The start of free agency is one of the most exciting days on the hockey calendar.
Predicting where each free agent will go is an impossible task, but we’re not going to let that stop us from trying. I’ve provided a rough ranking of 50 free agents, but please don’t read too much into the order. The focus was on predicting the destination.
In terms of the Leafs, I’m expecting them to acquire a goalie like Darcy Kuemper via the trade route. It’s going to be tough for them to win any bidding wars in free agency, so I’m expecting most of their big additions to come via trade. Of course, one free agent signing can have a domino effect on the rest of the players, especially in the goalie market, but hopefully this exercise helps narrow down a few of the best suitors for each player.
Without further ado:
1. RD Dougie Hamilton – New Jersey Devils
The Devils have plenty of cap space and a former #1 overall pick Jack Hughes who is close to entering his prime. They have Hughes and Hischier up the middle, wingers like Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer on the way, and Mackenzie Blackwood in net. After drafting Luke Hughes on the back-end, Hamilton could help to form a great top four with Hughes, Severson, and Ty Smith. They’ll be out of P.K. Subban’s $9 million cap hit after this season and could afford to give Hamilton what he’s looking for.
A return to Carolina seems possible, while both Montreal and Winnipeg could make a big offer as well. He could even be the new face of the franchise in Seattle. He will probably fall outside of the Leafs‘ price range.
2. LW Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado Avalanche
I’m taking the boring answer and guess that a return to Colorado ends up happening, but there will be no shortage of interest if he hits the open market. The St. Louis Blues have already been linked to him, and it sure would be fun to see him reunited with Ryan O’Reilly. The Nashville Predators, who also have plenty of cap space, are desperate for forward help as well.
The New York Islanders could also make sense. They’ve freed up plenty of cap space over the last week, and we all know Lou Lamoriello doesn’t shy away from a big signing.
3. G Philipp Grubauer – Chicago Blackhawks
The acquisition of Seth Jones means that Chicago is accelerating their rebuild. They’re almost surely going to go out and acquire a starting goalie, of which Grubauer is one of the best in the game. Chicago doesn’t have a $2 million goalie on their roster at this point. They have plenty of cap space to afford the 29-year-old German, who could single-handedly allow them to compete for a playoff spot. Without a first-round pick next year, finishing in the basement would be a disaster.
A return to Colorado is possible, while Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Carolina could be fits as well. However, if there’s one team that’s going to throw a big offer at Grubauer, my money is on Chicago.
4. LW Alexander Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
This one feels like a free space. I’d be shocked if he left Washington, but never say never!
5. G Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins
This one also feels like a free space. I’d be quite surprised if he left Boston, who would need a goalie if Rask left. However, I expected Chara to re-sign there last season. We know how that ended.
6. C David Krecji – Boston Bruins
He racked up 44 points in 51 games last season before notching nine points in 11 playoff games. Drafted by the Bruins in 2004, the Czech center has been there ever since, so it’s impossible to envision him in another uniform. Perhaps he leaves for more term elsewhere, but he’s already made about $70 million in his career. I’ll bet on him staying with the Bruins. If he does leave, my guess is that he ends up with the Rangers.
7. LW Zach Hyman – Edmonton Oilers
This one is now a free space.
8. LW Blake Coleman – Nashville Predators
Everyone seems to think that he’s going to sign in Dallas, but the Predators have far more cap space, and I think he could receive an offer that he can’t refuse. The Predators are desperate for help up front, where they just lost Viktor Arvidsson, so I expect them to make a big splash. The Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues all seem like potential fits as well.
9. C Phillip Danault – New York Rangers
The Rangers have plenty of cap space and a major need for help up the middle. Jack Eichel is the big name that everyone is talking about, but if they miss out on him, there is not exactly a ton of top-six centers available. Danault would slot in nicely behind Mika Zibanejad, and the Rangers have plenty of offensively talented wingers to pair him with. Elliotte Friedman linked Danault to Los Angeles in the latest 31 Thoughts Podcast, but they already have Kopitar and Byfield, so I’m going with the Rangers.
10. RW Kyle Palmieri – New York Islanders
After he scored seven goals for the Islanders in 19 playoff games, given that they gave up a first-round pick for him at the deadline, I have to assume that they like him. They just freed up plenty of cap space when Nick Leddy, Andrew Ladd, and Jordan Eberle left town, and they could use a good shooting threat on their power play. A big offer could always make him go elsewhere, but the Islanders have to be considered the favourite at this point.
