NHL free agent rankings: Guentzel, Montour, Stamkos among top options available


The NHL offseason comes at you fast.

The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils made huge trades in between Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The NHL draft is next week. Less than 48 hours after the second day of the draft ends inside Sphere in Las Vegas, the offseason free agent frenzy begins on July 1.

It is anyone’s guess how many of the names on our 2024 NHL free agent tiers will make it to the open market, or how many more names could be added through buyouts and teams walking away from restricted free agents.

As mentioned in our offseason primer, the salary cap being set at $88 million means more money in the system for teams to sign depth players — or add some extra dollars to deals that entice bigger-name free agents to join their teams.

“The free agent market is what it is, but now there’s more money in the system,” one team executive said. “I think you’ll see contracts where you’re going to go, ‘Oh my god’ based on the last five years under the cap.”

Here’s a look at close to 100 players in the unrestricted free agent field, organized into seven different tiers.

Note: Players are sorted alphabetically within each tier.

Tier 1: The impact players

These are established players that can play key, immediate roles for a team.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $6 million

The most coveted player at the NHL trade deadline is now the most coveted winger in free agency.

He checks a bunch of boxes: Stanley Cup champion, proven playoff performer (67 points in 69 career games), a play-driver at 5-on-5 and, perhaps best of all, his experience thriving alongside elite talent in Sidney Crosby.

There’s been speculation that he could bring all of that to Connor Bedard‘s wing in Chicago, if the Blackhawks wanted to do the “sign the guy you need before you’re ready to need him” thing. But the more likely destination is Vancouver, where he can slot next to a number of talents in their top six and be reunited with former Penguins GM Jim Rutherford.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $4.85 million

It was a weird regular season for Lindholm, as he was underwhelming with the Calgary Flames before being traded to the Canucks, where he was even more underwhelming. Then the bell rang for the playoffs, and he answered it with 10 points in 13 games.

His versatility has always been his greatest virtue, as a 200-foot center can be a shutdown guy or someone playing with elite talent. It’s expected that he walks from Vancouver. Evolving Hockey has his projected contract AAV just under $8 million annually.

Age: 33
2023-24 cap hit: $5 million

Marchessault has seen a roster of original Golden Misfits leaving Las Vegas during his time with the franchise due to age and salary cap considerations. He’s the leading scorer in Golden Knights history, and won the Conn Smythe in their Stanley Cup championship season in 2023.

But Vegas is notoriously the most unsentimental organization in the NHL. “I’m happy to be a Golden Knight. I would like to be the rest of my life, but it’s not necessarily in my control,” he said.

If the Knights don’t bring him back, one could easily see Marchessault breaking the bank with a contract from a team that thinks it’s close. Sometimes that works with aging playoff heroes. Often times it does not.

Age: 30
2023-24 cap hit: $3.5 million

Where would the Panthers be without all of the former Buffalo Sabres on their roster? The Cats plucked Montour from the Sabres in 2021 and he blossomed into a 70-point offensive defenseman in Sunrise. His numbers took a notable dip this season after his surgery last summer, but he’s still an offensive threat who can run a power play.

He loves the Panthers. They love what he brings to the ice and the room. If Florida can’t fit him under its cap — and they have a lot of contractual considerations over the next two seasons — Montour is going to bolster someone’s blue line at a considerable raise.

Brett Pesce, D, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $4.025 million

Sometimes a player can be measured by how many teams have sought his services over the years. Pesce is a rock-solid, right-side defenseman, and the Hurricanes have had plenty of inquiries about him. He is sort of Devon Toews without the same level of offensive upside.

Carolina would like to maintain its foundational defense corps as best as possible, and Pesce is a big part of that. But if they can’t make the money work, someone will give the defenseman in the neighborhood of $6 million annually, which is what it’ll likely take to land him.

Age: 28
2023-24 cap hit: $6.5 million

Please don’t believe Paul Maurice when he calls Reinhart a “problem in the locker room.” It’s a running gag where the Florida coach is desperately (and jokingly) trying to lower the value of one of the summer’s most valuable free agents.

Reinhart had an all-timer walk year, with a career high in goals (57!) and points (94). The Cats want him back badly, as the perfect complement to captain Aleksander Barkov on their top line. The sense is that they’ll find common ground, but one never knows.

Brady Skjei, D, Carolina Hurricanes

Age: 30
2023-24 cap hit: $5.25 million

If it wasn’t for that pesky salary cap, an enterprising team would probably just sign both Skjei and Pesce to import one of the league’s most effective defensive pairings wholesale.

