The 2021 off-season – with another year of a flat salary cap and the Seattle Kraken expansion draft – will be both extremely busy and incredibly interesting to watch from a fan's point of view.
So this past weekend, I broke down a handful of 'younger' UFA blueline options some NHL GMs may want to look at this off-season. Each, in his own way, proved patience is a virtue when it comes to developing NHL defenders.
Today, we'll look at their older (30-year-old-plus) counterparts. A couple don't have a whole lot of room for any more patience. But that's OK, what you see is pretty much what you get with this group of five NHLers.
A quick note: marquee names like Tyson Barrie and Dougie Hamilton (who isn't 30-plus anyway) haven't been profiled because each received in-depth pieces in our Free Agency Preview edition.
Alec Martinez – Vegas Golden Knights
Among UFA defenders aged 30 or older, only Tyson Barrie (who turns 30 two days before free agency opens) scored more than Alec Martinez this season. That may be a bit of a misnomer – offense doesn’t define Martinez’s game – but Martinez also doesn’t come with the defensive-zone warts that accompany Barrie’s offensive wizardry.
Martinez – who, coincidentally, shares Barrie’s July 26 birthday – will be 34 when he signs his next contract, and he’s primed to make it a lucrative one, as he’s coming off perhaps the best season of his impressive 12-year NHL career.
But the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder from Rochester Hills, Mich. wasn’t exactly preordained for this fate. Martinez was originally eligible for the 2005 draft but slipped through both it and the 2006 edition without hearing his name called. The Los Angeles Kings eventually used the 95th pick in the 2007 draft to take Martinez out of Miami University (Ohio) after his sophomore season with the RedHawks.
And Martinez rewarded the Kings’ gamble by playing parts of 11 rock-solid seasons in L.A. and contributing to two Stanley Cup-winning teams – including scoring the Cup-winning goal in 2014. In fact, because of Montreal’s vaunted penalty-kill, Martinez still holds the distinction of being the most recent player to score a Cup-winning OT goal.
Martinez has been a Vegas Golden Knight since the 2019-20 trade deadline, when Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon acquired him for a pair of second-round picks. Since arriving in the Battle Born State, Martinez has played some great hockey, including a 2020-21 season that saw him post nine goals and 32 points in 53 games. Though he’s most commonly paired with Norris-caliber Shea Theodore, Martinez is plenty capable in his own right; Martinez’s possession numbers take only a very slight downturn away from Theodore the past two seasons. And of the 57 D-pairings to skate at least 350 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season, no duo generated more expected goals per hour than Martinez and Theodore (2.99).
Martinez is coming off a six-year, $24-million contract he signed with L.A. in December 2014, a few months before he would have hit UFA status for the first time. Martinez has made a career of surpassing expectations and should be a solid bet for whichever team he signs with. Even in a flat-cap environment, he’s due a raise from his $4 million AAV.
David Savard – Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s setting up to be a spectacular summer for David Savard, the 30-year-old product of St-Hyacinthe, Que. His Tampa Bay Lightning are on the precipice of giving him his first Stanley Cup ring (he started the year with bottom-feeding Columbus) and then he’ll have the chance to cash in as a first-time UFA this off-season. If he does so with a Cup on his resume, all the better.
Savard, a Columbus fourth-rounder in 2009, spent the entirety of his 10-year NHL career before April 2021 with the Blue Jackets. The Lightning acquired him (via Detroit) at this season’s trade deadline for first-, third- and fourth-round picks (the first- and third-rounders went to Columbus; the fourth-rounder to Detroit).
Savard is a steady and dependable right-shot defender whose primary value stems from his defensive-zone prowess. This season, Savard had one goal and six points in 54 games split between Columbus and Tampa. He has four assists in 19 playoff games with the Lightning.
Savard is among the best defensemen in the NHL at limiting high-danger opportunities. Per naturalstattrick.com, in the past three seasons, Savard ranks 18th in high-danger Corsi-against/60 (8.95) among the 219 defensemen to play at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5.
His most recent contract (five years, $21.25 million) paid him an AAV of $4.25 million. He signed that deal mere months after posting a one-off offensive outburst of 36 points in 82 games in 2014-15. He hasn’t eclipsed 25 points since. Tampa Bay can’t afford to retain him, so any team in need of a middle-pair defense-minded blueliner will have a solid option in Savard.
Alex Goligoski – Arizona Coyotes
The Pittsburgh Penguins used the 61st pick way back in the 2004 draft to pluck Alex Goligoski out of USHL Sioux Falls. He then spent three seasons with the University of Minnesota before turning pro to join the Penguins. Goligoski has played for three franchises – Pittsburgh, Dallas and Arizona – in his 14-season, 924-game NHL career.
Goligoski will turn 36 on July 30, two days after free agency opens. But he still has enough juice that teams shouldn’t be wary of offering a couple years. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder hasn’t missed a game since 2018-19. The last time Goligoski missed double-digit games in one season was 2011-12; he missed 11 games that year with a broken thumb. In the past three seasons, he's averaged over 22 minutes a night and scored at a 33-point pace.
In his career, Goligoski has 83 goals and 429 points in 924 games. Assuming next season is a return to normalcy, he should hit the 1,000-game plateau near season’s end. His most recent contract paid him $27.3 million over five seasons.
Zdeno Chara – Washington Capitals
Zdeno Chara has been an NHLer for so long, 216 players who’ve skated in at least one career NHL game weren’t yet born when the sky-scraping Slovak made his debut on November 19, 1997. That includes former D-partner Charlie McAvoy, whose birth was still a month away when Chara first took the ice at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena to face the Red Wings as a 20-year-old member of the New York Islanders.
So, has the time finally come for the mammoth defender to ride off into the sunset? He certainly doesn't need to chase resume-building accolades; Chara won the 2009 Norris Trophy, is a three-time first-team all-star and has his Stanley Cup (2011).
The 44-year-old from Trencin has held up well the past couple of seasons, playing in all but three regular-season contests in that time. But Boston chose to move on last off-season, and Chara averaged the second-fewest minutes of his 23-year career this season with Washington.
Chara earned a base salary of $795,000 this season plus $480,000 in bonuses. If the fire still burns and he wants a shot at another Cup, he could provide affordable veteran leadership on a team’s third pair.
Alex Edler – Vancouver Canucks
Picturing Alex Edler in any uniform other than Vancouver’s feels wrong, but that’s a possibility the 35-year-old Swede will have to contemplate this summer. Edler has spent the entirety of his 15-season NHL career in Vancouver after the Canucks drafted him 91st overall in 2004. He’s already re-upped with Vancouver as a would-be UFA in 2013 and 2019, so he seems comfortable in his current digs.
Edler got into 52 of 56 games this season and put up eight assists. In the two seasons before this one, Edler had 15 goals and 67 points in 115 games, for an 82-game pace of 48 points.
His most recent contract paid him an AAV of $6 million for two seasons. Especially with the Sedins back on board in advisory roles, it’s hard to imagine the marriage not continuing. But if he hits the open market, he’s a bounce-back candidate for 2021-22.
Others to watch: Andy Greene, Marc Staal, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordie Benn, Kevan Miller, Michael Del Zotto, Travis Hamonic, Sami Vatanen