We’re about a quarter of the way into the 2019-20 season, and no closer to figuring out the future of New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall.
There’s so much at play here, with the Devils’ place in the standings complicating all of it.
But this year’s class of unrestricted free agents extends far beyond Hall and the intrigue surrounding the biggest fish in this year’s free agent pond.
Here’s a look at the top UFAs-to-be of 2020, which we’ll be updating over the course of 2019-20 as the season — and all the rumours and reports that come with it — continues.
1. Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 cap hit: $6 million
Can the Devils dust themselves off and make a run with Hall or should they trade him now and continue the rebuild? Will the playoff-starved Hall have to endure another year outside of the playoffs? And where does Hall actually want to play?
It might be a while before we get any of those answers, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman did bring a little clarity to one possibility:
“I think the Devils now know it’s unlikely they are going to be able to get a contract done during the year,” Friedman during the Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. “I think it’s up to (Devils GM) Ray Shero who is going to have to decide what the Devils’ course of action here is going to be, because I think it’s very unlikely he agrees to sign with them during the year.”
Friedman noted that Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, often advises his clients not to sign a contract mid-season.
“His history is he tells his clients ‘I don’t believe you should sign until as late as possible so you can get an idea of what the true market is for your services’ and I have no reason to believe that his advice to Taylor Hall is any different in this particular situation,” Friedman said.
2. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals
2019-20 cap hit: $6.7 million
The only thing more startling than seeing Alex Ovechkin put on another team’s sweater would be Nicklas Backstrom doing the same. Backstrom has made it clear he’d like to remain a career Capital, and Ovechkin is eying forever.
“You know, I think what we did for the city, what we did for the team, it’s going to be forever, right?” Ovechkin told The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell just prior to the start of the season. “So I hope [Backstrom will] sign long term, and he will stay until the last day. His legacy is here, and I think he would not have more fun to play on different teams than here.”
It won’t be easy for general manager Brian MacLellan to keep his core four — Backstrom, Ovechkin, John Carlson and Braden Holtby — together. Carlson is on the books long-term after signing an eight-year, $64-million extension in June 2018 and McLellan can wait another year before treading into talks with his captain, whose 13-year pact expires after 2020-21. Managing to get both Backstrom and Holtby, who’s also a pending UFA (more on him later), under the cap will require a lot of work.
3. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
2019-20 cap hit: $6.5 million
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said bringing (and extending) defenceman Justin Faulk and locking up forward Brayden Schenn doesn’t affect his pursuit of signing his captain long-term.
“How do you get all the horses back in the barn? You get them in one at a time,” he told Sportsnet last month. “This time we got Schenner back in and now we’re going to have to, over the next seven months, corral Alex and get him back in the barn. That’s our goal, but we do that behind the scenes.”
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last month that Armstrong & Co. are looking at Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s deal (eight years, $8.25 million AAV) as a comparable for their captain’s next cheque. Cue the cap crunch.
4. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
2019-20 cap hit: $6.1 million
Holtby’s contract year started with a few hiccups — his 2.91 GAA and .906 SV% aren’t up to his usual standards — but a recent win streak to bump his season record up to 11-1-3 has him looking like he’s back on track. Not that anyone ever doubted him, of course — least of all, his GM.
As reported in a recent edition of 31 Thoughts, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman asked McLellan if he thought contract questions were affecting Holtby’s early-season performance. His answer:
“I don’t think so,” he replied. “We spoke at the beginning of the year, so we could communicate about contract, about team situation, about cap situation. It might be affecting him, but my interpretation is it is not. He goes through some periods where he gets a little off. He’s trying to improve his game and he’s trying certain things, maybe they don’t work as quick as possible. He always seems to be able to recover and we anticipate him playing at a high level soon.” – 31 Thoughts
5. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins
2019-20 cap hit: $5.25 million
He’s one of the league’s best offensive defencemen with plenty of sandpaper in his game. In other words, should Krug hit the open market, there would be a mile-long lineup of GMs vying for his services. Only, it feels like it won’t get to that point.
Krug told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan back in September that he’d be “interested in” taking less money to remain in Boston.
“How much less — that’s a question that will be answered at a certain time,” he told Kaplan. “I think something that’s fair will be able to be worked out both ways. As long as they want me, I think something could be done, realistically.”
6. Mike Hoffman, RW/LW, Florida Panthers
2019-20 cap hit: $5.1875 million
After a tumultuous ending to his Ottawa tenure, Hoffman seems happy in Florida — just look at his stats. He had the best season of his career in 2018-19, leading the Panthers in goals (36) and tallying 70 points in his first year with the club.
The Panthers made a big splash last summer by bringing in goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and essentially announcing to the league that they’re ready to be taken seriously (for real this time). It’s hard to see general manager Dale Tallon letting 70-plus points walk out the door on July 1.
7. Evgenii Dadonov, RW, Florida Panthers
2019-20 cap hit: $4 million
Ditto for Dadonov. He quietly put up back-to-back 28-goal campaigns down in Florida, tallying 65 and 70 points in his past two seasons, and is on pace for more of the same in his contract year.
8. Tyson Barrie, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
2019-20 cap hit: $5.5 million (this AAV is split between Colorado and Toronto)
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported over the weekend that teams have started calling the Maple Leafs.
