Final Predictions for 2021 NHL Free Agency

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2021

Final Predictions for 2021 NHL Free Agency

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    The NHL's annual free-agent market opens this year on Wednesday, July 28 at noon ET. Most of the top free agents won't be available for long. Many are usually signed before the end of the first day.

    A handful of notable free agents are already off the market, the most recent being Taylor Hall re-signing with the Boston Bruins. On June 30, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins inked an eight-year, $41 million deal to remain with the Edmonton Oilers, who also intend to sign Toronto Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman on Wednesday.

    Several others could also re-sign with their current clubs before July 28. Most, however, could hit the open market on Wednesday.

    Where could free-agent stars such as Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton end up? Here are our final predictions on where they could go, factoring in player performance, previous contracts and team roster requirements. We've excluded Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask as he is expected to be sidelined until January or February 2022 recovering from hip surgery.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter Reunite on Long Island

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    The Minnesota Wild surprised the hockey world by buying out the burdensome contracts of left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on July 13. It's possible the duo will reunite with the New York Islanders.

    On July 16, The Athletic's Arthur Staple reported Parise was believed to have spoken with Islanders president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Staple also noted Suter began his NHL career playing for Isles coach Barry Trotz during their days with the Nashville Predators. It wasn't known if Lamoriello had reached out to the 36-year-old blueliner.

    Six days later, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported Lamoriello was looking at bringing both players to Long Island.

    Why would the Islanders want two castoffs from the Wild? Because they're both still effective players. Parise turns 37 on July 28 and isn't a top-six winger anymore, but he could be a solid addition on the Isles' third line. Suter, meanwhile, can still log big minutes and could fill the left-side second-pairing spot formerly held by Nick Leddy before his recent trade to the Detroit Red Wings.

    Another reason is their potential affordability because of their contract buyouts. Already receiving two-thirds of their remaining salaries from their previous contracts, they won't need expensive new deals.

    That could work for the Islanders' cap payroll. While they have $17.7 million in projected salary-cap space, a big chunk will go toward signing restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Ilya Sorokin and perhaps UFA Casey Cizikas.

                                    

    Prediction

    Parise could get a one-year, bonus-laden deal with a base salary of $1.25 million. Suter's effectiveness as a second-pairing defenseman could net him a two-year deal at $2.5 million.

Tyson Barrie to the Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes will need a replacement for defenseman Dougie Hamilton if they lose him to another club in the upcoming free-agent market. Veteran blueliner Tyson Barrie could fit the bill.

    At 5'11" and 197 pounds, the 30-year-old Barrie is two years older than Hamilton and lacks the latter's 6'6", 229-pound frame. Like Hamilton, however, he's an excellent offensive rearguard. He led all NHL defensemen in points in 2020-21 with 48.

    Barrie's defensive play doesn't measure up as well as his offensive game. That could be offset by having him skate alongside the defensively responsible Jaccob Slavin on the top pairing.

    With 23 of his 48 points this season coming with the man advantage, he would be an excellent addition to the Hurricanes' power play.

    A difficult season in 2019-20 with the Toronto Maple Leafs forced Barrie to accept a one-year, $3.75 million contract this past October. On May 21, TSN's Darren Dreger speculated Barrie could seek stability in the form of a five- or six-year contract via free agency. Last week, he reported the Oilers re-engaged Barrie in contract talks but seemed skeptical the blueliner would get a five-year deal from them.

    The Hurricanes, however, might be willing to go that far, especially if Barrie's seeking a reasonable dollar amount. If Hamilton is signed away by another club to a seven-year deal worth between $8 million and $9 million, Barrie at five years and $5 million per season will seem like a bargain.

                              

    Prediction

    Barrie signs a five-year, $25 million contract with the Hurricanes. They'll need some offensive punch from the blue line if they hope to be a serious Stanley Cup contender. 

Gabriel Landeskog Signs with St. Louis Blues

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    The Colorado Avalanche are the only team Gabriel Landeskog has played for in his 10-season NHL career. That relationship, however, could come to an end on July 28.

    In a July 14 interview with The Athletic, Landeskog expressed his disappointment about the status of his contract talks to that point. He was hopeful of having a new deal in place months earlier. Two days earlier, NHL.com's Lou Korac reported the St. Louis Blues intend to make a "full pitch effort" to land the Avalanche captain if he hits the open market.

    Salary-cap space is an issue for the Avalanche. They have $61.2 million invested in 14 players. They must also re-sign or replace starting goalie Philipp Grubauer and winger Brandon Saad and assure sufficient long-term cap room for superstar Nathan MacKinnon's new contract in 2023.

    The Blues, meanwhile, have cap space issues of their own with $62.6 million committed to 17 players. Among those requiring new contracts are forwards Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich.

