After 16 months of uncertainty, the hockey world is beginning to return to some sense of normalcy as the free-agent market ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season is set to open on Wednesday, July 28. Of course, there’s been nothing too normal about this summer thus far:
In an effort to get fans of every team properly prepared for the days ahead, here’s a guide to free agency for all 32 teams. That includes a list of the teams’ pending unrestricted and restricted free agents, cap space, and our analysis on what they should do in the coming months to put themselves in the best position to achieve their goals in 2021-22; whether that’s contending for a Cup, developing the next wave of young players, or getting in position for the No. 1 draft pick.
Note: Advanced statistics from Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Cap and contract information from CapFriendly. Emily Kaplan covered the Western Conference teams, and Greg Wyshynski covered the Eastern Conference clubs.
Key players hitting UFA: C Ryan Getzlaf, C David Backes, RW Carter Rowney, D Andy Welinski
Key players hitting RFA: C Max Comtois, LW Max Jones, C Sam Steel, LW Danton Heinen, C Isac Lundestrom
Cap space: $22,930,000
What they should do: The Ducks have teased a youth movement, but have been hamstrung by veteran contracts. Now is the time to commit. Offense is the priority for a team that had the fewest goals (124) and weakest power play (8.9%) in the league last season. Take care of the RFAs — especially Comtois, Jones, Lundestrom and Steel — then see what other young forwards can help the team win, not necessarily this season, but a few seasons down the road.
Bringing in Jack Eichel isn’t a terrible idea, especially since Anaheim clears cap space with Backes and Ryan Miller‘s retirements. Eichel would give the Ducks a young centerpiece to build around, but Anaheim will have to give up at least two of their top prospects (plus draft picks), which might be unpalatable.
The Ducks should also prioritize moving Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell, two players that are ready for fresh starts. If Getzlaf, the longest tenured captain in team history, wants to return, that’s fine. Someone needs to lead through the rebuild. But only on a short-term deal, and only if he takes a significant pay cut (Getzlaf made $8.25 million in average annual value on his last contract).
Key players hitting UFA: C Derick Brassard, LW Michael Bunting D Jason Demers, D Alex Goligoski, D Jordan Oesterle, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, G Antti Raanta
Key players hitting RFA: LW Dryden Hunt, C John Hayden, F Lane Pederson
Cap space: $19,546,383
What they should do: New GM Bill Armstrong is trying to build again from the ground up. They traded their captain, Oliver-Ekman Larsson, and third-leading point scorer last season, Conor Garland. Armstrong also took on some bad contracts (Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Leddy, Anton Stralman) to amass more draft capital. And they hired a first-time coach in Andre Tourigny, previously a junior hockey coach in Canada. So we know which way the Yotes are trending — younger. Arizona may have more trades to conduct, including Christian Dvorak, Phil Kessel, or really anyone on the roster not named Jakob Chychrun.
All of this is to say, the Coyotes shouldn’t be too splashy in free agency, but they do have holes to fill. Arizona will need to sort out its goalie situation, with Raanta hitting free agency and the team trading away Adin Hill. With the cap space they have, the Coyotes should try to find some depth forwards and maybe an extra defenseman. However, the previous moves show Armstrong is willing to eat next season as a loss with other team’s unwanted contracts in order to build for future success with his own picks.
What they should do: Let’s start with what they did do. Taylor Hall wanted to remain a Bruin, and he took a four-year deal with a $6 million AAV to stay. Things are less certain with their other free agents. GM Don Sweeney said recently the team wasn’t close with Reilly, who played well for them after arriving at the trade deadline. Sweeney said Krejci hasn’t decided if he’ll return to the Bruins (or the NHL) next season. Rask is expected to undergo hip surgery and will miss the start of the 2021-22 season. With Halak moving on, do the Bruins sign Rask and have Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar hold down the crease until he returns, or do they opt for a veteran solution, either through free agency or a trade?
The Bruins have five defensemen under contract, and the expectation is they’ll add pieces through the free agent market. Boston has been linked to recently bought-out veterans Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle. The latter seemed like more of a possibility than the former, and not just because Yandle is a Milton, Mass. native.
Key players hitting UFA: C Riley Sheahan, C Tobias Rieder, C Drake Caggiula, D Matt Irwin, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark, G Carter Hutton
Key players hitting RFA: D Rasmus Dahlin, C Rasmus Asplund, C Casey Mittelstadt
Cap space: $37,950,000
What they should do: Trade Jack Eichel, obviously. The Sabres continue to have trade discussions about the 24-year-old star center, but continue to ask for a massive return, rumored to include a first-round pick in 2022, two young NHL rostered players and at least another prospect. It’s hard to plot out an offseason course for the Sabres without knowing what an Eichel trade brings back to them … assuming he does get traded. GM Kevyn Adams turned heads last weekend when he said “I would have no problem at all if Jack Eichel is on our team when we start training camp.” Of course, this could just be posturing for the teams in talks for Eichel, who reportedly include the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and, most recently, the Montreal Canadiens.
