AUG. 22 UPDATE: Members of the 2020 UFA class enter an unprecedented off-season with little idea of what to expect. The salary cap is flat at $81.5 million, so many teams around the league will be looking to shed salary rather than add it. How will that impact the UFAs? Their options may be more limited than usual. It could mean a handful of cap-flexible teams get to be the big stacks at the poker table this off-season. It could mean this year’s UFAs have to accept less money if they want long-term pacts. Or it could mean some big-ticket names sign short-term deals at one or two years, hoping to cash in properly when the cap begins to rise again. Might we see someone sign a contract like the one Marian Hossa inked in the summer of 2008, joining the Detroit Red Wings for one season?
It should be exciting to find out. Here is my updated list of the top 30 UFAs for 2020, factoring in some players who have influenced their stocks during the post-season thus far.
Ages listed as of Dec. 1, 2020 – the currently slated start date for the 2020-21 season.
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. Do the Blues retain him? That will require some serious creativity from a team with $2.05 million in cap space.
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. If Krug leaves Boston, the pull toward his beloved childhood team in Detroit could be strong.
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. ROBIN LEHNER, G, 29
2019-20 cap hit: $5,000,000
Had to sign another prove-it deal last summer, but he’s earned a longer-term pact now, especially after wresting playoff starter duties form Marc-Andre Fleury. The way Vegas is rolling right now, Lehner might have a Stanley Cup ring to up his price tag in the off-season, too.
6. 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 good bet to change teams since the Panthers have NHL-ready winger prospects and need to improve their D-corps.
7. 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.
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 the start of the post-season.
9. 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’s looked like a reliable bellcow in the playoffs, too.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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. The flat cap spikes the odds of him leaving even more.
14. DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN, D, 35
2019-20 cap hit: $7,600,000
‘Big Buff’ is easily the toughest player to rank on this list. Does he want to return? If he does, will he be healthy enough? Will he be the same game-breaking player as ever after a year without playing? Then again, if he’s even 80 percent of his normal self, he can help any team – and he’ll come at a discount.
15. 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 – just in time for another pay day.
16. 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.
17. BRENDEN DILLON, D, 30
2019-20 cap hit: $3,270,000
A throwback who defends with his big body and doesn’t get too cute with the puck. He’s also mobile enough that he can play alongside elite rushers, like Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose and John Carlson in Washington.
18. 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.
19. 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 ‘D.’
20. COREY CRAWFORD, G, 35
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?
21. JESPER FAST, RW, 28
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.
22. DYLAN DEMELO, D, 27
2019-20 cap hit; $900,000
DeMelo was a quietly effective defensive defenseman on a bad Ottawa team, to the point he became a tradable rental asset at the deadline. He’s been perceived as more of a sixth or seventh defenseman, but he can handle himself on a middle pair.
23. 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.
24. CHRIS TANEV, D, 30
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’s recovered some of his value this post-season playing big minutes.
25. ANTON KHUDOBIN, G, 34
2019-20 cap hit: $2,500,000
He’s arguably been the NHL’s best backup goaltender of the past two years, and it’s not like he’s starting a dozen games per season. He’s started 63 games over that stretch, leading all goalies in goals saved above average per 60 at 5-on-5 (min. 1,000 minutes).
26. 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.
27. JOEL EDMUNDSON, D, 27
2019-20 cap hit: $3,100,000
He was an afterthought by the end of St. Louis’ Cup run last season but found new life in Carolina. In four post-season games before an injury took him out, he averaged more than 23 minutes a game and brought some nastiness.
28. CARL SODERBERG, C, 35
2019-29 cap hit: $4,750,000
You can can count on him for 15 to 20 goals on your third line in a two-way role. A big, intelligent center.
29. 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.
30. 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 only just turned 30.
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
- Jason Spezza, C
- Patrick Marleau, LW
- Mikko Koivu, C
Other 2020 UFAs to watch: Radko Gudas, Ilya Kovalchuk, Cody Eakin, Thomas Greiss, Mark Borowiecki, Justin Braun, Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Leivo, Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Andy Greene, Conor Sheary, Patrick Maroon, Tyler Ennis, Wayne Simmonds, Ron Hainsey, Michael Frolik, Jimmy Howard, Jay Bouwmeester, Craig Anderson, Mike Smith, Corey Perry, Zach Bogosian, Jimmy Vesey, Andrej Sekera, Melker Karlsson, Kyle Clifford, Jon Merrill, Deryk Engelland, Nathan Beaulieu, Ryan Miller, Julius Nattinen, Dmitrij Jaskin (KHL release clause if offered NHL deal)