Originally published on October 8
It’s been a long year already. The entire world went into a months-long hibernation while dealing with a public health crisis and sports went with it. For quite a while it wasn’t clear when hockey would even return. The normal free agent period in July came and went with no action while the league held out hope for a Stanley Cup presentation in the fall. After tireless work from players, coaches, and staff that kept the bubble secure, the Tampa Bay Lightning managed to lift the trophy.
Now, after two days of draft excitement, the focus is squarely on free agency. On Friday, a huge number of players will become unrestricted free agents allowed to sign with any team in the league. Teams will be allowed to offer contracts up to seven years in length.
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 a combination of talent and projected demand, not necessarily their total dollar amounts. This year’s group is headlined by a star defenseman that isn’t even 24 months removed from captaining his team to the Stanley Cup. Behind him are several other offensive weapons capable of changing the makeup of a team. Still further down the list are several starting goaltenders, even a Vezina Trophy winner.
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 buyout period, meaning names like Bobby Ryan, Henrik Lundqvist and Kyle Turris will not appear. It was also before the qualifying offer deadline, meaning names like Andreas Athanasiou will remain absent.
1. Alex Pietrangelo — Vegas Golden Knights — 7 years, $61.25MM — The PHR team was unanimous in the decision to put Pietrangelo at the top of the list after another incredible season for the St. Louis Blues. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly rare for a player this well-rounded to appear in the free agent market at all, let alone 18 months removed from hoisting a Stanley Cup over his head as captain. The 30-year-old right-handed defenseman can do it all, providing strong defense and top-end offense all while logging 24 minutes a night in all situations. It’s hard to find a reason any team would not want to go after Pietrangelo, but if there is one it’s his age. If he were three years younger you might be looking at the biggest contract ever given to a defenseman in the NHL, with more than half the league expressing serious interest. As it stands, with his 31st birthday coming quickly, only contenders will likely be involved in the talks. One thing to note is that Pietrangelo’s market may not be limited to those teams with a large amount of cap space. He’s the kind of player you make room for if you have a chance.
(Signed with Vegas, 7 year, $61.6MM)
2. Taylor Hall — Nashville Predators — 7 years, $56MM — In any normal year the 2018 Hart Trophy winner would surely be the top free agent available, if he were available at all. 2020 is not a normal year. After a solid-if-unspectacular season that saw Hall switch teams halfway through the year, get sent home for six months, and then brought back for a nine-game postseason, he’s not set up for the payday that everyone expected. In fact, Hall may decide to sign a short-term contract and hope revenues start to return to normal down the road before cashing in again. He’s only 28 (though he’ll turn 29 in November) and provides the kind of instant offense that contenders are looking for on the free agent market. But he’s also a player that has often struggled to mesh styles with certain linemates and has played in just 14 postseason contests over his entire career. If a reasonable long-term contract is offered this fall, it will be hard to pass up with the uncertainty that the future still represents.
(Signed with Buffalo, 1 year, $8MM)
3. Torey Krug — Detroit Red Wings — 7 years, $49MM — After consensus picks to begin the list, PHR went three-for-four with Krug at No. 3. The real question is whether the cap-strapped free agent market values the dynamic defender that highly. Krug is undoubtedly a talented player as one of the top power play quarterbacks in the league and a productive puck-mover at even strength as well. He plays both an intelligent and intense style that has endeared him to his teammates and fans in Boston but Krug is not your textbook top pair defenseman. A player whose minutes have been limited, whose defensive assignments have been sheltered, and whose size and strength preclude him from a penalty kill role, Krug is somewhat of a one-dimensional offensive defenseman. In most years, his massive potential for production would make Krug’s defensive shortcomings less of an issue. But in an off-season with less money to go around, the luxury of a high-priced second-pair defender and power play specialist may not be as attractive. Krug has a substantial offer on the table from the Bruins but will test the market to see if he can find a better deal elsewhere.
(Signed with St. Louis, 7 years, $45.5MM)
4. Mike Hoffman — Colorado Avalanche — 5 years, $29.5MM — If Hall is the best offensive weapon available, Hoffman’s not all that far behind. Sure, he doesn’t have a Hart Trophy on his mantle, but Hoffman has been one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league over the last six seasons and is the kind of player that can completely change a powerplay. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Hoffman has scored 169 goals, putting him 16th among all NHL players. That’s ahead of names like Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon and Phil Kessel and makes him more valuable than many believe. Playing in Ottawa and Florida he hasn’t received very much league-wide attention for his exploits, but make no mistake the market for Hoffman will be strong. If someone misses out on the chance to bring in Hall, he’ll be the next door they knock on to give their squad a little bit more juice in 2020-21. Coming off a deal that carried an average annual value of $5.19MM, he’ll likely be in for a nice pay raise.
