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The NHL’s annual free-agent market will be opening a little later than its traditional July 1 start date. With the Stanley Cup playoffs scheduled to end in early July, free agency will begin on July 28 at noon EST.
Every year, the free-agent market features a handful of stars and a lot of depth players. This year’s top unrestricted free agents include Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, Colorado Avalanche winger Gabriel Landeskog and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
Each NHL team will have big decisions to make regarding their respective free agents. Will they re-sign their key players even if the cost could use up valuable long-term cap room? Can they afford not to re-sign them? Will those with salary-cap space and roster issues to address make a big splash in this year’s free-agent talent pool?
Here’s our early look at the free-agent market with a brief prediction for 31 NHL clubs. We’ve excluded the Seattle Kraken as their initial roster won’t be built until the July 21 expansion draft.
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Anaheim Ducks: Re-Sign Ryan Getzlaf
With $58.9 million invested in 13 players next season, the Anaheim Ducks have the cap space to make a major signing. However, they could set their sights on rebuilding their roster with young talent. Their biggest free-agent move will likely be re-signing team captain Ryan Getzlaf. General manager Bob Murray said he will continue having discussions with the 36-year-old center about his potential role.
Arizona Coyotes: Conor Garland Gets A Raise
A restricted free agent with arbitration rights, Connor Garland emerged as a reliable scoring forward for the Arizona Coyotes. The 25-year-old had 22 goals last season and netted 39 points in 49 games this year. Drafted and developed by the Coyotes, he earned a total of $1.55 million on his current two-year contract. Expect him to get around $4 million per season on a five-year extension.
Boston Bruins: Taylor Hall Inks A Long-Term Extension
The Boston Bruins have decisions to make regarding pending UFAs such as Tuukka Rask and David Krejci. Re-signing Taylor Hall, however, could be a priority. The 29-year-old left wing played well following his trade-deadline acquisition from the Buffalo Sabres. Boston Hockey Now’s Joe Haggerty reported Hall is prioritizing fit over dollars. Perhaps a five-year deal worth $6 million annually will do the trick.
Buffalo Sabres: Trade Sam Reinhart
A restricted free agent with arbitration rights, Sam Reinhart seemed noncommital regarding his future with the Buffalo Sabres at his season-ending press conference. With the 25-year-old center a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility, the Sabres cannot risk his departure if he only seeks a one-year contract this summer.
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Calgary Flames: Sign a Backup Goaltender
The Calgary Flames have all their core players under contract for next season. Restricted free agents Dillon Dube and Jusso Valimaki will be affordable re-signings. However, they must find a reliable backup goaltender for starter Jacob Markstrom. With $67.8 million invested in 14 players, they’ll need an affordable one. Free-agent options could include James Reimer, Antti Raanta or Laurent Broissoit.
Carolina Hurricanes: Dougie Hamilton Stays Put
Dougie Hamilton becomes an unrestricted free agent after completing a six-year deal worth $5.75 million annually. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports the Carolina Hurricanes are letting the puck-moving defenseman speak with other clubs, but he could still re-sign with them. They need Hamilton if they hope to fulfill their Stanley Cup aspirations. Expect him to ink a seven-year deal worth around $7.5 million annually.
Chicago Blackhawks: Sign Nikita Zadorov To a One-Year Deal
Acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason, Nikita Zadorov led the Hawks with 190 hits this season. On April 16, however, the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Ben Pope felt the 26-year-old blueliner still had to prove himself as a top-four shutdown defenseman. He could be worthwhile re-signing to a one-year “show-me” deal worth slightly more than his $3.2 million salary for this season.
Colorado Avalanche: New Contracts for Landeskog, Makar and Grubauer
The Colorado Avalanche will have to dig deep to re-sign left wing Gabriel Landeskog, defenseman Cale Makar and goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The trio is part of the core they hope will one day carry them to the Stanley Cup. Retaining them will bite deep into the Avs’ projected $19.7 million of salary-cap space, but it will be necessary to keep their Stanley Cup window open.
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Columbus Blue Jackets: Figure Out A Workable Deal For Patrik Laine
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Patrik Laine in a January trade with the Winnipeg Jets. A former 44-goal scorer, the 23-year-old restricted free agent winger managed just 10 goals in 44 games with the Jackets. It’ll cost them $7.5 million just to qualify his rights. Laine could regain his high-scoring form next season, but the Jackets could pitch a one-year deal to determine if he’ll be a good long-term fit.
Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen Gets A Lucrative New Contract
In just three seasons, Miro Heiskanen has developed into the Dallas Stars’ best all-around defenseman. He was their leading postseason scorer during their march to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. The 21-year-old blueliner is completing his entry-level contract and due for a big raise on a long-term deal. He could become their highest-paid defender with a lengthy deal worth over $8 million annually.
Detroit Red Wings: More Bargain Hunting Ahead
The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings brought in affordable veterans such as Thomas Greiss, Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov on short-term contracts. They have $48.1 million in projected cap space and could attempt to make a big signing. However, general manager Steve Yzerman could use some of that in the trade market while dipping into the UFA pool for another bargain veteran or two.
Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Goes To Market
On May 28, the Edmonton Journal‘s David Staples cited a report by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman indicating the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were close to a new contract before the season began. However, the talks fell apart at the last second. There’s no indication those discussions have resumed, increasing the likelihood the 28-year-old forward leaves Edmonton as an unrestricted free agent.
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Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
Florida Panthers: Say Farewell to Chris Driedger
A little-known backup goaltender for the Florida Panthers when this season began, Chris Driedger garnered attention by outperforming starter Sergei Bobrovsky during the regular season. With Bobrovsky under a long-term contract and promising Spencer Knight promoted to the roster, the 27-year-old Driedger appears to be the odd man out. He should draw plenty of interest in the free-agent market.
Los Angeles Kings: Sign At Least One Top-Six Forward
The rebuilding Los Angeles Kings will attempt to improve their forward lines this summer. On June 8, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported they’re hoping to acquire two top-six forwards via trade or free agency this summer. With $20.5 million in cap space, they have sufficient room to add at least one quality forward when free agency opens next month. They could target Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog if he goes to market.
Minnesota Wild: Raises for Kaprizov, Fiala and Eriksson Ek
Young forwards Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek were crucial to the Minnesota Wild’s improvement this season. Fiala and Eriksson Ek are restricted free agents with arbitration rights while Calder Memorial Trophy finalist Kaprizov is completing his entry-level deal. Expect all three to remain part of the Wild’s future by inking lucrative, long-term deals.
Montreal Canadiens: Bid Adieu to Tomas Tatar
In his three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Tomas Tatar was regularly among their leading scorers. However, the 30-year-old winger had been a non-factor for them in postseason play, tallying just three points in 15 playoff contests. Coming off a four-year deal worth $5.3 million annually, Tatar probably doesn’t fit into the Canadiens’ long-term plans.
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
Nashville Predators: Pick a Pekka Rinne?
This season felt like Pekka Rinne’s last in the NHL. The 38-year-old goaltender is in the final year of his contract and was supplanted as the Nashville Predators starter by Juuse Saros. Rinne, however, didn’t sound like a player willing to retire in his season-ending press conference. While he didn’t rule out playing for another NHL team, don’t be surprised if he returns for one more season in Nashville.
New Jersey Devils: Pursue A Top-Six Winger
The lack of scoring wingers contributed to the New Jersey Devils being among this season’s lowest-scoring teams. With $37.6 million in projected cap space, they have enough room to address that need through trades or free agency. Management could try to entice a free-agent winger like St. Louis’ Mike Hoffman or Toronto’s Zach Hyman to skate alongside Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes.
New York Islanders: Dump Some Salary
The New York Islanders go into this offseason sitting $14,168 over the $81.5 million cap. Forward Anthony Beauvillier, defenseman Adam Pelech and goaltender Ilya Sorokin are restricted free agents with arbitration rights. The Isles will get $6 million in cap relief with Johnny Boychuk on permanent long-term injury reserve, but they’ll need to shed perhaps over $10 million to re-sign those three.
New York Rangers: Add Some Grit To the Lineup
On May 5, the New York Post‘s Larry Brooks reported the club’s lack of grit and leadership led to their front-office shakeup. They could address that need via free agency by dipping into their $23.8 million in projected cap space. Tampa Bay Lightning winger Blake Coleman or Carolina Hurricanes winger Jordan Martinook could be enticing options.