As for free agency, the Sabres will be on the lookout for defensemen. They lost William Borgen in the Seattle expansion draft. They traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Flyers. McCabe is moving on. They’ll need bodies for the blue line. But it’s in the crease that’s most intriguing. One assumes they move on from Hutton. If Ullmark makes it to free agency, he’s probably gone, given how much interest the 27-year-old is likely to attract. Prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen probably needs another season of development before a sizable NHL role. It’ll be fascinating to see what Buffalo does in goalie, given that — let’s face it — they’re not looking to be too competitive next season.
Key players hitting UFA: RW Josh Leivo, C Derek Ryan, D Michael Stone, RW Buddy Robinson
Key players hitting RFA: C Dillon Dube, D Oliver Kylington, D Juuso Valimaki, D Connor Mackey, C Glenn Gawdin
Cap space: $18,625,000
What they should do: Calgary has been mulling seismic changes to the core roster, as progress has stalled with this core. The Flames finished 20th in goals per game in each of the last two seasons, didn’t have a 20-goal scorer in 2021, and have won just one playoff series since 2015.
The first domino to fall was leaving captain Mark Giordano exposed for the Seattle Kraken. Giordano’s exit clears up cap space, though Calgary likely needs to bring in a top-four defenseman to replace him, given how inexperienced the rest of the blue line is. At the very least, Calgary should consider Mike Reilly, or strike a trade with Seattle to bring in Vince Dunn. Dube and Valimaki also need new deals. If the Flames are looking to sign Johnny Gaudreau to an extension (which appears to be the case), then perhaps Sean Monahan gets traded. That could give Calgary a chance to bring in a fresh face among their top six.
Key players hitting UFA: D Dougie Hamilton, F Cedric Paquette, F Brock McGinn, F Jordan Martinook, G Petr Mrazek, G James Reimer, G Jonathan Bernier
Key players hitting RFA: F Andrei Svechnikov, F Warren Foegele
Cap space: $29,426,417
What they should do: The Hurricanes played a dangerous game with Hamilton. They let their 28-year-old, puck-moving defenseman begin speaking with other teams weeks before the free agent market opened, essentially betting on the idea that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere and he’d return to Carolina in a manageable deal. GM Don Waddell remained optimistic over the weekend that Hamilton would remain a Cane, but every hour that ticks closer to the market opening up makes that less likely.
Reports are that he’s looking at Alex Pietrangelo ($8.8 million AAV on a seven-year deal) and John Carlson ($8 million on an eight-year deal) as comps. One wonders if that’s gone up since Seth Jones secured $9.5 million annually from Chicago beginning in 2022-23. Sebastian Aho is currently the Hurricanes’ highest paid player against the cap at $8,460,250, but that was courtesy of an offer sheet match.
If Dougie doesn’t return, they have four defensemen under contract for next season, having also traded Jake Bean to the Blue Jackets last week. So that becomes an area of need for Carolina. The Hurricanes could seek to shed more salary in shopping Nino Niederreiter ($5.25 million AAV), who is one year away from free agency. But the biggest non-Hamilton issue at hand for Carolina is in net. They didn’t believe in Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic enough to extend him, so they traded him to Detroit for Bernier, who is now one of three veteran UFAs for the team.
Key players hitting UFA: C Zack Smith
Key players hitting RFA: LW Alexander Nylander, LW Brandon Hagel, C Adam Gaudette, C David Kampf, F Vinnie Hinostroza, F Pius Suter, D Nikita Zadorov
Cap space: $5,930,786
What they should do: The Blackhawks already made their big splash of the offseason — trading for defenseman Seth Jones, then signing him to an eight-year extension. But there’s still plenty of work to do. It all begins with the restricted free agents. Chicago chose to qualify Hagel, Nylander and Zadorov — and surprisingly didn’t extend an offer to Kampf and Suter. Kampf signed a contract last time after he wasn’t qualified; Suter’s agent tweeted that with no meaningful progress on contract talks, he’s poised to be a free agent. (Gaudette wasn’t qualified, but immediately signed a one-year, $997,500 contract). The Blackhawks have a surplus of blueliners, so trading Calvin de Haan or Zadorov makes sense, whether it’s this summer or during the season.
Big picture, the Blackhawks are still embarking on a rebuild. Even if Jones adds a jolt to the blue line, the move doesn’t really change the course. The Blackhawks want to add a goalie this offseason and that’s fine, but Chicago should stay away from most other free agents and prioritize getting young players meaningful ice time so they can develop.
Key players hitting UFA: LW Gabriel Landeskog, LW Brandon Saad, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Patrik Nemeth, G Philipp Grubauer, G Devan Dubnyk
Key player hitting RFA: F Tyson Jost
Cap space: $20,255,203
What they should do: The offseason comes down to two players: Landeskog and Grubauer. It’s surprising to see Landeskog in this position, given he’s been the Avs captain since age 19. Landeskog told The Athletic he felt disrespected that a deal has taken this long. That slight could force him to explore the open market.
Colorado’s priority was locking in Cale Makar long term, which it did via a six-year, $54 million contract extension. The team is also preparing for an eventual Nathan MacKinnon extension, which will cost even more. Our opinion is the Avalanche should offer Landeskog at least a six-year deal. While it may be longer than they want, the winger is just as important to the team on the ice as he is in the locker room. However, Landeskog sticking around would make it near impossible to keep Saad, who will get paid elsewhere.
As for Grubauer? It basically comes down to paying the goalie, who was fantastic last season, or reallocating that money for forward depth (like re-signing Saad, Jost). Here’s maybe where the team says a tough goodbye. Given the projected goalie movement this offseason, let Grauber get his big contract with another team, and prioritize finding the next Grubauer, who could come in with a cheaper contract.
What they should do: The tragic death of goalie Matiss Kivlenieks changes the offseason outlook for the Blue Jackets. The assumption was that the team would trade either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins before the goalies hit unrestricted free agency in 2022. It now appears both goaltenders will start the season with Columbus, as top goaltending prospect Daniil Tarasov, 22, is given more time to develop.
The Jackets should extend Laine, and hopefully in a meaningful way. The addition of Jakub Voracek via trade should give Laine a playmaker with whom to mesh. Laine needs support and stability to recapture his scoring magic.
Beyond that, the Jackets appear to be in a retooling phase, given how many veteran players they’ve shipped out in the least year — although in the cases of Pierre Luc-Dubois and Seth Jones, management’s proverbial hands were forced. One does wonder if Zach Werenski could join that parade, with a $5 million AAV in his last season before RFA status. Teams are asking.
What they should do: The Stars had a tough comedown after making it to to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in the bubble. One of the biggest reasons was key injuries, like Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov playing a combined 14 games. Both players are expected back healthy next season, but Dallas is fully aware its time to strike with this core is now.
It was disappointing to lose Jamie Oleksiak in the expansion draft, but that could open up a spot on the blue line for top prospect Thomas Harley. As usual, Jim Nill is going after the big names and Dallas is very much in on Ryan Suter, but defense typically isn’t the Stars’ issue, it’s offense. Re-signing Kiviranta isn’t going to be too pricey, but given their cap situation the Stars are going to need to bargain hunt for more offensive help. Texas native Blake Coleman may have priced himself out of the Stars’ plans, but Dallas could pursue Tomas Tatar, who is looking for a fresh start after falling out of favor in Montreal. Mikael Granlund is another veteran option.
Key players hitting UFA: RW Bobby Ryan, C Sam Gagner, C Valtteri Filppula, C Luke Glendening, C Darren Helm, D Alex Biega
Key players hitting RFA: F Tyler Bertuzzi, F Adam Erne, F Jakub Vrana, D Christian Djoos, D Filip Hronek
Cap space: $37,565,277
What they should do: GM Steve Yzerman has already gotten some work done. He traded for defenseman Nick Leddy and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, and re-signed defenseman Marc Staal and forward Michael Rasmussen. That’s a good start. At the moment, the Red Wings have only 13 players under contract for next season. But that number will climb when they get around to signing some of their RFAs, with an emphasis on Vrana, Bertuzzi and Hronek.
The Wings will likely go bargain hunting in free agency, as they continue to cycle through their rebuild. Yzerman signed six UFAs last offseason, none of them to longer than two seasons. The needs this time for the Red Wings: Some right-shot forwards, as the back end looks fairly filled out — including two goaltenders.