5. Jacob Markstrom — Calgary Flames — 4 years, $24MM — Most years, Markstrom would be licking his chops at the chance to hit the open market as the clear top goaltender available. Sergei Bobrovky did it in 2019 and landed a seven-year, $70MM deal that included $33MM in signing bonuses. While Markstrom doesn’t have the same resume as Bobrovsky, he should have been in for a massive payday that secured the rest of his career. Almost 31, he would have likely been signing his final big contract and looking to cash in. Now, in the upside-down that is 2020, Markstrom is just one of more than a dozen solid goaltenders available through free agency and trade. One Robin Lehner re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights it was clear that Markstrom represented the best available free agent netminder, but even that is more about timing than performance. Markstrom is coming off a season that earned him fourth place in the Vezina Trophy voting but has only really been an upper-echelon NHL goaltender for the last few seasons. His performance isn’t going to plummet and his status as a top target moves him up this list, but teams shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that being the best available makes him the best in the league.
(Signed with Calgary, 6 years, $36MM)
6. Tyler Toffoli — Buffalo Sabres — 5 years, $27.5MM — Toffoli is going to test the market and will receive plenty of interest. The best available right wing, Toffoli is also on the younger side of the UFA market at just 28. With 30-goal, 50-point upside paired with solid defensive instincts, Toffoli is a valuable two-way forward who can fit into any scheme or system. He also has experience in the playoffs, as well as leading a rebuilding club (both over an up-and-down tenure with the L.A. Kings). A piece that almost every team in the NHL will at least kick the tires on, the competition for Toffoli’s services could be steep.
(Signed with Montreal, 4 years, $17MM)
7. Evgenii Dadonov — Nashville Predators — 4 years, $23MM — You missed out on Hoffman? Just sign his partner in crime, Dadonov, who actually could be considered a more well-rounded asset. The Russian winger has just three seasons under his belt since returning from the KHL but has performed well in each, posting a career-high of 28 goals and 70 points in 2018-19. The fact that he is also a capable defensive presence that earned Selke Trophy votes in 2018 and provides more offense at even-strength could make a savvy team target him over some of the names listed higher here. That does come with risk, however, as Dadonov will turn 32 this season and disappeared in the Panthers short postseason series this year. There’s value here, but Dadonov seems like the player who may get overpaid by the loser of a Hall bidding war.
(Signed with Ottawa, 3 years, $15MM)
8. Tyson Barrie — Winnipeg Jets — 1 year, $6MM — His time with Toronto was supposed to give him a chance to increase his already-impressive point production and give him a boost heading to the open market. That didn’t happen as his output dipped sharply but he still managed to be in the top-25 for scoring by a defenseman this past season. Barrie is a candidate to sign a short-term pillow contract to try to rebuild his value and take a shot at a potentially bigger deal next summer but as one of the next best options behind Pietrangelo, he could still land a sizable contract despite his disappointing campaign.
(Signed with Edmonton, 1 year, $3.75MM)
9. Mikael Granlund — New York Islanders — 4 years, $20MM — Which Granlund is a free agent suitor getting? Minnesota Granlund, a bona fide top-six forward who flirted with 70 points and was a reliable defensive presence? Or Nashville Granlund, an inconsistent scorer whose ice time and role were reduced? Odds are at least one team feels Granlund can return to the form he showed with the Wild earlier in his career, especially at just 28 years old. If a few teams feel similarly, the bidding war for Granlund could result in a contract higher than most are expecting after a down year with the Predators.
10. T.J. Brodie — Winnipeg Jets — 4 years, $20MM — He may not bring the flash of a Krug or Barrie, but Brodie is quietly one of the more reliable defenders in the NHL. Hidden somewhat out in Calgary for his whole career to this point, Brodie hasn’t received the accolades that he might have in a larger market. A close examination reveals a player who has been a consistent scorer and dependable defensive contributor for the past eight years and can provide immediate stability to any blue line. Brodie is a strong possession player who records blocks, takeaways and wins puck battles with regularity. While his scoring and ice time seem to have peaked several years ago, Brodie is still capable of playing meaningful minutes and producing. His drop-off in scoring this past season in particular, combined with his 30th birthday passing in June may drive down the price, but it could very well result in a bargain deal to whoever lands the reliable veteran.
