards the end of the contract. (Signed with Sabres, 7 years, $42MM)
3. Milan Lucic – Kings – 5 years, $28.75MM. Lucic is the prototypical power forward that every team wants to have on their side. He has picked up at least 44 points and been in the top 12 in hits in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps even more impressive is his durability given the style he plays as he has missed just ten games in the last six years. Despite that, it’s reasonable to expect that to change as he ages and accordingly, he may have some challenges getting a six or seven year deal. (Signed with Oilers, 7 years, $42MM)
4. Keith Yandle – Panthers – 6 years, $41.4MM. It’s a fairly weak UFA class of blueliners which should work to Yandle’s benefit as he is unquestionably the best of those available. He’s a high end point producer at his position which will make teams overlook some of his defensive concerns. Brent Seabrook received $6.875MM to extend in Chicago; Yandle in an open market should be able to come in at a similar price tag per year. (Signed with Panthers, 7 years, $44.45MM)
5. David Backes – Wild – 6 years, $34MM. Like Lucic, Backes is the big, physical forward that all teams covet and Backes provides the further benefit of playing center. He has surpassed the 20 goal mark in each of the last five full seasons and consistently hovers around the 45-60 point range year after year. Consistency, size, and skill are all elements that GM’s will covet in free agency and Backes has them all so despite the fact he’s older than some of the other players in our rankings (32), he should be able to command a long-term deal. (Signed with Bruins, 5 years, $30MM)
6. Andrew Ladd – Panthers – 6 years, $37.5MM. Ladd is coming off a bit of a down year as his 46 points tied for his lowest output since 2009-10. However, he’s still viewed as a legitimate top line winger and is seemingly a lock for around 25 goals year in, year out. Ladd showed some signs of slowing down late in the season which has to be taken into consideration but he’s enough of a consistent threat at this stage of his career that teams will be still be willing to go long-term with him, even if he’s not quite the same player by the end of it. (Signed with Islanders, 7 years, $38.5MM)
7. Frans Nielsen – Red Wings – 5 years, $25MM. While his Islander teammate Okposo is getting most of the attention, Nielsen heads to the market as one of the more underappreciated players available. He won’t be a top level scorer but he’s a high level two-way player that easily fits in on a second line for any team and will put up above average point totals for someone in that position. He won’t be the splashy acquisition but he should be a very effective addition for whoever gets him. (Signed with Red Wings, 6 years, $31.5MM)
8. Mikkel Boedker – Maple Leafs – 6 years, $31.5MM. Boedker is one of the youngest UFA’s in this class and is young enough to catch the eye of rebuilding teams as well as contenders which should increase his negotiating leverage. He has improved offensively in recent years to the point where he should be expected to put up 45 or more points per season moving forward as a second liner. Boedker isn’t the type of acquisition that should put a team over the top but he’s a core piece that can be part of a long-term plan. (Signed with Sharks, 4 years, $16MM)
9. Alex Goligoski – Coyotes – 5 years, $27MM. For teams that are looking for an offensive punch from the blueline but either strike out on Yandle or don’t want to spend as much to fill that role, they’ll turn to Goligoski first. He’s not ideally a top pairing defender but fits well as a second pairing option that can log a lot of power play time. The market for second pairing defensemen has grown in recent years and Goligoski should be able to extend that trend. (Signed with Coyotes, 5 years, $27.375M)
10. Loui Eriksson – Bruins – 5 years, $27.5MM. Eriksson posted his best output since 2011-12, picking up 30 goals and 33 assists last season. It also happened to be his first 50 point campaign since 2011-12, the last of four straight years with 63 or more points. Eriksson is certainly a reliable two-way player that can play both wings and brings a lot to the table but was 2015-16 an outlier in terms of production or a sign of things to come? That’s a key question GM’s will have to ask themselves. (Signed with Canucks, 6 years, $36MM)
11. Alexander Radulov – Capitals – 1 year, $5.25MM. Radulov is a polarizing player around the league. He has twice left the NHL to go play back home and in his last stint was sat down in the playoffs for breaking curfew. However, he also is a dynamic offensive player that can fit in anyone’s top six right away. It’s believed he’s seeking a short-term deal which is ideal for both sides as with some of the question marks surrounding him, it’s doubtful anyone will want to give him a long-term pact. (Signed with Canadiens, 1 year, $5.75MM)
12. Kris Russell – Bruins – 4 years, $18MM. Russell is an interesting test of the old school vs new school type of player evaluation. He’s frequently among the leaders in shot blocking which, to some, is a sign of a defensive strength. Others view it as a weakness considering there are so many shots to block when he’s on the ice. 2015-16 was a down year offensively compared to the previous two which also complicates things. He has logged enough ice time in recent years to suggest he could handle a second pairing role in the right situation which should still land him a sizable deal.
