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Depth matters: the top five UFA defensemen still on the market

The defensive UFA class was bare to start with, but with Jake Gardiner and Ben Hutton still available, it's not fully dried up. Here are some of the best options still on the market heading into the weekend.

For as good as this free agent class was up front, the options on the blueline are quite dismal.

This forces teams to overpay to address needs. Fortunately for Vancouver Canucks fans, Tyler Myers didn't end up signing for the projected $7-8 million a year that was originally rumored, with his AAV sitting at $6 million instead over five years. Will that pan out in the long run? That's the real question, but for now, he brings improvement to a defense core that desperately needs help.

With Myers gone, that leaves Jake Gardiner as the bets UFA defender available. The fact that teams haven't signed the left-handed defender yet is a little curious. A good skater who can run a power play, Gardiner would be a nice addition to many team's top fours. But as Boston exposed on multiple occasions during Gardiner's tenure in Toronto, he's a major liability when trying to dish out the puck and his defensive flaws are glaring... something that isn't great when your job is to play defense.

If Gardiner is not your top defenseman, then he can immediately make your team better. Taking away some of the responsibility Toronto placed on him could be what's best for him to truly thrive. He's got enough talent that you can feel confident signing him for around $7 million, especially in a market barren with other options.

Speaking of those other options, who else is still looking for a new home a few days into free agency?

Ben Hutton, RHD, 26
Of all remaining UFA defensemen on the market, Hutton had the highest average time on ice last year with 22:21, but that's also indicative of how bad the Canucks were on the back end last year. He's intriguing because at 26, he's still young and did see improvement in his game in 2018-19. A team could get an absolute steal in the summer if they snag him for a couple of seasons at under $3 million, and teams like Montreal, Los Angeles and even Vancouver – the team that didn't offer him a qualifying offer but are still believed to have interest in him – could utilize Hutton in a big way next season.

Dion Phaneuf, LHD, 34
Hear me out: Phaneuf still has a few years of good NHL hockey left to play. He's not the physical, two-way defenseman he once was, but he's a leader with a lot of experience on a team's top pairing and wasn't THAT bad in Los Angeles, even if his contract was. Phaneuf is a proud man, one with a solid history in the game and will have something to prove. Los Angeles clearly wasn't a good fit for him and the best thing for his game moving forward could be entering a team's training camp on league-minimum or tryout deal to force him to fight his way on to a lineup and show he can still play.

Dan Girardi, RHD, 35 
Girardi isn't an everyday defenseman anymore but one that still is more than capable of playing in the NHL. At the right price (nothing more than $1.5 million, really) could be worth a shot with his experience in the top four with the Rangers and his 100+ games of playoff experience, but capping him at 60-65 games may be best.

Ben Lovejoy, RHD, 35
At 35, Lovejoy's best days are behind him, but he can still fill a need for teams in a bottom-pairing role. Similar to Girardi, he could be a fit for a team looking for experience and leadership for young talent and doesn't need to be in the lineup every night. For a playoff-bound team, signing Lovejoy in the $1-1.5-million range to provide depth is a solid value move that can turn into a pre-deadline asset down the line.

Michael Del Zotto, LHD, 29
Del Zotto's career has certainly not panned out after a couple of years early on, but he still brings value to teams in a limited role for under $1 million. Del Zotto didn't play many games with Vancouver, Anaheim or St. Louis last year but the Ducks weren't afraid to use him in key situations in his 12 games with the club this year. Del Zotto can be a physical force and can play on the penalty kill, so as a cheap utility signing, he's an option for a team looking for veteran help. Worst case scenario, you just sit upstairs.

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