Key players hitting UFA: RW Alex Chiasson, F Tyler Ennis, RW Patrick Russell, D Slater Koekkoek, D Tyson Barrie, D Dmitry Kulikov
Key players hitting RFA: F Jujhar Khaira, F Kailer Yamamoto, F Dominik Kahun
Cap space: $9,004,366
What they should do: The Oilers made a big splash this summer, trading for Duncan Keith from Chicago. GM Ken Holland hopes the 16-year NHL veteran will be able to stabilize Edmonton’s blue line. But the Oilers still have plenty of work to do, and should be looking to add to all position groups. It appears Edmonton has the inside track to sign Zach Hyman — the type of top-six winger the Oilers have been coveting for a while. Hyman has played with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitchell Marner, so will have no problem sliding next to Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, and hopefully ease some of the scoring burden.
After Adam Larsson decided to sign with the Seattle Kraken, the Oilers have a hole on their blue line. Edmonton can bring Barrie back, but signing a more defensive-oriented defenseman would suit the Oilers’ needs better. David Savard would be an incredible addition. Ideally, Edmonton adds another goalie, but they also are saddled with Mikko Koskinen‘s contract, which hasn’t aged well. If the Oilers choose not to re-sign Khaira or Kahun, they need to use that money for a third-line center who can add offense.
What they should do: The trade that brought Reinhart to the Panthers means another RFA for GM Bill Zito to sign. There are competing thoughts around the league so to whether Reinhart will signed a short-term deal in Florida one year ahead of unrestricted free agency — hence the somewhat muted return on the trade for Buffalo — or if the Panthers will lock him up to something longer. Sam Bennett was in the same boat, as he was a year away from UFA status. But Bennett inked a four-year deal with the Panthers on Monday. He also has some proof of concept with Florida, scoring 15 points in 10 games after coming over from Calgary in a trade last season.
The Panthers are looking to add pieces in unrestricted free agency. They cleared out some cap space when veteran defenseman Anton Stralman ($5.5 million AAV) was traded Monday. With Keith Yandle taking a buyout and Montour an intriguing UFA to others on the open market, one assumes Zito will look to add to his blue line. One name we keep hearing: Ryan Suter, who was bought out by the Wild. But his biggest task is related to next offseason: Center Aleksander Barkov, one of the NHL’s top two-way players, is entering the last year of his contract. Zito’s done a good job surrounding him with better talent then he had a year ago, that’s for sure.
What they should do: The Kings have steadily been going through their rebuild process, but it feels like time to accelerate. That means it’s time to add some veteran talent that can help complement the young players and help push them forward. There’s no reason the Kings shouldn’t go after some of the bigger names, as long as that player helps the team next season — but also a few seasons down the road, when the team will be ready to contend at a high level again. A top-six forward and left-shot defenseman are the smartest targets here.
The key for Los Angeles is maintaining its prospect pool, which is one of the deepest in the league. They’ve been patient in building such a strong pool, and they should continue to exercise that patience to see a lot of those players through. The Kings have been monitoring the Jack Eichel situation, but given the reported bounty the Sabres are seeking, the Kings would be wise to stand pat. That also may preclude Los Angeles from getting in on Vladimir Tarasenko. Instead, if Los Angeles could sign Gabriel Landeskog — just imagine his physicality and scoring touch on a line with Anze Kopitar — it would immediately change the complexion of the team. Brandon Saad is a slightly more affordable option.
What they should do: First order of business: get Kirill Kaprizov signed. Kevin Fiala is a priority too, but the reigning Calder Trophy winner’s situation is more complicated. Money isn’t the issue for Kaprizov as much as contract length is; Kaprizov wants to hit another UFA payday sooner while the Wild, obviously, would prefer getting him on the books for as long as they can. Minnesota should also prioritize signing Ian Cole, and add at least one other defenseman to a blue line that lost Carson Soucy in the expansion draft.
After that, GM Bill Guerin should be swinging for one thing: a top center. It’s something the franchise has desperately needed, and could be the deciding factor on if this team is a legitimate championship contender next season or not. Minnesota would love Jack Eichel, but doesn’t want to mortgage the team’s future for one player (and the Sabres are asking for a ton). The Wild should consider some trade candidates as well, like Sean Monahan, who is on the block in Calgary, Christian Dvorak, whom Arizona is looking to move, or even Tyler Johnson from Tampa Bay.
Key players hitting UFA: C Phillip Danault, F Corey Perry, F Joel Armia, C Eric Staal, F Tomas Tatar, D Jon Merrill, D Erik Gustafsson
Key players hitting RFA: F Artturi Lehkonen, F Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Cap space: $14,073,630
What they should do: The last two weeks have felt like the Canadiens apologizing to the hockey world for a tepid Stanley Cup Final series by having one of the most dramatic offseasons of any NHL team. From dangling Carey Price in the expansion draft to the news that Shea Weber‘s career is basically over — meaning $7.857 million in open cap space when he lands on long-term injured reserve — to being in the hunt for Sabres center Jack Eichel, it’s been quite a ride.
