The top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2020 - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

The Top 30 Unrestricted Free Agents of 2020

The 2020 market lacks the flash of last year's but still offers some marquee names at every position – and tremendous depth.
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Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

OCT. 8 UPDATE: One last refresh of the list! Robin Lehner, Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo have re-signed with their teams over the past week, but plenty of the most coveted UFAs remain. Note the additions of a few ex-RFAs who did not receive qualifying offers.

Ages listed as of Jan. 1, 2021.

1. ALEX PIETRANGELO, D, 30
2019-20 cap hit: $6,500,000

He’s a big, rangy, skilled leader with a Stanley Cup ring. He still defends at an elite level. He’d already set a career high with 16 goals and was three away from beating his personal-best point total of 54 when the NHL shutdown halted his progress with 11 games to go. His next contract may not look the prettiest in its final few years, but whichever team signs him can just decide to worry about that time when it comes. He’s a difference-maker in the short term. The Blues have cleared some cap space to make room for him with the Jake Allen trade, but it’s not enough yet. The sides aren’t close to a deal, they’re publicly posturing, and the Blues have even told Pietrangelo to go to market. It appears he’ll test it, even if the Blues remain the best bet to get him.

2. TAYLOR HALL, LW, 29

2019-20 cap hit: $6,000,000

A lock to go to market, which is unprecedented for Hart-Trophy winners still in their 20s, so Hall’s free agency will be a significant event. He would’ve commanded between $9 million and $10 million annually across a max term under non-COVID conditions. But is it possible he pulls a Hossa on a shorter-term pact with a contender? The Avalanche sure do have the cap space…

3. TOREY KRUG, D, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $5,250,000

More than just a power-play maven. Size doesn’t hinder his defensive effectiveness as much in today’s game, and he plays with feistiness. Could easily end up the top UFA ‘D’ prize should Pietrangelo re-sign before Oct. 9. If Krug leaves Boston, the pull toward his beloved childhood team in Detroit could be strong. The most recent offer from the Bruins, reported by TSN's Frank Seravalli, won’t get it done, and there appears to be interest in trading for Krug’s rights. It sure feels like he’s done in Boston.

4. MIKE HOFFMAN, LW, 31
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.

5. EVGENII DADONOV, RW, 31
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. Dadonov is a good bet to change teams since the Panthers have NHL-ready winger prospects and need to improve their D-corps.

6. TYSON BARRIE, D, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $5,500,000

As a right-shot with excellent power-play acumen, he’ll have a long list of suitors. Even if his game doesn’t translate as well to the grinding post-season, he can excel in the right situation if he isn’t asked to do too much.

7. JACOB MARKSTROM, G, 30
2019-20 cap hit: $3,666,667

It appeared Markstrom had settled into a solid career as a stopgap starter who could consistently deliver good-but-not-great years, but this season he finally showed the ability that made him the game’s top goaltending prospect a decade ago. Instead of being courted as 1B or luxury backup, he’s vaulted himself into the starter tier. He looked like a reliable bellcow in the playoffs until an injury knocked him out, and things got complicated when goalie-of-the-future Thatcher Demko stepped in and dominated. If Demko is ready for stardom, is Vancouver’s money best spent on a skater rather than Markstrom?

8. TYLER TOFFOLI, RW, 28
2019-20 cap hit: $4,600,000

A trade to Vancouver finally gave Toffoli a chance to play in a less defense-oriented system, and he ripped off six goals and 10 points in 10 games, teasing at what he might do if he lands in a good situation with a talented playmaking center. It’s a shame he lost momentum with injuries shelving him for most of the first two rounds in the post-season.

9. T.J. BRODIE, D, 30
2019-20 cap hit: $4,650,400

Not flashy, but he’s a mobile top-four type who moves the puck pretty well and, as a lefty, functions best on the right side. Optimal to pair him with a top-end No. 1, however, as he has struggled at times when not skating with Mark Giordano in Calgary.

10. SAMI VATANEN, D, 29
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.

11. MIKAEL GRANLUND, LW, 28
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.

12. BRADEN HOLTBY, G, 31
2019-20 cap hit: $6,100,000

Holtby does have a Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup, but his numbers have declined the past few seasons. With Ilya Samsonov arriving and looking like a future NHL star, the Capitals used their UFA money to keep center Nicklas Backstrom, increasing the likelihood that Holtby walks. It's official now. Holtby will go to market.

13. KEVIN SHATTENKIRK, D, 31
2019-20 cap hit: $1,750,000

Was better than his Ranger numbers indicated, making him less of a gamble than it may have seemed when Tampa signed him. Not surprisingly, he got his production back on track, and now he has a Stanley Cup ring – just in time for another payday.

14. ERIK GUSTAFSSON, D, 28
2019-20 cap hit: $1,200,000

His monster 2018-19 was clearly an anomaly. In a way, seeing his offensive production almost halved makes him more of a bargain. He can move the puck, and you no longer have to pay the premium of a 60-point defenseman.

