Over one hundred free agents have signed a contract with a new team already this off-season. Of that group, just three of those signings are defenseman over the age of 30: the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jack Johnson, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Nick Holden, and the Dallas Stars’ Roman Polak. While veteran goaltenders and forwards continue to garner major interest on the open market and land substantial contracts, it seems defenders of the same age and experience are not being valued similarly across the league. With the NHL trending more toward a speed and finesse game, older blue liners who depend on positional awareness and seasoned checking ability may no longer be able to compete for jobs with younger players at the position with fresh legs and an open mind.
Of PHR’s Top 50 NHL Unrestricted Free Agents, only nine remain unsigned. Two of those nine players – Rick Nash and Kris Versteeg – may not return to playing pro hockey. Of the seven remaining players, three are defenseman over the age of 30: Dan Hamhuis (#24), Toby Enstrom (#37), and Alexei Emelin (#42). Good veteran defensemen are out there and make up some of the best available players, but are simply not drawing the interest that was expected. Other unsigned names include Brooks Orpik, Johnny Oduya, Kevin Bieksa, Dennis Seidenberg, Kyle Quincey, Paul Martin, Josh Gorges, and Jason Garrison, none of whom have made considerable noise on the rumor mill. 32-year-old Taylor Chorney even moved on to Switzerland due to a stagnant market for older defensemen.
Will several of these names sign an NHL contract prior to next season? Yes, however it’s unlikely that the majority will find meaningful employment if they haven’t already at this point in the summer. Of the remaining names, the most likely to land jobs are those closer to 30 without as much wear and tear on their bodies. The three players who have already found jobs – Johnson, Holden, and Polak – are all 32 or under. Emelin and Quincey at 32 have good odds, as do Enstrom and Gorges at 33. It would also be a major surprise if 35-year-old Hamhuis went unsigned. However, it would not be a shock to see only those five land a deal. This is a free agent market saturated in experienced, capable veteran defensemen, but few who can keep up with the NHL’s current pace of play. As a result, the supply greatly outweighs the demand and the free agent market for older blue liners could continue to remain quiet.