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NHL’s top 20 UFAs of 2020: Latest rumours, reports

A lot has changed on the UFA front since we last checked in – and that’s just on the roster and contract front.

Some of the league’s top pending unrestricted free agents have been moved (Robin Lehner, Tyler Toffoli, Erik Haula, to name a few) while others (Jake Muzzin, Chris Kreider) stayed put and removed their free agency bids by re-signing with their current clubs. Jean-Gabriel Pageau did both, signing a six-year pact with the Islanders upon being dealt to New York from Ottawa.

Here’s an updated (and re-ranked) look at the top 20 pending UFAs of 2020, which we’ll continue to update as the season (hopefully) continues.

1. Taylor Hall, LW, Arizona Coyotes
Age: 28
2019-20 cap hit: $6 million
Back in the fall, the big question in New Jersey was whether Taylor Hall would be traded. It didn’t take long for that question to catch up with him after he was dealt to the desert in December, though both Hall and the Coyotes quickly made it clear that he’d be finishing the season in Arizona.

Now, the conversation shifts to what he might earn on his next contract, and where that might be. Trade rumours featured the Colorado Avalanche as potential suitors, and the Montreal Canadiens were floated around among other intriguing options as well.

Hall scored 10 goals and added 17 assists for 27 points through 35 games with the Coyotes. Add that to his totals with the Devils this season, and he’s got 52 points in 65 games. We know what Hall is capable of – his 39-goal, 93-point, Hart-winning 2017-18 season showed his ability to single-handedly pull a team into the playoffs — but might injury fears and slower production prevent him from hitting a double-digit cap hit?

2. Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
Age: 30
2019-20 cap hit: $6.5 million
One season after leading St. Louis to the Stanley Cup, the Blues captain has scored a career-high 16 goals and was just two points shy of his highest total ever before the season was put on hold. If that doesn’t earn you a sizeable raise, I don’t know what will.

Early-season reports projected the AAV on Pietrangelo’s next deal to come in at around $8 million per, and that would turn out to be a bargain at this point. The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford pointed out recently that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said he’ll wait to talk contract with his captain until after the season, though you can’t help but wonder if that changes over the course of this current hiatus.

3. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals
Age: 30
2019-20 cap hit: $6.1 million
The emergence of rookie Ilya Samsonov made us all question the future of veteran netminder Braden Holtby. So have Holtby’s career-low numbers nearing the end of an up-and-down season in the crease. But Capitals GM Brian MacLellan put that to rest back in January.

“Holtby’s our guy. I mean, he’s got a Cup, he has a history, he’s been a huge part of our organization,” MacLellan said during a radio appearance. “I think what we’ve been trying to do is develop Samsonov and he’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him very well. He’s continually gotten better, he works at his game, he’s calm under pressure.”

When we last checked, it appeared the Capitals were prepared to wait until after the season to negotiate with the netminder who could very well cash in on a Sergei Bobrovsky-like contract — though, that particular deal hasn’t looked good on Florida’s books thus far which could make other clubs wary should Holtby hit free agency.

4. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins
Age: 28
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.

Even with Boston’s cap-clearing moves around the deadline, they could find themselves hard pressed to re-sign the rearguard. Speculation around the Michigan native’s desire to head home has had many seeing Red Wings red in his future.

For now, though, we wait.

5. Tyson Barrie, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Age: 28
2019-20 cap hit: $5.5 million (this AAV is split between Colorado and Toronto)
Barrie’s Toronto tenure hasn’t gone how he or Maple Leafs brass intended. GM Kyle Dubas explored the possibility of trading Barrie at the deadline but ultimately didn’t get a return offer to his liking. A slew of injuries on Toronto’s blue line made him less dispensable, too.

6. Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver Canucks
Age: 30
2019-20 cap hit: $3.67 million
Markstrom has been putting up MVP-worthy numbers in Vancouver behind a surprising Canucks club, and his strong play couldn’t come at a better time — for both the team and his own outlook. While age could work against him, Markstrom’s next paycheque should be a pretty big increase from his current modest cap hit. A mid-term deal – say, three or four years – would make a lot of sense here, as would an AAV of perhaps up to $6 million.

7. Evgenii Dadonov, RW, Florida Panthers
Age: 30
2019-20 cap hit: $4 million
Dadonov quietly put up back-to-back 28-goal campaigns down in Florida, tallying 65 and 70 points in his past two seasons, and a scoring spree in January has him just three markers shy of that total through 69 games. He’s one of the league’s most underrated sharp shooters and his production over the past three years all but guarantees he won’t be underpaid come free agency – though age may deter clubs from offering long-term pacts.

8. Mike Hoffman, RW/LW, Florida Panthers
Age: 30
2019-20 cap hit: $5.1875 million
Florida has been one of the most intriguing teams to watch down the stretch, considering their position in the standings straddling the line between contention and, ultimately, not.

Hoffman is coming off the best season of his career (by a pretty wide margin) in 2018-19, leading the Panthers in goals (36) and tallying 70 points in his first year with the club. The Panthers’ goals leader (he’s third in overall points, with 59) looked like an intriguing rental candidate at the deadline but wasn’t moved.

9. Robin Lehner, G, Vegas Golden Knights
Age: 28
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. Paired with veteran (and fellow pending UFA) Corey Crawford through much of this season with the Blackhawks, he brought that same game-saving consistency to Chicago’s crease. Now as part of the NHL’s best goalie tandem, alongside Marc-Andre Fleury, Lehner has a chance to prove to a team that’s he’s worthy of a long-term pact. Will that team be Vegas? Considering Fleury’s still under contract as the undisputed starter for two more seasons, it would be difficult to see Lehner signing there long-term without a guarantee of more starts. For now, his time in Vegas feels like a rental-only situation.

10. Tyler Toffoli, RW/LW, Vancouver Canucks
Age: 27
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. Considering how early the trade rumours began, it’s a bit surprising it took until one week before the trade deadline for the Kings to finally move him. He’s gotten off to a strong start in Vancouver, posting six goals and 10 points in 10 games with the Canucks prior to the season being put on hold.

11. Mikael Granlund, C/RW, Nashville Predators
Age: 27
2019-20 cap hit: $5.75 million
Granlund was a deadline acquisition for the Predators a year ago, and his status with the club felt very much up in the air as we looked at this year’s deadline. He’ll be an intriguing name to watch – despite not striking great success in Nashville, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he heats up again, likely with a different team.

12. Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary Flames
Age: 29
2019-20 cap hit: $3.857 million
Hamonic reportedly wanted to leave negotiations until after the season was through, but the stay-at-home d-man looks like a safe bet to stay in Calgary long-term.

13. T.J. Brodie, D, Calgary Flames
Age: 29
2019-20 cap hit: $4.65 million
Brodie’s name has been in trade rumours before, but injuries to fellow blue liners Travis Hamonic and Mark Giordano made him in pretty indispensable as far as any possible deadline deals went.

14. Jaroslav Halak, G, Boston Bruins
Age: 34
2019-20 cap hit: $2.75 million
Signing Halak to a two-year, $5.5-million deal in July 2018 proved to be 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. Re-signing him this year could be just as smart.

15. Erik Haula, LW, Florida Panthers
Age: 28
2019-20 cap hit: $2.75 million
Haula was part of a head-scratching deal made between the Hurricanes and Panthers at the deadline, which saw Florida deal away Vincent Trocheck for a package that included Haula. A string of injuries have hindered Haula’s ability to match the success he had with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. Health will be a factor in his next deal, too.

16. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Montreal Canadiens
Age: 36
2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
Montreal’s Kovalchuk experiment got off to a great start — the veteran proved he’s still got a little magic left in him, and his success looks even better with a $700,000 price tag attached — and saw the club flip him to the contending Capitals for a profit at the deadline. It feels likely this wasn’t the last we’ve seen of Kovalchuk in le bleu, blanc, et rouge, as he could be a strong candidate to return to Montreal as a free agent.

“This group of guys is special,” he said in February (before being traded), via Sportsnet’s Eric Engels. “They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good.”

17. Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C/RW, Minnesota Wild
Age: 25
2019-20 cap hit: $4.9 million
Things didn’t exactly work out in Pittsburgh. A lot is now riding on his performance with the Wild. Three goals and seven points through 14 games prior to the season hiatus suggests he might be a candidate to sign a one-year, show-me deal in Minnesota to get back on his feet.

18. Wayne Simmonds, RW, Buffalo Sabres
Age: 31
2019-20 cap hit: $5 million
The past year hasn’t been kind to Simmonds, who has struggled to find his stride since landing in Nashville at the 2018-19 deadline. Since then, he’s scored just nine goals and 28 points in 85 games split between the Predators, Devils, and Sabres. He’s just three seasons removed from back-to-back 30-plus goal campaigns and is a top candidate for a one-year deal on a team that can help revive his career.

19. Sami Vatanen, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Age: 28
2019-20 cap hit: $4.875 million
Vatanen has yet to suit up for a game with the Hurricanes, the team that acquired from the Devils at the deadline, due to the lower-body injury that’s kept him sidelined since Feb. 1. Injuries have prevented the rearguard from ever being able to play a full season, and will affect what he’s able to earn on the open market, too.

20. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
Age: 40
2019-20 cap hit: $2 million
The veteran forward expressed disappointment that he wasn’t dealt at the deadline.

“It would have been nice to at least have a chance,” he told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. “I wanted a shot, you know? Believe it or not. I’ve been hunting this thing down for 22 years, so I wanted another shot at it. I wanted to get something (for the Sharks) in return. It just didn’t work out. Back to the grind, and that’s how it is.”

He’ll be back in an NHL sweater next year – and probably a few more after that – but might it be teal? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested after the deadline that Toronto could be his next destination if he chooses to leave San Jose.

Other notable pending UFAs to keep an eye on: Corey Crawford (CHI), Kevin Shattenkirk (TB), Thomas Greiss (NYI) Cody Eakin (VGK), Chris Tanev (VAN), Cody Ceci (TOR), Justin Schultz (PIT), Michael Frolik (CGY), Vladislav Namestnikov (OTT), Marco Scandella (BUF), Erik Gustafsson (CHI), Pat Maroon (TB), Zach Bogosian (BUF), Kyle Clifford (LA), Radko Gudas (WSH), Anton Khudobin (DAL)