15. ERIK HAULA, C, 29
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.

16. TRAVIS HAMONIC, D, 30
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. Sure feels like he’s an ideal fit for his hometown team, the Winnipeg Jets, who are desperate for help on the right side of their blueline.

17. COREY CRAWFORD, G, 36
2019-20 cap hit: $6,000,000

He had a truly remarkable year. Factoring in the historically bad defense playing in front of him, he was one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. He still has something left. But is he willing to take less money to stay with the Blackhawks, who are tight for cap space? Their last reported offer was $3.5 million for one year. He was better than a $3.5-million goaltender in 2019-20.

18. CRAIG SMITH, RW, 31
2019-20 cap hit: $4,250,000

A great skater who shoots the puck a ton, gets around 20 goals every year and can augment most teams’ middle-six forward groups. An underrated buy.

19. ANTHONY DUCLAIR, LW, 25
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. 

20. JESPER FAST, RW, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $1,850,000

It’s strange to see him accumulate so few points when his most common placement this season was on a scoring line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. But that’s Fast’s game, really. He’s a two-way forward who does the little things coaches love. He’s adored by his teammates.

21. CHRIS TANEV, D, 31
2019-20 cap hit: $4,450,000

The defensive D-man sacrifices his body a lot, and it’s taken a toll on him. Even if his value peaked a few years ago, however, he can still help most teams in a depth-pair shutdown role, and he recovered some of his value this post-season playing big minutes.

22. ANTON KHUDOBIN, G, 34
2019-20 cap hit: $2,500,000

Before we call his great 2020 playoff run an anomaly: he was the NHL’s best backup goaltender of the past two years, and it’s not like he was starting a dozen games per season. He’s started 63 games over that stretch, leading all NHL goalies in goals saved above average per 60 at 5-on-5 (min. 1,000 minutes).

23. VLADISLAV NAMESTNIKOV, LW, 28
2019-20 cap hit: $4,000,000

This season was Namestnikov in a nutshell: playing higher in the lineup on a bad team (Ottawa) and chipping in some offense, then playing all over the lineup on a good team (Colorado) as a versatile middle-six type who can kill penalties or play the second power-play unit.

24. CARL SODERBERG, C, 35
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.

25. CAM TALBOT, G, 33
2019-20 cap hit: $2,750,000

Hard to believe Talbot is two years older than Holtby, especially when Talbot played like a 25-year-old this season. He was Calgary’s best player more often than not in the post-season. It was a shame to see his year end on such a low note with the implosion against Dallas in Game 6.

26. JUSTIN SCHULTZ, D, 30
2019-20 cap hit: $5,500,000

Schultz struggled in his contract year. But potential suitors could point to the fact that his most productive stretches as a Penguin came when Kris Letang was out long-term and Schultz was forced into a bigger role. Schultz finished 10th in the 2016-17 Norris vote when Letang missed half the season. That feels like an eternity ago, but Schultz is only 30.

27. NICK COUSINS, LW, 27
2019-20 cap hit: $1,000,000

Cousins, an agitator who is adept at taking the puck away from opponents, was an important checking-line contributor for Vegas during the post-season. They would've liked to keep him but are so tight to the salary cap that he's not a luxury they can afford. He'll catch on somewhere as a high-quality bottom-six forward.

28. COREY PERRY, RW, 35
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.

29. PATRICK MAROON, LW, 32
2019-20 cap hit: $900,000

Back-to-back Stanley Cups on two different teams for the big fella. Another contender short on size and experience will come calling this summer since cap-crunched Tampa can't afford to keep him.

30. ANDREAS ATHANASIOU, LW, 26
2019-20 cap hit: $3,000,000

The Oilers couldn't qualify Athanasiou. They need to aim higher and will likely chase a big-name goalie this off-season. He can still help a team that uses him correctly given his superb hands and speed. He's just a season removed from scoring 30 goals.

RETURNING ELDER STATESMAN TIER

If these high-profile UFAs don’t retire, they’ll likely only come back to play for their current teams, with one or two exceptions. Patrick Marleau may want to retire as a Shark. Joe Thornton may want to join a contender for one more shot at the Cup.

- Justin Williams, RW
- Zdeno Chara, D
- Joe Thornton, C
- Patrick Marleau, LW

Other 2020 UFAs to watch: Radko Gudas, Troy Stecher, Ilya Kovalchuk, Cody Eakin, Vinnie Hinostroza, Thomas Greiss, Mark Borowiecki, Dominik Kahun, Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Leivo, Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Andy Greene, Conor Sheary, Tyler Ennis, Wayne Simmonds, Ron Hainsey, Michael Frolik, Jimmy Howard, Jay Bouwmeester, Craig Anderson, Mikko Koivu, Mike Smith, Zach Bogosian, Jimmy Vesey, Andrej Sekera, Melker Karlsson, Kyle Clifford, Jon Merrill, Deryk Engelland, Nathan Beaulieu, Ryan Miller, Travis Boyd, Matt Benning, Slater Koekkoek, Julius Nattinen, Dustin Byfuglien (agent says he’s unlikely to play again), Dmitrij Jaskin (KHL release clause if offered NHL deal)


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