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The Top 30 Unrestricted Free Agents of 2021

With the expansion draft in the rearview mirror, the UFA list isn't as bountiful as it was last week. Which big names are still out there?

July 26 UPDATE: Time to spruce up the list of remaining UFAs one more time. It’s strange to use the term “remaining” when free agency hasn’t even opened yet, but numerous names have flown off the list thanks to a whirlwind week that included (a) the expansion draft, in which the Seattle Kraken inked UFAs Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleskiak and Chris Driedger; (b) a monstrous sign-and-trade contract from the New York Rangers for Barclay Goodrow; (c) a handful of re-signings, such as Taylor Hall’s with the Boston Bruins; and (d) some all-but-confirmed signings announced in the days following the expansion draft.

So who's still available? Here’s a look at the best 30. I’ve taken the liberty of scratching unconfirmed signee left wingers Zach Hyman and Jaden Schwartz from the list, FYI, as their contracts with Edmonton and Seattle, respectively, pretty much wink-wink complete, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Same goes for Alec Martinez, expected to re-sign in Vegas for three seasons, and for Alex Ovechkin. His re-signing was always a mere formality, and the Caps have indicated they expect a deal to be completed before free agency even opens.

Ages listed as of July 28, 2021,
the start date for unrestricted free agency.

2020-21 cap hit: $5,750,000

In the past four seasons, no defenseman has scored more goals than Hamilton – despite him missing significant time with a broken leg last season. The old guard may not like his body language or off-ice interests – LOL, says the new guard – but he’s a top-tier puck mover and play driver who has great size and a right-handed shot. The Canes are making a final push to retain him but the New Jersey Devils, swimming in cap space, are reportedly emerging as a major contender for his services.

2020-21 cap hit: $5,571,429

Landeskog is the anti-Hamilton in that old-school hockey thinkers love Landeskog. Some league executives still talk about how impressed they were with his scouting interviews leading up to the 2011 draft. He’s a revered, heart-and-soul captain who blends top-line scoring touch with bruising physical play. He recently expressed his “disappointment” that he’s so close to making it to market but, with the expansion draft and entry draft in the rearview mirror and RFA blueiner Cale Makar re-signed, Avs GM Joe Sakic will focus his energy on Landeskog in the next couple days.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,333,333

Talent was never in question for Grubauer. He delivered a tremendous “put it all together” season for the Avalanche and has the fifth-highest save percentage in NHL history among goalies with at least 100 games played. The key was to prove he could stay healthy and, while he did land on the COVID-19 list, he avoided injury in 2020-21. With re-signing Landeskog still Colorado’s priority, can the team afford Grubauer, too? He has expressed interest in returning, at least.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,083,333

Danault is one of the top two-way forwards in the business. His ability to smother opposing teams’ best scorers was crucial in Montreal’s run to the 2021 Stanley Cup final. Multiple reports on his contract status, however, indicate he is likely play elsewhere on his new deal.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,750,000

Seventh in points among NHL defensemen since his breakout 2013-14 campaign. Barrie, a power-play specialist, was set up nicely to post massive contract-year numbers in Edmonton, and that’s exactly what’s happened. But do the Oilers need to bring him back? They were already a powerhouse power-play team before he signed, and he’s a bit of a drag on their defensive play. They’ve also just committed an additional $5.5 million in cap space to Duncan Keith. Then again, they’ve lost Larsson from the right side of their blueline.

2020-21 cap hit: $1,800,000

Coleman can play center or the wing, he kills penalties, he forechecks aggressively and, don’t forget, on a team that needs him to play bigger minutes, he can score 20 goals. The only problem is that, after playing an important role on consecutive Stanley Cup champions in Tampa, his value has exploded to the point it may require an overpay to land him. Goodrow’s six-year deal with the Rangers at a $3.64-million AAV must leave Coleman tickled, as he does all the same things as his ex-linemate but scores a lot more.

2020-21 cap hit: $7,250,000

Brings so much experience in the regular season and playoffs as the Bruins' longtime No. 2 center, and he showed how impactful he can still be once they gave him proper second-line wingers to play with this past season. The Bruins are waiting to see if Krejci decides to return to the Czech Republic for 2021-22. If he plays in the NHL next season, it’s likely for Boston.