“He (Barrie) has not asked for a trade, however, I think there is an understanding that so far it hasn’t worked,” Friedman said.
Twenty games into a season of struggles for the Maple Leafs, Barrie is still without a goal. Low production aside, he would certainly be a desirable trade target for other teams as half of his cap hit remains on Colorado’s books.
9. Jake Muzzin, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
2019-20 cap hit: $4 million
The good news: Muzzin has been the Maple Leafs’ best defenceman and brings some much-needed physicality to the speedy team.
The bad news: Should he continue on this trajectory, he might price himself out of the Maple Leafs’ budget.
Considering how difficult it was to lock up their core four up front, general manager Kyle Dubas has quite the puzzle on his hands over on the blue line. Let’s just see how many contracts are locked u–
10. Erik Haula, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
2019-20 cap hit: $2.75 million
Loved by every fanbase he plays for, Haula was a huge part of Vegas’ success during the franchise’s inaugural campaign in 2017-18. He didn’t get a chance to top his personal bests (29 goals, 26 assists, 55 points) of that season last year, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury just 15 games into the 2018-19 campaign. Now, after being dealt to the Hurricanes, he’s on pace for another solid season with perhaps a few more personal bests — and a healthy raise as a reward.
11. Tyler Toffoli, RW/LW, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 cap hit: $4.6 million
Toffoli had a down year in 2018-19 with 13 goals and 34 points on a floundering Kings squad and he’s struggled early on in 2019-20, too, with nine points through 17 games and a short stint as a healthy scratch. But that won’t keep teams away from calling the Kings in hopes of acquiring their most trade-eligible forward. He’s young, affordable, and capable of being a 30-goal scorer. And, most importantly, he knows what it takes to win it all.
12. Mikael Granlund, C/RW, Nashville Predators
2019-20 cap hit: $5.75 million
The foundation is there, as Granlund continues to build chemistry with the club he joined at last year’s trade deadline, but the points simply are not — he has just three goals and five points through 18 games so far, and also saw a 12-game scoreless streak in there. His numbers look even worse when you note the only two active pending UFA forwards with higher current cap hits than his are Nicklas Backstrom and Taylor Hall.
13. T.J. Brodie, D, Calgary Flames
2019-20 cap hit: $4.65 million
The most important thing right now is not Brodie’s contract status as a soon-to-be UFA — it’s his health. Flames general manager Brad Treliving announced on Friday that the defenceman is “doing well” in his recovery but remains out indefinitely. Positive news during an emotional time for Brodie and the Flames.
14. Robin Lehner, G, Chicago Blackhawks
2019-20 cap hit: $5 million
Last year’s Masterton Trophy winner thrived as part of an excellent tandem with the New York Islanders and then completely stole the show in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now paired with veteran (and fellow pending UFA) Corey Crawford, he’s bringing that same game-saving consistency to Chicago’s crease.
15. Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary Flames
2019-20 cap hit: $3.857 million
Hamonic logs big minutes on a nightly basis — he’s currently averaging 21:14 per game, good for second-most on the team behind Mark Giordano — and his stay-at-home style complements the Flames’ offensive-minded group of blue liners.
16. Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C/RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
2019-20 cap hit: $4.9 million
So far, the Galchenyuk-for-Kessel experiment isn’t yielding strong results for Pittsburgh — the 25-year-old has yet to score through 11 games as a Penguin. We’ve seen glimpses of excellence in years past — take his 30-goal, 56-point campaign in Montreal in 2015-16 — but have yet to see him thrive over the course of a full (and fully-healthy) season at his preferred position as a centreman.
17. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers
2019-20 cap hit: $4.625 million
He matched his personal-best in goals last year (28), but it’s unclear where Kreider fits into the Rangers’ rebuild. He was a part of plenty of trade rumours around the draft last season and should be there again if the Rangers aren’t competing for a playoff spot.
18. Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks
2019-20 cap hit: $3.67 million
The question here will be the development of next-man-up Thatcher Demko, whose $1.05-million cap hit this season and next affords the Canucks a little more time in deciding the future of their crease.
19. Jaroslav Halak, G, Boston Bruins
2019-20 cap hit: $2.75
Signing Halak to a two-year, $5.5-million deal in July 2018 proved to GM Don Sweeney’s best move of the off-season, as his presence brought load management to the Bruins’ crease and has other teams attempting to build similar one-two punches in net. It paid off in the playoffs, with starter Tuukka Rask fresh and healthy and at his best all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
20. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 cap hit: $3.1 million
Throughout so much change in Ottawa, Pageau has been the one constant for the Senators. The team’s leader in goals by a wide margin (11) and points (15) is on pace for his best statistical season yet. Plus, he’s got enough experience to be a leader on this young rebuilding club but is still young enough for a long-term commitment with his hometown team.
Other notable pending UFAs to keep an eye on: Sami Vatanen (NJD), Cody Eakin (VGK), Chris Tanev (VAN), Kevin Shattenkirk (TB), Cody Ceci (TOR), Wayne Simmonds (NJ), Zach Bogosian (BUF), Corey Crawford (CHI), Justin Schultz (PIT), Michael Frolik (CGY), Vladislav Namestnikov (OTT), Marco Scandella (BUF), Erik Gustafsson (CHI), Pat Maroon (TB)