Oct. 13 update: We've seen the top UFA dominoes, Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo, fall over the past few days, but a number of strong options remain on the open market, largely because no teams could pitch them until Day 1 of free agency. The early negotiation window, which allowed teams to talk to pending UFAs for five to seven days before the market officially opened, has been eliminated. For the first time since July 1, 2012, teams could not start talking to their targets until the official start time of 12:00 ET/9:00 PT.
Also holding up the activity: the flat salary cap has made it tougher for teams to spend frivolously, and that's squeezed out some players who normally would've found teams quickly. We'll thus continue to see a slower trickle of signings than usual in the days and weeks to come.
Who are the ‘Best of the Rest’? Here’s a look at the top players, sorted by position. Included are their overall ranks from my top-30 UFA update published the day before free agency began. Ages as of Jan. 1, 2021. Note that I list more forwards than defensemen. At this time, more forwards than D-men remain from last week's top-30 list.
1. MIKE HOFFMAN, LW, 31
UFA rank: 4
2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Ranks 16th in goals since 2014-15, his first full NHL season. Bloomed late, so he’s older than a lot of people realize, but he hasn’t lost his wheels yet. A great complementary asset with a deadly release. Led Florida with three goals in four games during the play-in round.
2. EVGENII DADONOV, RW, 31
UFA rank: 5
2019-20 cap hit: $4,000,000
Why don’t we talk about him more? Since returning to NHL for 2017-18, he’s 11th in scoring among right wingers, between Patrik Laine and Alexander Radulov.
3. MIKAEL GRANLUND, LW, 28
UFA rank: 11
2019-20 cap hit: $5,750,000
It didn’t work out in Nashville, but Granlund is young enough to recapture his scoring touch in the right situation. He’s just a couple years removed being one of the game’s most dynamic young players. He did come alive with seven goals in February.
4. ERIK HAULA, C, 29
UFA rank: 15
2019-20 cap hit: $2,750,000
He’s a valuable two-way pivot with underrated goal-scoring skills when he’s on the ice. Might come at a reasonable price because of the all the knee troubles he’s endured.
5. ANTHONY DUCLAIR, LW, 25
UFA rank: 19
2019-20 cap hit: $1,650,000
Duclair represented himself and turned down a raise, so he didn't receive a qualifying offer from the Senators. He's now a UFA after potting a career-best 23 goals in 66 games last season. Consistency is not his calling card, but his speed and upside are undeniable. Fascinating to see that he's acting as his own agent, reaching out to teams himself.
6. CARL SODERBERG, C, 35
UFA rank: 24
2019-29 cap hit: $4,750,000
You can count on him for 15 to 20 goals on your third line in a two-way role. A big, intelligent center.
7. COREY PERRY, RW, 35
UFA rank: 28
2019-20 cap hit: $3,250,000
It was a “prove it” season for Perry, who signed with Dallas for one year after the Anaheim Ducks bought him out. In this case, “it” didn’t necessarily mean showing he was still a star player, but Perry did show he can still be a relevant agitator and depth forward who chips in the odd big goal. His five goals in 27 playoff games equalled his regular-season total across 57 games. A contending team could use him as a bottom-sixer.
Other UFA forwards to watch: Andreas Athanasiou, Joe Thornton, Dominik Kahun, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Leivo
1. SAMI VATANEN, D, 29
UFA rank: 10
2019-20 cap hit: $4,875,000
Has a heck of a time staying healthy – a 60-game season qualifies as a win with him – but moves the puck and can work a power play. Right-handedness will net him some extra bucks.
2. TRAVIS HAMONIC, D, 30
UFA rank: 16
2019-20 cap hit: 3,857,143
Perpetually nicked up but plays a simple game that could stabilize a team’s middle pair or, ideally at this stage of his career, third pair. Was fully entitled to opt out of the post-season, but he did cost himself some showcase time in his walk year.
Other top UFA defensemen to watch: Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene, Deryk Engelland
1. CRAIG ANDERSON, G, 39
UFA rank: n/a
2019-20 cap hit: $4,750,000
The goaltending market has dried up to the point there may be no team left that could count Anderson as an upgrade in net as a starter – save perhaps for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are trying an experimental trio of Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Does Anderson have anything left at 39? He graded out as below average this past season but did face a difficult workload on a bad Ottawa team, so he could fare better with a stronger defense in front of him.
Other UFA goaltenders to watch: Ryan Miller, Aaron Dell, Jimmy Howard