The 2019 free-agent class offered the defenseman, Erik Karlsson, but the drop-off in UFA quality was precipitous at that position. It was the summer to shop for forwards, not defensemen.
On paper, next year’s UFA class looks like the reverse. It’s the Year of the Defenseman. The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues may have re-signed their captains, Roman Josi and Alex Pietrangelo, by the time you read these words, but even without them, the 2020 class looks bountiful for blueliners.
Typically, right-handed puck-movers are the toughest thing to find in hockey, but new Toronto addition Tyson Barrie and classy Minnesota mainstay Jared Spurgeon go to market, as do Carolina’s Justin Faulk and Calgary’s Travis Hamonic. Factoring in the lefties, Torey Krug and Jake Muzzin are set for life-changing paydays.
That’s not to say the forward group doesn’t offer quality. Taylor Hall is the top prize, but next summer shapes up as a time to hunt power forwards, from Chris Kreider to Brayden Schenn.
1. Roman Josi, D, Nashville
Josi, an elite puck-mover, has finished between fifth and 11th in Norris Trophy voting five straight years. He’s earned a max-term contract that should approach a $10-million AAV. By dealing P.K. Subban to make room for Matt Duchene, the Preds sent a message: they want to re-sign Josi at all costs.
2. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis
It is hard to believe that Pietrangelo popped up in trade rumors just six months ago. Now, the image of him hoisting the Stanley Cup as the Blues captain is postage-stamp material. He’d make a killing on the open market given his size, mobility and leadership, but he’s sure to re-sign in St. Louis.
3. Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey
If the hart trophy version of Hall shows up and makes magic with No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes, Hall will command a monster deal comparable to Artemi Panarin’s. But Hall carries risk, having missed 20 percent of his teams’ games in his nine seasons. He badly needs a healthy year.
4. Braden Holtby, G, Washington
Holtby has won a Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup as a Capital. He’s also posted the two worst SPs of his career the past two seasons, he’ll be 31 by the start of 2020-21 and the Caps have arguably the game’s best goalie prospect in Ilya Samsonov. An extension isn’t a given at all.
5. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington
Backstrom has voiced his desire to remain a Capital. If he makes it to market, however, he’ll be the top UFA center and might earn more than he ever could by re-signing early. Since debuting in 2007-08, he leads the NHL in assists and ranks fifth in points while playing strong defense.
6. Torey Krug, D, Boston
One reason why Krug pops up in trade rumors: the Bruins must commit significant dollars to RFA D-men Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo this summer. Krug, an elite power-play quarterback and possession driver, gets 50 points in his sleep and will command $7-million plus as an UFA.
7. Tyson Barrie, D, Toronto
Did the Maple Leafs pull a ‘Raptors’ to go all-in for one year of Barrie, like Kawhi Leonard? Retaining Barrie won’t be easy. He quietly ranks eighth in scoring among D-men the past six seasons. He offers a similar skill set to that of Krug, but as a right-handed shot he might earn a higher AAV.
8. Mike Hoffman, LW, Florida
Hoffman scored a career-high 36 goals in his first year as a Panther. Some teams may hesitate to offer every last penny to Hoffman because of his dressing-room clash in Ottawa, but there is always be a market for speed and goals. He’s averaged 29 per 82 games the past five seasons.
9. Chris Kreider, LW, NY Rangers
Kreider was on the table for the right offer at the 2019 trade deadline. Is that still the case after the Blueshirts made so many summer improvements? Extending him, even though it might cost up to $7 million a year, would inject speed, physicality and leadership into an ascending team.
10. Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota
Spurgeon joins Krug and Barrie among the defensemen under six-foot likely to cash in big as UFAs in 2020. Spurgeon rates as better than them defensively, though. He ranked among the NHL’s best at limiting scoring chances and high-danger shot attempts this past season.