2020-21 cap hit: $4,650,000

Averaged 30 goals per 82 games in his first five seasons as a Devil. That appears to be Palmieri’s ceiling, but it’s a highly useful ceiling. He endured a bad year, but it was likely the product of (a) playing with less help in New Jersey before his trade to the New York Islanders and (b) an unlucky shooting percentage of 6.5. Perhaps that’ll make him a bargain signing this off-season. His goal-scoring place in the 2021 playoffs pro-rated to his usual 30 goals per 82 games, FYI.

9. RYAN SUTER, D, 36
2020-21 cap hit: $7,538,462

Upon learning of his shocking buyout, Suter hung up on Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin, but Suter should be back on the phone soon fielding offers from contenders. He’s not the all-around dominator he was in his prime, especially on the defensive side of the puck, but he could still provide useful middle-pair help on a contender and might only cost half his Minnesota AAV.

2020-21 cap hit: $6,000,000

Saad is attractive for teams wanting him to fill the same role he did in Colorado this past season: a win-now piece, responsible at both ends of the ice, fast, able to play in the middle six and contribute decent goal totals. He got 16 this season in 43 games while playing just 14 minutes or so per night, but that’s a trap: his shooting percentage was unsustainable at a league-leading 22.1, almost double his career mark of 11.9.

11. TUUKKA RASK, G, 34
2020-21 cap hit: $7,000,000

The rise of prospect Jeremy Swayman pushes one of Rask and Jaroslav Halak out. Odds are it’s Halak. Rask only wants to play in Boston and won’t return to game action until winter 2022 after undergoing hip surgery. He’ll thus never come cheaper. Disclaimer: he’d rank in the top five on this list if healthy.

2020-21 cap hit: $5,500,000

He was entrenched in the Columbus community thanks to his charity work and role as Blue Jackets captain. Does that mean he’ll return there after his stint as a trade-deadline rental with the Leafs? It depends on how badly Foligno craves a Stanley Cup run, as Columbus appears to be trending toward a rebuild.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,750,000

Granlund may never reach the ceiling he was projected to have when he ripped up the Finnish Liiga a decade ago, but that’s OK. He’s still a skilled top-six forward who makes an underrated defensive impact. His most useful trait is his versatility. He can play any forward position if needed.

2020-21 cap hit: $5,300,000

The idea of Habs GM Marc Bergevin “having to choose” between Danault and Tatar is a distant memory. Tatar endured the worst season of his career and only dressed for five playoff games. With Montreal extending coach Dominique Ducharme’s contract, that’s it for Tatar as a Hab. Each game he sat in the playoffs felt like it eroded a few more bucks off his value. It was terrible timing from his perspective, but it could make him a nice bargain. He was an elite play driver for multiple seasons alongside Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar is hardly finished.

2020-21 cap hit: $4,250,000

He’s big, rugged, shoots right-handed and was generally underrated as a shutdown defenseman, having spent his career in a relatively small market before Columbus dealt him to Tampa Bay at the deadline. He got better as the playoffs progressed and proved to literally be a “guy you win with.” He's far less under the radar with the championship glow on him now and has been linked to his hometown team: the Habs.

2020-21 cap hit: $5,475,000

He’s durable, he plays 22 minutes a night, he moves the puck pretty well…he’s just a safe veteran pickup at this stage of his career, even if it’s on a short-term deal.

17. MIKE REILLY, D, 28
2020-21 cap hit: $1,500,000

Reilly was a bright spot on a rebuilding Ottawa Senators team this past season, forming a net-positive pair with rookie Artem Zub, and Reilly was an extremely useful trade-deadline acquisition for the Bruins as a left-shot puck-mover. He felt more like a fringe NHLer a few years ago but has established himself as a legitimate UFA target.

2020-21 cap hit: $6,500,000

Getting long in the tooth, but he still has a skill set plenty of teams need: intelligent, good on faceoffs, can center a scoring line and, as he’s shown this year, can transition successfully to the left wing as well.

19. RYAN MURRAY, D, 27
2020-21 cap hit: $4,700,000

Tough year for all Devils players, but Murray is still relatively young for a UFA, has a recent history as a respectable defensive defenseman and can skate. On a better team, he could be a handy middle-pair option.

2020-21 cap hit: $6,350,000

He’s not what he was in his prime, but if he’s used for sheltered third-pair duty and power-play work, he could still be a relative bargain. Think 2019-20 Kevin Shattenkirk.

2020-21 cap hit: $4,000,000

Hoffman’s defensive shortcomings in 5-on-5 play are beginning to overshadow his goal-scoring skills, and he was healthy-scratched at times in St. Louis, but he still scored at a 27-goal pace if pro-rated to 82 games. He can bulge the twine as a power-play specialist, but he’s a risky team-chemistry fit.