(Signed with Toronto, 4 years, $20MM)
11. Braden Holtby — Chicago Blackhawks — 2 years, $12MM — That Bobrovsky contract was oh so close. After winning back his job and taking the Capitals all the way to a Stanley Cup victory in 2018, Holtby was back as the starter in the final year of his deal and looked like he was going to command a massive long-term deal. He’d won a Vezina, he’d won a Jennings, he’d won a Cup. He’d done this. Then the season began and everything went downhill. He allowed 15 goals in his first four games, losing three of them. In his fifth game he was pulled from the net after allowing three goals on three shots. By Christmas, Ilya Samsonov had posted a .914 save percentage and won nine of his 13 games. It was already obvious that the team would end up handing the reins to their youngster in 2020-21, even if people weren’t talking about it. Holtby would end the year with an .897, positing a goals-against-average over 3.00 for the first time in his ten-year career. Now, where does his market land? Is he being paid as the Vezina-Jennings-Stanley winner, or is he just a bounce-back candidate that comes cheap if you guarantee him an opportunity to start?
(Signed with Vancouver, 2 years, $8.6MM)
12. Chris Tanev — Pittsburgh Penguins — 4 years, $18MM — Where did the time go? Tanev will turn 31 in a few months but has still only played 514 games in the NHL, despite being excellent in nearly every one of them. The rugged defensive defenseman is one of the very best in his own end, but has never been able to stay on the ice for a whole season. In fact, his career-high in a single year is 70 games played, and he’s only even cracked 55 on four occasions. That’s just an unacceptable trend for teams looking to add a consistent presence, but his allure as a rock-solid top-four option will still bring several suitors to his doorstep on Friday afternoon. If you’re comfortable spending money on an excellent player who nevertheless may not be around when you need him most, Tanev is your guy.
(Signed with Calgary, 4 years, $18MM)
13. Travis Hamonic — Toronto Maple Leafs — 3 years, $12.5MM — Speaking of rugged defensive defensemen who have a history of injury, here’s Hamonic! While his injury list isn’t as long or as serious as Tanev’s, Hamonic has never played in more than 74 games in a single season. His absence from the Flames recent postseason run wasn’t injury-related, as the veteran defenseman opted out due to family considerations, but it still meant he didn’t get a chance to show what he can do on the biggest stage. For a player who seems bred for playoffs, he’s only suited up for 22 postseason games. You’re not getting a lot of offense from Hamonic these days. That 33-point season he had for the Islanders in 2015 is a thing of the past, but for a team looking to stabilize a top-four pair with a player who can hold his own in the defensive end while also sticking up for a teammate, he’s a fine option.
14. Sami Vatanen — Calgary Flames — 4 years, $19.5MM — Oft-injured defensemen seem to be the trend at this part of the list, as Vatanen has dealt with his own ailments over the years. The 29-year-old has never played in more than 72 games in a single season and only hit the 50 and 47 marks in the last two. This season was quite a curious situation, as Vatanen was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes at the deadline only to debut in the playoffs. He was dealing with an injury at the time of the trade and didn’t make it back by the time the season was canceled, so his first time donning the Carolina sweater was when they took on the New York Rangers in the qualification round. If you can take anything from the return to play it’s that Vatanen is a versatile defender that can fit with several different kinds of partners but may not have quite the offensive upside he once showed in Anaheim. There’s a real chance for an overpayment here if a team believes he’s the answer on their top pair, even though his career has told us he’s not quite at that level.
15. Anton Khudobin — Vancouver Canucks — 2 years, $8MM — Perhaps no player helped their free agent stock in the 2020 postseason more than Khudobin. The 34-year-old marched the Stars through the playoffs, making more appearances and facing more shots than any other goalie, while picking up 14 wins. It not only capped off the best season of his career but showed that Khudobin has officially advanced beyond the “backup” label. While he has never played more than 41 games in an NHL season, Khudobin has established himself as a player who can be a “1B” and carry the load if need be. With numbers that have only improved as he has gotten older, Khudobin shows no signs of slowing down and combines veteran leadership with dependable play, making him an ideal candidate to pair with a young starter or to bolster a top contender.
(Re-signed with Dallas, 3 years, $10MM)
16. Erik Haula — New York Rangers — 3 years, $11.25MM — There are more talented players rated lower than Haula but he is the best true center available on the open market, a position that always has more demand than supply which works in his favor. While injuries limited him to just 24 points in 48 games in 2019-20, he’s only two years removed from a 55-point showing with Vegas. He may have some difficulty marketing himself as a second-line center but even as a third option, there should be considerable interest.
