NHL Free Agency 2020: Predictions for Where Taylor Hall and More Will Land

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2020

Arizona Coyotes left wing Taylor Hall (91) plays against the Dallas Stars during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

The NHL is preparing to resume the 2019-20 season after it was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, but fans of teams who aren't part of the restart may already be looking ahead to free agency.

This is normally the time of year when the Stanley Cup Finals are ending, free agency is beginning and the NHL draft is taking place, but with COVID-19 throwing things for a loop, none of that will happen until the current season is completed.

Plenty can happen between now and the end of the season, but here is a look at some of the biggest stars set to hit free agency and predictions for where they will land.

              

Taylor Hall

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With winger Taylor Hall set to hit free agency this offseason, the New Jersey Devils traded him to the Arizona Coyotes in December. The Coyotes will have a chance to qualify for the playoffs, but it is possible there may be only a few games remaining in his tenure with the team.

In 35 games with the Coyotes before the season was suspended, the 28-year-old was productive with 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 35 games. He also had 25 points in 30 games for the Devils, giving him 52 points on the season.

That was already an improvement from the 2018-19 campaign when he missed 49 games due to injury and missed 37 points. That season was a disappointment considering what he did with the Devils in 2017-18.

In his second season in New Jersey, Hall finished with a career-high 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points. He surprisingly helped the Devils reach the playoffs and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.

Along with his Hart Trophy win, the Canadian is a five-time All-Star and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers. He spent the first six seasons of his career in Edmonton, and current Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger was his head coach for one of them in 2012-13.

Although their time together was brief, Hall told Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News in December that he enjoyed having Krueger as his coach:

"It was shorter than it should have been. I had a great experience with him. Two years he was an assistant coach, and he looked after the D. Even then, speaking with him, obviously his attitude was evident. The way he looks at life and hockey was always positive. It was always great chatting with him. We had the lockout-shortened year where he was head coach and really enjoyed playing for him, whether it was his systems or the environment he created at the arena. I thought it was always great to be around the arena then."

With Krueger back in the NHL with Buffalo, the Sabres could make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Hall. Not only would there be some familiarity with the coach, but he would also get the chance to play alongside one of the NHL's best young centers in Jack Eichel.

The Sabres have missed the playoffs in each of the past nine seasons, and one can only assume they'll be desperate to improve this offseason. One of their biggest needs is adding another scorer to go along with Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson, and Hall would fit the bill.

Buffalo should have enough cap space to make a play for Hall, and it also has the option of trading defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen from a position of strength on the blue line if it needs to create more.

Prediction: Hall signs with the Buffalo Sabres.

              

Alex Pietrangelo

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has spent his entire NHL career with the St. Louis Blues, and it can be argued no player is more responsible for the team's success in recent years than him.

The 30-year-old was the No. 4 overall pick by the Blues in the 2008 NHL draft, and he has been one of the league's best two-way defensemen for essentially his entire career.

The two-time All-Star has 450 points in 758 career NHL regular-season games and posted 19 points in 26 playoff games en route to the Blues winning their first Stanley Cup last season.

Through 70 games this season before it was suspended, Pietrangelo had 16 goals an 36 assists for 52 points. He already set a personal best for goals in a season and likely would have surpassed his best point total of 54 as well.

The Canadian is peaking at the right time, and he could become an even more valuable commodity if he is able to lead the Blues to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, Pietrangelo is likely to get a significant raise from the $6.5 million he earned this season. That could prove somewhat problematic for the Blues since they have no significant contracts coming off the books.

Even so, it is difficult to envision the Blues captain playing elsewhere, so expect St. Louis to ship some salary out in the form of trades if it has to.

Forwards Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak have one year remaining on their contracts this season, so they are prime candidates. The Blues could also opt to part with one of their two goalies in Jordan Binnington or Jake Allen.

The cap crunch is real in St. Louis, but when it comes to keeping a heart-and-soul player like Pietrangelo, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong will figure out a way to get it done.

Prediction: Pietrangelo re-signs with the St. Louis Blues.

             

Robin Lehner

Coming off two quality seasons, Robin Lehner figures to be the most highly sought-after goalie on the free-agent market this offseason.

The 28-year-old's first true breakout season came in 2018-19 with the New York Islanders. He appeared in 46 games and went 25-13-5 to go along with a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts, all of which were career bests in a full season.

Lehner finished third to Andre Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop in the Vezina Trophy that season, but he did win the William M. Jennings Trophy given to the goaltenders on the team that surrendered the fewest goals, as well as the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication.

Despite his strong season, the Swede could only muster a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in free agency. After appearing in 33 games for the Blackhawks this season, he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. He went 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .940 save percentage in Vegas before the stoppage, and overall for the season, he was 19-10-5 with a 2.89 GAA and .920 save percentage.

While Lehner's GAA went up significantly, his save percentage was still good, which is a sign that the Blackhawks' suspect defense betrayed him at times.

Several teams could use an upgrade in between the pipes, but the Calgary Flames stand out most as a potential landing spot for Lehner. They were in the middle of the pack in goals allowed this season and may lose Cam Talbot in free agency.

That leaves David Rittich, who posted a 2.97 GAA and .907 save percentage, which are fairly pedestrian numbers compared to what Lehner has done.

With Lehner in goal, the Flames could become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Prediction: Lehner signs with the Calgary Flames.

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