Dec. 14 update: The free-agent market, restricted and unrestricted, has almost completely frozen in the past month. The only major RFAs to sign over that span are Mikhail Sergachev, Jake DeBrusk and Philippe Myers. No impactful UFA has signed a new deal since Dominik Kahun in early November. But that's about to change as teams and players eagerly await the final details of the abbreviated 2020-21 season. It's likely we see a 56-game campaign commencing Jan. 13. The details could be finalized by the end of this week with players and owners voting by next week.
Once that happens, we should expect interest in the remaining UFAs to skyrocket. One prominent player agent suggested to me this week a "wave of signings" should hit in the days and weeks to come. Plenty of useful UFAs remain available, most notably goal-scorer Mike Hoffman.
Who are the ‘Best of the Rest’? Here’s a look at the top players, sorted by position. Ages as of Jan. 1, 2021.
1. MIKE HOFFMAN, LW, 31
2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Ranks 16th in goals since 2014-15, his first full NHL season. Bloomed late, so he’s older than a lot of people realize, but he hasn’t lost his wheels yet. A great complementary asset with a deadly release. At this point, he may be best off going the Taylor Hall route with a one-year contract. Hoffman is unlikely to get what he's worth on a long- or even medium- term contract.
2. MIKAEL GRANLUND, LW, 28
2019-20 cap hit: $5,750,000
It didn’t work out in Nashville, but Granlund is young enough to recapture his scoring touch in the right situation. He’s just a couple years removed from being one of the game’s most dynamic young players. He's been linked to the Columbus Blue Jackets. But would he even consider rejoining his original NHL club in Minnesota?
3. ERIK HAULA, C, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $2,750,000
He’s a valuable two-way pivot with underrated goal-scoring skills when he’s on the ice. Might come at a criminally low price because of the flat cap and the knee troubles he’s endured. That makes him a viable option for some contenders who are already spending close to the cap.
4. ANTHONY DUCLAIR, LW, 25
2019-20 cap hit: $1,650,000
Duclair represented himself and turned down a raise, so he didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Senators. He's now a UFA after potting a career-best 23 goals in 66 games last season. Consistency is not his calling card, but his speed and upside are undeniable. In the right landing spot, he could be the second most impactful remaining UFA forward after Hoffman.
5. ANDREAS ATHANASIOU, LW, 26
2019-20 cap hit: $3,000,000
Scored 30 goals as recently as 2018-19. Last season was ugly before he got traded at the deadline, but it was for almost every Detroit player. Athanasiou's talent hasn't gone anywhere. His speed and hands could upgrade a team's top-nine forward group. He's one of the UFAs most likely to outperform the AAV he receives on his next contract.
6. CARL SODERBERG, C, 35
2019-29 cap hit: $4,750,000
You can count on him for 15 to 20 goals on your third line in a two-way role. A big, intelligent center.
7. COREY PERRY, RW, 35
2019-20 cap hit: $3,250,000
It was a “prove it” season for Perry, who signed with Dallas for one year after the Anaheim Ducks bought him out. In this case, “it” didn’t necessarily mean showing he was still a star player, but Perry did show he can still be a relevant agitator and depth forward who chips in the odd big goal. His five goals in 27 playoff games equalled his regular-season total across 57 games. A contending team could use him as a bottom-sixer.
Other UFA forwards to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk, Conor Sheary, Michael Frolik
1. SAMI VATANEN, D, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $4,875,000
Has a heck of a time staying healthy – a 60-game season qualifies as a win with him – but moves the puck and can work a power play. Right-handedness will net him some extra bucks.
2. TRAVIS HAMONIC, D, 30
2019-20 cap hit: 3,857,143
Perpetually nicked up but plays a simple game that could stabilize a team’s middle pair or, ideally at this stage of his career, third pair. Was fully entitled to opt out of the post-season, but he did cost himself some showcase time in his walk year. Most recently, he's been linked to staying in Calgary or signing with the Vancouver Canucks.
Other top UFA defensemen to watch: Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene, Deryk Engelland, Michael Del Zotto
1. CRAIG ANDERSON, G, 39
2019-20 cap hit: $4,750,000
The goaltending market has dried up to the point there may be no team left that could count Anderson as an upgrade in net as a starter. Does Anderson have anything left at 39? He graded out as below average last season but did face a difficult workload on a bad Ottawa team, so maybe he'd fare better with a stronger defense in front of him.
Other UFA goaltenders to watch: Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard