The end of June is finally here, meaning July and the start of NHL free agency is right around the corner. On Monday at 11am CDT, a huge number of players will become unrestricted free agents allowed to negotiate and sign a contract with any team in the league. Teams will be allowed to offer contracts of seven years in length, while $16.3MM is the highest cap hit a player can carry.
Today it’s time to unveil our Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agent List. The rankings were voted on by the PHR writing team, based on talent and projected demand, not necessarily their total dollar amounts. This year’s group is headlined by a star forward that landed at the top of each of our rankings, a consensus game-breaking option that any team would love to have on their team. After that there are a good number of talented forwards and goaltenders, though the group of defensemen is rather thin.
All predictions are independent and have no bearing on each other, while each player is presumed to be signing a one-way contract. Retirement, Europe, and professional tryouts are real possibilities for many of them, but those options have not been used as predictions. The voting was done prior to the qualifying offer deadline, meaning only a few notable names from that group are included—ones like Derrick Pouliot that were confirmed early to be heading to UFA status. Ryan Hartman and Curtis Lazar for instance were not included but likely would have garnered votes. Corey Perry, Dion Phaneuf and Patrick Marleau were also included after their early buyouts, though the latest round—Valeri Nichushkin, Andrej Sekera, Ryan Spooner, Scott Darling and David Schlemko—didn’t make it in time for the vote.
1. Artemi Panarin – Florida Panthers – 7 years, $80MM The consensus top UFA this year is the 27-year old Panarin who brings incredible offensive ability and a certain invaluable consistency. The Russian winger has played in at least 79 games in each of his four NHL seasons, recording between 74-87 points each time. Once considered a product of playing with Patrick Kane, Panarin shook off his doubters after a move to Columbus resulted in his two highest-scoring seasons. He helped a young Pierre-Luc Dubois settle into the NHL right away and has shown an ability to gel with nearly any kind of linemate. Whoever lands the biggest fish in free agency will have to pay up though, as some reports have Panarin looking for a deal to rival Connor McDavid’s $12.5MM cap hit. Signed – 7 years, $81.5MM with New York Rangers
2. Sergei Bobrovsky – Florida Panthers – 7 years, $66MM An all-world goaltender doesn’t hit the open market every year, meaning Bobrovsky has been heavily pursued in the week of free agent interviews. Giving a 30-year old such a huge contract is a decision fraught with risk, but there is no doubt that the netminder is still one of the best in the league. His .913 save percentage during the regular season wasn’t his best work but with two previous Vezina trophies and a recent postseason run that finally put to bed the idea that he couldn’t perform in the playoffs, Bobrovsky is going earn a huge deal this summer and become one of the (if not the) highest-paid goaltenders in the league. Signed – 7 years, $70MM with Florida Panthers
3. Matt Duchene – Nashville Predators – 7 years, $65MM Duchene was always going to be the top center on the free agent market, but when Kevin Hayes signed his recent seven-year, $50MM extension, Duchene’s value skyrocketed. A $9MM AAV may be on the low end of what the two-time 30-goal scorer could command. Duchene finished second behind only brief teammate Panarin in UFA scoring with 70 points in 73 games and was a force for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Teams will have to ante up for his offensive ability, especially with so few comparable players in terms of age and ability on the market. Duchene likely exceeds this projected contract if he lands anywhere but Nashville, which appears to be his preferred destination. Signed – 7 years, $56MM with Nashville Predators
4. Anders Lee – New York Islanders – 6 years, $42MM The New York Islanders have the appearance of a team waiting to see whether they have a chance to land any of the top free agents before moving forward with retaining their own current standouts. Lee, a career Islander and the team’s captain, is unlikely to depart if New York wants him back and makes a fair offer. After three straight seasons of 50+ points on a team-friendly $3.75MM AAV, Lee is certainly looking for a substantial raise. Lee is another player who compares favorably to Hayes and should land somewhere around his new cap number. A big, physical forward and natural goal-scorer, teams are likely clamoring to land Lee if he doesn’t remain in New York. Signed – 7 years, $49MM with New York Islanders
5. Joe Pavelski – Dallas Stars – 4 years, $28MM If Pavelski was born just two weeks earlier there may be a very different market for the veteran forward, given that he would be signing a 35+ contract that would stay on the books regardless of what happens in the future. That’s not the case as he will come in just under that threshold, taking some of the risk out of a multi-year contract. Even hitting the open market is a shock after a career spent as a franchise icon in San Jose, but Pavelski had so much interest he had to turn down meetings with several teams around the league. Even after multiple injuries in the postseason there is little doubt he can command a big contract after his 38-goal campaign in 2018-19. Signed – 3 years, $21MM with Dallas Stars
6. Jake Gardiner – Montreal Canadiens – 5 years, $32MM Gardiner is very much an enigma; despite a down year offensively and reputation for turnovers, the 28-year-old finds himself as the top available defenseman on a very thin market. With several teams in need of help on the blue line, Gardiner will get his money, but can cap-strapped contenders really pay up for a player that may not put them over the top? Gardiner is a more than capable defenseman who plays big minutes, puts up points, blocks shots, and shows good awareness in his own end. His price point and skill set may be better suited for a rebuilding team in need of a veteran to anchor their blue line than as an expensive second-pair piece on a true contender, but don’t be surprised if he ends up landing the biggest deal of any defenseman on July 1.
7. Tyler Myers – Vancouver Canucks – 6 years, $36MM Gardiner’s only real competition for that honor is Myers, who very well could have been ranked higher given the apparent interest in him around the league. His offensive numbers and possession statistics aren’t nearly as good, but his handedness (right) makes him a very interesting target for many teams looking to improve their blue line. The fact that he looks the part—standing 6’8″ 229-lbs—won’t hurt his case either. Myers is coming off a seven-year, $38.5MM deal signed back in 2011 and may very well come close to those totals again this time around. Signed – 5 years, $30MM with Vancouver Canucks
8. Robin Lehner – New York Islanders – 4 years, $20MM Like Lee, Lehner is likely to re-sign with the Islanders if they cannot land the big fish. Only one goalie on the market has greater value than the Vezina finalist and that is two-time Vezina winner Bobrovsky. Barring Bobrovsky signing in New York, the Isles’ next-best option will be to bring Lehner back. The 27-year-old was stellar this season, posting a .930 save percentage and 2.13, both of which were among the top three marks in the league. He also took home the Bill Masterton Trophy and shared the Jennings Trophy with backup Thomas Greiss. There is some fair skepticism over whether Lehner’s performance was a function of the Isles’ new defensive system under head coach Barry Trotz, as Greiss had shockingly similar numbers and played in only three less games than Lehner. However, the fact of the matter is that Greiss has not done well as the starter in the past and New York’s top option in a tandem is Lehner. Even though the two sides were apparently far apart in negotiations recently, there isn’t an easy fit for Lehner elsewhere so he might have to circle back and come to an agreement with the Islanders. Signed – 1 year, $5MM with Chicago Blackhawks
9. Mats Zuccarello – Minnesota Wild – 5 years, $30MM Though both sides wanted a return to Dallas, Zuccarello seems determined to get the fifth year that the Stars weren’t willing to offer and secure some stability for himself moving forward. His 2018-19 was a roller coaster that included the first trade of his career and an immediate injury upon arriving with his new team. An excellent playoff run will only help his market this summer and his ability to play both wings makes him an attractive target for almost anyone. Turning 32 in September though does mean a long-term deal comes with some relevant risk, and teams may exhaust other options before coming back to Zuccarello. Signed – 5 years, $30MM with Minnesota Wild
10. Gustav Nyquist – Colorado Avalanche – 5 years, $28MM It’s hard to imagine a better contract year than the one Nyquist just had, starting the year on a tear with the Detroit Red Wings before being dealt and fitting in seamlessly with a Stanley Cup contender. Critiqued for his lack of consistency in the past, the 29-year old put up 60 points including 11 in 19 games for the Sharks down the stretch. A solid postseason performance has the elusive Swede in line for a multi-year deal where he can provide some high end secondary scoring. The question is who will have the cap room to sign him and realistically understand that he won’t be a driving force for the team, but a perfect complementary piece. Signed – 4 years, $22MM with Columbus Blue Jackets
11. Micheal Ferland – Pittsburgh Penguins – 5 years, $22MM If you want physicality, relative youth and a nose for the net, Ferland is your man. The 27-year old cracked the 40-point threshold for the second consecutive season in 2018-19 and recorded 182 hits in 71 games for the Hurricanes. His ability to play on the first or third line is nearly unmatched by the rest of the free agent class, giving him a market unlike many other players around the league. There will be questions regarding his even-strength scoring ability as six of his 17 goals came on the powerplay last season, but it’s easy to imagine him securing a multi-year deal with a contender looking for a little more punch up front. Signed – 4 years, $14MM with Vancouver Canucks
12. Ryan Dzingel – Chicago Blackhawks – 5 years, $23.75MM Overall, Dzingel had a fantastic 2018-19 season, setting career high across the board with 26 goals and 30 points. However, the question about Dzingel has become whether his production was based solely on the lack of talent in Ottawa over the past few years. Dzingel was given major minutes and elite line mates this season for a Senators team that lacked any secondary scoring. Once traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets and asked to play a supporting role, the Ohio State product saw his scoring drop off and the team cut back his minutes and even benched him for a game in the postseason. That is a concerning step back for a potential top free agent. Nevertheless, Dzingel is a skilled offensive player and would be a great supporting piece on a number of teams. He may not be a perennial 50+ point scorer moving forward, but the Illinois native can still be a nice top-six piece in the right situation. Signed – 2 years, $6.75MM with Carolina Hurricanes
13. Marcus Johansson – Buffalo Sabres – 4 years, $20MM No free agent improved his stock more in the playoffs than Johansson, who was a standout performer for Boston on their run to the Stanley Cup. After back-to-back injury-plagued regular seasons, Johansson looked like his old self in the postseason, recording 11 points in 22 games despite suiting up on the Bruins third line. Add that to 30 points during the regular season and it looks more similar to the consistent 40+ point seasons that Johansson put up earlier in his career with the Washington Capitals. Unfortunately, both Boston and Washington don’t have the cap space for a reunion with Johnasson, so he is truly exploring the open market. Any Johansson deal presents injury risk, especially as the 28-year-old ages, but the gamble has a high ceiling of a player that is a dynamic play-maker and power play asset when healthy. Signed – 2 years, $9MM with Buffalo Sabres
14. Wayne Simmonds – Minnesota Wild – 4 years, $18MM It was a tough season for Simmonds, but that won’t make teams forget about the six consecutive seasons where he recorded at least 24 goals (not counting the lockout-shortened 2012-13 where put up 15 in just 45 games). Once one of the most effective powerplay goal scorers in the league, Simmonds totaled just 30 points last season and was an absolute no-show after a deadline deal sent him to the Predators. There actually may be a chance for a real bargain here if he can get back to his previous level of production, something that is certainly not out of the question for the 30-year old even if his body has a lot of hard miles on it at this point in his career. Signed – 1 year, $5MM with New Jersey Devils
15. Petr Mrazek – Columbus Blue Jackets – 3 years, $12MM Many were surprised last week when the Hurricanes revealed that they did not expect to sign Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney, less than a month after stating that they would like to re-sign both. Whether it be asking price or interest by Mrazek or Carolina focusing on another option in net, it seems the two sides are unlikely to stay together. After a miserable two-year stretch, Mrazek finally turned his career around this season with a strong effort for Carolina in a tandem with McElhinney. The 27-year-old has proven that he is still a quality keeper but has a ways to go to show that he can be a bona fide NHL starter. Mrazek is likely to be pursued by a team in need of competition in net with the opportunity for Mrazek to emerge as the long-term starter or a high-end backup. Signed – 2 years, $6.25MM with Carolina Hurricanes
16. Justin Williams – Carolina Hurricanes – 1 year, $3.5MM + $1MM performance bonuses It’s not even clear if Williams will play next season, but if he decides to give it another go there are dozens of teams that value his leadership and reliability. Not only has he scored some of the most timely goals in recent memory, but Williams is actually coming off an excellent 23-goal, 53-point season. There’s no doubt he can still play, and with a resume that includes three Stanley Cups and 101 points in 155 career playoff games who wouldn’t want to add him to the mix on a bonus-laden deal. Time away from hockey
17. Brett Connolly – Edmonton Oilers – 4 years, $18MM Connolly made the most of a contract year, finally cracking some career benchmarks with his first 20-goal and 30-point seasons. In fact, the 27-year-old ended up with 22 goals and 46 points, both among the top six forwards for the Capitals. Washington has neither the cap space nor the opportunity for Connolly to keep growing though, and the scoring right wing is ready for a new opportunity. A consistent and careful player with great net front presence, Connolly could be a bargain buy in the right system. The British Columbia native is likely to have many suitors and could benefit from a bidding war. Signed – 4 years, $13MM with Florida Panthers
18. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks – 1 year, $3MM + $1.5MM performance bonuses Another player that was considering retirement, Thornton has confirmed his intent to play in 2019-20 and admitted the only team he wants to suit up for is the Sharks. The problem is that San Jose doesn’t have a ton of cap room, meaning he may need to take another substantial pay cut in order to get something worked out. Thornton made $8MM in 2017-18 and then $5MM in 2018-19 and should see that number drop even further if the team decides to bring him back. After putting up 51 points in 73 games even in a much more limited role, you can understand why they would want to.
19. Anton Stralman – Florida Panthers – 3 years, $11MM Stralman really developed into a top shutdown defenseman during his time in Tampa Bay and under different circumstances may have been considered the top defenseman on the market. However, the 32-year-old missed 35 games and the brief postseason run for the Lightning this season and actually began showing how age and injury had slowed his game beginning in 2017-18. Stralman’s past play speaks for itself – he has great defensive instincts and awareness, plays physical but smart, and can move the puck very well – but at this stage in his career, Stralman will likely be valued more for his experience and leadership. A team with a young defense will be happy to pay a premium for not only the sound defensive game but the guidance and locker room presence that Stralman can provide. The possibility that he returns to health, 22+ minutes a night, and 30+ points a season is a nice sweetener to any deal. Signed – 3 years, $16.5MM with Florida Panthers
20. Semyon Varlamov – Carolina Hurricanes – 2 years, $6.5MM The goalie carousel is in full swing this year, and Varlamov may have to wait for the first few names to hop off before he gets his turn. Once considered one of the best young goaltenders in the league, his numbers have fluctuated wildly the last several seasons and it will be hard to rely on him as your true workhorse starter. All the same, he does have a .916 career save percentage and has shown the ability to carry the load in the past. An extremely short playoff record will hurt Varlamov this summer, and he may end up being some team’s second choice. Signed – 4 years, $20MM with New York Islanders
21. Joonas Donskoi – Colorado Avalanche – 3 years, $9.6MM Buried in an extremely talented San Jose lineup, the 27-year old Donskoi has quietly maintained a level of production over the last several seasons that will get him a contract that may lift some eyebrows this summer. The skilled Finn is coming off a career-high 37 points despite playing just over 13 minutes a night and seeing rare powerplay opportunities. There has been plenty of interest in him already, and for teams that miss out on the top few tiers of forwards (or aren’t interested in the first place) he may be an attractive option. Signed – 4 years, 15.6MM with Colorado Avalanche
22. Alex Chiasson – Edmonton Oilers – 3 years, $9MM Chiasson finally proved his doubters wrong in 2018-19. After being traded away twice, not being qualified, and back-to-back years of having to earn a roster spot through a PTO – all the while putting up good numbers – Chiasson showed that he is worthy of a long-term investment with a career year in Edmonton. The 28-year-old power forward scored a career-high 22 goals and 38 points for the Oilers, and in doing so showed that he can also be trusted with more ice time and special teams responsibility. Chiasson finished fifth in points for the Oilers and was undoubtedly their most consistent source of secondary scoring. The risk now in possibly leaving Edmonton, where he found not only success but loyalty, is that the cycle of doubt could begin again. It seems likely that Chiasson will land a long-term deal and significant raise somewhere, but his best chance for continued success may be to stay put. Signed – 2 years, $4.3MM with Edmonton Oilers
23. Pat Maroon – St. Louis Blues – 2 years, $6MM What’s left to say about Maroon that hasn’t already been said? His St. Louis homecoming season, which began poorly and ended as well as possible, was a reflection on the Blues themselves. As Maroon went, so did the team. After a first half that yielded so few points that Maroon was being shopped, he picked up his play and ended the regular season with 28 points. He then excelled in the playoffs, recording seven clutch points en route to a championship. Maroon’s physical, crash-the-net style proved to be one of the catalyst’s to the Blues’ success and now the veteran, and those like him, are in high demand this off-season. Still, it would be a surprise to see Maroon leave St. Louis after the year he had, especially since he played on a hometown discount and should now be fairly compensated by the team. Signed – 1 year, $900K with Tampa Bay Lightning
24. Richard Panik – New Jersey Devils – 3 years, $9.3MM Another of the overlooked forwards is Panik, who has developed into a quality secondary piece over the last three seasons and should find a fit easily this summer. Though his scoring output dropped to 33 points this season he did a little bit of everything for the Coyotes and could be a nice under the radar addition for a team looking to contend for the playoffs this season. He likely won’t get a huge raise on the two-year, $5.6MM deal he inked in 2017 but should at least be able to find some security on a multi-year deal. Signed – 4 years, $11MM with Washington Capitals
