2020 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 12 UFAs on the Market

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2020

2020 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the Top 12 UFAs on the Market

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    It's a free-agency season unlike any other.

    A salary cap that's staying flat at $81.5 million doesn't add up to big doings for a lot of players and instead could mean many teams will be hoping to shed dollars rather than acquire them. That could mean the few teams with significant room under the cap—Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit, for example—will have the most leverage in bringing in reinforcements.

    It could prompt free agents to take less money to secure long-term security, or it may result in some players deciding to accept fewer years to retain the freedom to hit the market again if things open up in a couple of seasons. 

    Will the elite teams find a way to keep their stars?

    Will the bottom-dwellers make deals that'll instantly reserve their fortunes?

    We'll begin finding out Oct. 9 (or seven days after the end of the Stanley Cup Final; whichever is later) when the market doors officially swing open.

    In the meantime, Bleacher Report's ice hockey brain trust compiled a list of the 12 players—a dynamite dozen, if you like—who'll generate the most interest come signing time. We have forwards, defensemen and goaltenders, and we've included their 2019-20 salaries and statistics for context.

    Read through to take a look at our collection, see where your teams may be looking to improve and see how our thoughts jibe with yours.

12. Corey Crawford, G, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $5 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 40 games, 16 wins, 20 losses, 3 OT losses, 2.77 GAA, .917 SV%

    Thirty-five-year-old goalies aren't always at a premium, but Corey Crawford isn't your typical 35-year-old.

    The two-time Stanley Cup champion entered this year's qualifying round after a positive diagnosis for COVID-19, and he stopped all but two of Edmonton's 45 shots in Game 4 of Chicago's upset series win. He then stole a game in the subsequent round—making 48 saves on 49 shots—before the Blackhawks bowed out against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    It's not likely Crawford would break the bank on the open market, particularly with the other goalies available, so the one-year, $3.5 million deal reportedly offered by Chicago might be enough to keep him in black, red and white for one more season.

11. T.J. Brodie, D, Calgary Flames

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $4.838 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 64 games, 4 goals, 15 assists, 19 points

    His offensive stats this past season won't dazzle anyone, but at age 30, T.J. Brodie has arrived on the free-agent market as a solid defender who plays smart and won't be a liability.

    He's been with the Flames since the 2010-11 season, and the team has some other blue-line assets in the pipeline, so it may be time for a fresh start elsewhere for the 2008 fourth-round pick.

    Given his past offensive output—11 goals in 2014-15, 46 points in 2015-16—he may not be a bad risk.

10. Tyler Toffoli, RW/LW, Vancouver Canucks

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $4.8 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 68 games, 24 goals, 20 assists, 44 points

    It's no stretch to suggest Tyler Toffoli is one of the more intriguing free agents out there.

    He's never set the world ablaze with his point-scoring prowess, but the spark he showed upon arriving in Vancouver in the late going—six goals and four assists in 10 games—was just enough to put an up arrow next to his name.

    Remember also that Toffoli, now 28, netted 31 goals in his third full season with the Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16, and it's clear that he's a guy who could put up awfully nice numbers in a place where he could serve as a complementary offensive piece.

    His staying with the Canucks could be difficult, though, given their other free agents-to-be.

9. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $5 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 48 games, 25 wins, 14 losses, 6 OT losses, 3.11 GAA, .897 SV%

    He's a former Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion, but Braden Holtby isn't exactly coming to free agency full of wallet-stretching momentum. At least not the type that's likely to keep him where he is.

    He posted a sub-.900 save percentage for the first time in his career and a 3.11 goals-against average that's more than half a goal higher than his lifetime 2.53 mark. Not to mention that his Washington Capitals were drummed out of the playoffs by the lower-seeded New York Islanders, with Holtby surrendering 14 goals in the five-game elimination.

    The Capitals' first-round pick in 2015, Ilya Samsonov, is waiting in the wings and started 22 games in 2019-20 while posting better numbers than Holtby across the board.

    There will be Holtby suitors elsewhere, however, and perhaps none more desperate than the Edmonton Oilers, who could use an established goaltender who won't break a tight salary-cap bank.

8. Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $4 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 43 games, 23 wins, 16 losses, 4 OT losses, 2.75 GAA, .918 SV%

    General Manager Jim Benning has a lot on his plate as he tries to keep his Vancouver Canucks core together after a playoff run saw them win two series and go seven games with a powerful Vegas team.

    Jacob Markstrom, though, seems to be his priority.

    "Jacob's an important guy in our group because he's a leader and he was our MVP over the course of the regular season," Benning said. "We're going to try to figure out a way that makes sense for us and that makes Jacob and his agent happy to get him signed. We want him back."

    Benning insisted he'd like to keep Markstrom and the youngster Thatcher Demko, who stopped 128 shots while playing the final three games against the Golden Knights. But it'll be fascinating to see if Markstrom's salary demands go too high whether Benning would let him go and hand Demko the keys.

7. Evgenii Dadonov, RW, Florida Panthers

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $3.6 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 69 games, 25 goals, 22 assists, 47 points

    At 31, he's not the youngest option out there for teams looking for offense, but there aren't many who've produced as consistently over the last three seasons as Evgenii Dadonov.

    The 2007 third-round pick played just 55 games with the Panthers before spending five years with two teams in the KHL, but he's netted 81 goals since returning—including 25 in 69 games through March.

    Dadonov's future in South Florida is complicated by the team's challenging salary-cap situation, which was exacerbated last season by the sudden downturn of $10 million-per-year goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Both Dadonov and fellow winger Mike Hoffman are unrestricted this summer and looking for raises, so there's a good chance only one will be back and the vacancy will be filled by 21-year-old Owen Tippett.

6. Tyson Barrie, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $6 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 70 games, 5 goals, 34 assists, 39 points

    It's a numbers game across the league with an uncertain salary-cap situation, and particularly in Toronto where the Maple Leafs have the majority of their allotment committed to a handful of players.

    That could mean Tyson Barrie's inglorious run in the hockey-mad city, which began when he arrived from Colorado in a deal that sent Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche, could result in a one-and-done.

    Barrie made $6 million in 2019-20 and seems to carry an awfully big price tag for a team that'll have less than $8 million to fill out its roster. The 29-year-old appears to understand the reality too given his comments at the team's season-ending press conference.

    "It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I'm trying to keep everything in perspective," Barrie said, according to the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran. "I'm grateful for the situation I am in. At this point, I have no idea what the future holds."

5. Mike Hoffman, RW/LW, Florida Panthers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $5.65 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 69 games, 29 goals, 30 assists, 59 points

    Mike Hoffman might be one of the best players only hardcore fans are aware of.

    The 2009 fifth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators has scored 22 or more goals in each of the last six seasons—four in Ottawa, two with Florida—including a career-high 36 with the Panthers last year and another 29 in 69 games in South Florida in 2019-20.

    In fact, his 169 goals over that stretch rank 16th league-wide.

    But it's no guarantee he'll stay where he is. As mentioned previously with teammate Evgenii Dadonov, their statuses will be determined by what incoming GM Bill Zito can manage to do with a difficult salary-cap structure.

    Hoffman made $5.65 million last season, and it'll be a tough task for the Panthers to hold on to both their wingers in addition to addressing other needs. If he leaves, the 30-year-old would be an ideal offensive complement thanks to his good speed and quick release.

4. Robin Lehner, G, Vegas Golden Knights

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $5 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 36 games, 19 wins, 10 losses, 5 OT losses, 2.89 GAA, .920 SV%

    Few players have boosted their stock more in 2019-20 than Robin Lehner.

    The 29-year-old Swede began the season sharing the net with two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford in Chicago and then headed west to Vegas at the trade deadline to spell another former Cup winner in Marc-Andre Fleury.

    But Lehner has managed to swipe the lion's share of the Golden Knights' postseason duty from the former Pittsburgh star, and he's poised to be answering a lot of calls when the offseason arrives—particularly if his name is etched on the Cup too.

    It's a goaltender-heavy crop of free agents, but Lehner is on track to make the biggest harvest, either in Vegas if the team chooses him over Fleury—who has two years remaining at $7 million apiece—or elsewhere if it's time for him to move again.

3. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $5.5 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 61 games, 9 goals, 40 assists, 49 points

    It's simple: Torey Krug is looking to get paid.

    The 5'9" defender has spent seven full seasons in Boston, and he's often been the guy to take shorter, team-friendly deals to make things work across the roster.

    But that's not happening this time, particularly in a spot where Krug is no worse than the No. 2 blueliner on the free-agent market behind St. Louis stud Alex Pietrangelo. If that means he has to leave Boston to find what he's looking for, so be it.

    "I've bet on myself. I've taken shorter-term deals, less amount of money my whole career now," he said, per NHL.com's Amalie Benjamin. "This is my time in terms of my value at its peak. I have the ability; I'm in a position now where I need to make the most of it."

    If the Bruins can't find the funds available, remember that Krug is a Michigan native and grew up rooting for the Detroit Red Wings—who just happen to have more than $34 million in cap space.

2. Taylor Hall, LW, Arizona Coyotes

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $6 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 65 games, 16 goals, 36 assists, 52 points

    This would have been Taylor Hall's year.

    The 2010 No. 1 overall pick is an unrestricted free agent, still in his prime at age 28 and just two seasons removed from a Hart Trophy as the league's MVP with the New Jersey Devils.

    But in the era of COVID-19 and its impact on salary caps, who knows?

    Hall had 52 points while splitting time with the Devils and Arizona Coyotes during the regular season and will be the top offensive player on the market. It's unclear, though, whether he'll seek the security of a long-term deal or be willing to take a shorter deal with a team closer to winning a championship.

    Colorado has frequently been mentioned as a destination amenable to the latter mindset, thanks to better than $22 million in cap space, while the Edmonton Oilers and their fanbase remain hopeful he'll return to the team that drafted him and could offer the chance to play alongside Connor McDavid.

1. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    2019-20 Salary: $7.5 million

    2019-20 Statistics: 70 games, 16 goals, 36 assists, 52 points

    If you're looking for a big, athletic shutdown defenseman, look no further.

    Alex Pietrangelo is that player.

    Now 30 and a season removed from playing an integral role on a Stanley Cup champion, the 2008 No. 4 overall pick stands a rangy 6'3", weighs an imposing 210 pounds and was skillful enough in a shortened regular season to score a career-high 16 goals and compile 52 points—matching Taylor Hall's stat line.

    The Blues captain waxed nostalgic about staying in St. Louis during the team's season-ending press conference but also acknowledged the business end of things and the reality that he may wind up elsewhere thanks to a particularly inflexible cap situation.

    "Whether it's here or somewhere else, you want to play to the best of your ability and leave a legacy wherever you are, and that goes along with on the ice and off the ice and trying to impact your organization in the community," he said, per Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "So whether it's here or anywhere else, I think it's important for me to really kind of set my roots wherever it is."