11. G Linus Ullmark – Buffalo Sabres
After choosing not to trade him at the deadline, the Sabres could certainly afford to pay him like a #1 goalie. A return to Buffalo seems likely, but teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins would also make sense. I think he’ll end up just outside of Toronto’s price range, but if his market isn’t quite as strong as anticipated, the Leafs would be a good fit as well.
12. LW Jaden Schwartz – Seattle Kraken
I have no reason to doubt Elliotte Friedman, who said this was all but done in his latest article.
13. LW Brandon Saad – St. Louis Blues
I think the Avs will make a serious push to keep him if they know that Landeskog is leaving, but they can’t expect Saad to wait around. It looks like the Blues will lose Jaden Schwartz, leaving them in need of some serious help on the left side. He just seems like a Blues type of player, but the Leafs, Islanders, and Predators could make sense as well.
14. RD David Savard – Montreal Canadiens
He hails from Quebec, and the Habs have to replace Shea Weber on the right side. As Avril Lavigne would say: Can it get any more obvious? The Tampa Bay Lightning probably can’t afford to pay him. I also don’t see him returning to Columbus to play for a rebuilding team. The Vancouver Canucks are a great fit — especially if they trade Nate Schmidt — but it’s tough to bet against his hometown team here.
15. LW Tomas Tatar – New Jersey Devils
The Devils need someone to play with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes after the Andreas Johnsson experiment did not work out very well last season. Tatar could also play on their top power-play unit and give himself a great chance to rebuild his value over the next year or two. Given that he’s a bit of an analytics darling, it’s easy to envision him on a team like Boston or Carolina as well.
16. C Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim Ducks
It’s tough to envision him in any other uniform. It doesn’t seem like he’s in any rush to leave. This reminds me of the Zdeno Chara situation from last offseason, so I won’t guarantee anything, but I would be quite surprised if he heads elsewhere. If he does leave, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins seem like the best fits.
17. LW Nick Foligno – Toronto Maple Leafs
They liked him enough to give up a first-round pick for him at the deadline. The interest seems mutual in that Foligno has unfinished business in Toronto. There aren’t many other wingers in the Leafs’ price range, and I’m not sure if players like Saad or Palmieri want to play in Canada. Nick’s brother Marcus plays in Minnesota, where his defensive skill set would make him the prototypical Wild player, so look out for them if he signs elsewhere. I’d also look out for the Pittsburgh Penguins here as they just lost Brandon Tanev to the expansion draft.
18. G Petr Mrazek – New Jersey Devils
The Devils need a partner for MacKenzie Blackwood, and Corey Crawford retired before he ever played a game for them last season. Mrazek is a solid 1B option for any team. While plenty of teams could be interested, the Devils have the cap space to win a bidding war. Nashville, Toronto, Chicago, and Washington could also be interested.
19. LW Mike Hoffman – Anaheim Ducks
Hoffman is a mediocre 5-on-5 player with a great shot. He’s a major scoring threat on the power play, and as a result, I expect him to go to a team that struggled with the man advantage last season. If he shot right, he’d probably be a fit on the Leafs, but they already have Auston Matthews as a left shot. Teams like the Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, and New Jersey Devils could really use him, but the Anaheim Ducks had the worst power play in the league last season. They need him more than just about anyone.
20. LW/C Mikael Granlund – Nashville Predators
After he spent most of last season as a top-six center, I think the Predators like Granlund. Nashville also just opened up plenty of cap space, so they can certainly afford to make him a pretty attractive offer. The Leafs are a fit here as well — they’ve been linked to him in the past — but I expect them to go for a little bit more size.
21. G Jonathan Bernier – Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes just traded Alex Nedeljkovic, while both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are pending free agents. Someone needs to stop the puck for them, and given that Bernier was part of the Nedeljkovic trade, I have to assume that they’re interested in signing him. I suppose a team like the Sabres or Coyotes could make sense, but Bernier’s been on so many bad teams over the years and he might want to take a bit less to play for a winner. The Nashville Predators could make sense as well.
22. G Frederik Andersen – San Jose Sharks
I expect the Sharks to part ways with Martin Jones this offseason. If they do, they’ll need an experienced partner for the newly-acquired Adin Hill. Andersen is still just 31, and while he’s struggled over the past two seasons, it’s clear that he boasts considerable upside. The Sharks could offer the prospect of plenty of playing time for Andersen, who would get the chance to return to California. Other possible fits include Carolina, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Arizona, and Edmonton.
23. LD Ryan Suter – Dallas Stars
Everyone seems to think that he’s signing in Dallas, who have an Oleksiak-sized hole to fill in their lineup. Who would pass up an opportunity to play with Miro Heiskanen?
24. RD Tyson Barrie – Edmonton Oilers
I wouldn’t sign Barrie to a big contract, but I wouldn’t have traded for Duncan Keith, either. Barrie just led all NHL defensemen in points, so I have to assume that he enjoys playing on the power play with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Not many teams are looking to pay up for a power-play quarterback who can’t play defense, so a return to Edmonton seems like the most likely outcome.
25. C Alexander Wennberg – Los Angeles Kings
I originally thought that he’d end up back in Florida, but the Panthers just traded for Sam Reinhart. Wennberg is due for a raise. As mentioned above, Elliotte Friedman guessed that Danault would sign with the Kings in his latest article, but since I didn’t copy that prediction, I’ll guess that they will sign another free agent center instead. This one is tough to predict, as plenty of teams need help up the middle. The New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Seattle Kraken, Nashville Predators, and Buffalo Sabres could all use his services. He’s also a fit in Arizona, especially if they trade Christian Dvorak.
26. C Casey Cizikas – New York Islanders
This is another case of, “I can’t see him in any other jersey.” The Islanders clearly like him, and I don’t see him getting $4+ million elsewhere.
27. LW Zach Parise – New York Islanders
It’s tough to ignore the connection with Lou Lamoriello here. It was rumoured that the Isles nearly traded for him a while back, making it all but certain that they’ll at least make him an offer. If Parise is willing to take a discount to pick his spot, look out for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.
28. LW Mattias Janmark – Winnipeg Jets
Janmark played well for the Vegas Golden Knights in the playoffs, but their roster is crowded and he might get a bigger offer elsewhere. The Jets could use help in their middle-six, where they just lost Mason Appleton to the expansion draft and Paul Stastny is a pending free agent. You can find a spot for Janmark just about anywhere, so this one is tough to predict, but the Jets could definitely offer him a good opportunity.
29. C Nick Bonino – Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning, who just lost Yanni Gourde to the expansion draft, will need help up the middle. They probably can’t afford someone like Danault or Krejci, but Bonino will be significantly less expensive and could fit in nicely behind Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli. While I won’t rule out a return to Minnesota completely, he played primarily on the wing during the playoffs. I don’t think they view him as a top-nine center.
The Seattle Kraken, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, and Edmonton Oilers could all use Bonino’s services as well. The Leafs could be involved if they trade Kerfoot, but the odds are probably against that happening.
30. C/RW Paul Stastny – Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have a tough time signing free agents, Stastny waived his no-trade clause to go to Winnipeg last offseason, and they have plenty of holes to fill in their lineup up front. Stastny could sign just about anywhere as a middle-six forward, but a return to Winnipeg seems like the most likely outcome.
31. LD Ryan Murray – Calgary Flames
After losing Mark Giordano in the expansion draft, they have a major hole to fill on the left side as a result. Murray is from Saskatchewan, so I don’t see him shying away from signing in Canada (he won’t be afraid of the cold weather). Still just 27, Murray could be in for a great opportunity in Calgary’s top four. The Islanders, Bruins, Wild, and Jets are all fits as well.
32. RW Joel Armia – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Habs are quite strong on the right side, so it’s tough to see a spot for him in Montreal. However, there is bound to be plenty of interest in him around the league. I’m willing to bet that the Penguins are interested in him after losing Brandon Tanev to the expansion draft. It’s easy to picture him playing for Calgary as well.
33. LD Mike Reilly – Boston Bruins
Reilly played well after being traded to Boston mid-season, so my guess is that they would like to keep him around. He’s still just 28, and given that he won’t sign a record-breaking contract, there are plenty of other suitors if he does decide to sign elsewhere. Similar to Murray, the Flames, Islanders, Wild, and Jets are all possible fits.
34. LD Alex Edler – New York Islanders
Lou Lamoriello isn’t someone who avoids older players. The Islanders need to replace Nick Leddy, and Edler still logs plenty of minutes at this stage of his career. The Isles could use a good puck-mover on the left side. The Bruins, Wild, and Flames are also good fits.
35. RW Corey Perry – Montreal Canadiens
The Habs just went to the Stanley Cup Final with Perry chipping in nicely (10 points in 22 games). I have to assume that Montreal would take him back and that Perry enjoyed his time there. I could easily see him in Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay, but it’s tough to bet against him staying in Montreal after that playoff run.
36. G Laurent Brossoit – Arizona Coyotes
After finding himself stuck behind Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg, Brossoit will be looking for an opportunity to showcase what he’s capable of. The rebuilding Coyotes just lost Adin Hill in the expansion draft, while Darcy Kuemper could be traded any day now. Arizona could flip him at the deadline if he’s playing well — they’re looking to accumulate as many draft picks as possible.
The Buffalo Sabres also make plenty of sense, especially if they fail to re-sign Ullmark. The Oilers, Leafs, and Hurricanes could be fits as well.
37. LW Michael Bunting – Detroit Red Wings
Knowing that Bunting played under Sheldon Keefe for the Soo Greyhounds, I almost predicted that he would sign with the Leafs. However, I have them signing both Foligno and Galchenyuk in this scenario, which means that they probably can’t afford Bunting in this example. I went with the Red Wings because they can give him plenty of ice time. I expect them to target some of the younger names on the market.
38. LW Alex Galchenyuk – Toronto Maple Leafs
Galchenyuk played well during his time with the Leafs organization, whose development staff helped him improve his skating. The Leafs are in need of cheap wingers who could potentially play in the top six. Galchenyuk proved that he could produce come playoff time. If the Leafs are interested (they seem to be), I’m sure Galchenyuk would like to stop moving cities every six months.
39. RW/C Evan Rodrigues – Arizona Coyotes
A good and underrated player, Rodrigues returning to Pittsburgh is certainly possible, but he’ll get more ice time if he plays elsewhere. The Coyotes have an awfully weak depth chart on the right side after trading away Conor Garland. In filling out their roster, I expect the Coyotes to focus on players like Rodrigues rather than on the bigger names. The Flames, Jets, and Avs could also make sense.
40. C Tyler Bozak – St. Louis Blues
A Stanley Cup champion in St. Louis, Bozak still brings some secondary scoring to the table. At 35, I think he’ll stay there if they make him a reasonable offer. I don’t see anyone else making a massive offer that he can’t refuse. Like many of the other bottom-six wingers on this list, the Flames and Jets are also possible fits.
41. LD Keith Yandle – Chicago Blackhawks
It’s tough to find a good fit for Yandle, as most teams already have a power-play quarterback and he’s weak defensively. The Bruins have been linked to him since he’s from Boston, but if I were them, I would give Matt Grzelcyk the keys to the power play and let Yandle go elsewhere. The Oilers are a fit if Tyson Barrie signs someplace else. I’d look out for the Flames as well.
42. LW Brock McGinn – Calgary Flames
The Flames need to add forward depth, and McGinn seems like their type of player. He’s also from Canada, so he’s probably more willing than others to play north of the border. I think he’ll be out of the Leafs’ price range, but the Jets would make plenty of sense here as well.
43. LW Jordan Martinook – Winnipeg Jets
He’s from Manitoba, and the Jets need to add forward depth. He could sign just about anywhere, but I’m going with his hometown team.
44. LW Tomas Nosek – Calgary Flames
Nosek is a Darryl Sutter type of player. A return to Vegas seems rather unlikely given their crowded depth chart. Once again the Jets look like a potential fit, but I expect the Leafs to call about him if his price is a little bit cheaper than expected.
45. RD Cody Ceci – Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have plenty of offensive defensemen on the left side and could use someone who can log minutes and kill penalties. The free-agent market is quite weak on the right side, and Ceci is coming off of a pretty strong season in Pittsburgh. The Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, and Arizona Coyotes could also use help on the right.
46. LD Ian Cole – Minnesota Wild
After trading for Cole mid-season, the Wild just lost both Ryan Suter and Carson Soucy, leaving them with a clear need on the left side. A return seems like the most likely option at this point, but given that he’ll likely have a low price tag, he could sign just about anywhere.
47. RD Zach Bogosian – Carolina Hurricanes
Bogosian is coming off of a strong season in Toronto, but it sure sounds like he wants to play south of the border next season. The Hurricanes have a clear need on the right side — especially if Hamilton leaves — and they won’t have to overspend on Bogosian. Look out for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche as well.
48. RD Anthony DeAngelo – Montreal Canadiens
There will be plenty of teams who won’t be interested in DeAngelo, regardless of the price. The list of possible teams is smaller as a result, but the Habs were rumoured to be interested in him midseason and they have a clear need on the right side.
49. G Antti Raanta – Carolina Hurricanes
Raanta has struggled to stay healthy, but he’s generally quite effective when he is able to play. The 32-year-old Finn won’t be overly expensive. The Hurricanes are in need of two goalies at the moment — not just one — and balked at Nedeljkovic’s $3 million asking price. He’ll be a bargain if he stays healthy, but you better have confidence in your #3 option if you sign him.
50. C Derek Ryan – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs, who were linked to Ryan back in the Tavares offseason, could use depth up the middle. Ryan, 34, won’t cost all that much and could potentially center a line with Jason Spezza. With Riley Nash expected to leave in free agency, the Leafs could use another right-handed faceoff option who can kill penalties.