Skjei was Carolina’s leading scorer among defensemen (47 points) on a team that had Brent Burns. He plays in all situations and does it well, producing points on the power play and the penalty kill. Evolving Hockey thinks he can hit $7.5 million AAV.

Age: 34
2023-24 cap hit: $8.5 million

The hockey world was knocked for a loop when Stamkos openly discussed his frustration with contract talks last September, and GM Julien BriseBois acknowledged that the team would wait to see what roster needs it had to address before hammering out a contract for Stamkos after the season.

They started talking after Tampa Bay was eliminated by the Panthers in the first round. The Lightning know he wants to stay. Stamkos knows his worth in context of what the Lightning will offer him. Most people around the NHL believe they’ll find a way to make it work — he’s a vital part of their core and they believe their window to win remains open.

But if he does hit free agency, the 40-goal scorer will be absolutely coveted for his offense, his leadership and most palpably his star power.

Tier 3: The best bets

These players have shown they’re worth the investment.

Age: 31
2023-24 cap hit: $4.25 million

Injuries limited his season to just 18 games, but the winger had 59 points in 77 games in 2022-23. He’s a terrific complementary player on a top scoring line, a consistent point producer who is hard to play against.

But teams will have to weigh his ability to stay in the lineup health-wise, which hasn’t been a hallmark of his career.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $5.5 million

Bertuzzi had a strange free-agent journey last summer. He sought a long-term deal, which had the Boston Bruins move on to other options. Once he got a glimpse of the landscape, Bertuzzi and his reps pivoted to a shorter-term deal, but by that time the ship in Boston had sailed. So they went for a one-year deal with a solid AAV in Toronto.

It wasn’t the stats bonanza many expected with him in the Leafs’ top six (43 points in 80 games), but it was enough where Toronto is seeking to retain him. If he hits the market, Bertuzzi will likely eye another contender to whom he can bring his strong playmaking game.

Age: 33
2023-24 cap hit: $3 million

Flush with buyout money from the Nashville Predators, Duchene had his best points-per-60-minutes season (2.9) since 2018-19 after signing with the Stars. He couldn’t repeat that feat in the playoffs, scoring just two goals in 19 games.

He’s expressed how much he enjoyed the run for the Stars this season — and the relief in finding a good landing spot after a chaotic offseason in Nashville. If nothing else, Dutchy showed he had plenty left in the tank after a lengthy NHL career.

Age: 35
2023-24 cap hit: $2.75 million

Kane could have landed in a couple of different tiers here. With 47 points in 50 games last season, including 20 goals, “Showtime” might have been among the Impact Players. But at 35 years old, with his injury history, signing Kane to the longer-term deal he’s looking to land might have earned him Rickety Investment status.

Both Kane and the Red Wings have indicated that he was one-and-done in Detroit. Kane will have options. Could a reunion with the Chicago Blackhawks be one of them?

Age: 36
2023-24 cap hit: $4.75 million

Perron’s production dipped a bit last season, his second in Detroit. Is that a reflection of the team and the fit, or is the 17-year NHL veteran finally slowing down the production?

Perron still managed 47 points in 76 games for the Wings, although his goal pace dipped under the 20-goal mark for the first time in several seasons. He still has something to offer, especially as a playoff performer.

Matt Roy, D, Los Angeles Kings

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $3.15 million

One of the best defensive defensemen in the UFA market, it’s easy to see a team opening the checkbook in order to pair Roy with a puck-moving D-man on the left side. He’s a steady penalty killer, too.

Evolving Hockey sees a possibility that Roy doubles his AAV on the open market this summer. After the impact Gustav Forsling has had with the Panthers, Roy could be seen as a similar needle-mover on the blue line.

Age: 30
2023-24 cap hit: $2.75 million

While Marchessault has garnered the most attention, Stephenson is another impact player for the Golden Knights who could be headed to free agency. He has Stanley Cup rings with the Washington Capitals and the Knights, and has blossomed into a solid center with good finishing ability.

Underpaid for his output offensively, Stephenson will likely correct that this summer.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $4.25 million

In a free-agent market with its share of uncertainty, it’s almost comforting to see Tyler Toffoli’s name on the call sheet. For around $6 million AAV, a team can bring on a consistent offensive performer at 5-on-5 who really shines on the power play.

He had seven goals in 18 games for the Jets after the New Jersey Devils traded him to Winnipeg, but it was his work with Jack Hughes & Co. that showed how Toffoli can deliver the goods as a goal-scorer.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $3.75 million

On the one hand, Zadorov is a quintessential defensive defenseman for a contending team: a brutal force in front of the crease and a great hitter who can also disrupt play with his stick, while delivering more than a little personality to the dressing room.

The question is how much that should be worth contractually — and given the postseason he had with Vancouver, someone’s going to ante up large for him.

But the 6-foot-6 blueliner does a lot of things that the traditional stats don’t account for, from his puck-moving ability out of the defensive end to his ability to join the rush.

Zadorov might be the free agent with the highest possibility of a shocking AAV while delivering the highest potential of justifying that investment.

Tier 4: The best values

Under-the-radar gems, analytics darlings and low-cost difference-makers.

Age: 31
2023-24 cap hit: $1.75 million

As evidenced by the Devils’ trade for Jacob Markstrom, there aren’t a ton of solutions to goaltending problems in free agency. But Brossoit is an interesting option. He was seventh in goals saved above expected last season (10.9), going 15-5-2 in 23 appearances.

Brossoit is a ideally a backup, having never played more than 24 games in a season, but perhaps it’s time to see if he could be legit tandem goalie.

Age: 31
2023-24 cap hit: $3 million

The last two seasons have been a great free agency showcase for DeMelo, as he proved his defensive prowess next to the Jets’ top offensive defenseman in Josh Morrissey. Being able to hold the fort while your D partner puts up points is gift to that point scorer, and one that many NHL teams would like to bestow upon their top puck-moving blueliner.

He could price himself out of “best value” if someone gives up over $5 million, but we’ll err on the side of a crowded market.

Age: 27
2023-24 cap hit: $2.5 million

Many teams wanted Carrier at the trade deadline, but the Predators wanted him the most, hanging onto their blueliner for their playoff push. In essence, he might end up as the Preds’ own rental if he moves in in free agency, but Nashville could bring him back to fill out the right side of their defense.

Age: 33
2023-24 cap hit: $3.9 million

The 6-foot-4 physical defenseman, entering his 14th NHL season, is good for around 20 points and solid, second-paring minutes. He also has 83 games of playoff experience, including a pair of lengthy runs with the San Jose Sharks.

Not a bad veteran hand to have on the blue line.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $3 million

Is Domi a journeyman or a mercenary? The center has played on six different teams since 2019, but really found a groove in the last two seasons with the Blackhawks, Stars and especially the Maple Leafs, where he earned some time playing alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

Domi’s best virtues are his versatility and his motor. Can he end the nomadic lifestyle with a contract with term, in Toronto or elsewhere?

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $3 million

His defensive deficiencies aside, the Duke has consistently produced in places where the talent runs a bit deeper than it did during his 56 games in San Jose this season. Once he escaped the jaws of those Sharks, he had 15 points in 17 games with the Bolts.

Duclair is a solid depth option for the right team, and more than anything else a solid citizen off the ice when it comes to giving back to the community.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $2.25 million

Opportunity smiled upon OEL after he took a buyout from the Vancouver Canucks. The Panthers needed some veteran defensive help with Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour out following offseason surgery. Ekman-Larsson signed a one-year deal and backed the right horse, as the Panthers gave the veteran defenseman his first shot at the Stanley Cup.

He’s a good puck-moving defenseman and a pretty good option on the power play. As Paul Maurice said recently: “I talked to somebody in Vancouver who’s a really smart hockey person. I asked if he had a year left, and he said ‘no, he has three or four.'”

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $1.985 million

We all witnessed the Monahan-aissance last season, as a finally healthy Sean Mohanan had 59 points in 83 games between the Montreal Canadiens and the Jets. (Obviously unfair to the other players that the trade timing afforded him that extra game.)

He’s a versatile forward but slotted in nicely for the Jets as a second-line center until the playoffs, where he had one assist in five games. But then not a lot went right for Winnipeg against the Avalanche in that series. He’s obviously due for a raise, but could still be in that bargain range.

Age: 31
2023-24 cap hit: $1.8 million

The Hurricanes’ wrecking ball is a forechecking machine and a terrific defensive winger who also excels on the penalty kill. He had 14 goals last season for the Canes, the second-highest total of his career, but teams wouldn’t be getting into the Jordan Martinook business for his finishing prowess.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $5 million

Tarasenko is only a couple of years removed from a 34-goal season and had a combined 23 tallies for Ottawa and Florida this season, settling into an effective third-line role with the Panthers. His cap his dropped by $2.5 million from his last contract this the one he signed with the Senators.

Anything below his current cap hit would be a bargain for a player who can still bring it offensively.

