NHL Free Agency 2021: Rumors, Predictions for Tuukka Rask, Available UFAs

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJuly 29, 2021

NHL Free Agency 2021: Rumors, Predictions for Tuukka Rask, Available UFAs

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    NHL free agency got underway Wednesday. And the league's 32 teams wasted no time getting down to business.

    A plethora of free-agent signings occurred on the first day the market was open, and many of the top players who were available are already off the board. That doesn't mean the action is over, but the list of names out there has been seriously depleted.

    Still, there are some available free agents who are capable of making impacts during the 2021-22 season. And it will be interesting to see where these players will land and how much longer they will remain on this fast-moving market.

    Here's a look at the rumors surrounding several unrestricted free agents, along with predictions for where they will end up.

Tuukka Rask, G

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    It's possible that Tuukka Rask won't be signing with a team in the near future. The 34-year-old goaltender isn't expected to be ready for the start of the 2021-22 campaign after undergoing hip surgery, and he may not make his season debut until January or February.

    That likely factored the Boston Bruins' decision to sign goaltender Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million deal Wednesday. But don't rule out a Rask return just yet.

    According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Rask "may be interested" in returning to the Bruins and the "door may still be open for that." Despite being taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2005 entry draft, Rask has never played anywhere but Boston during his 14-year NHL career, and the two-time All-Star has provided stellar play throughout that time.

    If Rask wants to sign elsewhere, there will be interest in an experienced goaltender who continues to play well. But it's hard to imagine him not wearing black and gold after so many years.

    With understudy Jaroslav Halak signing with the Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins could bring back Rask and pair him with Ullmark for a strong duo in 2022. And that seems to be the most likely scenario, assuming Boston can make it work financially.

    Prediction: Rask re-signs with Boston.

Brandon Saad, LW

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    One of the top offensive players still on the free-agent market is Brandon Saad, a 10-year NHL veteran who has provided solid play for three teams throughout his career. He spent the 2020-21 campaign with the Colorado Avalanche, who acquired the 28-year-old in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in October.

    Saad could be returning to the Avs after tallying 15 goals and nine assists in 44 games last season. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported that Colorado may have extended a contract offer to the left wing Wednesday.

    However, the Avalanche won't have been the only team. According to LeBrun, the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils have also offered deals to Saad, whose camp is "carefully sifting through it all."

    So which one will he choose?

    The prediction here is that Saad will join a new team for the second successive summer, as he will opt to sign with Carolina. Saad will provide the Hurricanes with an offensive boost they have yet to add this offseason.

    Prediction: Saad signs with Carolina.

Bobby Ryan, RW

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    On Wednesday, the Detroit Red Wings re-signed forward Sam Gagner to a one-year, $850,000 deal. It was a move that may have signaled the end of Bobby Ryan's time with the team after one season.

    However, there should be offers coming for the 34-year-old, who has played for three teams over his 14-year NHL career. The Athletic's Ian Mendes recently tweeted that a "chance for [Ryan] to get a one-year deal might exist in the days ahead."

    Ryan's numbers have dipped in limited action the past two seasons. In his lone year with the Red Wings, he had seven goals and seven assists in 33 games. However, he could still provide depth and experience for a team looking to add that to its offense.

    One fit could be with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are saving their remaining cap space to add a forward, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. While he wouldn't fill the Leafs' top-six need, Ryan should come at a low cost, so the prediction here is that Toronto will reach out and ink the veteran right winger to a deal.

    Prediction: Ryan signs with Toronto.

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