Here is what is certain about the NHL free-agent market that opens with Friday’s noon bell. The cap will remain flat at $81.5 million for at least the next couple of seasons. At least half of the league is squeezed for space. Certain teams will reduce internal budgets because of the revenue drain created by the impact of COVID-19. Some owners will even let the virus dominate them.
Here is what else we know. The elite free agents will get paid just like they always do. Of course, there are only a handful of them. This class is comprised primarily of role players, bottom-sixers up front and third-pair guys on defense. And of goaltenders, lots and lots and lots of goaltenders.
A look at the Class of ’20.
There has never been a summer — wait, it’s autumn — like this one as it pertains to the goalie market. Henrik Lundqvist, bought out by the Rangers, is all but betrothed to the Capitals. That means Braden Holtby, 30, is available as a No. 1 for teams that are not early in a rebuild. The 2018 Cup winner could be attractive to Dallas if 34-year-old Anton Khudobin lands elsewhere. Minnesota could be interested in Holtby and Khudobin. If Jacob Markstrom leaves Vancouver, the Wild could check that out as well. Corey Crawford, the two-time Cup-winning veteran out of Chicago, is seeking a spot with a contender.
And then there is the glut of 1B/backups that includes Cam Talbot, Thomas Greiss, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Corey Schneider and Ryan Miller.
Talbot and Greiss would seem perfect complements to MacKenzie Blackwood in New Jersey, which has an opening following Thursday’s buyout of Schneider.
Alex Pietrangelo, the right-handed captain of the Blues, is the prize of this class. He may remain in St. Louis if the Blues can offer a top-dollar deal of around $8 million per for seven or eight years. If the Blues won’t pay him, then Vegas is first in line to claim rights to the 30-year-old. The Maple Leafs will be in as well if they can create the space.
Torey Krug, the Bruins’ 29-year-old lefty who can play the right, is not a bad consolation prize at all for teams that miss out on Pietrangelo and whose departure will create a significant hole on the B’s blue line that could also lose Zdeno Chara. The B’s, however, are talking with Arizona about acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Calgary’s 30-year-old TJ Brodie, who can play both sides, is probably the next most attractive D on the market as a first-pair candidate. Travis Hamonic, Tyson Barrie (looking for a rebound contract), Kevin Shattenkirk, Sami Vatanen, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Andy Greene, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and perhaps even the 43-year-old Chara will be there for the taking.
Taylor Hall, whose Hart Trophy in New Jersey seems a million years ago and not just two seasons back, is the marquee forward on the board. He will get top dollar, but probably not what he might have expected before COVID-19. Hall could take a shorter-term deal (from Edmonton or Calgary, perhaps?) to set himself up for a more lucrative payday when/if things return to normal.
Mike Hoffman and Tyler Toffoli are top-sixers; Jesper Fast is going to get paid, perhaps by Carolina; Bobby Ryan is available on a redemption deal; and then there is Matt Martin, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Alex Galchenyuk, Andreas Anathasiou, Anthony Duclair, Pat Maroon, Corey Perry and Dominik Kahun.
Erik Haula should reap the benefits of being the most attractive of an unusually fallow field down the middle.
Alexander Wennberg, bought out by Columbus, is interesting. So are Kyle Turris, bought out by Nashville, and 37-year-old Mikko Koivu after 15 seasons in Minnesota. A bevy of role-playing bottom-six/fourth-line pivots are available, including Derek Grant, Carl Soderberg, Brian Boyle, Zemgus Girgensons, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Cody Eakin and Vinnie Hinostroza.