Last Monday’s NHL trade deadline had an immediate effect upon this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
Here’s a breakdown on which players may be available and what organizations may do as July 1 approaches.
With the New York Rangers re-signing winger Chris Kreider and the New York Islanders acquiring and re-signing center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, two of the notable free-agent forwards came off the board.
Taylor Hall still tops the list as the best forward and sole superstar among this summer’s UFAs. The decline in his production this season, possibly linked to season-ending knee surgery a year ago, could adversely affect his free-agent value. Landing a multi-year deal worth over $10 million annually seems less likely for the 2018 Hart Trophy winner than it did when this season began.
Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov and Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli are the best of what can be considered second-tier forward talent. Hoffman and Dadonov are skilled offensive players, while Toffoli is a versatile two-way forward who can play center or wing.
Other recognizable forwards include San Jose’s Joe Thornton, Washington’s Ilya Kovalchuk, Toronto’s Jason Spezza and Buffalo’s Wayne Simmonds. All are past their prime and should be considered depth options at this stage of their respective careers while Thornton is already talking about returning with the Sharks next season. Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund and the New York Rangers’ Jesper Fast would also be decent pickups.
TRADE DEADLINE: Thornton, Tyson Barrie among notable players not moved
The market for defensemen features two blue-chippers in St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston Bruins rearguard Torey Krug. There is also some decent secondary blueline talent, such as Carolina’s Sami Vatanen, Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk and Calgary’s T.J. Brodie.
Krug’s teammate Zdeno Chara is also due to become a UFA, but everyone knows he’ll either re-sign with the Bruins or retire.
Noteworthy goaltenders include a former Vezina Trophy winner in Washington’s Braden Holtby, a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Chicago’s Corey Crawford, and the 2019 Masterton Trophy winner in Vegas’ Robin Lehner. Of those three, Lehner could be the best option as Holtby and Crawford are no longer putting up Vezina-worthy numbers. Meanwhile, the under-appreciated Lehner had solid stats behind a porous Blackhawks club before getting shipped to the Golden Knights at the trade deadline.
TRADE DEADLINE: Winners, losers and those to be determined
A number of quality backups could be available, including Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, Boston’s Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss.
What happens next?
How many of these players are still available when free agency opens at 12 p.m. ET on July 1 remains to be seen.
The offense-starved Coyotes could open the vault to keep Hall in Arizona, though that could mean shedding some salary to do so. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $80 million invested in 17 players, though they can get $5.25 million of cap relief by placing all-but-retired winger Marian Hossa on long-term injury reserve.
Toffoli is quickly fitting in with the Canucks after they acquired him two weeks ago from the Los Angeles Kings. With over $63 million tied up in 13 players and goalie Jacob Markstrom to re-sign, there might not be enough to keep Toffoli in the fold.
Pietrangelo and Krug would attract considerable interest if they hit the open market, but that’s not a certainty. The Blues hope to re-sign Pietrangelo — and he wants to stay — though it could get tricky working out the dollars. Krug, on the other hand, suggested last September he’d take a hometown discount to remain a Bruin.
With the Capitals giving more playing time to young Ilya Samsonov this season, Holtby’s days in Washington appear numbered. At 35, Crawford won’t get any more lucrative long-term deals, but the Blackhawks could attempt to keep him in the fold for a reasonable short-term deal.
Marc-Andre Fleury seems entrenched as the Golden Knights’ starting goalie. Nevertheless, one wonders if that might change if Lehner outplays Fleury and takes over the starter net in the playoffs.
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