Age: 35
2023-24 cap hit: $1 million

Is it worth $1 million in salary cap space to get 38 points, including 11 goals, from a savvy veteran and excels at the net front? JVR isn’t the 30-goal threat he once was, and he only skated 13:30 on average for Boston last year, but he’s got something to offer in the right situation.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $2.65 million

Walker was a prominent name at the trade deadline due to his cap number, expiring contract and outstanding underlying offensive numbers for the Flyers. He had seven points in 18 regular-season games for the Avs before producing a goose egg in 11 playoff games, skating to a minus-5. Having Jack Johnson as a partner for much of that run probably didn’t help.

The right term could land Walker for $4.5 million or less, and that would be a bargain.

Tier 5: The boom-or-busts

Players that have the ability to justify the investment — or whose contracts could eventually become an eyesore on Cap Friendly’s successor.

Age: 27
2023-24 cap hit: $4 million

One of the most confounding players in the NHL. He has all the tools to be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but has never reached that plateau. His name has been in trade rumors for the majority of this time in Boston, but the Bruins always were hesitant to cut ties with a player who showed that kind of potential. This defense has always been there. The offense is there one minute, dormant the next.

Who takes the chance that they can unlock the full DeBrusk?

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $825,000

One of the NHL’s feel-good stories of 2023-24, Drouin was personally endorsed by former juniors teammate Nathan MacKinnon in signing with the Avalanche, and had the best offensive season of his 10-year NHL career with 56 points in 79 games — including 19 goals. A lower-body injury limited him to just three playoff games, where he had three assists.

Contract talks were ongoing after the season with the Avs, but what do his numbers look like if he leaves Colorado?

Age: 31
2023-24 cap hit: $4.125 million

Gostisbehere got a raise on his previous base salary on a one-year deal with Detroit, and had the second best offensive campaign of his career, with 56 points in 81 games.

As a pure offensive player and a power-play specialist, Gostisbehere is a decent investment. But his 5-on-5 defensive continues to be perilous.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $825,000

Gustafsson works fine in his role, which is a bottom-pairing defenseman who makes less than a $1 million against the salary cap. Anything above them gets into risky investment territory, but someone might decide to go there.

Age: 28
2023-24 cap hit: $825,000

His 18 goals in 63 games showed growth year over year for the Vancouver winger, but a diamond in the rough only shines when he’s in the rough. Salary projections for Joshua have him going for around $3 million annually.

He’s one of those players whose appeal is directly linked to his cap number; when the latter changes, so might the former.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $5.7 million

There are many versions of Anthony Mantha. There was the one who was a consistent 20-goal scorer for the Red Wings and enticed the Washington Capitals to trade for him. Then there was the Mantha that underwhelmed during his four campaigns in Washington, until a 20-goal walk year performance ahead of his trade to Vegas.

Then we saw another Mantha, who was a force in 18 regular-season games for the Knights with 10 points. Finally, we saw the one that as a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Sorry, but that’s too many Manthas.

Age: 27
2023-24 cap hit: $4 million

The problem with Roslovic is that there’s always going to be a tease of something more. The Blue Jackets hoped he could be a top-six forward and he’d never play consistently enough to hold down the gig. The Rangers traded for him in the hopes that he could slot in with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, and he did … until he didn’t.

He’s a talented forward that brings energy, but he just can’t find that next level.

Age: 30
2023-24 cap hit: $1.1 million

Can the career backup be something more than a career backup? Stolarz had tremendous numbers this season with the Panthers, to the tune of a .925 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average in 27 games, one off his career high in the latter category.

He was a solid backup in Anaheim, too. Maybe he’s Adin Hill. Maybe he can work in a tandem. Or maybe he’s just perfectly cast as a backup.

Age: 29
2023-24 cap hit: $5.4 million

Teravainen had two pretty good offensive seasons sandwiching a stinker in hist three years with the Hurricanes. He’s coming off a 25-goal campaign last season ahead of a new contract, which likely isn’t a coincidence.

His defense and play driving remain consistent virtues but someone is going to compensate him for an offensive game we don’t entirely trust.

Tier 6: The rickety investments

Danger, danger! Familiar names, strong reputations but options that teams might think twice about.

Age: 34
2023-24 cap hit: $5 million

There was a time not too long ago when Brodie was the model for defensive defensemen in the NHL. Someone may pay for that reputation, and the hope that he could still be the player in a reduced role, but he was below replacement level as a defender last season in Toronto.

Age: 34
2023-24 cap hit: $5.825 million

Adam Henrique is the hockey equivalent of high-school math test where the work doesn’t follow the expected computation, but somehow the answer is correct. There are some underlying aspects to Henrique’s game that wouldn’t lead one to believe he’s an effective scorer, including a passivity in the offensive zone. Yet his goals per 60 average has remained consistent for the last few seasons.

