NHL Free Agents 2020: Predicting Erik Haula, Mike Hoffman Deals, Latest Rumors

Blake SchusterAnalyst IIIOctober 22, 2020

Florida Panthers left wing Erik Haula (56) is shown during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

NHL free agency rolls on with plenty of big names still left on the market and a number of teams looking to create the space to sign them.

Since opening October 9, 126 unrestricted free agents have been signed, though that list does not include Mike Hoffman, Erik Haula, Sami Vatanen or Mikael Granlund.

Following the initial flurry of signings, the market has dramatically slowed down, and it may be a while before some of the top players available reach agreements.

Here's a look a those stars with predictions on which rosters they will be a part of before the 2020-21 season opens.

                              

Mike Hoffman, Left Wing

The top player left on the board appears to be the guy every team is looking at, but that hasn't led to a deal. Part of the hold-up may hinge on whether Hoffman is willing to accept a one-year deal with the salary cap remaining flat this offseason.

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Hoffman's agent, Robert Hooper, told Adam Vingan of The Athletic there are "five or six serious contenders" to sign the winger.

One of those, according to The Athletic's Sara Civian, is the Carolina Hurricanes.

Civian reported there's "growing chatter" from the team about adding the 29-goal scorer from a year ago, though those talks haven't escalated.

"I feel like he's the last man standing this year, meaning every team will go after him, and he'll become unaffordable for the Canes if they don't move a player like Ryan Dzingel or Nino Niederreiter, and that gets messy," Civian wrote.

TSN's Frank Seravalli noted the Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jacks and Nashville Predators are also in on Hoffman and that the Canucks and Canadiens may not be far behind if they can clear the cap space.

At 30, Hoffman provides plenty of scoring and adds some solid depth to any contending lineup.

Prediction: Boston Bruins

                          

Erik Haula, Center

Haula may be right behind Hoffman when it comes to best available players remaining in free agency.

The 29-year-old is coming off a down year after notching just 12 goals and 12 assists in 48 games, yet that could allow a club to sign him at a discount.

"We're sorting through conversations that we've had with numerous teams," agent Jay Grossman told TSN's Pierre LeBrun for The Athletic on Monday. "Really we've probably talked to 10-12 teams that have had legitimate interest. We're just sorting through those options."

LeBrun believes missing the initial wave of free agent signings may also help Haula given how few centers are on the market. Unlike Hoffman, however, a one-year deal isn't a solid option.

Per LeBrun:

"What I'm saying is that for a guy like Haula, once Grossman can navigate through these difficult free-agent waters and find a reasonable deal for his client, I would try to get a two-year contract for a couple of reasons.

"One, you're skipping next offseason's dire free-agent market. Two, you might make yourself an attractive target for Seattle in the expansion draft if whatever team signs Haula this offseason likely also leaves him exposed in the expansion draft."

The NHL insider sees Vegas as a team that could use Haula immediately. However, the Golden Knights don't have the cap space to bring him back, per CapFriendly.

Prediction: Columbus Blue Jackets

                           

Sami Vatanen, Defenseman

After playing with the Hurricanes in 2019-20, Vatanen is listed as the No. 1 defenseman left in free agency and the sixth-best available player overall, per TSN.

He's left without a team for now, but one of his former employers may be looking at a reunion.

Corey Masisak of The Athletic reported the New Jersey Devils are still lacking some veteran depth on the blue line and that Vatanen fits the profile of what the team is looking for.

At 29 and coming off a 23-point season, Vatanen could be the type of low-risk, high-reward player who gives a rebuilding Devils club enough of a boost on the back end to begin contending in the Metropolitan Division. But his injury history—he's never featured in every game in a season since entering the league in 2012 and played just 47 games last term—is a concern.

Given that Vatanen has spent parts of four years in New Jersey already in his career, a reunion makes sense for both sides, even if it's just a short-term deal.

Prediction: New Jersey Devils