NHL Rumor Mill – April 16, 2020
Updated unrestricted free agent rankings and how the current season shutdown could affect the UFA market in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS/TSN: St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, and Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug are the top three on Matt Larkin’s and Frank Seravalli’s respective lists of this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agents.
Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner, Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli, Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby, and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Sami Vatanen round out Larkin’s top-10.
Seravalli had Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom in fourth place (he was 11th on Larkin’s list), followed by Lehner, Hoffman, Dadonov, Toffoli, Holtby, and Barrie. Vatanen was 12th on his ranking.
Other noteworthy players to appear on both lists include Calgary Flames defensemen T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Erik Gustafsson, Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals d-man Brenden Dillon and winger Ilya Kovalchuk, and Florida Panthers forward Erik Haula,
Larkin also included Nashville Predators wingers Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith, Bruins backup goalie Jaroslav Halak and defenseman Zdeno Chara, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, Winnipeg Jets blueliner Dylan DeMelo, Capitals rearguard Radko Gudas, New York Islanders netminder Thomas Greiss, Toronto Maple Leafs center Jason Spezza, Vancouver Canucks d-man Chris Tanev, Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, and Ottawa Senators defender Mark Borowiecki.
Seravalli’s ranking included Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Justin Braun, Hurricanes blueliner Joel Edmundson, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, Leafs defenseman Cody Ceci, Blues rearguard Marco Scandella and Dallas Stars netminder Anton Khudobin.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think most observers will agree where Pietrangelo, Hall, and Krug sit among this year’s top UFAs. I’m sure there will be considerable disagreement over where the others are ranked.
For example, I think Barrie’s struggles in Toronto this season could send his UFA stock tumbling. Remember, some observers (including yours truly) considered Jake Gardiner among last year’s top-10 free agents, and he wound up waiting until September to get a deal that was well below the $6 million annually he was projected to get.
It’s also safe to say some of these players, such as Chara, Crawford, and Williams, are likely to re-sign with their current clubs.
Seravalli reports the effects of the current league shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty for this year’s free-agent market. One agent expects the players will have a hard time going backward financially, but that’s what’s going to happen because of the pandemic. Should the salary cap remain at $81.5 million next season, many free agents may have to accept significantly less than they expect.
One agent pointed out there won’t be much of a market for top UFA. Only bottom-feeding clubs will have the most money to spend, but they’re usually not attractive destinations for free-agent talent. Seravalli suggests players might accept short-term deals for less money in the hope of trying to cash in later.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Players will still try to get the best deals they can, but I concur most won’t find the lucrative offers they would’ve received in a normal year. I agree with Seravalli that many could accept one- or two-year deals for less money and try their luck again in a year or two, or opt for the security of term over dollars.
The UFA market could also be flooded with additional players if the league and the NHLPA agreed to implement compliance buyouts for this off-season as a means of helping cap-strapped clubs hit hard by the shutdown. That could also drive down prices for free-agent talent.