17. Kevin Shattenkirk — Dallas Stars — 3 years, $10.5MM — Sometimes when a player is bought out of an expensive contract, it means their career is over and they can just collect their yearly paychecks while starting a new chapter in life. Sometimes, apparently, it means you sign a one-year prove-it deal with the eventual Stanley Cup champions and throw yourself back in the ring as a prime free agent. Shattenkirk will earn $1.43MM from the Rangers in each of the next three years regardless of the contract he signs this offseason after the Lightning showed the league exactly how to maximize his skills. Shattenkirk can’t be a top-pairing defenseman and likely shouldn’t even be logging regular even-strength ice time in the top-four. Instead, he is an incredibly effective third-pairing and powerplay assassin that can help any team when put in the right situation. The Lightning quite simply wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup without his contributions, which included two game-winning goals and 13 points in 25 games.
(Signed with Anaheim, 3 years, $11.7MM)
18. Craig Smith — Florida Panthers — 3 years, $11MM — Maybe it’s the name? Smith has never really received the credit he deserves as one of the most consistent parts of the Nashville attack, logging five seasons of 20+ goals since the start of 2013-14. He’s not a center anymore—so don’t think he can fill that role just because he once did—but given the fact that his goal total only dropped to 18 in a shortened season that saw him average only 13:25 a night, there may be a real bargain to be had here. Smith is a contributor on the powerplay even if it doesn’t run through him and is still skilled enough to hang in a team’s top-six. He may not be the flashiest player to go after this offseason, but he could be one of the best signings if he can be had on a reasonable deal.
(Signed with Boston, 3 years, $9.3MM)
19. Erik Gustafsson — Boston Bruins — 3 years, $10.5MM –Only a year removed from a 60-point season, this ranking may seem a bit low on the surface. However, he’s coming off a more modest 29-point year and is probably a more realistic expectation of his offensive upside moving forward. Nonetheless, he can help run a power play and can hold his own at five-on-five. Teams that don’t want to shell out a rich contract to upgrade the firepower on their back end (and there will be quite a few of those) will certainly have interest in Gustafsson.
(Signed with Philadelphia, 1 year, $3MM)
20. Vladislav Namestnikov — Detroit Red Wings — 2 years, $7.5MM —Namestnikov is the definition of versatility. The veteran forward can play all three forward positions, is an asset on the penalty kill and power play, and can be an effective top-six forward for a rebuilding team or a capable bottom-six forward for a contender. He proved all of this in his time with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche this past season, while shaking off the inconsistencies he showed with the New York Rangers. A 30-40 point player and top unit penalty killer, Namestnikov is already one of the best two-way forwards in the entire free agent class and at 27 still has room to improve. Namestnikov has drawn his fair share of criticism over the years, but he has the tools to help just about any team in the NHL.
(Signed with Detroit, 2 years, $4MM)
21. Corey Crawford — Edmonton Oilers — 1 year, $3.5MM + $1.0MM performance bonus — It’s hard to imagine Crawford in a different sweater, but that’s what we’re headed for as the Blackhawks decided not to bring their franchise goaltender back. It’s understandable given Crawford will turn 36 before the next season begins, but it still feels wrong to project a contract somewhere else for the lifetime Chicago netminder. Crawford was just 12 games away from 500 regular season appearances with the Blackhawks and ranks 80th on the all-time games played list. He may not be a starting option (even if he thinks he is) but as a backup or tandem goaltender you could certainly find far worse.
(Signed with New Jersey, 3 years, $11.7MM)
22. Alex Galchenyuk — Buffalo Sabres — 1 year, $2.75MM — In seasons which Galchenyuk has averaged approximately 16 minutes of ice time per game or more, his 82-game pace has exceeded 20 goals and 50 points. When he has not been given a consistent scoring role, including the past two seasons, his scoring rate has fallen off considerably. It hasn’t helped that Galchenyuk has played on four teams over the past three years. The 26-year-old is one of the youngest UFA’s in the class who has considerable NHL experience and was once a formidable, up-and-coming scorer. Somewhere down the line, teams lost trust in Galchenyuk and his play has reflected this lack of opportunity and confidence. He needs someone to make a leap of faith. A rebuilding team willing to hand over a multi-year contract, a top-six role and power play spot to Galchenyuk could reap major benefits. A contender seeking bottom-six depth and a multi-faceted role player should look elsewhere.