13. Eric Staal – Islanders – 2 years, $10MM. Some players thrive in their contract years. Staal wasn’t one of them, putting up his lowest point total since his rookie campaign and didn’t fit in particularly well after a deadline deal to the Rangers. Those struggles likely take the big money, big term deal off the table. The 31 year old Staal may be wise to seek a spot where he can quickly rebuild his value in the hopes of getting one last big contract a year or two down the road. If that’s the way he goes, he could wind up being somewhat of an upside signing for whoever lands him. (Signed with Wild, 3 years, $10.5MM)
14. Brian Campbell – Rangers – 1 year, $3.5MM base plus $1.5MM in incentives. Campbell has seen his role reduce a bit the last couple of years and at 37, may have some difficulty securing a long-term deal. That makes it likely that he’ll be forced to go with one year deals and since he’s over 35, he’s also eligible for incentives. That will open up his market somewhat to more of the cap-strapped teams who may be willing to defer the bonus charges to the 2017-18 cap. Campbell isn’t a top pairing player at this stage of his career but he’d slot in nicely as a second pairing option for next season. (Signed with Blackhawks, 1 year, $1.5MM base plus $750K in incentives)
15. Dan Hamhuis – Red Wings – 3 years, $12.75MM. Whoever gets Hamhuis will be making a risk/reward signing. He has been injury prone in each of the last two seasons, missing 47 games over that span. At 33 years of age, that’s cause for concern. When healthy though, Hamhuis is still a quality second pairing defenseman in a shutdown role and because of his age and recent injuries, should wind up getting a shorter term and cheaper deal than some of the other comparable blueliners. (Signed with Stars, 2 years, $7.5MM)
16. Troy Brouwer – Canadiens – 5 years, $23MM. Physical top six forwards (especially right wingers) are always in high demand on the open market and Brouwer’s strong postseason (eight goals, five assists in 20 games) will only cement that. He’s also quite durable for a power forward, having missed just one game in the last five years. That said, physical wingers tend to break down with age and whoever signs him should prepare themselves for the last year being somewhat of an anchor on the salary cap. (Signed with Flames, 4 years, $18MM)
17. James Reimer – Flames – 2 years, $6MM. Reimer has the distinction of being the top goalie available in the market where there aren’t many teams looking for starters. Unfortunately, there are questions as to whether or not he is a legitimate starting goalie which lowers his market even further. Reimer will likely be forced to look for a short-term deal in a 1B or platoon situation to try to build on his strong 2015-16 campaign in the hopes of getting the big contract a year or two down the road. (Signed with Panthers, 5 years, $17MM)
18. Jiri Hudler – Devils – 4 years, $16MM. Many view Hudler’s 2015-16 output (46 points in 72 games) as a disappointment but that was largely due to the 76 points he put up the year before which created unrealistic expectations. He’s not an ideal top line option but is one of the better second line wingers available. However, many general managers still emphasize size and at 5’10, Hudler’s smaller stature may reduce his suitors. (Signed with Stars, 1 year, $2MM)
19. Lee Stempniak – Canucks – 2 years, $5.5MM. Stempniak has been somewhat of a hockey nomad in the past three years, suiting up for six different teams in that time. A 51 point campaign with New Jersey and Boston should finally give him a little of bit of stability with a multi-year deal but given that he’s usually around the 30 point mark, there will still be hesitation to give him a big contract. Stempniak won’t be anyone’s Plan A but as the big names start to sign, teams should turn to him as a fallback option. (Signed with Hurricanes, 2 years, $5MM)
20. Shane Doan – Coyotes – 1 year, $3.5MM base plus $1MM in incentives. Doan went a long way towards putting to rest the idea that he was finished coming off a down year in 2014-15. Last year, he led Arizona with 28 goals, his highest total since 2008-09. At this point of his career (he turns 40 in October), he’s going to be looking for year-to-year contracts and anyone that wants him is going to be looking to do the same. He’s not a dominant front liner anymore but he can still play in the top six. (Signed with Coyotes, 1 year, $3.87MM base plus just over $963K in incentives)
