NHL’s Top 10 UFAs of 2018: The best defencemen available

John Carlson looks on during a game for the Washington Capitals. (Nick Wass/AP)

With the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the books, the NHL’s 31 general managers have turned their attention to building a winner in 2018-19. Step one comes on July 1 when the league’s free-agency period officially gets underway. Sportsnet.ca has all you need to know on the top 10 UFAs at each position likely to be available.

Next up: the defencemen.

Ask all those offensively gifted clubs who watched the Stanley Cup Final from the couch and they’ll paint a clear picture of the value of a skilled, reliable blue line in today’s NHL. Shutting down the opposition is one thing, but as the game has adapted to include quicker transitions and more dynamic offensive schemes, puck-carrying rearguards have become even more highly coveted by the league’s GMs. This year’s UFA class of blue liners doesn’t offer too many premier puck-movers, but the top-heavy group does include one genuine No. 1 in John Carlson, alongside a few other intriguing options — veterans who can still contribute and younger names looking to take the next step — who may be worth a shot.

Here’s a look at who’s available this summer…

Top 10 UFAs by position: C | LW | RW | D | G

1. John Carlson

2017-18 Team: Washington Capitals
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3.97 million

The best defenceman potentially available and the second-best overall UFA who could hit the market, John Carlson is the solution the league’s defensively mediocre clubs are seeking. The 28-year-old is the type of bona fide No. 1 defender who rarely makes it to the open market — offensively gifted, right-handed, imposing size and a hefty playoff résumé at just 28 years old. If he does make it to July 1, his 68-point regular season (tops among all NHL defencemen) and strong post-season (20 points through 24 games while claiming his first Stanley Cup) should bring a lengthy line of suitors to the door. He can log nearly 25 minutes a night, anchor a team’s power play, and improve their overall offensive game from the back end.

Potential Fits: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Detroit, New Jersey, Vegas, Washington, San Jose

2. Mike Green

2017-18 Team: Detroit Red Wings
2017-18 Cap Hit: $6 million

Though he’s past the high-flying prime that saw him rack up an absurd 31-goal, 73-point season nearly a decade ago, the 32-year-old offensive defender can still do damage from the blue line. He topped the 30-point plateau for the fifth straight season in 2017-18 (and eighth time overall), and put up 14 goals just last year. Health is sure to be a factor, as the veteran is coming off surgery on his cervical spine in early April, but with his recovery projected to finish up before training camp, Green’s track record should be enough to earn a decent number of offers this summer.

Potential Fits: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New Jersey, Vegas, Detroit, Edmonton, St. Louis

3. John Moore

2017-18 Team: New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.67 million

Offensively, there’s clearly more to be desired from John Moore, as his numbers from this season or any other don’t necessarily inspire awe. That said, he’s a steady, top-four defender who can log top-pairing minutes and, at only 27 years old, has the potential to take the next step offensively over the course of his next contract. He’s a defence-first talent, but his strong skating ability and decent offensive instincts (he potted a career-high 12 goals in 63 games on a limited Devils squad last year) allow him to remain a useful commodity in today’s up-tempo game.

Potential Fits: Vancouver, Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Dallas, Detroit, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

4. Jack Johnson

2017-18 Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Cap Hit: $4.36 million

After a decade as one of the better-known blue-line talents in the league, Jack Johnson’s stock took a hit over the past couple years as the emergence of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski brought a reduced role for the veteran. That said, he can still play over 20 minutes a night, brings some imposing physicality, and the chance is always there that the right situation might unlock a bit of the offensive talent that saw him hit 40 points as recently as 2014-15. He’s worth a reasonable deal to see what he can do in a return to a slightly bigger role.

Potential Fits: Vancouver, Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

5. Ian Cole

2017-18 Team: Pittsburgh Penguins/Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.1 million

He played a key role on a Penguins team that won back-to-back Cups — and did so without No. 1 blueliner Kris Letang in the second of those two runs — before a brief stint with Columbus this season. At 29 years old, and unlikely to break the bank, Cole’s value lies in his versatility. He was a strong enough puck-mover to keep up with the quick-footed, offensively dynamic Penguins, but works primarily as a shutdown defender. Cole can help balance out a team’s defence corps as a steady, second-pairing presence.

Potential Fits: Vancouver, Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

6. Greg Pateryn

2017-18 Team: Dallas Stars
2017-18 Cap Hit: $800,000

Unlike some of the others on this list, Pateryn isn’t going to turn heads with offensive prowess, but he’s the kind of defensive option who can fly under the radar here. His 19:37 of ice per game in 2017-18 is the fifth-highest of any pending UFA defenceman and his 2:35 of shorthanded ice per game ranked second to only Dan Hamhuis in Dallas. A right-shooting defender with good size (6-foot-3, 224 pounds), the risk in Pateryn lies in this being his first NHL season suiting up for more than half the games. He’s spent most of his career bouncing between organizations and dealing with injuries, but testing the market could finally find him a place to settle into a second- or third-pair shutdown role for a few years.

Potential Fits: Dallas, Toronto, Colorado, Ottawa, NY Islanders, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Detroit

7. Dan Hamhuis

2017-18 Team: Dallas Stars
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3.75 million

At 35 years old, Dan Hamhuis’ best days are behind him, but the veteran still carved out a key role on a stingy Stars squad that allowed the fourth-fewest shots-against this season. He averaged over 20 minutes per night for the 13th time in his career, chipping in with 24 points. He won’t be a long-term solution for teams needing a defensive upgrade, but for those with especially porous blue lines or in a transition period before younger talents take over, he remains a strong temporary fit.

Potential Fits: Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

8. Calvin de Haan

2017-18 Team: New York Islanders
2017-18 Cap Hit: $3.3 million

Calvin de Haan started 2017-18 strong before being sidelined by a separated shoulder in December, which required surgery in January. He said in early April that he finally “feels human” again, so the hope is the 27-year-old is good to go by the time 2018-19 rolls around. As long as no injury issues persist, he remains a good option to fill out a blue line in need of a second-pair upgrade, having logged 19–20 minutes a night for the past five seasons, including a fair bit of time on the penalty kill.

Potential Fits: Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

9. Thomas Hickey

2017-18 Team: New York Islanders
2017-18 Cap Hit: $2.2 million

While his offensive play from the blue line doesn’t rank him anywhere near the league’s top tier of offensive defencemen, Thomas Hickey’s 25 points through 69 games this season were the third-most posted by any UFA blueliner available this summer, trailing only Carlson and Green. While the Islanders’ defence corps posted an abysmal year overall, Hickey emerged with a team-leading plus-20 on the season, which, if nothing else, indicates he wasn’t the primary cause of the Isles’ defensive woes. At 29 years old, he makes for a solid, affordable depth signing.

Potential Fits: Ottawa, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Vegas

10. Kevin Connauton

2017-18 Team: Arizona Coyotes
2017-18 Cap Hit: $1 million

He only logged roughly 15 minutes per night, but what Kevin Connauton did in those limited minutes suggest there may be something worth taking a flyer on. The 28-year-old put up 11 goals and 21 points for Arizona this season, that goal total ranking as the second-highest among this year’s blue-line UFA crop. In fact, Connauton’s 0.60 goals per 60 minutes finished first among all NHL defencemen who played at least half the 2017-18 season. He’ll come cheap, and could be an interesting gamble for clubs looking for affordable offence from the blue line.

Potential Fits: Ottawa, Buffalo, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia

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