5 Bargain Free Agents Your NHL Team Should Sign
Many of the NHL's top unrestricted free agents were signed within hours of this year's free-agent market opening at noon ET on Wednesday. With the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for the 2021-22 campaign, teams with limited salary-cap space and roster needs to be addressed will have to seek more cost-effective options.
For the frugal general manager seeking affordable talent, several worthwhile players remain available. Teams seeking an experienced scorer could consider former Montreal Canadiens winger Tomas Tatar. Those in the market for blue-line depth could pursue former New Jersey Devils defenseman Ryan Murray.
Here's a look at the five bargain unrestricted free agents your NHL teams should consider signing this summer. Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
Having skated with the Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks since 2017-18, Ryan Donato became an unrestricted free agent when the Sharks opted not to qualify his rights. He could be enticing for clubs seeking a middle-six forward with some decent scoring ability.
Donato, 25, showed flashes of offensive flair after being traded to the Wild in 2018-19 with 16 points in 22 games. He tallied 14 goals and 23 points in 62 games the following season but was traded to San Jose in October for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft. He managed 20 points in 50 games for the low-scoring Sharks.
A center who can also skate at left wing, Donato completed a two-year, $3.8 million contract. While consistency is an issue, his scoring bursts could make him a worthwhile short-term option as a power-play specialist. A one-year deal worth around $1.5 million could be a reasonable price for him.
Teams in the market for a reasonably priced all-around forward to skate on their middle six could give Dominik Kahun some consideration. The 26-year-old became an unrestricted free agent when the Edmonton Oilers opted not to tender a qualifying offer.
Debuting with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018-19, Kahun also skated with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres before joining the Oilers last season on a one-year, $975,000 contract. Slender at 5'11" and 175 pounds, he possesses decent offensive skills, amassing 83 points in 186 career games with those four teams.
Kahun won't break the bank for clubs scouring the free-agent bargain bin for experienced forward depth. His versatility, responsible two-way play and offensive abilities could see him get a one-year deal for around $1 million.
A first-round pick (second overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012, Ryan Murray has been hampered by injuries throughout his eight NHL seasons. Still, the 27-year-old defenseman could be a cost-effective addition for cap-strapped clubs seeking experienced blue-line depth.
Despite his injury history, Murray has still averaged 20:08 of per-game ice time in his career. He logged 18:37 last season with the Devils, collecting 14 points in 48 games while finishing fifth in shorthanded ice time per game (1:41). He was also their leader in blocked shots with 73.
The 6'1", 206-pounder could fit in well on a team lacking an experienced left-side defenseman capable of logging plenty of minutes. Murray completed a two-year contract with an annual cap hit of $4.6 million and probably won't get that much on the open market this year. As the talent drains from the free-agent pool and cap space dwindles, he could end up on a one- or two-year deal at $2.5 million.
A first-round pick (10th overall) with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 NHL draft, Nick Ritchie hasn't blossomed into the power forward he was envisioned to become. However, the 25-year-old left winger could prove useful to teams seeking size, grit and scoring on their second or third line.
The 6'2", 230-pound Ritchie is a tough, big-bodied forward who netted a career-best 15 goals in 56 games last season to finish fourth among Boston Bruins scorers. He was also fifth with 121 shots and second in hits with 102. He completed a three-year contract worth $4.6 million and became an unrestricted free agent when the Bruins opted not to qualify his rights.
Ritchie's offensive output declined after the Bruins acquired Taylor Hall before the trade deadline and he was moved to the third line. Still, his solid effort and physical style last season suggests he could be reasonably productive with the right linemates. His annual cap hit last season was $1.498 million, and he's unlikely to get more than that per season on the open market.
Teams in the market for a top-six winger with offensive skills could come calling on Tomas Tatar. He's coming off a four-year deal worth an annual average value of $5.3 million. However, the 30-year-old winger could become a reasonable short-term bargain signing.
A slick playmaker with a good scoring touch, the 30-year-old tallied 20 or more goals in six seasons from 2014-15 to 2019-20 with the Detroit Red Wings, Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens. He also reached or exceeded 45 points five times during that period. He finished fourth among Canadiens scorers last season with 30 points in 50 games.
Tatar's postseason numbers, however, are another matter, netting just 12 points in 40 career playoff contests. He appeared in just five playoff games during Montreal's run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. That could drive down his free-agent value and work to the advantage of teams seeking a second-line winger at a reasonable price. Perhaps a two-year deal at $3.75 million per season does the trick.