21. Jamie McGinn – Hurricanes – 3 years, $10.5MM. McGinn has been a second/third line ‘tweener’ for most of his career which isn’t a great label to have entering free agency. He can provide some secondary offense while bringing size and physical play to the table and is certainly a serviceable 6th/7th forward. If McGinn wants to have a bigger role and paycheck moving forward though, he may have to go to a lower team in the standings to get it. (Signed with Coyotes, 3 years, $10MM)
22. Jason Demers – Stars – 4 years, $18MM. Demers has flown under the radar for most of his career but is a quality two-way defender. He’s someone that doesn’t particularly excel at any particular role but isn’t weak in any areas either making him a capable option to fit in just about anywhere on a second pairing. If teams don’t think they’ll have a shot at the top guys, Demers should be one of the first calls GM’s will make to players in that second tier. (Signed with Panthers, 5 years, $22.5MM)
23. Teddy Purcell – Ducks – 3 years, $10.5MM. Purcell has been thought of as an underwhelming offensive winger but if you look closely, he has been around the 35-45 point range for five straight years. He’s not the 65 point player he was before the lockout but he’s still a quality secondary scorer that can fit in on a lot of second lines. Purcell won’t be a prized acquisition this offseason but he’ll be a nice Plan B or C for someone. (Signed with Kings, 1 year, $1.6MM)
24. P.A. Parenteau – Maple Leafs – 2 years, $5MM. Parenteau had a nice bounce back season after being bought out by Montreal last summer, leading the Leafs in goals (20) and finishing second in points (41). However, part of that stems from the fact he played a much bigger role than he should have since he was on a basement team. Still, Parenteau has done enough to earn a multi-year deal at a rate better than the $1.5MM he earned with Toronto last season. (Signed with Islanders, 1 year, $1.25MM)
25. Kris Versteeg – Predators – 2 years, $6.4MM. Versteeg has bounced around in recent years but that was largely due to his $4.4MM cap hit more than his actual production. He has surpassed 30 points in each of the last three years as a second or third line player and has more playoff experience than most players on the open market. He’ll have to take a bit of a pay cut moving forward but Versteeg is still worthy of another decent money contract. (Signed with SC Bern in the Swiss NLA)
26. David Perron – Ducks – 3 years, $11.55MM. Perron looked to be heading towards a very underwhelming year before a midseason trade for Carl Hagelin revitalized him. He picked up 20 points in 28 games after joining Anaheim and showed that there is still top six upside to his game. At 28, he’s one of the younger free agents on the market and can play both wings which should boost his value. He picked the right time to get hot late in the year and should cash in accordingly next month. (Signed with St. Louis, 2 years, $7.5MM)
27. Radim Vrbata – Avalanche – 1 year, $3.7MM. Vrbata picked a bad year to struggle, putting up his lowest point total (27) since 2003-04 with Carolina. He struggled with consistency at both ends of the rink and wound up moving up and down Vancouver’s lineup as a result. That said, he’s just a year removed from a 31 goal, 63 point campaign so there should be some interest. But given his age (35) and struggles last season, he’ll likely have to settle for a one year deal. (Signed with Coyotes, 1 year, $1MM in base salary plus $2.25MM in incentives)
28. Darren Helm – NY Rangers – 3 years, $9.75MM. Helm is one of the top skaters in the league and has used that to his advantage to become one of the NHL’ top third line centers. He also has shown signs of some offensive skill, scoring a total of 40 goals over the past three years. Helm isn’t good enough to be a top six guy over the long haul but he’s the type of player that a team can build their checking line around which should result in a strong market for the 29 year old. (Signed with Red Wings, 5 years, $19.25MM.)