(Signed with Ottawa, 1 year, $1.05MM)
23. Thomas Greiss — New Jersey Devils — 2 years, $5.5MM — Talk about a beneficiary of Barry Trotz’ arrival in New York. Greiss posted an .892 save percentage in 2017-18 and looked like he might be on his way out of the league before the Islanders made a head coaching change, but is now a recent Jennings winner and heads into free agency as a legitimate tandem option. Greiss put up a .921 save percentage in the Trotz era and could be in line to get a hefty contract this offseason. The problem is it won’t be with New York, who still have Semyon Varlamov and have welcomed Ilya Sorokin into the net, making Griess an incredibly risky proposition. Remember, he only had a .912 save percentage in the years before Trotz (and Mitch Korn, one of the league’s best goaltending coaches), and will turn 35 in January.
(Signed with Detroit, 2 years, $7.2MM)
24. Carl Soderberg — San Jose Sharks — 1 year, $3MM — Soderberg has quietly been a consistently reliable middle-six forward for his entire NHL career. After coming over from Sweden in 2013, Soderberg has been counted on for 40-50 points almost every single season with three different teams. Even with Soderberg turning 35 just a few days into free agency, he is still a safe bet for decent production perhaps even over a multi-year deal. Soderberg has also been improving defensively over the past few seasons and should slot in nicely as a third-line center for a number of teams.
25. Tyler Ennis — Edmonton Oilers — 2 years, $2.8MM — Who needs size? Not Ennis, who has turned a 5’9″ frame into 38 goals over the last two seasons even while playing limited minutes. He’s the kind of player who never disappoints, taking full advantage of any opportunity given to him, but also never receives those prime opportunities. Coming off consecutive one-year contracts that totaled just $1.45MM, you can bet that Ennis will be looking for a bit of a raise this offseason, but after breaking his leg in the postseason it’s hard to believe he’ll get it.
(Signed with Edmonton, 1 year, $1MM)
26. Cam Talbot — Minnesota Wild — 2 years, $3MM — After a down season split between the Oilers and Flyers, Talbot returned to form for the Flames in 2019-20 and posted a .919 save percentage in 26 games. That limited role is likely where his value is maximized at this point in his career, and with so many goaltenders ahead of him he may have to settle for a short-term deal. Talbot has been a solid goaltender, but he’s also 33 and struggled the last time he was asked to be the starter.
(Signed with Minnesota, 3 years, $11MM)
27. Pat Maroon — Philadelphia Flyers — 2 years, $5MM — What can you say about Maroon, who now has back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with different teams. He made it clear that he was looking for more than a one-year deal last summer, but ended up having to settle for just that with the Tampa Bay Lightning. An NHL executive may have put it perfectly back then: “he’s a dinosaur, but there’s no one left who knows how to play against a dinosaur.” Even in his on-ice interview after winning the Stanley Cup, Maroon seemed to be pleading with potential teams to finally believe he can be an asset on a multi-year contract. That’ll be his target, but it’s hard to know if he’ll get there in a cap world.
(Re-signed with Tampa Bay, 2 years $1.8MM)
28. Jesper Fast — Edmonton Oilers — 3 years, $7.5MM — The aptly-named winger has been a consistent depth producer for the Rangers over the past five seasons while providing some grit along the way. Fast shouldn’t be expected to be a top-six regular but he’s a good fit on the third line for a lot of teams. While spending on the lower-end role players is likely to drop as a result of the flattened salary cap, he should be one of the exceptions.
(Signed with Carolina, 3 years, $6MM)
29. Ilya Kovalchuk — Montreal Canadiens — 1 year, $1.75MM + $1.25MM performance bonuses — Having had his contract terminated by the Kings and struggling with Washington, Kovalchuk’s value seemingly shouldn’t be too high. On the other hand, his time with Montreal (13 points in 22 games while averaging nearly 19 minutes a game) showed that there may be something left in the tank for the 37-year-old. A bonus-laden contract is doable as long as it’s a one-year pact and whoever gets him will likely go that route.
30. Cody Ceci — New Jersey Devils — 2 years, $5MM — He’s not coming off the strongest of platform years given his reduced role with Toronto but Ceci is still one of the youngest free agents in this UFA class with three seasons of 20 or more points under his belt while being a right-shot defender. His defensive mistakes can be costly at times so signing him carries some risk but he’d still represent a bottom-half upgrade for quite a few teams. After making more than $4MM in each of the last two seasons, he’ll be facing a drop in salary with his next deal.
(Signed with Pittsburgh, 1 year, $1.25MM)
31. Zdeno Chara — Boston Bruins — 1 year, $1.5MM + $1.0MM performance bonuses — What’s left to say about Chara? The future Hall of Famer is still a solid defensive player, even if the offensive and puck possession aspects of his game have fallen off. At 43, he simply needs to be playing less if he is to keep playing at all. If Chara’s ice time was to be reduced considerably, perhaps to a third-pair level of even-strength minutes coupled with a top penalty kill role, he can still be an elite shutdown defender when he’s on the ice. Chara has been willing to take less and less money each year to prolong his career in Boston, making him a bargain if used correctly. Chara is very likely either back in Boston on another one-year, incentive-laden deal or hanging up his skates.
32. Radko Gudas — Calgary Flames — 2 years, $5.5MM — If you’re looking for a defenseman to play big minutes, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a defenseman to make a major impact in limited minutes, Gudas is your guy. One of the most aggressive blueliners in the NHL, Gudas has racked up huge hit totals over his career despite never playing consistent top-four minutes. In recent seasons, he has also gotten better about avoiding penalties, making his physical play even more valuable – especially if he’s out of the box often enough to have a consistent penalty kill role. Gudas is not just a typical third-pair, stay-at-home defender either, as he possesses 20+ point potential and the skating ability to keep up with play up and down the ice, even if he is most comfortable in his own end. Gudas’ fit with the Washington Capitals didn’t play out as many expected, but he is a candidate to be a sneaky-good signing for the right team in need of defensive depth, energy, and physicality.
(Signed with Florida, 3 years, $7.5MM)
33. Cody Eakin — Pittsburgh Penguins — 2 years, $4.2MM — Is Eakin a 20-goal, 40-point center or not? As one of the most inconsistent performers available this summer, teams will have to take a chance that it’s the former while hopefully paying for the latter. In 2014-15 he scored 19 goals and 40 points and looked like an up-and-comer. Then by 2016-17 he was completely useless, scoring just 12 points. But then two years after that, he was outstanding again for Vegas, only to disappear completely again this season. What is Eakin? The center market is thin, but it’s hard to commit to him at this point.
(Signed with Buffalo, 2 years, $4.5MM)
34. Corey Perry — Calgary Flames — 1 year, $1.75MM + $1.0MM performance bonuses — In one year, Perry went from expensive and injury-prone afterthought with the Anaheim Ducks to playoff hero for the Dallas Stars. He may not have any MVP offense left in the tank, but Perry proved this season that he can still be an effective forward in the NHL. Playing at a 30-point pace, the hallmarks of Perry’s game still shined through as he won puck battles, threw his weight around, wreaked havoc in front of the net, and generally got under the opponent’s skin. Perry loves that style of play and will continue to give 100% even if he is relegated to a bottom-six role. With that disruptive presence, he will continue to find opportunities to create offense as well. An experienced player who is beloved by his teammates and hated by just about everyone else, Perry is a good locker room presence and still an on-ice threat. As long as he wants a job, he should be able to find one and may even earn a raise off the minimal one-year deal he signed with the Stars.
35. Wayne Simmonds — Toronto Maple Leafs — 1 year, $1.5MM — It’s hard to watch Simmonds fight for another chance as a scrap heap free agent, but that’s kind of what he is at this point. After a terrible showing with the Predators in 2019 he signed a one-year deal to try and prove it was a fluke and there was a lot more hockey in him. Instead, he flamed out in New Jersey with just eight goals in 61 games and then was a complete non-factor in a few games down the stretch for Buffalo. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t admire the player and respect the force he used to be, but the 32-year-old Simmonds will have to settle for a much lower salary this season if he wants to continue playing hockey. As a powerplay net-front piece he’s still effective, but can you ice him at even-strength?
(Signed with Toronto, 1 year $1.5MM)
36. Kyle Clifford — New York Islanders — 3 years, $4.5MM — The Maple Leafs already offered Clifford a three-year deal worth a little over $1MM per season, showing just how much they valued his leadership over the last few months of the season. The bang-and-crash fourth-liner is going to test free agency because he believes he’s worth more than that, and he’s likely right. Still just 29 and with a Stanley Cup on his resume, he’ll be an interesting depth add for a contender looking for a little more bite.
(Signed with St. Louis, 2 years, $2MM)
37. Mark Borowiecki — Nashville Predators — 2 years, $1.8MM — The Senators publicly declared that they wanted Borowiecki to be in Ottawa for the rest of his career, but apparently he didn’t seem to agree (or at least didn’t like the salary that came with it). He’ll hit unrestricted free agency as a depth defenseman, but one that is beloved by his teammates and the community he served (and protected) for years. In terms of character adds, there are few better options. In terms of defensemen, he won’t be lining up on the powerplay anytime soon.
(Signed with Nashville, 2 years $4MM)
38. Justin Schultz — Toronto Maple Leafs — 1 year, $1.6MM — At the other end of the offensive spectrum is Schultz, who just a few years ago put up 51 points and received votes for the Norris. The Penguins are ready to move on after a few disappointing campaigns, but perhaps Schultz can experience a similar resurgence to the one Shattenkirk just went through if put in the right situation.
(Signed with Washington, 2 years, $8MM)
39. Matt Martin — New York Rangers — 2 years, $3.2MM — While he isn’t likely to land a similar-sized contract as he did in his first trip through free agency (four years, $10MM), there are still enough teams that will be willing to pay for grit, especially a player that is among the most physical in the league. Adding five playoff goals for the Islanders certainly helps his value as well. He’s a fourth-line player at a time where those players are getting squeezed out but his market should still be strong.
40. Derick Brassard — Columbus Blue Jackets — 2 years, $3.5MM — Brassard took a one-year “show me” deal last off-season and did well for himself, returning to form with 32 points in 66 games even playing minimal minutes. He also embraced the defensive nature of his bottom-six role, posting strong faceoff numbers and was on pace for a career-high in hits. In a normal off-season, he likely would have done enough to earn a multi-year deal. However, it’s hard to project how teams might feel about the 33-year-old given the limited money available. Brassard seems like a safe bet to be a reliable third-line center for several years still to come, but don’t be surprised if he is forced to again prove that 30+ points and effective defense is the norm and not the exception.
41. Joe Thornton — Toronto Maple Leafs — 1 year, $700K + $2MM in performance bonuses — Have the wheels finally fallen off for Thornton? The 41-year-old center has obviously been in decline for some time, but 2019-20 resulted in a major drop-off in production. After 22 straight seasons of scoring at better than a half-point-per-game pace (including many seasons over a point-per-game and some even over a point and a half), Thornton’s production fell from .70 ppg to .44 ppg this year. His face-off percentage also dipped below 50% for the first time in his career and he posted a career-low plus/minus. Thornton’s ice time was slashed and his once-untouchable powerplay role was reduced. This would all seem to indicate that Thornton’s Hall of Fame career is coming to an end. Yet, the Sharks refused to deal him at the deadline and are reportedly hoping to bring him back. Is Thornton up for another year? Is he willing to take another salary cut? And is San Jose the only team in the running, especially after Thornton went public with his frustration over not being given a shot at the Stanley Cup this year? There are more questions than answers right now when it comes to the future of one of the best players of the 21st century.
(Signed with Toronto, 1 year, $700K)
42. Mattias Janmark — Carolina Hurricanes — 1 year, $2.1MM — At 27 years old with his injury issues behind him and coming off a strong postseason for the Western Conference champs, why is there so little love for Janmark? Unfortunately, upside and versatility are key elements of an attractive free agent and he lacks much of either. Janmark is a one-dimensional scoring winger. Moved off the center position by the Stars after struggling at the dot and in the middle of the ice, Janmark never really embraced the two-way responsibilities of a centerman anyhow. He does not play physically, does not possess defensive tools, and can often be a liability in his own end. He also doesn’t show dominant offensive ability either. Through four full NHL seasons, the list of potential outcomes has been narrow; prorated to an 82-game pace, he was finished with expected point totals of 33, 34, 25, and 28. Janmark simply is what he is – a third-line winger who can be counted on for 25-35 points and a second unit powerplay role. There will certainly be a team or two that could use that exact type of player, but the market will not be overwhelming for Janmark.
(Signed with Chicago, 1 year, $2.25MM)
43. Mikko Koivu — Florida Panthers — 1 year, $1MM + $1MM performance bonuses — A legend in Minnesota will hit the open market for the first time without much upside left in his legs. Set to turn 38 during next season he’s still an effective penalty killer, but offers almost nothing at the offensive end of the rink. Koivu was getting powerplay time in Minnesota this season because of his tenure, not because of his play and he’ll have to embrace a reduced role if he wants to continue playing. As a bottom-six center that is asked to check and PK? He might be effective. But there’s no way a team commits to more than one year at his age.
(Signed with Columbus, 1 year, $1.5MM)
44. Zach Bogosian — New York Rangers — 2 years, $4MM — Bogosian has never been consistently healthy in his 12-year NHL career, playing more than 65 games just twice versus three seasons of 33 games or less. After signing with Tampa Bay midway through the season, Bogosian stayed healthy through the “end” of the regular season and the postseason, looking like a natural fit and in a talented Lightning defense corps. However, anyone signing him has to know that a full season contribution is likely a longshot, especially now that he is on the wrong side of 30. Bogosian was also prone to turnovers in the playoffs and his days as a puck-mover might be over. For a team that has depth but needs a veteran presence, a penalty killer, and some snarl, Bogosian is a great fit. He just helped one contender win a Stanley Cup (in his first playoff experience) and could be looking to do so again.
(Signed with Toronto, 1 year, $1MM)
45. Conor Sheary — Washington Capitals — 1 year, $1.3MM — When Buffalo acquired Sheary two years ago, they hoped they were getting the player who recorded 53 points in his first full season in Pittsburgh. Instead, they got the player who recorded 30 points in his second.. That seems to be the more accurate projection for what Sheary can bring, though his return to Pittsburgh this season did elevate his scoring pace and implies that he could still be capable of improved production. Sheary is an undersized but hardworking winger who plays a solid possession game and has a nose for the net. He has always played his best when surrounded by elite talent but isn’t incapable of contributing in a bottom-six role. With that said, a team can really maximize the potential bargain of an inexpensive Sheary contract by giving him talented linemates and a powerplay role. In that scenario, a return to 40+ point production may be in reach.
46. Andy Greene — New Jersey Devils — 1 year, $1MM + $750K performance bonuses — The Islanders knew what they were doing when they traded for Greene late this season. By reducing the veteran’s minutes and keeping him rested, they got the most out of him. That meant great shot-blocking and defensive positioning, but also some clutch offense in the postseason that most people did not expect. The 37-year-old has lost a lot of speed to his game and cannot be relied upon for a top-four role any longer. However, as a stay-at-home specialist who surprises with offense from time to time, Greene could still excel on a bottom pair or as a spot starter. The long-time Devil is likely limited to the tri-state area for what could be his final contract, but that still leaves a number of teams who could use his services.
47. Derek Forbort — Washington Capitals — 1 year, $1.3MM — When he was healthy with the Kings, he held his own as a second-pairing defenseman. Forbort missed most of last season with back trouble and wasn’t able to play as significant of a role as he had before so there is some risk involved but at the same time, there is some upside now that he’ll have a full healthy offseason under his belt. He shouldn’t cost a lot considering how much time he missed which makes him a target for a cap-strapped team that’s looking for a veteran that can move up in a pinch.
(Signed with Winnipeg, 1 year, 1MM)
48. Derek Grant — Chicago Blackhawks — 1 year, $2MM — Ask the Philadelphia coaching staff how they felt about Grant after he came over from Anaheim and they’ll describe a versatile player that has more skill around the net than some give him credit for. He’s big, he wins draws and he can play in different situations, but that doesn’t mean there will be a huge market for him this offseason. Instead, he’ll need a team with a certain need to fill in their bottom-six and on the penalty kill.
(Signed with Anaheim, 3 years, $4.5MM)
49. Jimmy Vesey — Los Angeles Kings — 1 year, $1.5MM — How long ago was the summer of Vesey? Every team seemed to be chasing the college free agent after he told Buffalo to leave him alone, but he never did turn into the top-six forward some hoped for. He does still have 59 goals over his four-year career, but there won’t be a bidding war this time around. Vesey is one of the youngest players in free agency and won’t turn 28 until next May, so if you’re looking for a depth scoring option that isn’t already in decline, maybe he’s the bargain you’re after.
(Signed with Toronto, 1 year, $900K)
50. Dmitry Kulikov — New York Rangers — 2 years, $4.5MM — Kulikov didn’t exactly live up to the three-year, $13MM contract he signed as a free agent in 2017, but when the Winnipeg defensive depth was stripped down to the bone this season they were sure glad they still had him. A regular in the league for the last decade, Kulikov ramped his ice time back up this year when the Jets lost so many veterans and ended up averaging more than 20 minutes a night in his 51 appearances. He’s still only 29 for a few more weeks and should probably be higher on the list if it weren’t for a complete lack of offensive production. In his last 217 regular season games—more than 4,000 minutes of ice time—Kulikov has only produced 32 points. He won’t kill you, but he sure won’t take you to the next level either.
(Signed with New Jersey, 1 year, $1.15MM)