25. Derick Brassard – Columbus Blue Jackets – 2 years, $6MM It was a year to forget for Brassard. The 31-year-old was traded twice, first after the poor fit in Pittsburgh that began the season prior extended into the new year, and second after Florida got just one goal out of him in a ten-game stint. Brassard ended the year with Colorado, scoring four points in 20 regular season games and one lone point in nine playoff games. Brassard was more or less a non-factor in 2018-19, which is not we have come to expect from a respected veteran with six seasons of 40 or more points to his credit. Brassard is one of the more difficult contracts to predict, especially in a market short on talented natural centers. If teams think that this season was a fluke and that Brassard is still the player who scored 21 goals and 46 points two years ago, he could land a significant long-term deal despite the risk. If teams aren’t as convinced, Brassard may have to settle for a short-term “show me” deal to improve his odds at one last big contract. Signed – 1 year, $1.2MM with New York Islanders
26. Jordie Benn – Anaheim Ducks – 3 years, $9.9MM Benn is in the enviable position of coming off a career season in a year with a razor thin defense market, and should be able to turn that into the biggest contract of his career. The 31-year old depth defenseman put up 22 points this season for the Canadiens while maintaining his high level of shot blocking and adding even more physicality to his game. Though he shouldn’t be relied upon as a real top-four option for the whole deal, even #5 defensemen are being paid handsomely these days. Signed – 2 years, $4MM with Vancouver Canucks
27. Corey Perry – Dallas Stars – 1 year, $2MM + $2MM performance bonuses Not many were expecting Perry to be on the open market this summer, as his buyout by the Ducks came as a surprise. However, speculation is already running rampant about where the veteran power forward will end up. Interest is high and Perry will likely get to pick from a number of possible landing spots. Still recovering from the injury that cost him all but 31 games last year, Perry’s ideal fit will likely be with a team where his expectations will be low but the surrounding talent level is high. His slow, but physical style also seems like a better fit in the Western Conference. Perry’s skating and scoring totals began dropping off well before his injury, but the 34-year-old has not lost the size and offensive instincts that made him a Hart Trophy winner earlier in his career. Perry won’t be pushing 100 points ever again, but if he’s healthy and in the right system, the future Hall of Famer should still be good for 30+ per year. Eligible for a one-year bonus-laden deal because of the amount of time he spent on the sideline last season, he’ll likely first try to secure a multi-year contract. Signed – $1.5MM + $1.75MM with Dallas Stars
28. Brandon Tanev – New Jersey Devils – 3 years, $8.25MM Tanev has quietly made a name for himself in just three full seasons in Winnipeg. The former Providence College star plays a physical two-way game, but has also shown offensive growth each year, capped off with a career-high 29 points this year. If the 27-year-old continues to improve, he could wind up being a steal on the market due to his lack of NHL experience. But even if he continues to play at this level, Tanev is a good value. Players who can skate like a top-six forward but play an elite checking game as well don’t come around often, especially at Tanev’s age. Expect the well-rounded forward to potentially get a contract that surprises some. Signed – 6 years, $21MM with Pittsburgh Penguins
29. Ron Hainsey – Florida Panthers – 2 years, $6MM Hainsey’s career changed in an instant in 2017 when he went from a 14-year veteran who had never made a playoff appearance to a key piece of a Stanley Cup run when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With his first taste of postseason success coming so late in his career, it was no surprise that Hainsey joined the upstart Maple Leafs that summer, looking to be the veteran presence on a young contender. Look for him to do the same again this off-season. At 38, Hainsey does not have many years left, but his strong play in Toronto has earned him an extended chance. An experienced, intelligent defender who blocks shots and wins puck battles, as well as still make plays offensively, another young contender would be lucky to add Hainsey to their group as a leader and mentor for a year or two. Signed – 1 year, $3.5MM with Ottawa Senators
30. Brian Boyle – Buffalo Sabres – 2 years, $4.5MM Did you realize that Boyle scored 18 goals last season? Predators fans certainly knew, as the 6’6″ forward potted two game-winners for them and was a model bottom-six forward in the 26 games he played down the stretch. Boyle can play center or left wing and is known as a great leader both on and off the ice, exactly what a young team looking for some direction needs. Remember that he also has 114 career playoff games to his name and it’s easy to see why several teams have already reached out to the 34-year old.
31. Patrick Marleau – San Jose Sharks – 1 year, $900K + $1MM performance bonuses How odd is it that in a year where the Sharks may be watching their captain leave for greener pastures, they now have a chance to bring back a former franchise icon on an extremely inexpensive deal? Marleau was traded and then bought out earlier this month and is likely headed west to play out the end of his career. That may not just be one season however, as the 39-year old recently said he thinks he has plenty of hockey left in him. There’s no guarantee he ends up in San Jose though, as they have some other contract issues to deal with first.
32. Colin Wilson – New York Islanders – 3 years, $8.25MM Former 20-goal scorer Wilson hasn’t been able to replicate that kind of production over the last several years, but still represents a reliable presence that can chip in some offense now and again. He won’t go before teams strike out on other names, but Wilson could be a sneaky cheap pickup that could put up 15 goals again in the right situation. The fact that he’s only 29 still works in his favor, as do the 46 playoff games he’s suited up for over the last four seasons. Signed – 1 year, $2.6MM with Colorado Avalanche
33. Valtteri Filppula – Detroit Red Wings – 2 years, $4.5MM Another Islanders free agent, another Islanders’ extension, or so it may seem. Many were quick to criticize the $2.75MM AAV given to the aging Filppula by New York last summer after one of the worst seasons of his career in 2017-18. Yet, the veteran responded with 17 goals and 31 points in 72 games this year and was a perfect fit in the Isles’ bottom-six. While his abnormally high shooting percentage may regress moving forward, Filppula’s +19 rating on 57.7% defensive zone starts showed that his two-way game is still going strong. However, the Islanders’ defensive system helps to insulate forward and could be a defining force behind Filppula’s return to form. The 35-year-old could chase more money or term elsewhere, but on a short-term deal, Filppula risks returning to his struggles outside of New York. If he does leave, it will be to go somewhere familiar. Signed – 2 years, $6MM with Detroit Red Wings
34. Patrik Nemeth – Winnipeg Jets – 2 years, $5.2MM Nemeth found a home in Colorado over the past two seasons, but with the Avalanche adding Cale Makar and potentially Bowen Byram to an already overcrowded blue line there likely isn’t enough room for him anymore. At 6’3″ and still just 27 years old he shouldn’t find trouble getting work though, even if it likely will come as a bottom-pairing option at this point. The Swedish defenseman only put up 10 points last season and can’t be relied upon for much offense, but is an experienced penalty killer that won’t kill you at even-strength. Signed – 2 years, $6MM with Detroit Red Wings
35. Curtis McElhinney – San Jose Sharks – 1 year, $1.5MM In the game of goaltender musical chairs this summer, it’s not clear where a veteran like McElhinney will end up. It’s hard to imagine him being given more than just a straight backup role even if he did find success in Carolina, but that might be just fine with him. The 36-year old has embraced that part-time role for years now, posting solid numbers in Columbus, Toronto and Carolina in limited work. For a Stanley Cup contender that has questions about their starter he may be the perfect fit to come in and push them all year long. Signed – 2 years, $2.6MM with Tampa Bay Lightning
36. Jason Spezza – Toronto Maple Leafs – 1 year, $1MM + $2MM performance bonuses There is no doubt that Spezza has slowed down considerably. After eleven straight full seasons of 50+ points, spanning his time in both Ottawa and his first three years in Dallas, Spezza recorded 26 and 27 points respectively in the past two seasons. More than that, it was his goal-scoring numbers that really tailed off. Spezza has not lived up to his $7.5MM cap hit of late, but to say he is totally washed up or without value is wrong. Even in a bottom-six role with reduced ice time, the veteran was still a near 30-point scorer. He also continues to be one of the best face-off men in the NHL and plays a smart, two-way game. Spezza is the type of wise, experienced center that is valuable to both rebuilding teams and contending teams alike and he will find employment this summer. The real questions is whether the 36-year-old will look for a one-year, incentive-laden deal or take more term for less money. Signed – 1 year, $700K with Toronto Maple Leafs
37. Mike Smith – Edmonton Oilers – 1 year, $2MM + $2MM performance bonuses At this stage in his career, Smith is no longer an NHL starter, at least not by design. The 37-year-old has the size and experience to play as long as he likes, but he has not been at the top of his game for a long time now and will likely be looked as a backup or, at best, a stop-gap/tandem player moving forward. This past season was the worst of Smith’s career, but that hasn’t stopped several teams from already expressing interest. With a reduced work load, Smith can still be effective, but that role also comes with short term and far less money. Signed – 1 year, $2MM with Edmonton Oilers
38. Ben Hutton – Los Angeles Kings – 2 years, $5.5MM The Canucks let Hutton reach unrestricted free agency because they did not want to pay his $2.8MM qualifying offer. They also tried and failed to trade him to other teams, who would have had to offer that same cost. Yet, now that he is up for grabs on a thin defense market, will a bidding war put him at or above that price point? It wouldn’t be an unreasonable number; Hutton bounced back from a poor 2017-18 season to record 20 points and a career high in ice time this year. Hutton is not a flashy player at either end of the ice, but he is a stable defensive presence with elite shot-blocking skill who also makes good decisions moving the puck. Outside of Vancouver, a team that has struggled for several years with team defense and possession, Hutton should have the ability to be even better.
39. Dion Phaneuf – Vancouver Canucks – 1 year, $2MM After learning of his contract buyout earlier this month, Phaneuf explained to reporters that he believed one bad year won’t define him as a player and he has plenty more to give before hanging up his skates. The problem is that he hasn’t been the top-pairing defenseman he once was for quite some time, even though it really showed during a disastrous 2018-19 season where he recorded just six points in 67 games for the Kings. Buyer beware when it comes to Phaneuf, as he hasn’t posted positive possessions statistics for the last five seasons and is no longer the powerplay weapon he was during his days in Toronto and Calgary. Hopefully he’ll recover some of that magic, but it’s hard to believe someone will pay for it up front.
40. Ben Lovejoy – Tampa Bay Lightning – 1 year, $1MM + $900K performance bonuses Lovejoy drifted into the background in Dallas after a deadline deal brought him south from New Jersey, but his history as a reliable defensive option should get him a look from a team adding depth this summer. The fact that he can sign a bonus-laden deal is actually perfect for his situation as he tries to prove he can still compete at the NHL level. If he can’t secure that kind of a deal, you have to wonder if it’s nearing the end for the 35-year old. Retired
41. Tyler Ennis – Calgary Flames – 2 years, $3.8MM The Maple Leafs took a chance on Ennis last summer when they signed him to a one-year minimum salary contract and actually started him on Auston Matthews wing to begin the season. While the diminutive forward was quickly moved back down the lineup, he still showed more than enough to deserve a raise this summer. Scoring 12 goals in extremely limited minutes while looking every bit as quick and elusive as he used to, the 29-year old should be considered a legitimate depth scoring option once again. Signed – 1 year, $800K with Ottawa Senators
42. Thomas Vanek – Buffalo Sabres – 1 year, $2MM Another year, another trip through free agency for Vanek, who has become something of a mercenary over the years. Suiting up for Buffalo, New York, Montreal, Minnesota, Detroit, Florida, Vancouver and Columbus throughout his 14-year career, he is still capable of putting up points both at even-strength and on the powerplay. There’s definitely a reason why his defensive effort has been questioned for years, and he is more of a perimeter player these days, but if you want some added punch from the third line and a wall option with the man advantage, he’s here for the taking.
