2021 NHL Free Agents: Projected Landing Spots for Top Players

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2021

2021 NHL Free Agents: Projected Landing Spots for Top Players

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are officially underway. While the NHL regular season isn't quite over for every team, the postseason started Saturday, with the Washington Capitals defeating the Boston Bruins in overtime.

    For the teams not in this year's tournament, it's already time to start looking ahead to the offseason.

    Rebuilding franchises and playoff teams alike will be looking to add fresh talent in free agency, and several top players are likely to switch teams when the period opens July 28.

    Here's a look at some of the top players expected to be available and a look at where they might land before next season.

Alex Ovechkin, LW

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin is one of the most recognizable players in the NHL. A nine-time winner of the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for most goals in a season, Ovechkin is already considered one of the all-time greats.

    Even at 35, he's still a valuable member of the Washington squad. He had 24 goals and 18 assists in 45 games during the regular season.

    While Ovechkin's 13-year contract is set to expire, Washington isn't likely to prioritize an extension during the postseason.

    "Alex has been around a long long time and has a lot of trust and confidence in us and knows the most important thing right now is focus on the playoffs," team owner Ted Leonsis said, per Andrew Gillis of NBC Sports Washington. "That's where we are. I'm not concerned. He's not concerned. Our concern is the Boston Bruins."

    Whenever the Capitals' postseason run ends, the team probably will turn its attention toward Ovechkin's future. While he may be allowed to test the market, Ovechkin has never played for another NHL franchise, and it's hard to envision him suiting up elsewhere in North America. Unless the Caps are uninterested in giving Ovechkin fair market value, expect him to finish his career in Washington.

    Prediction: Ovechkin re-signs with Washington

Taylor Hall, LW

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    One of Ovechkin's opening-round opponents is also set to be a notable name in free agency. Left winger Taylor Hall was a hot commodity before the trade deadline before he was dealt to Boston.

    The No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Hall signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres but struggled to live up to expectations before he was moved.

    Those expectations—or at least a relative lack of them in Boston—are why Hall wanted to join the Bruins. In Boston, he doesn't have to be the centerpiece.

    "Going to Boston, there's so many great players on that team—Hall of Famers—guys that have had just amazing careers, careers that if I had anything like that at the end of my career I'd be super happy with," Hall said, per Jackie Spiegel of the Sporting News.

    The 29-year-old has played well since the trade, and he seems to be in a great situation. The Bruins, meanwhile, are interested in keeping him around.

    "I think we'd like to try and get something done, but that remains to be seen. But it is our hope," Bruins president Cam Neely said, per Joe Haggerty of Boston Hockey Now.

    Expect Boston to turn its in-season trade into a long-term acquisition during or before free agency.

    Prediction: Boston extends Hall

Dougie Hamilton, D

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Carolina Hurricanes hold the top seed in the Central Division and may not turn to free agency for some time. When they do, though, defenseman Dougie Hamilton is likely to be a free-agent priority for the Canes. His six-year deal is set to expire, and Hamilton should be one of, if not the top defenseman on the market.

    The 27-year-old Hamilton is a tremendous two-way player who produced 42 points during the regular season.

    In January, Hamilton made it known that he would prefer to stay with the Hurricanes for the long term.

    "For me, I'd like to stay here, but I'm going to let my agent [J.P. Barry] and [Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell] talk," Hamilton said, per Kurt Dusterberg of NHL.com. "I just want to focus on hockey and helping the team win."

    Carolina has been winning, and its postseason potential should be a big selling point for Hamilton in the offseason. Since Hamilton was traded to the Hurricanes, Carolina has made the playoffs in all three seasons.

    Prediction: Hamilton re-signs with Carolina

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