NHL Free Agents 2021: Top Players on Market Following Stanley Cup Playoffs

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2021

NHL Free Agents 2021: Top Players on Market Following Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have beat the Montreal Canadiens to win their second straight Stanley Cup, all eyes are focused on the NHL's impending free-agency period.

    But this year there is a huge plot twist: the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

    Just like the Vegas Golden Knights did back in 2017, the Kraken can cherry-pick players from every team in the league except Vegas.

    The expansion draft will take place in Seattle on Wednesday, but before that, the Kraken will have exclusive negotiating rights for pending unrestricted free agents from Sunday until Tuesday.

    UFAs didn't exactly line up to sign on the dotted line with Vegas, but Seattle may have better luck considering that the league has a flat cap this offseason and Kraken general manager Ron Francis has the green light to spend, as he told Tracey Myers of NHL.com:

    "We have $81.5 million of cap space to play with, so that's certainly something we want to make sure we try to take advantage of moving forward. I think we're fortunate that ownership has given us a green light to spend toward the cap, if we so see fit.

    "We'll look at the team that we're able to draft, based on who's available, then we'll look at the needs that we think the team has, and we'll certainly try to venture out on the 28th when free agency hits and see if there are individuals there that maybe we can sign to fill some of those needs that we have."

    Once the Kraken are finished with their shopping spree, the league-wide free-agency period will begin July 28.

    Here's a quick look at a few of the premier free agents set to be on the market.

Alex Ovechkin, LW

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The timing for Alex Ovechkin couldn't be more perfect.

    His 13-year, $124 million deal officially ends July 28.

    But the Washington Capitals captain more than likely won't hit the open market.

    The Russian has already let it be known that he wants to stay in nation's capital, so it's up to general manager Brian MacLellan to come up with a contract extension that makes No. 8 happy.

    "Obviously, I want to finish my career here," Ovechkin told reporters in May. "I'm pretty sure we will do something soon."

    Ovi won't say it, but it's likely that he and the Capitals have a gentlemen's agreement on a deal that will become official after the expansion draft.

    "I can't find anyone in the NHL who thinks Alexander Ovechkin's extension isn't already 'in the drawer,'" Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wrote at the end of June.

Taylor Hall, LW

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Taylor Hall landed in Boston back in April and reminded everyone he's a bona fide star after a disastrous few months with the Buffalo Sabres.

    As a Bruin, he scored 14 points in 16 regular-season games and took that momentum into the playoffs, helping Boston beat the Capitals 4-1 in Round 1.

    The 29-year old wasn't as prolific in Round 2 against the more balanced New York Islanders, but neither were Craig Smith, Jake DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie or Charlie Coyle.

    With such a dearth in scoring on the wings prior to trading for Hall, it only makes sense that the Bruins try to bring him back to make another run.

    For their part, Boston is "moving in that direction," according to Bally Sports Midwest reporter Andy Strickland.

    Hall has also voiced his intention to remain in Boston, so it shouldn't be hard to make the numbers work.

    "I see a fit, and hopefully they feel the same," Hall told reporters in June. "We'll let the dust settle and everything. I'm sure they have a lot going on, and some other guys who've been here a longer than me that they have to worry about, but hopefully we can make something work. That's obviously my goal, and hopefully we can make that happen."

Philipp Grubauer, Goaltender

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Philipp Grubauer is another top player who wants to stay put this summer.

    The 29-year-old goaltender was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this year after his amazing 2020-21 regular season with the Colorado Avalanche. It was largely because of his play (30-9-1, a 1.95 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage) that the Avs went on to win its third Presidents' Trophy.

    But he was also a big part of why Colorado lost four straight games in their second-round playoff series against the Golden Knights, with his save percentage plummeting to .860 over those defeats despite a .930 performance in the Game 3 loss.

    Still, Grubauer is a top-tier goalie, and if the Avs don't rush to resign him, he will have a few suitors lining up for his services.

    The German wants to stay in Colorado, though, so teams that are hoping to land him might want to have a backup plan.

    "I love the team, love the organization," Grubauer told Sean Keeler of the Denver Post. "So it would be nice to work something out."