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Ottawa Senators: Ink Brady Tkachuk To A Long-Term Deal
In his first three NHL seasons, Brady Tkachuk established himself as the Ottawa Senators’ gritty heart and soul. During that period, the 6’4″, 211-pound power forward led them in total goals (60) and tied with Thomas Chabot with a team-leading 125 total points. Coming off his entry-level contract, the 21-year-old left winger is in line for a big raise on a long-term deal.
Philadelphia Flyers: Pursue A Right-Side Defenseman
Matt Niskanen’s unexpected retirement last year left a big hole on the right of the Philadelphia Flyers’ blue line. Their inability to find a suitable replacement contributed to their failure to clinch a playoff berth this season. Management could go the trade route, but someone like Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton or an affordable option like Tampa Bay’s David Savard could be free-agent options.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Go Bargain Shopping
The Pittsburgh Penguins are above the $81.5 million cap by a projected $1.16 million. They’ll likely go the trade route to free up some cap room and address some of their roster needs. Barring a big cost-cutting move, any remaining cap room could be used to plumb the free-agent market for affordable short-term depth.
San Jose Sharks: Seek Cost-Effective Options
San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has a history of making bold moves in the trade and free-agent markets. This summer could be his biggest test. He’s got $70.3 million tied up in 15 players, many of them aging stars with expensive contracts and no-trade clauses. Wilson could get creative in the trade market to improve his roster, but could also end up bargain-hunting in the free-agent market.
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St. Louis Blues: Mike Hoffman Hits The Road
Failing to land a lucrative deal last year, winger Mike Hoffman inked a one-year, $4 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. He finished with 17 goals and 36 points in 52 games, but struggled with consistency and wound up skating on the third line. With the Blues carrying $66.6 million invested in 20 players, they’re likely to let Hoffman walk as they focus on re-signing Jaden Schwartz.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Bye Bye, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow
The Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils and Barclay Goodrow from the San Jose Sharks leading up to last year’s trade deadline. Both forwards helped their new club win the Stanley Cup last season and have them on the path toward perhaps another Cup this year. However, they’ll both depart via free agency because the Lightning lack the cap space to re-sign them.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman Takes A Hometown Discount
Zach Hyman is completing a four-year deal worth an annual average value of $2.25 million. A versatile hardworking forward, he’s earned a spot as a left winger on their top line. The 28-year-old winger could get over $5 million annually on the open market, but could accept around $4 million per season to continue playing for his hometown club.
Vancouver Canucks: Re-sign Travis Hamonic
The Vancouver Canucks could consider trade and free-agent options to boost their defense core. Re-signing Travis Hamonic will also help. The 30-year-old blueliner was a good fit alongside Quinn Hughes and expressed a desire to stay in Vancouver on a long-term deal. Completing a one-year, $1.25 million contract, he could be open to a two or three-year deal at $2 million per season.
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Vegas Golden Knights: Fare Thee Well, Alec Martinez
Acquired from the Los Angeles Kings before last year’s trade deadline, Alec Martinez has been a solid addition to the Vegas Golden Knights blue line. The 33-year-old skated on their top defense pairing, netting 32 points in 53 games this season. But with $79.1 million invested in 22 players next season, they cannot afford to re-sign him without shedding salary via trade or buyouts.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin Spurns the Free-Agent Market
Alex Ovechkin is the Washington Capitals’ long-time franchise player. The Capitals want to keep their captain, and he wants to stay. The question is for how much and for how long? He’s completing a 13-year deal worth an annual average value of $9.5 million. The 35-year-old left winger could get a three-year extension for around the same annual cap hit.
Winnipeg Jets: Shop For A Defenseman
The Winnipeg Jets’ blue line has been depleted over the past two seasons. They must shore up their defense corps, especially on the right side. With $14.9 million in salary-cap space, they have the room to address that need. Someone like Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton would be too expensive for their taste but perhaps a shutdown rearguard like Tampa Bay’s David Savard will be to their liking.
Stats via NHL.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly.