5 NHL Free Agents Who Have Raised Their Stock in the 2021 Playoffs
The NHL playoffs is always a time when players tend to elevate their games. It also provides those set to become unrestricted free agents following the postseason an opportunity to shine.
Player contracts tend to be based on regular-season performance. Stars such as Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton are assured of being the top talent in this summer's free-agent market regardless of playoff performance. Others, however, could benefit from a solid postseason efforts.
Some players, such as Boston Bruins winger Taylor Hall, are stars whose value tumbled during the regular season. Others, like Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault, could use their playoff performance to garner lucrative new deals.
Here's a look at the five unrestricted free agents whose stock has risen during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning from the New Jersey Devils leading up to last year's trade deadline, Blake Coleman garnered attention for his two-way skills and ability to play all three forward positions if required. Those attributes made him an invaluable part of the Lightning's Stanley Cup championship run last year.
Coleman's performance last season made him a player to watch in this year's free-agent market. After two seasons with more than 20 goals and 30 points with the Devils, the 29-year-old forward netted 14 goals and 31 points in 55 games this season with the Lightning.
With five points in 13 playoff games this year, Coleman's offensive stats aren't far off from the 13 points he tallied in 25 postseason contests last year. It's his all-around game, however, that makes him a key cog in the Lightning machine.
Prior to Game 4 of the Lightning's semifinal series with the New York Islanders, Coleman sat fifth in short-handed ice time per game (2:05) and eighth in overtime ice time (3:06). He was also their leader with 42 hits and 10 takeaways.
With the Lightning sitting $5 million above the $81.5 million salary cap, it's unlikely they can shed sufficient cap space to re-sign Coleman. Completing a three-year deal worth an annual average value of $1.8 million, he could double his money on the open market. Teams seeking a versatile two-way, middle-six forward with Stanley Cup pedigree will come calling.
Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens
A skillful two-way center, Phillip Danault began this season in a good spot with a significant raise from the Montreal Canadiens. With 47 points in 71 games last season, he was on pace for his second straight 50-plus-point campaign when the regular-season schedule was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the 28-year-old center struggled through most of this season with 24 points in 53 games.
On Feb. 19, the Montreal Gazette's Stu Cowan pondered whether a report claiming Danault had rejected a six-year, $30 million offer from the Canadiens had contributed to his poor numbers. He also wondered whether Danault was concerned about his role as young centers Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans earned more playing time.
While Danault's been limited to just two assists in 14 games during the 2021 playoffs, his strong defensive play has made him an invaluable part of the Canadiens' improbable march to the semifinals. He's done an outstanding job as their shutdown center, top penalty-killing forward and faceoff specialist.
Danault's been skating with the pesky Brendan Gallagher on his right wing and either Evans, Tomas Tatar or Artturi Lehkonen on his left side. His line successfully contained the top scoring lines of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets. They also kept the Vegas Golden Knights' top-scoring forwards off the board through the first three games of their semifinal series.
With his annual cap hit at $3.1 million, it remains to be seen whether the Canadiens will pay more than $5 million annually on a long-term deal to keep Danault in the fold. His postseason play, however, has bolstered his stock among the best checking-line centers in this year's free-agent market.
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall surprised the hockey world last fall by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. The 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner was expected to develop offensive chemistry with Sabres star Jack Eichel and end the club's long playoff drought. That would have also improved his chances of landing a lucrative long-term deal with the Sabres or another NHL club this summer.
That's not how things worked out. The Sabres fell to the bottom of the league standings, Eichel suffered a season-ending neck injury in March and Hall managed just 19 points in 37 games before being shipped to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.
Hall, however, regained his scoring form on the Boston second line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. The 29-year-old winger finished the regular season with 14 points in 16 games with the Bruins. He followed that with three goals and five points in 11 playoff contests, creating offensive opportunities whenever he was on the ice.
Following Boston's playoff ouster, Hall told reporters he sees a fit with the club and hoped management felt the same way. On June 15, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney expressed mutual interest in re-signing Hall, adding he'd had an early conversation with the winger's representatives.
Trade deadline acquisitions tend to be playoff rentals who depart via free agency. This situation could be different. Hall's presence gave the Bruins a secondary scoring threat during the playoffs that had been missing for some time. He won't get another $8 million-per-season deal, but he could accept less money for a multiyear contract.
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights
Alec Martinez has established himself as an adept two-way defenseman over the course of his 12 NHL seasons. However, he's often been overshadowed by talented teammates like Drew Doughty during his tenure with the Los Angeles Kings and Alex Pietrangelo with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The 33-year-old put up 32 points in 53 games this season with the Golden Knights. However, the veteran blueliner's postseason defensive play should elevate his value in this summer's free-agent market.
Martinez already had a solid playoff resume before coming to Las Vegas, winning two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. That experience has proved invaluable skating alongside Pietrangelo on the Golden Knights' top defense pairing.
Following Game 3 of the Golden Knights' semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens, Martinez leads his club in short-handed ice time per game (1:53) and blocked shots (65), while his 22:17 of time on ice per game ranks third. He's also put up a respectable five points in 16 playoff contests this year.
Martinez is completing a six-year, $24 million contract. Given the Golden Knights' limited cap space for 2021-22, they can't afford to re-sign him unless they make some cost-cutting moves. At his age, he won't get any lengthy contract offers if he hits the open market. Nevertheless, Martinez will be sought after by playoff clubs seeking blue-line experience and two-way skills.
Kyle Palmieri, New York Islanders
Entering this season, Kyle Palmieri seemed well-positioned to earn a lucrative new deal. A reliable two-way forward, the 30-year-old winger had five 20-plus-goal seasons with the low-scoring New Jersey Devils. Despite his age, another 20-goal campaign in his contract year would ensure a healthy raise over the $4.7 million annual average value of his current deal.
The Devils, however, once again finished among the league's lowest-scoring clubs. Palmieri's numbers also suffered, with eight goals and 17 points in 34 games before being traded to the New York Islanders on April 7.
Palmieri didn't fare any better with his new club over the remainder of the regular season. With just two goals and four points in 17 games, his free-agent value seemed to be sinking.
In the postseason, however, Palmieri regained his form skating on the Islanders' third line alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and former Devils teammate Travis Zajac. He was tied with Brock Nelson for the team lead in playoff goals (seven) and also sat among the overall postseason goal leaders prior to Game 4 of their semifinal series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The hardworking Palmieri has salvaged his stock with his timely scoring and responsible defensive play with the Isles. While his age could affect the length of his next contract, he's likely assured himself a pay bump over the $5 million annual average value.