Potential Destinations and Contracts for the NHL's Top 6 UFAs

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2021

Potential Destinations and Contracts for the NHL's Top 6 UFAs

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    We've dispensed with on-ice formalities.

    The handshakes were exchanged and the Stanley Cup was paraded.

    So, welcome to the point on the hockey calendar when the executive types take over.

    A pair of drafts—expansion and entry—take place within the next 10 days and will be followed soon after by the onset of the annual free-agency signing period on July 28, which means activity in 32 corner offices around the NHL will be at a fever pitch for the next several weeks.

    Who will stay? Who might go?

    And now that we've entered (at least temporarily) the flat-cap era, how much will they make?

    The number-crunchers on the B/R hockey team compiled a list of the top half-dozen players who are both due to be unrestricted free agents and likeliest to move—sorry folks, Alex Ovechkin isn't going anywhere—and then took it a step further to suggest where each will wind up and how much cash they might command.

    Click through to see what we came up with and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

Tyson Barrie to the Carolina Hurricanes

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    The last time free-agency season arrived, Tyson Barrie made a smart bet.

    A right-shot defenseman who'd finished a four-year deal paying $5.5 million per year, the then-Toronto Maple Leaf took less money—$3.75 million—for a one-year pact with the Edmonton Oilers and a chance to boost his numbers alongside Connor McDavid on the game's most prolific power play.

    It worked. Big-time.

    The Oilers once again had the best man-up stats in the league (25.3 percent) and Barrie was a significant contributor, ultimately finishing with more points (48) than any blueliner in the league.

    Given its moderate wiggle room under the cap for 2021-22, Edmonton won't be in the running to match the player's escalated price tag this time around.

    One team that will be, however, is the Carolina Hurricanes—particularly due to events we'll discuss later in this piece—so go ahead and book the flight to Raleigh and size Barrie up for a red, black and white sweater at a cool $5.75 million per year over five seasons.

Blake Coleman to the Dallas Stars

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    It's a reality of modern championship life.

    Once a team wins a title (or two), there's simply no way it can keep all its players.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning embraced it while finishing their run to the Stanley Cup earlier this month, insisting they'd take advantage of the opportunity to play together one final time.

    And now, the exodus begins.

    Winger Blake Coleman has now been a part of two banner-raising teams since a deadline trade from the New Jersey Devils in February 2020, and he's played the final game of a three-year deal he signed in 2018 that paid him $1.8 million per season.

    Thirty-two points in 64 regular-season games and, more importantly, 24 more points in 48 playoff games have raised Coleman's profile across the league and set him up for a big raise on his third NHL contract.

    It surely won't come from Tampa. Instead, we'll forecast a return for Coleman to Dallas in his native state for three years and $10.5 million.

Mikael Granlund to the Chicago Blackhawks

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    It all might seem familiar for Mikael Granlund.

    The Finnish forward was a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2010 and played there until a deal sent him to the Nashville Predators at the 2018-19 trade deadline.

    He's been in Nashville ever since but entered last season's free-agency period as an unrestricted commodity before returning to the Predators late in the process—just weeks before the 2020-21 season began, in fact—on a one-year contract that paid him $3.75 million.

    That was $2 million less than he'd made on the three-year deal he'd signed with the Wild prior to the trade.

    He's back to unrestricted status again this summer after another productive season in which he reached double-digit goals for the sixth time and was fourth on the team in points.

    Given all that, it'd make perfect sense for Nashville GM David Poile to keep him in the fold, and a recent trade of Viktor Arvidsson might make it more possible money-wise.

    But we'll go the dark-horse route here and suggest the Chicago Blackhawks swoop in and pluck him away with a three-year, $15 million deal to add versatility to their own rebuilding process. 

Dougie Hamilton to the Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    It happens every year.

    Though everyone goes into the free-agency period with a similar guess as to who'll get what from where, there's always a contract or two that stretches the margins and leaves people scratching heads.

    They're often the products of general managers who feel compelled, particularly in cities with rabid fanbases, to make big moves to change flagging momentum.

    Enter Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The Flyers tumbled from a No. 1 playoff seed to a non-participant in just one season, thanks in large part to their plunge from the seventh-stingiest team (2.77 goals per game) to score against to the easiest (3.52).

    And with 22-year-old Carter Hart stable for now as the goalie of the future, the focus in the meantime is to provide help by upgrading the defensive corps in front of him.

    Dougie Hamilton surely does that.

    The 28-year-old is a proven producer from the blue line, having scored double-digit goals in seven straight seasons across stays with the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes.

    He made $5.75 million last season and is widely considered the biggest prize of this year's crop. The Hurricanes have made it clear they'd like to keep him, but they've also given him permission to discuss his future with other teams—opening the door to a sign-and-trade in which the Canes would get a return.

    That has to be on the radar of Fletcher and his minions, and the call here is that the Flyers get their man—either on or before July 28—at a whopping $61.2 million over eight seasons.

Zach Hyman to the Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Zach Hyman is a Toronto kid.

    He was born there and he's played each of his 345 NHL games in a blue-and-white Maple Leafs sweater. 

    And it's paid off to the tune of more than $10 million in career earnings dating back to 2015.

    But there's a line to be drawn when it comes to hometown discounts.

    Thanks to five straight seasons of double-digit goals and a leaguewide reputation as a versatile player who can produce offensively while maintaining a respectable level as a defender, he'll get a nice bump from the $2.25 million he made annually on an expiring four-year deal.

    Because of other salary concerns, the Leafs won't be able to pay him as much as he's likely to get elsewhere, so call it a divorce due to money issues and make plans to see the rugged 6'1", 211-pounder plying his trade with the Detroit Red Wings in 2021-22 on a five-year, $26.25 million contract.

Kyle Palmieri to the New Jersey Devils

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Everything old is new again. 

    Sort of.

    Winger Kyle Palmieri played five full seasons with the New Jersey Devils from 2015 to 2020 and then began the 2020-21 season with them before a deadline trade sent him to the New York Islanders.

    The Devils, who also sent Travis Zajac to Long Island, recouped two players and two picks in the transaction—including the Islanders' No. 28 selection in this month's entry draft.

    And given that Palmieri is now an unrestricted free agent, there's a chance they'll recoup him, too.

    The 30-year-old was a productive fan favorite during his time in the Garden State and the Devils remain among the youngest teams in the NHL and are flush with cap space, so his veteran steadiness and familiarity are a natural fit if they can figure a way to make the money right.

    The guess here is that they will, building a deal that'll give Palmieri five years at $4.5 million per season for a total value of $22.5 million.