    Trading Vladimir Tarasenko, however, would free up $7.5 million to put toward signing Landeskog. The Blues have been shopping the 29-year-old right wing for weeks. If they can find a trade partner to take Tarasenko off their hands, they'll have sufficient cap room to make a pitch for the Avs left wing.

    Signing Landeskog will be expensive. On July 16, Bally Sports Midwest's Andy Strickland reported the winger could seek between $9 million and $10 million on the open market. Most teams, including the Blues, would probably balk at that asking price. However, they might be able to land him for something more reasonable.

                        

    Prediction

    The St. Louis Blues sign Landeskog to a seven-year contract worth $7.5 million per season. They'll trade Tarasenko at some point this summer to clear the cap room. They're allowed to spend over the $81.5 million salary cap by 10 percent during the offseason.

Colorado Avalanche Pay Big to Keep Philipp Grubauer

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    Gabriel Landeskog's disappointment over the glacial pace of contract negotiations with the Colorado Avalanche overshadowed the status of fellow UFA Philipp Grubauer. In the case of the 29-year-old goaltender, no news could be good news.

    On July 11, Grubauer told The Denver Post's Sean Keeler he loves living and playing in Denver. He remained hopeful of working something out with the Avalanche.

    Grubauer enjoyed a career-best performance in his contract year, becoming a first-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy. The German netminder sported a record of 30 wins, nine losses and one overtime loss with a 1.95 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and seven shutouts. He's the top goaltender in this year's free-agent market.

    Critics will point to Grubauer's inconsistent playoff performance as a reason to move on. The Avalanche, however, don't win the 2021 President's Trophy without him. There's no one comparable in this summer's free-agent market or trade market to replace what he brings to their team. If they hope to win the Stanley Cup, they must bring Grubauer back.

                            

    Prediction

    Grubauer could get up to $7 million per season on the open market. However, he could be willing to give the Cup-contending Avalanche a hometown discount. Expect a five-year contract worth close to $6 million annually.

Dougie Hamilton to the New Jersey Devils

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    On June 14, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the Carolina Hurricanes were allowing Dougie Hamilton the opportunity to speak with other teams before his free-agent eligibility on July 28. There was little indication for weeks suggesting the 28-year-old defenseman could sign with another club.

    Hamilton is the top defenseman in this summer's UFA market. He leads all NHL blueliners in total goals with 42 over the past three seasons with the Hurricanes. That will put him in line for a big pay bump over his recent six-year, $34.5 million contract.

    The New Jersey Devils, however, could be willing to make a pitch. According to a Sunday report by the New York Post's Larry Brooks, New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald sent an e-mail to agents pointing out the advantages of playing for the club and living in New Jersey.

    Money speaks louder than words in the NHL free-agent market. Brooks suggested an offer of around $63 million might entice Hamilton to join the Devils. He suggested the skilled puck-moving blueliner could be just what this rebuilding franchise needs as a foundation to support the growth of budding stars like the Hughes brothers and Nico Hischier.

    Meanwhile, The Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reported talks between Hamilton's agent and Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell were ongoing. Waddell said they seem to be drawing closer to an agreement but acknowledged the situation would have to be resolved before Wednesday.

    Brooks' report, however, also indicated mutual interest between the Devils and Hamilton. With $32.3 million in projected salary-cap space, the Devils are well-positioned to offer him over $9 million per season on a seven-year contract. That could be too expensive for the Hurricanes to match when they must also re-sign Andrei Svechnikov and re-sign or replace goalies Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer.

                             

    Prediction

    The lure of big money and an opportunity to play for a team fill with promising youngsters could prove too much for Hamilton to ignore. He could sign a seven-year deal worth $9.25 million per season with the Devils.

Alex Ovechkin Stays in Washington

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    This one's a no-brainer, folks. The Washington Capitals will re-sign Alex Ovechkin, their captain, franchise player, all-time team leader in goals (730) and points (1,320), and the greatest goal scorer of his generation.

    Ovechkin's completing a 13-year, $124 million contract signed in 2008, before the league's collective bargaining agreement was amended to cap term limits on re-signing players at eight years. The annual average value over that period was $9.538 million. Now 35, he's among the league's highest-paid players

    An early tip-off Ovechkin is staying put was the Capitals leaving him exposed in last week's expansion draft. The Seattle Kraken passed up a golden opportunity to sign the future Hall of Famer. If there was any possibility of landing the Capitals' superstar, the Kraken had the salary-cap space to do so. That they didn't was an obvious sign he's not leaving Washington.

    Following the recent draft, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke to the media about Ovechkin's contract situation. According to The Washington Post's Samantha Pell, he anticipated getting a deal done with his captain before Wednesday. "I think both parties want the same goal, and I think we will get it done by then," he said.

    Prediction

    Ovechkin signs a four-year contract with the Capitals worth an annual average value of $9 million.

    Stats via NHL.com and salary info via Cap Friendly

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