With free agency less than a week 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.
This year with the expansion draft muddying the waters and filling June with more excitement and speculation about who will be headed to the Golden Knights instead of who will be re-signing with their teams, less attention has been paid to this UFA class. It doesn’t help that it’s one of the most uninspiring groups in several years, with most of the big names having substantial flaws in their games or being too old to deserve a long-term deal.
All predictions are independent of each other and do not project a team signing all attached free agents. Each player is presumed to sign in the NHL for a one-way deal though retirement, Europe, and PTOs are a real possibility for many of them. The voting was done before the qualifying offer deadline, and thus no unqualified restricted free agents were included.
1. Kevin Shattenkirk — New Jersey Devils — 7 years, $42MM Despite a disappointing playoff run with the Washington Capitals, Shattenkirk remains the best option of an ugly free agent class. He’s made it clear that he wants to be “the guy” wherever he goes, and though New York and Boston remain options he clearly wouldn’t be the #1 defenseman on either team. Some would argue whether he’d even be that in New Jersey, Buffalo or anywhere else that would be interested but he could certainly feel that way. He probably played himself out of a 7 x 7 deal, but should still find a long-term home on July 1st. (Signed with Rangers, 4 years, $26.6MM)
2. Alexander Radulov — Montreal Canadiens — 5 years, $30MM Radulov returned from the KHL in spectacular fashion, bursting onto the Montreal scene with a strong first half that included a seven-game point streak in November. While he’d quiet slightly in the second half, he still finished with a solid 54 points and proved he could still compete at the NHL level. Now about to turn 31, there have been varying reports on both term and dollar demands from his camp stretching as far as seven years. He owes a debt of gratitude to T.J. Oshie not only for signing and removing the only other legitimate first-line winger from the market, but also securing an eight-year deal at almost the same age. (Signed with Stars, 5 years, $31.25MM)
3. Karl Alzner — Chicago Blackhawks — 5 years, $24.5MM In the days before possession statistics and analytics, Alzner may have been considered one the better defenders in the league. His defensive style is a throwback to a different era of hockey, but unfortunately it’s one that isn’t as highly regarded while the league moves further and further towards mobility and puck skills. Despite that, Alzner ranks third on our list because of a lack of quality defensemen on the market. An ability to log big minutes and a big-time pedigree should bring in many offers from around the league, and at just 28-years old a long-term deal doesn’t look as daunting. (Signed with Canadiens, 5 years, $23.125MM)
4. Martin Hanzal — Montreal Canadiens — 4 years, $18MM Narrowly edging out Thornton for the top center spot, Hanzal has long had bigger expectations than performance. With just two seasons ever cracking 40 points, he’s not the power center teams will be hoping to slot into their top-6, but he might get paid as one. $4.5MM per year might seem like a lot for a guy who just recorded his first 20-goal campaign, but a thin market will give Hanzal all the leverage he needs. (Signed with Stars, 3 years, $14.25MM)
5. Joe Thornton — Arizona Coyotes — 2 years, $10MM On the other hand, there is Thornton who at 38 (in a few days) comes with substantial risk. While he’s one of the greatest playmakers in history, his point total dropped to just 50 this season and there were many signs of age creeping in. Recovering from post-season surgery, if Thornton is healthy he’ll get a lot of looks from teams looking to compete. He can obviously still put up points, but can he anchor a line the way he used to? (Signed with Sharks, 1 year, $6.5 MM)
6. Patrick Marleau — San Jose Sharks — 2 years, $8.5MM Thornton’s long-time teammate in San Jose is also on the outs, though following a solid 27-goal campaign could be the best goal-scorer on the market this summer. If San Jose doesn’t bring him back to finish his career with the only team he’s ever known, there will be plenty of teams lined up to give him a multi-year deal. Even at 38 next year, Marleau still has his patented first-step quickness and skating ability to keep up. (Signed with Maple Leafs, 3 years, $18.75MM)
7. Justin Williams — Dallas Stars — 2 years, $6.5MM “Mr. Game 7” Williams couldn’t pull out another miracle for the Capitals this season, and will be hunted by several contenders for his playoff record. Now 35, he comes with some restrictions but retirement still seems distant and he’s one of the most durable players in the league, missing just three games over the past six years. (Signed with Hurricanes, 2 years, $9MM)
8. Thomas Vanek — Florida Panthers — 1 year, $3MM There are still plenty of questions about his defense, speed and overall effectiveness, but no one can complain about Vanek’s offensive chops. After another season with 48 points, it’s easy to see a Jagr-esque mercenary run for Vanek as his career winds down. He likely won’t get term, but there will definitely be a market for his ability to create offense.
9. Radim Vrbata — Arizona Coyotes — 1 year, $3.5MM Vrbata signed an incentive-laden deal and proved that he could still play last year, scoring 55 points as the only consistent producer in the desert. From all accounts both sides value each other, but there could certainly be other teams looking to add some help on the wing and willing to pay up for the 36-year old’s services. (Signed with Panthers, 1 year, $2.5MM salary+$1.25MM in performance bonuses)
10. Sam Gagner — New York Rangers — 3 years, $9MM One of the more interesting players in free agency once again, Gagner is coming off a $650K deal and a roller coaster season. He came flying out of the gate with something to prove, only to hit a stretch in the middle of the year where he scored one point in 12 games and was basically invisible. Despite that, and his checkered history, a 50-point season from a 27-year old center usually lands him a multi-year deal. (Signed with Canucks, 3 years, $9.45MM)
11. Nick Bonino — San Jose Sharks — 4 years, $14MM How much does secondary scoring and defense get you on the open market? That’s what Bonino will find out after playing the last few years in the shadow of the Pittsburgh greats. Even so he put up a really solid season and even received some Selke love, making him an important depth option for many teams around the league. Two straight Stanley Cups doesn’t hurt the resume either. (Signed with Predators, 4 years, $16.4MM)
12. Brendan Smith — Buffalo Sabres — 4 years, $15MM Though the New York Rangers had to “settle” for Smith at the trade deadline, he showed he can be an effective player that deserves some recognition on the open market. Able to play both sides, and contribute in all areas makes him a sneaky-good defense pickup for nearly half the league. (Re-signed with Rangers, 4 years, $17.4MM)
13. Jaromir Jagr — Florida Panthers — 1 year, $3.5MM The ageless wonder himself, Jagr plans on playing not just next year but several more after that. While he may not be an 100-point player anymore, he is just a year removed from getting Hart Trophy votes at the age of 44 and can still operate his puck-possession style. He’s never going to beat you with foot speed, but for the analytical and traditional alike he is still a legitimate top-nine option who can help your team 5-on-5.
14. Andrei Markov — Montreal Canadiens — 1 year, $5MM The latest talk out of Montreal has Markov seeking a two-year deal, but he might have to look somewhere else to get that. He’s still mighty effective in his role, but signing defensemen who will turn 39 to multi-year contracts is never a good idea. Markov’s never left Montreal and it would be a shame to see him pull on another sweater so close to the end, but like Marleau in San Jose it might have to happen should he want long-term security.
15. Michael Stone — New Jersey Devils — 2 years, $7.2MM Stone could have broken into the top-10 had he not struggled with injury once again this season and taken a big step backwards in terms of offensive production. A mid-season trade to Calgary seemed to be a good fit, but after they acquired Travis Hamonic it doesn’t look like there’s room for him. With the added benefit of being right-handed and only 27, he has time to take a shorter deal and show why he deserves a big-money contract. (Re-signed with Flames, 3 years, $10.5MM)
16. Dmitry Kulikov — Tampa Bay Lightning — 1 year, $3MM The Buffalo experiment went terribly wrong, but Kulikov has a solid track record and could land a multi-year deal with the right person believing in him. Still just 26, it’s hard to see him lock in long-term at a cap hit well below what his camp would have expected at the beginning of the year. Someone may be able to get a nice bounce-back year from him next season. (Signed with Jets, 3 years, $13MM)
17. Brian Elliott — Winnipeg Jets — 2 years, $7.5MM When Elliott was pulled from the deciding game four after just one goal, the writing was on the wall in Calgary. The team immediately went out and acquired their new goaltender in Mike Smith, and Elliott will have to find a home somewhere else. Winnipeg has already had strong connections with him, and is one of the last openings around the league for a starter, or at least a tandem starter like Elliott has seemingly always been. (Signed with Flyers, 2 years, $5.5MM)
18. Mike Fisher — Nashville Predators — 1 year, $3MM The captain has hinted that he’ll only play in Nashville or Ottawa next season, and if he can’t find a role with one of those clubs he’ll retire instead. Nothing is decided yet, and at 37, Fisher has been one of the best checking centers in the game for nearly two decades. He now must try to convince one of his old teams to bring him back for another run. Remember, that even though he struggled in the playoffs he did have 18 goals and 42 points in the regular season while still showcasing his regular excellence in the faceoff dot and defensive zone.