What we know about the Canadiens as free agency hits: Danault, their No. 2 center in terms of ice time (16:52 per game) and a defensive whiz, is all but gone. Staal reportedly hasn’t closed the door on a return to Montreal, but it’s possible they lose him, Tatar and Armia. So that’s a multitude of lineup holes for GM Marc Bergevin to patch up front. But outside of the Eichel flirtation, the biggest chase right now is for a defenseman who could attempt to ease the loss of Weber on the right side. They’ve targeted 30-year-old Quebec native David Savard, last seen shaking the hands of his potential new teammates before lifting the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay.
Key players hitting UFA: C Brad Richardson, C Erik Haula, RW Mikael Granlund, D Erik Gudbranson, D Luca Sbisa
Key players hitting RFA: G Juuse Saros, LW Eeli Tolvanen, RW Mathieu Olivier, D Dante Fabbro, D Ben Harpur
Cap space: $28,558,857
What they should do: The Predators have some cap space with which to play. The key for GM David Poile is spending it prudently. Nashville plateaued after making it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and will be looking for an infusion of youth. The Predators should leave lineup spots open next year for young players, like prospect Philip Tomasino. Already this offseason, we’ve seen Poile give his team a new look, trading away Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson, while losing Pekka Rinne (retirement) and Calle Jarnkrok (expansion draft).
Still, the priority this offseason should be about taking care of core players. It would behoove the Predators to get long-term deals done for Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm, two of their most talented players. More imminently, Saros needs a new deal. Granlund is a UFA and a player on whom John Hynes has relied heavily. If Nashville lets Granlund walk, it will need a replacement center. The Predators need a backup to Saros to bide time until top prospect Iaroslav Askarov is ready, and a replacement for Jarnkrok on the left wing. Perhaps here is where Nashville makes a splash.
What they should do: Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said this offseason’s landscape looks a lot like last season’s. Which means, for the most part, the Devils’ approach will be the same. They’ll add some veteran help on short-term deals to fill lineup holes. They’ll leverage their considerable cap space to catch some of the contracts falling from other team’s salary cap squeezes — they already snagged one in defenseman Ryan Graves, although that was also an extra squeeze from the expansion draft. They’ll seek out another veteran partner for goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Last season, it was Corey Crawford as an unrestricted free agent. This summer … could it be one of the Golden Knights’ goalies?
But the Devils could also be in the mix for some of the bigger offseason names. They inquired about Dougie Hamilton, who would give the team the puck-moving quarterback they thought they were getting in P.K. Subban — who has one more year left at $9 million against the cap, by the way. New Jersey could be a team ready to make some big noise this offseason after missing the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons.
Key players hitting UFA: RW Kyle Palmieri, C Travis Zajac, C Casey Cizikas
Key players hitting RFA: LW Anthony Beauvillier, LW Michael Dal Colle, LW Kieffer Bellows, D Adam Pelech, G Ilya Sorokin
Cap space: $17,670,812
What they should do: Whatever GM Lou Lamoriello wants to do, because it’s his show. Protecting the team’s fourth line while allowing the Kraken to pluck Jordan Eberle? That’s a Lou move in every sense. By shipping out defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Andrew Ladd, Lou has positioned the Islanders to re-up with the RFAs while having enough left over to make a few splashes in unrestricted free agency, whether that’s re-signing their own UFAs or going outside the organization for more talent — especially up front.
The Islanders have been linked to Zach Parise well before his buyout from the Wild, and a reunion with the general manager who drafted him in New Jersey seems obvious. They’ve also been linked to the offseason’s biggest names among wingers: Gabriel Landeskog and Vladimir Tarasenko. One is an unrestricted free agent, the other has two more years on his deal at $7.5 million AAV. Either would mean the Islanders would have to rethink who they bring back next season, especially in Beauvillier’s case.
The other point of order for the Islanders is the left side of their defense behind Pelech, which got even thinner after the Leddy trade. They were linked to Ryan Suter, who played for coach Barry Trotz in Nashville. So did Nate Schmidt of the Canucks when Trotz was in Washington, but that contract would be too rich. Two names to watch on a potential short-term deal: Alex Goligoski and Ryan Murray.
What they should do: All eyes are on two centers for the Rangers — one they have, and one for whom they might trade. Mika Zibanejad has one more year at $5.3 million before unrestricted free agency. Sabres star Jack Eichel has five years left with a $10 million annual cap hit. Do they extend Zibanejad, giving their talented center a long-term extension into his mid-30s? Do they reach into their considerable pool of prospects and picks to acquire Eichel, who is 30 when his contract ends?
If they trade for Eichel (and his specious health), do they have to deal Zibanejad before free agency? Because if so, he has a full no-move clause. Decisions, decisions.
Among the other considerations for the Rangers is the continuing need to “toughen up,” which the residual psychological damage the franchise is working through after the Tom Wilson incident last season. They made a financial decision to ship out Pavel Buchnevich, but a tactical one is getting Sammy Blais back. They signed Barclay Goodrow. There will no doubt be more pugnacious players added to the lineup. To that end, the New Yor Posts reports that defenseman Patrik Nemeth will sign with the Rangers on Wednesday to bring some size to their left side.
Key players hitting UFA: C Artem Anisimov, LW Ryan Dzingel, C Derek Stepan
Key players hitting RFA: LW Brady Tkachuk, C Drake Batherson, C Logan Brown, D Victor Mete, G Filip Gustavsson
Cap space: $29,201,667
What they should do: Sign Tkachuk to a long-term deal, which is going to be difficult. The 21-year-old star winger has been a model of consistency in his first three NHL seasons. He’s an essential piece to what they’re building. They want him on an eight-year term, like the one they gave defenseman Thomas Chabot. The blueliner makes $8 million against the cap; Tkachuk’s deal will likely be richer. What does the player want? Likely something shorter than that, given his trajectory. This negotiation could linger a bit.
GM Pierre Dorion made one big splash in free agency last season with Evgenii Dadonov, who didn’t exactly click in the first season of his deal. The targets are clear for the Senators this summer: They went a center that can play in back of Josh Norris and ahead of promising Shane Pinto on the depth chart; and they need more size (and snarl) among their defense corps, preferably on the left side. Given their incredible cap space, even after a Tkachuk contract is inked, the best route might be to leverage other teams’ flat cap problems and fill these holes via trade.
What they should do: Every offseason, there’s a team that essentially does its Christmas shopping in July, getting well ahead of the free agent frenzy. The Flyers are that team in 2021, as GM Chuck Fletcher traded for defensemen Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, and then swapped Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson at forward. There are other moves to be made, but perhaps not with the magnitude of these early additions.
Fletcher has to hand out new contracts for Sanheim and Hart, the team’s franchise goalie who unfortunately comes off his rookie deal after a particularly brutal season statistically. (Good for Fletcher’s financials, at least.) The Flyers could use another depth defenseman. But the biggest call Philly has to make is in goal. Brian Elliott, 36, has back-to-back seasons of .889 save percentages. They need a better partner for Hart — and, let’s face it, a safety net in case last season wasn’t an anomaly. The Flyers will have ample options in both a robust free agent and trade market for goalies.
What they should do: The Penguins are in a fascinating spot. GM Ron Hextall successfully cleared some cap space earlier in the month, shipping out Jared McCann ($2.94 million AAV) and Brandon Tanev ($3.5 million AAV), both of whom eventually ended up with the Seattle Kraken. They didn’t qualify Jankowski, who had arbitration rights and was going to do better than his $700,000 AAV. There could be more moves ahead, as Hextall slowly flips the Jim Rutherford roster he inherited last season. But there aren’t going to be earth-shattering moves afoot.
Hextall said last week that the Penguins didn’t expect to be able to fit any of the top free agents under their cap, but added “I suspect there’s going to be players in August that aren’t signed. We’ll just evaluate things on a day-to-day basis as we move along.” In other words, the team plans to use the flat-cap economy to fill out its forward depth.
What they should do: The Sharks are perhaps the biggest wild card entering 2021 free agency. After back-to-back lackluster seasons, a rebuild feels inevitable. Many of the Sharks’ veterans don’t want to stick around for that. Management has been hesitant to even say rebuild, let alone embrace it fully. Something needs to give.
While our opinion is that San Jose should tear it all down, it doesn’t feel like the Sharks are ready for that yet. After all, the Pacific Division appears weak, meaning a playoff spot is plausible.
Martin Jones carries a $5.75 million cap hit through 2023-24. Given his decline — and it’s been consistent, with Jones posting a .896 save percentage in each of the last three seasons — it make sense to buy out the remainder of his contract. Along with Hill, for whom the team traded this month, the Sharks should target one of the available veterans on the market, such as Petr Mrazek or Frederik Andersen.
While an upgrade in net is necessary to keep things afloat, that doesn’t address the team’s core issues. If the team wants to be competitive next season, middle-six center depth is necessary, and the team should bring in at least one other veteran forward to alleviate some burden from the young players.
