It has been nearly a month since the NHL suspended its 2019-20 season due to COVID-19, and the longer players spend away from the rink, the more speculation will mount around where members of the 2020 free-agent market might land.
The market will presumably be headlined by Arizona Coyotes left wing Taylor Hall and St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. The Boston Bruins also face an interesting decision over defenseman Torey Krug.
Hall has only been with the Coyotes since December, but the 2010 top overall pick might opt to join a fourth team in order to contend for the Stanley Cup over stability in Arizona.
In fact, he might not even have the choice to stay with the Coyotes because the franchise is projected by Spotrac to have the least amount of salary-cap space for 2020-21 at $5.19 million.
In contrast, Krug and Pietrangelo have been with the Bruins and Blues, respectively, for their entire careers. However, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported in late February there were "whispers" that the Florida Panthers could plot a run at Pietrangelo.
Look below at predictions for where Hall, Krug and Pietrangelo might suit up next season.
Taylor Hall, Left Wing, Arizona Coyotes
Hall signed a seven-year, $42 million extension in 2012 with the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him No. 1 overall, that was intended to keep him with the organization through the 2019-20 season.
Could Hall land on his fourth team in five years come 2020-21?
The 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner is slated to be an unrestricted free agent once the 2019-20 season concludes, but that might not come to pass after COVID-19 halted the league.
Hall said he did not want to be a trade chip for the Coyotes prior to the Feb. 24 deadline. "I want to make the playoffs with the guys here," he said, per NHL.com's Tom Gulitti. "I don't want to go anywhere else."
"I want to play here for the rest of year," he added, which leads one to believe he has every intention of testing his free-agent market outside of Arizona. The 33-29-8 Coyotes were four points behind Nashville and Vancouver for the Western Conference's final wild-card spot when the season was placed on hold March 12.
If Arizona made a playoff run, it would mark the first time the franchise reached the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2011-12 campaign. The organization doesn't necessarily scream championship-pedigree, which could factor into Hall's decision considering he has only made the postseason once (2017-18, when he scored a career-high 39 goals for the Devils). He has never made it beyond the first round.
Hall told ESPN's Emily Kaplan in September that joining a Stanley Cup contender was "probably the highest priority" when entering his free agency.
"Lifestyle-wise, I'm not married or anything," the Calgary native said. "I don't have kids. I'm not really at a point in my career where location matters to me, if I want to be on the West Coast or East Coast or anything like that. You can make any city great if you're playing well and you're winning there. So that's basically my priority."
For that reason, Kaplan predicted in December that Hall will choose to reunite with the Oilers: "Hey, who better to attach your wagon to than Connor McDavid (and Leon Draisaitl, too)? I think there's an element of unfinished business for Taylor, who was extremely bitter after being traded—one-for-one—in 2016. He can take agency here and rewrite his ending."
In the same article, Greg Wyshynski predicted Hall's landing spot will be with the Boston Bruins, while Chris Peters pointed toward the Colorado Avalanche and Dimitri Filipovic circled the Florida Panthers.
Hall has netted 16 goals and 36 assists through 65 games this season, with 10 goals and 17 assists coming in Arizona.
Prediction: Agreed with Kaplan: Hall looks to do things right in Edmonton.
Torey Krug, Defenseman, Boston Bruins
Krug has played for the Boston Bruins since signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in March 2012.
The defenseman has been a pivotal player for the Bruins, but his tenure could come to an end as he enters unrestricted free agency next summer.
Krug signed a four-year, $21 million extension to stay with Boston as a restricted free agent in June 2016. The Michigan State product told Kaplan last September he would consider taking a lesser contract to keep playing for the Bruins:
"Would I take less to stay in Boston? It's something that I've talked about with my family and my agent. It's something I'm interested in. How much less—that's a question that will be answered at a certain time. I think something that's fair will be able to be worked out both ways. As long as they want me, I think something could be done, realistically. Everyone does it. How much they do it, is kind of their own opinion and [dependent] on their own circumstances."
More recently, Krug declined to comment on his contract situation after a March 2 practice.
This season, the 28-year-old has been the Bruins' most offensive defenseman with nine goals and 40 assists.
Boston is expected to have around $24 million in cap space to work with, per NBC Sports Boston's Nick Goss, to address Krug as well as other pending free agents Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk, Jaroslav Halak and Matt Grzelcyk.
Krug headlines that list, though.
Prediction: Boston finds a way to keep Krug.
Alex Pietrangelo, Defenseman, St. Louis Blues
Pietrangelo is the captain of the St. Louis Blues and has been since 2016.
In other words, the Stanley Cup champions should be plenty motivated to either extend or re-sign the defenseman in the offseason.
The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford outlined on March 7 how negotiations might play out:
"In case anyone missed it, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said this week that the salary cap could rise from its current ceiling of $81.5 million to anywhere from $84 million to $88.2 million in 2020-21. On the surface, yes, the extra $2.5 million to $6.7 million would obviously give the Blues more room to re-sign Pietrangelo. But let’s first remember that the current cap was projected to be $83 million and ended up at $81.5 million, so projections are just projections.
"Secondly, even if the cap does go up to $84 million, I think the Blues are still going to try to pay Pietrangelo in the range of $8.5 million to $9 million. They're going to be squeezed as it is, trying to re-sign Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn and perhaps Marco Scandella. But even if there is some room, I don't see the Blues going higher than $9.5 million-plus AAV on Pietrangelo regardless of their cap situation."
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told reporters in late February that the franchise's "goal is still to try to get him signed," but negotiations won't take place until after the season's conclusion—whenever that might be.
Pietrangelo was having a record-breaking year before the league suspended its season:
The 30-year-old last signed a seven-year, $45.5 million extension in September 2013 that carries a $6.5 million annual average value. An anonymous NHL agent told The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun in October that they foresee him landing "around $8 million per year."
Rutherford provided an updated view of his pending contract situation on April 1: "The salary cap is connected to hockey-related revenue (HRR), which will certainly be impacted by the games missed due to the pause. Will that affect what the Blues are willing and able to offer Pietrangelo?"
The Blues' 2008 fourth overall pick has a career-high 16 goals along with 36 assists through 70 contests. That's after Pietrangelo contributed three goals and 16 assists in the 2019 postseason, including a goal and an assist in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins.
Prediction: Pietrangelo signs another extension and finishes his career in St. Louis.