Age and those metrics give us some pause, however.

Age: 34
2023-24 cap hit: $6 million

While he can play big minutes, and the Canucks deployed him against some tough competition, he’s one year removed from a minus-16 campaign and his 29 points this season smell of contract year aberration.

Age: 28
2023-24 cap hit: $1.5 million

Ned is not terrible, with a .902 save percentage and a 2.97 goals-against average for the Penguins in 38 games this season. Ned is affordable, earning just $1.5 million against the cap this season.

But ultimately, Ned is not the answer, with a minus-3.3 goals saved above expected, per Money Puck.

Age: 27
2023-24 cap hit: $3.55 million

It speaks volumes about the quality of the free-agent goaltending market that the most notable name is someone over whom the Maple Leafs are seeking to upgrade.

Samsonov had an .890 save percentage and a 3.13 goals-against average in 40 games for Toronto last season, with a minus-8.1 goals saved above expected. But compared to some of the goalies on the UFA market this season, he might as well be Thatcher Demko.

Age: 34
2023-24 cap hit: $4.5 million

As Tanev showed following his trade to the Stars, he’s a defend-at-all-costs shutdown guy who was outstanding in their run to the conference finals. Dallas gave up 1.6 goals against per 60 minutes with Tanev out there.

The risk is that he’ll turn 35 in December, and has logged a lot of tough minutes in his 792 career games over 14 seasons. Even the stoutest defensive defensemen wear down, both in effectiveness and in health.

Age: 32
2023-24 cap hit: $5.3 million

Zucker earned high marks from the Predators for his compete level and tenacity and produced thre points in six playoff games. Considering his price point, it would be nice if he had 40 points to go along with those intangibles, but that ship may have sailed at this point in his career.

Tier 7: The spackle

The other free agents available that don’t neatly fall into these tiers.

Alexander Barabanov, RW, San Jose Sharks
Tyson Barrie, D, Nashville Predators
Anthony Beauvillier, LW/RW, Nashville Predators
Teddy Blueger, C, Vancouver Canucks
William Carrier, C, Vegas Golden Knights
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, New York Islanders
Ian Cole, D, Vancouver Canucks
Pheonix Copley, G, Los Angeles Kings
Nick Cousins, C, Florida Panthers
Casey DeSmith, G, Vancouver Canucks
Matt Dumba, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
Joel Edmundson, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Christian Fischer, C, Detroit Red Wings
Warren Foegele, LW/RW, Edmonton Oilers
Zemgus Girgensons, C, Buffalo Sabres
Matt Grzelcyk, D, Boston Bruins
Mike Hoffman, LW, San Jose Sharks
Tyler Johnson, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Martin Jones, G, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, St. Louis Blues
Sam Lafferty, C, Vancouver Canucks
Kevin Lankinen, G, Nashville Predators
Kaapo Kahkonen, G, New Jersey Devils
Dominik Kubalik, LW/RW, Ottawa Senators
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida Panthers
Oliver Kylington, D, Calgary Flames
Kevin Labanc, LW/RW, San Jose Sharks
Ilya Lyubushkin, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Martin, LW/RW, New York Islanders
Pat Maroon, RW, Boston Bruins
Alec Martinez, D, Vegas Golden Knights
Colin Miller, D, Winnipeg Jets
Matt Murray, G, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tomas Nosek, C, New Jersey Devils
Kyle Okposo, RW, Florida Panthers
Victor Olofsson, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Max Pacioretty, LW, Washington Capitals
Tanner Pearson, LW, Montreal Canadiens
Antti Raanta, G, Carolina Hurricanes
James Reimer, G, Detroit Red Wings
Mike Reilly, D, New York Islanders
Marco Scandella, D, St. Louis Blues
Justin Schultz, D, Seattle Kraken
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Boston Bruins
Craig Smith, RW, Dallas Stars
Daniel Sprong, RW/LW, Detroit Red Wings
Brendan Smith, D, New Jersey Devils
Marc Staal, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Cam Talbot, G, Los Angeles Kings
Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, Seattle Kraken
Scott Wedgewood, G, Dallas Stars
Alex Wennberg, C, New York Rangers

Articles You May Like

The Top 25 college stadiums: SEC, Big Ten dominate the top of our list
Manchester City sign Brazil winger Sávio
Royals acquire Nats’ Harvey to bolster bullpen
MLB draft tracker live updates: Results and analysis for every first-round pick
“Didn’t Like Gautam Gambhir’s Gesture”: Real Reason Behind Virat Kohli, Naveen-ul-Haq Clash Out

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *