July 1 is almost here and this offseason has a long list of free agents that can add plenty of depth for teams looking to contend next year. This is the first offseason in ages that the restricted free agents could be the dominating storyline, but that’s not to take away from the market of unrestricted free agents.
All eyes are on Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but there are many pending UFAs out there who could prove to be crucial pieces. In short, there’s probably going to be quite a bit of movement around the league this summer. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 20 of the top UFAs in this year’s free-agent class:
Artemi Panarin, Blue Jackets
After recording a career-high 87 points and another 25-plus goal season, the Breadman is going to get his bread, and a lot of it. Panarin’s 320 career points rank eighth most since coming over from the KHL in 2015, and his gamebreaking combination of vision, touch and a laser-like shot helped the Blue Jackets topple the Lightning in the postseason. Linked to the Panthers and Rangers with the Avalanche and Islanders in tow, Panarin will have no problem commanding a massive long-term contract.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
Panarin could have a buddy along for the ride this offseason. Fellow countryman Bobrovsky has been rumored to go to the Panthers essentially since the trade deadline and now that Roberto Luongo has decided to hang up his skates, this possibility grows. The Islanders, who could lose Robin Lehner to free agency, also seem to have interest in Bobrovsky. The two-time Vezina winner didn’t have the greatest season in 2018–19, but finished second among goalies in wins (37) and was a wall during the first round of the playoffs.
Matt Duchene, Blue Jackets
Duchene has pinballed in the last two seasons from Colorado to Ottawa before finally landing in Columbus at the trade deadline, but the 28-year-old center will find a long-term home come July 1. Where? Nashville. Preds GM David Poile moved heaven and Subban to clear enough cap space to strengthen the team’s forward group. Duchene provides the offensive jolt Nashville needs. On the off chance he remains on the market, other teams will be competing for the best center available this offseason.
Joe Pavelski, Sharks
After signing Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million contract, it looks like the Sharks could lose their captain this offseason. Pavelski has spent his entire 13-year career in San Jose and is coming off a 38-goal season, just three short of his career best. San Jose has still been in talks with the him, but limited cap space may force them to watch him walk come July 1. The 34-year-old center has visited with the Stars and Lightning so far, while chatting with other teams as well.
Anders Lee, Islanders
After John Tavares left and vacated the captaincy last offseason, the Islanders might again be captain-less in July. Lee has expressed his unhappiness with not having a deal by this point (teammates Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson each received new contracts). The 6’3”, 231 pound winger supplies a physical net-front presence and power play prowess—substantiated with three consecutive 50-plus point seasons—and is reportedly in talks with the Blackhawks. Expect a team like the Avalanche to enter the conversation, too.
Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs
As one of the best defensemen available in free agency, Gardiner will have several options to choose from next week. Cap space is tight in Toronto, where the 28-year-old has spent his entire eight-year career. Gardiner’s season was shortened to 62 games in 2018–19 because of injury, but he still managed 30 points and a +19 rating. If the Maple Leafs can’t bring Gardiner back, the Panthers, Wild and Kings are reportedly at the top of his list for free agency.
Joe Thornton, Sharks
Turning 40 on July 2, Jumbo Joe announced he’d return for the 2019–20 season and joked he could play another five. Thornton enters unrestricted free agency as the league’s active leader in points and 35 assists shy of becoming the seventh NHL player to record 1,100 assists. Coming back with a surgically repaired knee, Thornton experienced a mini revival while anchoring San Jose’s third line and contributing 10 postseason points. The Sharks’ cap crunch is the only obstacle preventing him from returning to the Bay Area.
Robin Lehner, Islanders
To many’s surprise, the Islanders wasted no time in adjusting to a Tavares-less era in 2018–19 and a major part of that had to with Lehner. The 27-year-old goaltender had career bests in save percentage, shutouts, goals-against average and wins in an inspiring season that saw him as a Vezina finalist and winner of the Masterton Trophy after opening up about his mental health. Lehner doesn’t seem to be interested in chatting with other teams, but has yet to agree to terms with Lou Lamoriello.
Mats Zuccarello, Stars
A crafty, feisty, playmaking top-six forward, Zuccarello became everything the Stars needed after they acquired him at the trade deadline. He revitalized a wilting offense and was one of the team’s best players in the postseason. Now a pending free agent for the first time at age 31, Zuccarello won’t have a better chance to test the market and earn long-term stability. That’s not ideal for the Stars, who don’t have a ton of cap flexibility and will have to forfeit a 2020 first-round pick to the Rangers for re-signing him.
Gustav Nyquist, Sharks
After finding himself in San Jose at the trade deadline, Nyquist finished the season with a career-high 60 points and 11 points in San Jose’s postseason run. The Sharks have a lot of moving parts in regards to cap space, but if they can’t keep the 29-year-old forward, there is reported interest from the Oilers and Red Wings, with whom Nyquist spent all of his career before being traded in February.
Marcus Johansson, Bruins
Johansson helped fuel the Bruins’ postseason run, infusing depth from the third line for a team that had struggled with secondary scoring. He drives zone entries, delivers solid power play minutes and excels as a distributor. Entering his 10th NHL season, Johansson carries a not-insignificant injury history, which dulls two previous 20-goal campaigns. There are enough teams that need added forward depth to create what could be a frenzied market for Johansson.
Wayne Simmonds, Predators
Although he was one of the biggest names at the trade deadline, Simmonds’s stint in Nashville was a bit of a yawn with just one goal and two assists as a Predator. But that hasn’t stopped him from having several suitors for free agency. Montreal and Minnesota are among 12(!) teams interested in the 30-year-old winger, according to Pierre LeBrun. Before his drastic drop-off this past season, Simmonds had recorded five straight years with 46 or more points.
Justin Williams, Hurricanes
The Hurricanes’ storybook run in 2018–19 doesn’t happen without Williams. Yes, Williams recorded his third 50-point season in four years, but he’s also the unquestioned leader of the league’s most lovable bunch of jerks. The Storm Surge celebrations started, and ended, with Williams. Firmly cemented into the Hurricanes’ franchise history, Williams is reportedly mulling retirement after 18 seasons. Carolina has more than enough cap space to bring him back.
Tyler Myers, Jets
At 6’8” and 229 pounds, Myers is a beast of a defenseman who averages more than 20 minutes of ice time. The 29-year-old had 31 points for Winnipeg this season and was an important presence for both the penalty kill and power play. His size and skill will attract several teams, with the Canucks being one of the first interested in the blueliner so far.
Petr Mrazek, Hurricanes
No goaltender has received more than $4.1 million per year in unrestricted free agency since 2014. Mrazek’s number should come in that range. One half of the Hurricanes’ goalie tandem alongside Curtis McElhinney, Mrazek provides league-average goaltending (career .911 save percentage and 2.61 goals against average) at a price that isn’t cost prohibitive. He’s the consolation prize to whoever doesn’t want to risk giving Bobrovsky a massive contract.
Anton Stralman, Lightning
At 32 years old, Stralman is past his prime, but is a reliable defenseman with 104 games of playoff experience for any team looking for a veteran presence. He’s still clocking in 20-plus minutes of ice time on average, but a lower-body injury kept him out of most of the end of the season and all of the postseason. The blueliner has had a half-dozen teams interested so far this offseason, with the Panthers being in that mix.
Micheal Ferland, Hurricanes
Acquired in the 2018 Noah Hanifin trade, Ferland scored 11 goals in his first 21 games with the Hurricanes. Fast forward through a concussion, stalled contract negotiations and trade deadline rumors, and Ferland finished with six goals in his final 50 games. The 27-year-old winger has 20-goal potential and is a more cost-effective option for any team looking to bolster its bottom six.
Brett Connolly, Capitals
Delivering a career-best 22 goals for the Capitals last season, Connolly is on track to get a sizable pay raise come July 1. Though he’s never been sixth-overall caliber (like he was selected in the 2010 draft), the 27-year-old winger had three straight seasons of 15 goals or more in Washington and has improved each year. Edmonton has been among those interested, which could use a player like him to strengthen its offense.
Alex Chiasson, Oilers
With significant ice time for the first time in his career, Chiasson scored a career-high 22 goals and emerged as one sliver of hope for an Edmonton franchise filled with pessimism. Chiasson has survived on the fringes of NHL rosters as a physical, 6’4” power forward and increased power-play time, in addition to playing with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, finally unlocked his scoring potential. That’s the kind of player Edmonton needs in its forward corps and Chiasson might struggle to duplicate his production elsewhere.
Ryan Dzingel, Blue Jackets
As the fourth major UFA who most recently wore a Blue Jackets jersey, Dzingel isn’t a priority for teams looking to nab a top free agent, including Columbus. However, he could still land a decent contract once the bigger dominoes fall into place. Dzingel had a career-high 66 points last season, including 26 goals, but was pretty quiet in the Blue Jackets’ postseason run with just one goal and a healthy scratch against Boston. The 27-year-old has had back-to-back 20-goal seasons and could provide depth to a team needing to beef up its third line.