What they should do: The Kraken didn’t snag many of the pricey veteran players left available in the expansion draft — like Matt Duchene, Carey Price or Vladimir Tarasenko — instead opting for future financial flexibility, but also freedom this summer to sign the players they wanted. The Kraken have to take care of a few of their RFAs — and decide whether they want to keep Vince Dunn or trade him — but after that, they will have ample cap space to be active in free agency, like any other team.
The blue line is the Kraken’s strength; it’s the forward group that could use some help. Even still, our belief is that keeping Dunn makes sense. Though the top four is crowded, the Kraken can always deal him or another defenseman (like Mark Giordano, on an expiring deal) prior to the trade deadline. Seattle should prioritize getting a top-six forward, and Phillip Danault or Jaden Schwartz would be excellent. The Pacific Division is wide open, and though Seattle wants to think long term, a spot in the playoffs is very much in reach.
Key players hitting UFA: LW Jaden Schwartz, LW Mike Hoffman, C Tyler Bozak
Key players hitting RFA: C Ivan Barbashev, RW Pavel Buchnevich, LW Zach Sanford, RW Jordan Kyrou, C Robert Thomas
Cap space: $18,881,151
What they should do: The Blues’ priority should be finding a new home for Vladimir Tarasenko. The relationship deteriorated to an untenable point, and it’s best for him to get a fresh start somewhere else — and also clear his $7.5 million cap hit. The Blues still see their championship window as open, so even as they lose their top offensive weapon, they’ll be looking to enhance their roster.
St. Louis should sign all of its restricted free agent forwards. Buchnevich helps revamp the forward group, but there should be more changes too, especially if Schwartz and Hoffman sign elsewhere. Schwartz may get paid on the open market than what the Blues are willing to ante. Bozak makes sense to keep around to cement center depth.
As for external targets, Brandon Saad plays a style that would mesh well with coach Craig Berube and could fill Schwartz’s role. The other priority should be adding a top-four defenseman. Ryan Suter’s asks on term may be too much for the Blues, especially as they try to work in youngsters like Scott Perunovich over the next few seasons. A tough defensive-minded blueliner, especially on the left side, would be a welcome addition.
What they should do: Another offseason with the Lightning’s collective heads hitting the salary cap ceiling. Obviously the first step is opening up some space, and the chief remedy for that remains trading center Tyler Johnson ($5 million AAV). His full no-trade clause became a 20-team no-trade clause this summer, so this process got a smidge easier for GM Julien BriseBois. But after a year of trying to move him by any means necessary — waivers, expansion draft, trades — it’s time for the Lightning to get aggressive in making it happen. That’s tricky when they don’t have picks in Rounds 2-4 next summer.
Another option is Johnson’s “Triplets” linemate Ondrej Palat, who has one year left at $5.3 million. He’ll be a lot easier to move, as a top-line winger with value. Right wing Alex Killorn is another possibility; like Palat and Johnson, he has some trade protection.
The most interesting spot in the lineup for the Stanley Cup champions is their third line, which … doesn’t exist anymore. Yanni Gourde is in Seattle. Barclay Goodrow is in New York. Blake Coleman is in a position to make a lot of money on the open market. Do the Lightning try to build something like this in the offseason, or wait to the trade deadline, which is where they found Coleman and Goodrow? Colton, Barré-Boulet and Mathieu Joseph could all get a chance on that third line, but it’ll be hard to replace the magic of that Gourde trio. The bottom line: The Lightning need more financial flexibility to address that need externally.
Key players hitting UFA: LW Zach Hyman, LW Nick Foligno, C Joe Thornton, C Riley Nash, C Alex Galchenyuk, D Ben Hutton, D Zach Bogosian, G Frederik Andersen, G David Rittich
Key players hitting RFA: None
Cap space: $9,355,217
What they should do: The Leafs are going to lose their top-line left wing in Hyman, a physical forward who did so many little things well while playing with high-end talent, who will now (reportedly) do the same for the Oilers. The biggest free-agent names are likely out of the price range for the Leafs. The next tier that includes names like Brandon Saad, Tomas Tatar and Mikael Granlund are more likely.
The rest of the forward group also has some free-agency intrigue, too. With Foligno likely gone, they’ll need to fill a hole at second-line left wing. They’ll be in the market for center in their bottom six. Does Jumbo come back for another run or call it a (Hall of Fame) career?
One stated goal for the Leafs in the offseason is to bring in a goaltender that can complement and compete with Jack Campbell. One of the trade targets could be Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper, but there are others available via the UFA marketplace. The Leafs haven’t ruled out a return for Andersen, but that’s as a fail-safe option, if that.
One other player with whom they’ve been connected: Defenseman Dougie Hamilton, of whom GM Kyle Dubas has been long enamored. But that would take some financial creativity on the part of Toronto, given what he’s seeking and has been offered elsewhere.
