NHL Free Agents 2021: Rumors, Predictions for Sami Vatanen, Top Remaining UFAs

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 17, 2021

Dallas Stars defenseman Sami Vatanen (45) moves the puck ahead of Nashville Predators left wing Tanner Jeannot (84) in the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

When NHL free agency began last month, it didn't take long for top players to start signing deals. Some returned to their former teams, while others started a new chapter of their careers by joining a new organization. And these deals materialized quickly.

Not every free agent has signed, though, and there are still some quality players who remain on the market. The 2021-22 season doesn't begin until Oct. 12, so there's plenty of time for them to ink deals with teams. Some of the league's 32 teams are still looking to add players, too.

Here's some of the latest free-agent buzz, along with predictions for where these players could end up.


Oilers Looking to Add Defenseman?

The Edmonton Oilers may not be looking to spend a lot of money, but it seems they're still looking to add to their defense this offseason. According to Kurt Leavins of the Edmonton Journal, the Oilers need a right-handed-shooting defenseman for their second pairing, and they're looking to keep the contract at league minimum.

Because Edmonton could fill that hole with a professional tryout contract, it may not bring in a player for that role until closer to training camp, per Leavins. But the Oilers may already have an idea of defensemen who they're going to be targeting.

Leavins reported that Michael Stone and Sami Vatanen are "names to perhaps keep in mind," noting that Vatanen has come up in Edmonton's discussions in the past.

Stone is a 10-year NHL veteran who spent the first half of his career with the Arizona Coyotes and the second half with the Calgary Flames. Last season, the 31-year-old had two goals, two assists and a plus-minus rating of minus-one in 21 games.

Vatanen has played nine NHL seasons, mostly with the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils. Last season, the 30-year-old was traded to the Dallas Stars, but he played only nine games for them and didn't tally any points.

For the Oilers, Vatanen would likely be the better option, but it's possible he will look to sign a bigger contract than what Edmonton will offer. However, if Vatanen doesn't find a match, perhaps he'd consider joining the Oilers on a PTO deal.

While there's still quite a bit of time before training camp begins next month, the guess here is that Vatanen won't sign and will be available to join the Oilers. And that's where he'll head for the next stage of his career.

Prediction: Vatanen signs with Oilers


Where Will Galchenyuk Head Next?

Peter Power/Associated Press

Alex Galchenyuk has played nine seasons in the NHL, and he's been with six teams. Not only that, but he's played for four teams over the past two seasons. He was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild in 2019-20, then spent time with the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs last season.

The only team that Galchenyuk has played more than one season with is the Montreal Canadiens. He began his career with the Habs and was with them from 2012-18.

Now, Galchenyuk is an unrestricted free agent, and he remains on the market. But the 27-year-old center is a valuable depth player on offense, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are teams that have shown interest in him this offseason.

According to Sportsnet's Luke Fox, Galchenyuk is "exploring his options." The Maple Leafs haven't ruled out bringing him back, per Fox, while the Canadiens also "have some level of interest in a reunion."

Galchenyuk had four goals and eight assists in 26 games for Toronto last season, but he was much more productive when he was in Montreal. Over his six seasons with the Canadiens, he had 108 goals and 147 assists in 418 games.

Considering Galchenyuk spent his best years in Montreal, it would make sense that he may want to go back. And the Canadiens could potentially benefit from added offensive depth.

That's why the prediction here is that Galchenyuk will return to Montreal for the 2021-22 campaign and look to contribute to a team coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Prediction: Galchenyuk signs with Canadiens