22. PETR MRAZEK, G, 29
2020-21 cap hit: $3,125,000

‘Peter Erratic’ no more? In a small, injury-shortened sample this past season, he saved more goals above average per 60 minutes than all but two goalies – Juuse Saros and Alex Nedeljkovic – among the 65 stoppers who played 300 or more minutes at 5-on-5. ‘Ned’ happened to be Mrazek’s teammate and appeared to cement himself as Carolina’s No. 1…but wound up traded to Detroit. OK, then. Maybe Carolina circles back to Mrazek.

23. NICK BONINO, C, 33
2020-21 cap hit: $4,100,000

He’s not a sexy pickup at this stage of his career, but he brings reliability in a middle-six assignment, ideally as a third-liner. If he doesn’t catch on with a contender, perhaps a bottom feeder signs him short-term with the hope of flipping him at a future trade deadline.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,000,000

Bernier just completed a remarkable season, performing as one of the better netminders in the league despite facing, statistically, the most challenging workload in the NHL at 5-on-5. Will the Canes sign him after acquiring him in the Nedeljkovic deal? The trade sure will look ugly if they don’t.

2020-21 cap hit: $7,538,462

Parise’s value changes drastically now that we don’t have to view him through the lens of his massive contract. If he’s willing to sign an “old guy” deal around the league-minimum with performance bonuses, he’ll generate plenty of interest. He can still score a bit if he’s playing down in the lineup as a luxury bottom-sixer a-la Jason Spezza and Corey Perry.

2020-21 cap hit: $737,500

Anyone has to tread carefully when a 25-year-old scores 10 goals in 21 games, converting an unsustainable 26.1 percent of his shots, but the unpredictability will probably be baked into Bunting’s price. He won’t cost enough to qualify as an actual gamble. That’s the good news about his sample size being so small.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,850,000

He’s relatively young, he can move the puck, he naturally looked much better after his trade from Buffalo to Florida, and his overall price should be reasonable since his time as a Sabre suppressed his overall numbers. There’s potential value here.

2020-21 cap hit: $3,350,000

The challenge with players like Cizikas: at his age and with his established track record as an excellent No. 4 center who kills penalties and faces tough competition, he’s now a “big name” checker. Do you pay him several million a year or replace him with a younger grinder for a fraction of the price?

29. JAKE MCCABE, D, 27
2020-21 cap hit: $2,850,000

He’s overlooked because he played just 13 games this season, but full marks to my pal Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic for shedding light on just how effective McCabe has been defensively on a terrible team playing with a weak partner. McCabe might be available at a third-pair price but could deliver middle-pair effectiveness.

2020-21 cap hit: $2,250,000

Like Granlund, Janmark brings a Swiss Army Knife skill set. The Golden Knights have used him at all three forward positions and on both special teams. So he’s a complementary option if a contender needs depth. Or he could play higher in the lineup on a weaker team.

Other prominent 2021 UFAs to watch: Dominik Kahun, Alexander Wennberg, Ryan Getzlaf, Braden Holtby, Derek Forbort, Joel Armia, Jujhar Khaira, Damir Zhafyarov, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jani Hakanpaa, Alexander Edler, Frederik Andersen, Jaroslav Halak, Erik Haula, Zdeno Chara, Nikita Gusev, Tyler Bozak, Bobby Ryan, Travis Hamonic, Joe Thornton, Erik Gustafsson, Sami Vatanen, James Reimer, Eric Staal, Devan Dubnyk, Jason Demers, Alex Galchenyuk, Ian Cole, Marcus Johansson, Jordan Martinook, Travis Zajac, Alex Chiasson, Luke Glendening, Linus Ullmark, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Jordan Oesterle, Antti Raanta,, Mathieu Perreault, Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Dzingel, Brandon Sutter, Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, Derek Ryan , Corey Perry, Artem Anisimov, Michael Frolik, David Rittich, Laurent Brossoit, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill, Riley Nash, Travis Boyd, Tucker Poolman, Jordie Benn, Derick Brassard, Kurtis Gabriel, Marcus Sorensen, Tomas Nosek, Brock McGinn, Cedric Paquette, Vinnie Hinostroza, Michael Del Zotto, Andrew Cogliano, Erik Gudbranson, Sean Kuraly, Cody Ceci, Darren Helm, Mikko Lehtonen, Evan Rodrigues, Frederick Gaudreau, Jake Virtanen, Ryan Donato, James Neal, Martin Jones


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