19. Brian Boyle — Tampa Bay Lightning — 2 years, $5MM Boyle is a heart and soul player who can turn a fourth-line from disappointing to dangerous, just ask the Maple Leafs. After being sent to Toronto for the second half of the season, it seems like Boyle’s heart is still in Tampa Bay. If the Lightning are willing to give him a contract, it’s hard to see him leaving but there will certainly be interest from many teams around the league. (Signs with Devils, 2 years, $5.1MM)
20. Patrick Sharp — Chicago Blackhawks — 1 year, $2.5MM A year decimated by injury and another year older, Sharp is no longer a lock for 20-goals like he used to be. If he’s healthy, people will want to see if he can find some magic on the wing but at 35 he’ll likely have to take a deal with performance bonuses. That could suit either the Stars or his old Blackhawks just fine. (Signed with Blackhawks, 1 year, $800K salary+$200K performance bonuses)
21. Drew Stafford — Colorado Avalanche — 2 years, $4.5MM It didn’t seem like there was much life left in Stafford through the first half of the season, but after a deadline deal to Boston he seemed reinvigorated and put up eight points in 18 games. He’s a depth option, but a good one that can help defensively as well. At 31, he can help a rebuilding team be respectable, log big minutes and still keep room for another contract to end his career.
22. Cody Franson — Toronto Maple Leafs — 2 years, $5MM Franson is in an interesting spot as one of the few right-handed defensemen on the market past Shattenkirk. His final days in Buffalo weren’t so pretty, but he can still contribute positively with his long reach and crisp passing. A former powerplay quarterback, he could bring that experience to another team that needs help getting shots through with the man advantage.
23. Trevor Daley — Pittsburgh Penguins — 2 years, $4.8MM Daley returned from injury just in time to help the Penguins devastated defense corps limp their way to a Stanley Cup, and showed that he’s still a solid two-way contributor. If he were right-handed he’d get more love, but it shouldn’t be a stretch for him to find a two or three year deal to provide some experience and depth. (Signed with Red Wings, 3 years, $9MM)
24. Michael Del Zotto — New Jersey Devils — 2 years, $5.4MM One of the more frustrating careers to watch unfold, Del Zotto has some of the biggest offensive upside in the free agent class but again couldn’t get through a whole season healthy. His mobility and youth will be attractive to many teams, but the risk involved in committing a substantial amount of salary is too great. (Signed with Canucks, 2 years, $6MM)
25. Steve Mason — Anaheim Ducks — 1 year, $2.5MM Mason will probably have to settle for a backup job at this point with many of the openings filled, but is a great option for a club looking to compete for the Stanley Cup. Look for him to head to a team with an injury risk in net, and hope for a chance to show off his skills as a starter once again. (Signed with Jets, $8.2MM)
26. Kris Versteeg — Calgary Flames — 2 years, $4.4MM After taking a PTO with Edmonton last summer before signing with the Flames, there is more interest in Versteeg this time around. The consistent depth winger put up another solid offensive season, and is an option for almost every team in the league to help their secondary scoring. Born in Lethbridge, it could be another battle of Alberta for his services this year. (Re-signed with Flames, 1 year, $1.75MM)
27. Ron Hainsey — Pittsburgh Penguins — 1 year, $2.5MM Almost 900 games without a playoff appearance and all he had to do was join the Penguins to become a Stanley Cup Champion. What more incentive could you want to stay with your current team? Hainsey is a solid, if unspectacular third-pairing option on the market and may have to wait deep into the summer for a deal. (Signed with Maple Leafs, 2 years, $6MM)
28. Mike Condon — Philadelphia Flyers — 2 years, $5MM Though extension talks had happened with Ottawa, it doesn’t look like he’ll stay there and instead could go fight for a starting job somewhere else. Buyer beware, as even though his numbers in Ottawa look shiny, he performed substantially worse than Craig Anderson behind the same trapping system and there is still some doubt over his ability to be a starter. (Re-signed with Senators, 3 years, $7.2MM)
29. Ryan Miller — Vancouver Canucks — 1 year, $2.5MM Jim Benning has talked about bringing Miller back on an incentive-laden contract to help his young players, but the allure of Southern California where wife and actress Noureen DeWulf works could also factor into his decision. Still effective even at almost 37, Miller hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs in a decade. (Signed with Ducks, 2 years, $4MM)
30. Jordan Weal — Vancouver Canucks — 1 year, $1.2MM A Group VI free agent at just 25-years old, Weal played excellent down the stretch for the Flyers and immediately received interest from around the league. It’s not often you get to pick your next team before playing your 40th career game, but Weal will have plenty of suitors to choose from. (Re-signed with Flyers, 2 years, $3.5MM)
31. Jonathan Bernier — Pittsburgh Penguins — 2 years, $4MM A very important run after John Gibson suffered an injury helped the Ducks into the playoffs, and Bernier to rebuild some of the stock he lost in Toronto. Almost always performing better as a backup than “the guy” a contender could scoop him up to solidify their goaltending situation. (Signed with Avalanche, 1 year, $2.75MM)
32. Johnny Oduya — Chicago Blackhawks — 1 year, $2.5MM Solid depth defensemen don’t often come with the type of pedigree Oduya can boast, with two Stanley Cups and over 100 playoff games under his belt. Though he didn’t look impressive in the Blackhawks’ first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators, no one on Chicago really did. (Signed with Senators, 1 year, $1MM+$1.25MM performance bonuses)
33. Jarome Iginla — Calgary Flames — 1 year, $1MM How much is left in the tank for the soon-to-be Hall of Fame winger? He seemed re-energized after being traded to Los Angeles, but couldn’t drag the struggling team into the playoffs. A return to Calgary could be a storybook ending to a great career, but they’ll have to take on some risk to make it happen.
34. Chris Kunitz — Minnesota Wild — 1 year, $1.5MM Four-time Stanley Cup Champion Kunitz is 37 and a shadow of his former self, but that won’t stop someone from bringing him in to try and show their team how to win. That is, if he doesn’t head back to Pittsburgh to try for a three-peat. (Signed with Lightning, 1 year, $2MM)
35. Chad Johnson — New York Rangers — 2 years, $3MM Johnson was probably the more consistent goaltender in Calgary, but has a label as a backup he just can’t shake. It doesn’t look like there will be a change in title this season, but he could find a multi-year deal. (Signed with Sabres, $2.5MM)
36. Daniel Winnik — Dallas Stars — 2 years, $3.5MM Winnik has been used as a depth-and-flip piece more than once in his career, and could see it happen again in the future. He’s never had enough leverage for a no-trade clause, but is sought after for playoff runs every year. He quietly had another double-digit goal season, and is one of the better defensive wingers in the entire league.
37. Dan Girardi — Calgary Flames — 1 year, $2.5MM After being bought out, Girardi will easily land on his feet somewhere on a “prove it” deal. The right-handed defenseman has drawn the ire of the analytics crowd and was making far too much money to stay in New York, but will be an option for teams looking to shore up their bottom pairing. (Signed with Lightning, 2 years, $6MM)
38. Shane Doan — Boston Bruins — 1 year, $1.5MM An unceremonious exit from Arizona aside, Doan’s options on the open market are probably very few. Extremely well liked, but just hanging on as an offensive contributor he’ll have to up the physicality and settle into a different role somewhere else.
39. Brian Gionta — Buffalo Sabres — 1 year, $2MM A lot of things went wrong in Buffalo last season, but their captain wasn’t really one of them. Gionta did what he’s done for the last several years, put up 35 points and play in all situations. He’d like to come back to Buffalo, but it’s unclear how new GM Jason Botterill feels about signing a 38-year old.
40. Jiri Hudler — Nashville Predators — 1 year, $1MM You know it’s a fairly weak list when three goals and eleven points (in just 32 games) gets you on at #40, but Hudler has a long history of success and should find a home somewhere around the league. He could easily be one of the bounce back players of the year or fade into retirement.
41. P.A. Parenteau — Calgary Flames — 1 year, $1MM After being waived by the Islanders just a few months after signing him, Parenteau would split the year between New Jersey and Nashville and show once again that he can be a fine secondary scoring option. He has a hard time finding a role that fits his offensive skills with teams unwilling to give him ice-time, but in the right scenario it’s not unfathomable he could get back to the 40 point player he’s been in the past.
42. David Desharnais — Edmonton Oilers — 1 year, $1MM A real candidate for Europe, Desharnais did find some success in a depth role in Edmonton after the trade deadline. His ability to win faceoffs and chip in offensively could be brought back, but he’d likely find immediate success outside of North America. (Signed with Rangers, 1 year, $1MM)
43. Matt Cullen — Pittsburgh Penguins — 1 year, $1MM You could hear the Pittsburgh Penguins chanting “One More Year!” during their Stanley Cup celebration as they showered Cullen with champagne, but it is still up in the air whether the 40-year old will call it quits or not. You can always tell how much his teammates appreciate him, and with 31 points and a penchant for penalty killing why not?
44. Ales Hemsky — Dallas Stars — 1 year, $1.5MM Another candidate for bounce back player of the year, Hemsky missed almost the entire season with injury but obviously has the talent to contribute still. Dallas is still considering bringing him back, but he could be a relatively cheap option on the wing for many other teams. (Signed with Canadiens, 1 year, $1MM)
45. Viktor Stalberg — St. Louis Blues — 1 year, $900K Speed kills, and Stalberg still has the wheels that have given him a career. He isn’t much more than a fourth-liner these days, but has transformed himself into a physical player that is capable of giving any team an energy boost. (Signed with HV Zug (NLA), 2 years)
46. Brian Campbell — Toronto Maple Leafs — 1 year, $1.2MM The southwestern-Ontario boy has made quite a career for himself, and took a deal based on performance bonuses to return to the Chicago Blackhawks last year. Even at 38 he’s still a pretty effective player who can move up in a defense group if the need arises. (Announced his retirement)
47. Anders Nilsson — New York Rangers — 1 year, $1.5MM Coming off an excellent season as the backup to Robin Lehner in Buffalo, Nilsson will be among the top options for backups around the league this summer. At 27 he’s not likely to get a look as a starter, but could definitely move behind an established older goaltender and take some of the weight off his back. (Signed with Canucks, 2 years, $5MM)
48. Lauri Korpikoski — Minnesota Wild — 1 year, $800K Korpikoski didn’t fit in Columbus at all after being traded there mid-season, but can still contribute on a fourth line somewhere around the league. You can expect 20 points out of him even in limited minutes, though his defensive play still leaves something to be desired.
49. Dwight King — Winnipeg Jets — 2 years, $2.8MM Montreal wanted him for his size and physicality, but King actually brings some surprising skill to the table for such a big man. He doesn’t have to be buried on a fourth line, and can chip in some offense if given the chance. A nice depth player to have, and one that’s easily flipped at the deadline.
50. Dennis Wideman — Colorado Avalanche — 1 year, $1.5MM Calgary fans will be happy with their new prize in Hamonic, but Wideman shouldn’t have tough time finding work somewhere around the league. It won’t come anywhere near his old contract, but he still did put up 18 points in 57 games and saw the ice for over 20 minutes a night. He won’t (and shouldn’t) get that ice time elsewhere, but still has the offensive chops to be a 30-point defender.