Key players hitting UFA: C Brandon Sutter, C Tyler Graovac, RW Jimmy Vesey, D Alexander Edler, D Travis Hamonic, D Jalen Chatfield
Key players hitting RFA: RW Conor Garland, C Elias Pettersson, D Quinn Hughes, C Jason Dickinson, RW Jayce Hawryluk, D Olli Juolevi
Cap space: $21,289,341
What they should do: The Canucks’ cap space right now is deceiving, as the high-profile RFAs — franchise cornerstones Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson — are the top priorities right now. It’s going to be expensive. One of Pettersson’s comparables for a second contract is Mathew Barzal‘s three-year deal with a $7 million AAV, but Vancouver may pay more. Also, the Canucks need to give a new contract to Conor Garland, for whom they traded on draft day.
Bringing in Oliver Ekman-Larsson gives a new look to the blue line. The team has been taking calls on defenseman Nate Schmidt and goalie Braden Holtby for potential trades. Along with the Jake Virtanen buyout and Michael Ferland’s likely status on LTIR, the Canucks may have some room to add in free agency, though not much. The focus should be on short-term deals, as Vancouver lost some future flexibility in the Arizona trade. (Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel were all due to come off the books after this season).
What they should do: The biggest question facing the Golden Knights is whether they keep the goalie tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner together. The goalies have a great relationship, handling the (somewhat uncomfortable) dynamic as well as they can. It’s more a question of whether Vegas can better spend that cap space elsewhere? The goalies combine for $12 million against the cap. Other teams are interested in both goalies; sending Lehner somewhere like New Jersey, where the Devils are looking for a veteran to pair with Mackenzie Blackwood, could make sense. Vegas needs to clear some cap space after re-signing Martinez, and a goalie trade would aid that effort.
When the Golden Knights were eliminated by the Canadiens in the playoffs, their lack of center depth was badly exposed. Acquiring top centers on the open market is never easy. One of the centers that shut them down, Phillip Danault, is available. But a player would have to leave to make the money work. Could the Golden Knights take a swing at trading for Evgeny Kuznetsov from Washington, given his history with George McPhee? He could be the latest Vegas redemption story, but a deal might only work if Washington is willing to retain salary.
What they should do: Let that Ovechkin bum walk. Just kidding! The Capitals and Ovechkin are expected to announce a multi-year extension this week, keeping the legend in Washington has he continues to pursue Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. But it’s likely that one of his countrymen will not return. The Capitals have been shopping center Evgeny Kuznetsov, whose off-ice behavior has hastened a trade. He’s a dynamic scorer, but one that makes $7.8 million against the cap through 2024-25. One gets the sense it wouldn’t be a sell off, but a hockey trade.
The Capitals began the process of clearing additional cap space on Monday night when they sent defenseman Brendan Dillen to the Winnipeg Jets for two second-round picks. Prior to that, they had about a third of their cap dedicated to the defense, which still remains a bit of a log jam with Michal Kempny ready to return from injury and Chara still waiting in the wings for a potential return.
Then attention will be turned to the crease. Samsonov will be back, but the Capitals lost Vitek Vanecek to Seattle. Anderson is expected to retire. Lundqvist hasn’t been cleared to play, with just over two months before next season. The goalie market is robust, and the Capitals need to find another veteran option — and one that’s cheaper than the Braden Holtby reunion some fans want to see.
Key players hitting UFA: F Mathieu Perreault, C Nate Thompson, RW Trevor Lewis, D Jordie Benn, D Derek Forbort, D Tucker Poolman, G Laurent Brossoit
Key players hitting RFA: C Andrew Copp, D Neal Pionk, D Logan Stanley
Cap space: $21,315,355
What they should do: Priority number one is taking care of the three RFAs. Copp has been an underrated part of the Jets’ success. If the Jets can lock Pionk into something long term, they should make it happen. And given that the team protected Stanley from the expansion draft, he gets a new deal, too. Brossoit, a UFA, should be brought back as he is a solid and not-too-pricey backup to Connor Hellebuyck.
On Monday, the Jets brought back Paul Stastny on a one-year deal; he’ll provide center depth and veteran leadership. Top prospect Cole Perfetti isn’t too far away from joining the big club.
Beyond that, it’s time for the Jets to finally address the blue line in a meaningful way. They need help. They have a ton of cap space now — more than $20 million — though that should dry up with Copp, Pionk, Stanley and Brossoit deals. It’s still enough money to go after some of the big UFA defensemenon the market. A veteran like David Savard would do wonders for Winnipeg’s blue line, though Mike Reilly could be a smart target.