The 2020 NHL free-agent frenzy has started to mellow out. The flat salary cap had teams scrambling to find the right fits under less-than-ideal financial conditions, leaving some free agents waiting to see if lucrative opportunities would still materialize.
Here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents still on the market as of Thursday morning. Keep in mind we’ve left off a few big-name veterans, like Zdeno Chara, whose markets seem limited to one or two teams. Contract projections are courtesy of Evolving Hockey.
1. Mike Hoffman, LW
Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Previous team: Florida Panthers
Hoffman is the best goal scorer still on the UFA market, with 65 goals in his past 151 games. If your team needs scoring on the wing, Hoffman is going to provide it; especially on the power play, where he has netted 28 goals in the past two seasons. But in his past three seasons, Hoffman has a combined minus-9.2 defensive goals-prevented above average; he’s a liability at 5-on-5, and that’s been the case for years. But given his goal-scoring prowess, there’s a market for him. The Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes are all reportedly in the mix.
2. Mikael Granlund, C
Age: 28 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5.75 million
Previous team: Nashville Predators
Granlund generated only 19 goals and 17 assists in his 79 games with Nashville. A fresh start is necessary, and the team that signs Granlund will get a solid defender who is only two years removed from an 0.87 points-per-game season (and a 14.3 goals-scored above average). He is still in his prime, and because of that, don’t look for much of a discount. Evolving Hockey has him at a $6.525 million AAV for whoever lands him. Columbus and Philadelphia have been mentioned as potential landing spots.
3. Corey Perry, RW
Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $1.5 million
Previous team: Dallas Stars
There have always been two sides to Corey Perry. There’s the guy with 377 career goals, and there’s the side with 1,180 career penalty minutes. To that we can add that at age 35, he’s the guy with five goals in 57 regular-season games in 2019-20 who then matched that total in 26 playoff games this postseason. But his offensive output remains in steep decline, with a shooting percentage far below league average.
His value as a veteran on a contender has been fortified by the Dallas playoff run, and someone will want to add that at the right price. Perry, meanwhile, can afford to wait to pick his spot.
4. Erik Haula, LW/C
Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $2.750 million
Previous team: Florida Panthers
Haula had a remarkable season in 2017-18, with 29 goals and 26 assists. He hasn’t come close to that production in the two seasons since, mostly due to injuries. When he’s healthy, he can be an offensive asset but a defensive liability — he’s at minus-3.2 defensive goals above average over the past two seasons.
He has drawn interest from his old mates, the Vegas Golden Knights, but making that money work will be tough. Given the market for forwards, could we see Haula fall in between the $2.25 million AAV of Cody Eakin (Buffalo) and the $3.1 million AAV of Craig Smith (Boston)?
5. Sami Vatanen, D
Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.875 million
Previous team: Carolina Hurricanes
He has also missed significant time the past two seasons to injury. Of course, the Devils were so terrible, there probably wasn’t much to make him rush back. But after being acquired at the trade deadline by the Canes, he didn’t make it back for any regular-season games, though he appeared in seven contests this postseason. There are going to be opportunities out there for him to make the $4.581 million AAV that Evolving Hockey projects for him. They may just not be with contending teams.
6. Carl Soderberg, C
Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.75 million
Previous team: Arizona Coyotes
Soderberg celebrated a birthday recently, turning 35 as he waited for his next NHL destination to materialize. He had one fairly productive campaign in the desert (35 points in 70 games). He’s a durable player coming off a slight downtick of a season, especially on offense. But on a short-term deal, he could be an effective bottom-six center — emphasis on “short-term deal.”
7. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW
Age: 37 | 2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
Previous team: Washington Capitals
His 22 games with Montreal were actually outstanding (13 points, plus-6). His one assist in eight playoff games with Washington, not so much. Is there a market for a full season of a 37-year-old Kovalchuk, other than as an asset to flip at the trade deadline? For a team looking specifically at adding his offensive touch to its power play, while accepting his defensive liability, perhaps.
Evolving Hockey predicts a $2.328 million AAV on a one-year deal for whoever signs him … assuming he still wants to stick around the NHL. One note: The Canadiens just gave No. 17 to Josh Anderson, for those seeking that reunion.
8. Travis Hamonic, D
Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $3,857,143
Previous team: Calgary Flames
The Philadelphia Flyers were among the teams that kicked the tires on Hamonic, but word is that he’d prefer to remain in Western Canada. There’s a lot of respect for his “defensive defenseman” game and his work on the penalty kill, but three of the past four seasons have been beset by injuries. His strong 2018-19, when he was at 55.5% expected goals, looks more and more like an anomaly given his underlying numbers in the past five seasons. But the market has been robust for veteran defensemen.
9. Alex Galchenyuk, C
Age: 26 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.9 million
Previous team: Minnesota Wild
10. Anthony Duclair, LW
Age: 24 | 2019-20 cap hit: $1.65 million
Previous team: Ottawa Senators
The Duke was a restricted free agent, but the Senators walked away from him. He had a breakout season with 23 goals in 66 games, but the problem is that only two of them came in his last 29 games of the season. A talented winger that’s still only 24 years old, he should find another home and a raise, but maybe not the raise he thought he would have gotten around last December.
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