43. Ben Chiarot – Winnipeg Jets – 2 years, $4.5MM As the Jets have had lots of top names come through their defensive group over the last several seasons, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of someone like Chiarot. The 28-year old got the biggest opportunity of his career this season when he saw his ice time increase to more than 18 minutes a night, and he responded well with a career-high 20 points while adding 171 hits and 139 blocked shots. That kind of physical, defensive option will be rewarded if the Jets can’t find a way to keep him though he’d be in much higher demand if he were simply right-handed. Signed – 3 years, $10.5MM
44. Derrick Pouliot – Detroit Red Wings – 1 year, $1.5MM Pouliot was one of the first players rumored to not be receiving a qualifying offer this season, so teams have had time to do their due diligence on the young defenseman. The eighth overall pick in 2012, Pouliot has always been a phenomenal skater with an eye for offense. However, it took time for his defensive abilities to catch up, which cost him in ice time and game opportunities early on in his career. Yet, in 2017-18, Pouliot was finally handed a regular role in his first season in Vancouver and showed what he could do in all three zones, recording 22 points but also blocking more than 100 shots and adopting a more physical, two-way game. Most importantly, he skated in almost 18 minutes per night and with both special teams units. Pouliot’s role was somewhat diminished this year, but last year set a bar for what he can be in the right situation. Like Hutton, Pouliot is likely to perform better outside of Vancouver and is still young and with room to improve at 25. Pouliot is one of the best low-risk, high-upside gambles available in this free agent class. Signed – 1 year, $700K with St. Louis Blues
45. Cam Talbot – Calgary Flames – 1 year, $1.8MM Talbot basically disappeared entirely after a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers, but will get a chance to re-establish himself in Calgary if the Flames do indeed ink the veteran goaltender. The 31-year old had a pair of excellent seasons in Edmonton before it all fell apart, and will have to work to prove that he can still hack it at the NHL level. An improved defensive corps and more rest should help. Signed – 1 year, $2.75MM with Calgary Flames
46. Niklas Kronwall – Detroit Red Wings – 1 year, $2.5MM The Red Wings are waiting for a decision from Kronwall, but there is very little chance that he would play anywhere else if he decides to play in 2019-20. The franchise icon amazingly is not over 1,000 games for his career because of the injuries he has dealt with over the years, but that threshold is just 47 contests away. With Detroit still rebuilding there’s little risk of bringing him back for one more kick at the can as long as his body feels up to it.
47. Oscar Lindberg – Arizona Coyotes – 2 years, $4.2MM Every year there is a player with little fanfare who enters the market and lands a deal far exceeding what many would have expected. Lindberg is a prime candidate to be that player this year. Although his projection is modest, it will likely come as a surprise. Quietly, Lindberg has rounded out his game and is no longer just a fourth-line contributor. Once he was moved from Vegas to Ottawa this season and given real offensive responsibility, he responded with eight points in 20 games, or a 33-point full-season pace. A versatile forward who can play all three positions, plays a physical defensive style, and also shows some skill and finesse to his offensive game, Lindberg is just waiting for the opportunity to break out. Whether he lands with a team willing to give him the chance is what will determine whether or not he is a value deal this off-season. Signed – 1 year w/ second year player option with EV Zug (NLA)
48. Luke Schenn – New York Islanders – 1 year, $800K No one is saying that Schenn will ever make it back to being a difference maker at the NHL level, but after making a nice impression on the Canucks at the end of the year and working with Adam Oates to redefine his game this summer someone may give him one last chance. The 2008 fifth-overall pick is a physical defenseman playing in the wrong era, but is still actually just 29 years old and could have a renaissance in him if he can improve his skating even slightly. Signed – 1 year, $700K with Tampa Bay Lightning
49. Brandon Pirri – Boston Bruins – 1 year, $1.25MM Pirri is one of a number of players who may not cash in financially this summer but could wind up with an excellent opportunity. The unexpected landing spot of next season’s salary cap ceiling has left several teams reeling with needs that cannot be filled due to cap contraints. Pirri, and other similarly low-salary, high-upside gambles, could wind up in top roles for talented teams as a result. Pirri, 28, has seemingly been bouncing around the league looking for the right opportunity for his whole career. An example is this past season, when he recorded 18 points in 31 games for the Golden Knights, which could have been 40+ points over a full season, but Vegas did not give him the chance. While he may be tempted to take the security of a multi-year deal to be a depth piece, another short-term deal with real playing opportunity should be more appealing. A sniper with 20-goal upside in the right situation, Pirri is a very intriguing name to watch. Signed – 2 years, $1.55MM with Vegas Golden Knights
50. Deryk Engelland – Vegas Golden Knights – 1 year, $1MM + $700K performance bonuses The emotional leader of the Golden Knights is still without a contract but seems destined to re-sign with them eventually. GM Kelly McCrimmon has lots of work left to do in order to get under the cap by the start of the year, but it’s hard to imagine Engelland, a Vegas native, ending his career anywhere else. Signed – 1 year, $700K + $800K performance bonuses