29. Jason Chimera – Capitals – 1 year, $2.25MM. Chimera rebounded nicely in 2015-16, more than doubling his output from the previous year, tallying 20 goals and 20 assists and did so while spending a lot of time on Washington’s third line. At 37, he shouldn’t be seeking a multi-year deal and given that he has been up and down the last four seasons, the bidding for his services shouldn’t get too high either. If he has a repeat of last year in 2016-17, he could be a bargain in this UFA class. (Signed with Islanders, 2 years, $4.5MM)
30. Luke Schenn – Devils – 3 years, $8.25MM. Schenn acquitted himself nicely after joining the Kings partway through last season as a bottom pairing defender. His game is limited to a physical, stay-at-home role but he is the youngest rearguard on the market at just 26 years of age. He may try to catch on to a contending team in a similar spot on the depth chart as last year or on a younger squad where he could play more minutes than he has in recent years. (Signed with Coyotes, 2 years, $2.5MM)
31. Chad Johnson – Ducks – 1 year, $1.5MM. Johnson had a strong campaign with Buffalo after being thrust into the starting role for a big chunk of the year due to an injury to Robin Lehner. Unfortunately for him, the #1 vacancies are few and far between and are more likely to be addressed via trade than in free agency. Johnson will likely be limited to seeking a spot on a team that’s looking for an above average backup goalie instead of maximizing on potential playing time. (Signed with Flames, 1 year, $1.7MM)
32. Dale Weise – Flyers – 2 years, $4.5MM. Weise was on pace for a career best season with Montreal (26 points in 56 games) before being dealt to Chicago near the trade deadline where he struggled considerably (just one assist in 15 contests). He has outplayed the fourth line role he had early in his career but doesn’t have the consistency or skill to be a regular top six forward either. At this stage, he’s a two-way third liner with a bit of perceived offensive upside based on his time with the Canadiens. (Signed with Flyers, 4 years, $9.4MM)
33. Alex Tanguay – Coyotes – 1 year, $2.5MM. Tanguay is getting up there in age (he’ll turn 37 in November which likely limits him to a one year deal) but is still capable of producing in a second line role. He doesn’t bring much else to the table in terms of defensive or physical play but Tanguay would be a strong fit for a team looking for either a short-term second line upgrade or a bridge player until a prospect is ready.
34. Shawn Matthias – Hurricanes – 2 years, $3.2MM. He was able to earn a nice contract ($2.3MM with Toronto) coming off an 18 goal season in 2014-15 but Matthias wasn’t able to duplicate that success last season. Once thought of as a third liner that could hold his own in a pinch on the second line, he’s now best suited as strictly a bottom six forward which may limit his suitors. Matthias is someone that may have to wait until a lot of the top forward goes before his market begins to emerge in free agency. (Signed with Jets, 2 years, $4.25MM)
35. Riley Nash – Devils – 1 year, $1.25MM. Nash isn’t as well known as a lot of the other bottom six forwards on the market but is a player who will give a team reasonable production from the third line and doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses in his game. That said, players like that don’t tend to have a bunch of suitors in free agency and thus he may be forced to take a short-term deal with a team that can give him a bigger role to help showcase himself for down the road. (Signed with Bruins, 2 years, $1.8MM)
36. Roman Polak – Panthers – 2 years, $5.6MM. Polak certainly has his limitations – he’s a physical third pairing defender and not a lot more than that – but there are always teams looking for tough veterans to improve their depth. Since he is coming off a lengthy postseason run, he should be higher up in the minds of some of those GM’s which should give him at least a few suitors in July. Polak should be able to land a bigger contract than a typical third pairing defender would typically get. (Signed with Maple Leafs, 1 year, $2.25MM)
37. Matt Martin – Canucks – 4 years, $11MM. Fourth liners seldom get big money in free agency but Martin is no typical fourth liner and is often thought of as one of the best in the league in that role. There is always a premium placed on tough guys that can score and move up to the third line in a pinch – see Brandon Prust’s deal with Montreal four years ago. Martin is one of those players so he should have plenty of teams looking his way on July 1st and the more suitors there are, the higher the price tag. (Signed with Maple Leafs, 4 years, $10MM)
38. Matt Cullen – Retirement. Cullen was a late offseason signing with Pittsburgh and wound up playing a big role, scoring 16 goals and 16 assists in a bottom six role. However, coming off a Stanley Cup title and the fact he turns 40 in November, there’s a decent chance he opts to retire as a champion. If Cullen does decide to play another season though, he should be able to do a bit better than the $800,000 he made with the Penguins last season. (Signed with Penguins, 1 year, $1MM)
39. John-Michael Liles – Rangers – 1 year, $1.75MM. Liles is getting up there in age (35) and his role is decreasing by the season but he still should have a good year or two left in him. He’s a third pairing defenseman at this stage of his career but is still a strong enough puck mover to help on the second unit on the power play which gives him a niche to fill. Liles is a depth player at best moving forward but still should draw a fair amount of interest this offseason. (Signed with Bruins, 1 year, $2MM)
40. Ben Lovejoy – Blackhawks – 2 years, $2.1MM. Lovejoy should benefit from Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run, one where the 32 year old played a regular role. He doesn’t have any major strengths in his game but can log some minutes on the third pairing without being a significant liability. Lovejoy may be in tough to find a team where he’s guaranteed a full-time role but as a 6/7 defender, he should draw interest from several teams. (Signed with Devils, 3 years, $8MM)
41. Karri Ramo – KHL. Ramo has been adequate at best since making his return to the NHL three years ago. He won’t be able to find a spot as a starting goalie so if he wants a big money deal like he had with Calgary (he earned $3.8MM last year), he’ll have to go back to the KHL to get it. If he wants to stay in North America, Ramo would be a viable candidate for several backup jobs but would have to take a significant pay cut to land one.
42. Dan Boyle – Retirement. Boyle has seen his play decline in recent years but is still capable of playing third pairing minutes while being a threat from the point. However, he has hinted that he’s leaning towards retirement (though no formal announcement has been made) which is why he’s this low on the list. If Boyle does come back though, he should be able to secure a one year deal without much difficulty, though it would have to come at a significant pay cut from the $4.5MM he earned each of the last two years.
43. Brad Richards – Avalanche – 1 year, $2MM. Richards has slowed down in recent years and is far removed from the top line center he once was. At this stage of his career, he’s more of a third liner that can move up when injuries arise and play the power play. For teams looking for some short-term veteran help or a placeholder until a rookie is ready, Richards can still bring enough to the table to justify another one year contract. (Retired)
44. Kyle Quincey – Wild – 1 year, $1.5MM. Quincey didn’t live up to the big money contract he got two years ago from the Red Wings ($4.25MM per year) as injuries and ineffectiveness relegated him to a depth role on the blueline and even had him in the press box some nights as a healthy scratch. He’s still fairly young (30) and is a prime candidate for a change of scenery. Quincey will likely be forced to sign a one year deal with the hopes of rebuilding his value with another organization.
45. Chris Stewart – Jets – 1 year, $1MM. The former first round pick has underwhelmed for most of his career and that was certainly the case last year in Anaheim, where he collected just 20 points in 56 games while spending a lot of time as a scratch. However, he’s still young (28) and has the size that will pique the interest of a few general managers though he will once again have to sign a ‘prove it’ contract as he did last offseason. (Signed with Wild, 2 years, $2.3MM)
46. Sam Gagner – Blackhawks – 1 year, $1MM. Last year was by far the worst of Gagner’s career. He found himself scratched at times and eventually went unclaimed through waivers although his contract may have played a role in that. The 26 year old no longer is viewed as a top six forward and doesn’t have enough of a two-way game to warrant a bottom six spot on most teams. Gagner could get some two year offers but may be better off taking a one year deal with a squad where he can try to rebuild some value and try his luck on the market next offseason. (Signed with Blue Jackets, 1 year, $650K)
47. Brad Boyes – Training Camp PTO – 1 year, $700,000. Boyes struggled to find a contract after being bought out last summer, settling for a professional tryout in training camp and parlayed that into a cheap deal with Toronto. He can play both center and the wing and is one of the NHL’s top career shootout performers but Boyes isn’t good enough to play a top six role and isn’t capable of playing in a bottom six capacity either which could leave him on the outside looking in again this offseason.
48. Jordie Benn – Maple Leafs – 2 years, $2.5MM. The elder of the Benn brothers has been a regular in a depth role for the Stars the past three seasons. He’s not the most skilled of blueliners but can log a regular shift at even strength and pitch in on the penalty kill. Teams that are lacking in terms of blueline depth or have someone they feel isn’t quite ready to start in the NHL at the beginning of the season should take a look at the 28 year old. (Signed with Stars, 3 years, $3.3MM)
49. Patrik Elias – Devils – 1 year, $2MM base plus $2MM in incentives. Elias missed most of last season with knee issues but when healthy, showed he still has something left in the tank, picking up eight points in 16 games. He’s certainly not a top line player any more but still could help a team in a second line role. Given Elias’ injury history and age (40) though, whoever signs him would be wise to have a backup plan just in case as well.
50. Jhonas Enroth – Sharks- 1 year, $1.4MM. Enroth had a strong campaign as the backup goalie to Jonathan Quick with the Kings. He’s undersized for a netminder but that hasn’t stopped him from playing in the NHL for the last six seasons. Enroth turns 28 this weekend as well and it’s not crazy to think he could land a multi-year deal. If not, he should still benefit from being one of the top backup goalies available on the market. (Signed with Maple Leafs, 1 year, $750K)