NHL's Top 12 UFAs of 2021: Latest rumours, reports

HC analyst Kevin Bieksa joins Hockey Central to discuss what makes the league's top scoring defenceman Tyson Barrie such a good fit on the Oilers, and why he should do whatever he can to sign long term in Edmonton.

Happy UFA Day!

Life-altering decisions and intense bidding wars are nigh.

Here is a look at the latest reports and rumours surrounding the top 12 impending unrestricted free agents of the Class of 2021.

Players can officially sign with new teams as early as 12 p.m. ET Wednesday.

Quick. Read it while it’s still relevant.

1. Dougie Hamilton
Age: 28
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $5.75 million

The latest: Hamilton is in a class of his own when it comes to available D-men and is due for a significant raise.

Hamilton’s camp will use Alex Pietrangelo’s $8.8-million AAV with Vegas and Seth Jones’ $9.5-million AAV with Chicago as high-end comparables, while the Canes would rather Torey Krug’s $6.5-million AAV with St. Louis as a comparable.

All indications are that Carolina’s offer will come in too low and Hamilton is headed to the open market.

“Decisions aren’t made until somebody’s forced to make a decision,” Carolina GM Don Waddell said on July 24.

“I know Dougie’s very familiar with where we are. We still know what his thoughts are, and it’s up to his agent, J.P., and I to figure it out, how we make this work both of us. He’s a free agent; he can go any place. It’s got to be a two-way street. It’s got to fit for him, and it’s got to fit for us. But I feel pretty good that we’ll be able to get this done.”

The New Jersey Devils — flush with $31.5 million in cap space — are the front-runners here, according to multiple insiders.

Signing Hamilton would signal a sharp turn in the Devils’ rebuild… and open a hole in Carolina’s blueline that is reportedly going to be filled by the recently bought-out Tony Deangleo.

2. Zach Hyman
Age: 29
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $2.25 million

The latest: The Maple Leafs love Hyman; Hyman loves the Maple Leafs.

“I would love to stay in Toronto. It’s where I grew up. I want to be a Leaf for a long time. That’s first and foremost,” Hyman said in April of 2020. “I would love to be a long-term Leaf and would love to re-sign here and would love to be here and ultimately win a Stanley Cup here.”

Sometimes, love isn't enough.

Hyman has an agreement to sign a seven-year contract with Edmonton Wednesday.

One of hockey’s best forecheckers is set to jump from Auston Matthews’ wing to Connor McDavid’s.

3. Philipp Grubauer
Age: 29
Position: Goaltender
2020-21 salary cap hit: $3.33 million

The latest: Grubauer enjoyed a fabulous season for a Stanley Cup contender. The Colorado starter delivered a sparkling 30-9-1 record, 1.95 GAA, .922 save percentage, and a career-best seven(!) shutouts.

How you knock your contract year out of the park is by putting together a Vezina-finalist campaign.

Does Grubauer wish to re-sign?

"One hundred per cent," the goalie told the Denver Post, while participating in the MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game at Coors Field on July 11. "I think we have an incredible team next year too. Joe and [assistant GM Chris MacFarland], they always do a great job putting a team together that's performing at a high level and playing in the playoffs. And I want to be a part of that.

“Denver has become home. I love the team, love the organization. So, it would be nice to work something out.”

With Cale Makar and captain Gabriel Landeskog locked up long-term, GM Joe Sakic’s primary focus Wednesday will be signing or acquiring a No. 1 goalie.

Grubauer is the best option but not the cheapest.

4. Tyson Barrie
Age: 30
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $3.75 million

The latest: Stumbling in Toronto, Barrie bet on himself big-time in the 2020 off-season.

The power-play quarterback reportedly turned down a $6-million offer elsewhere so he could feed pucks to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, rebound his stock, and rediscover his confidence.

“For me, it was a no-brainer, with everything that’s going on and coming off the year that I had, to be able to have a chance to go into Edmonton and play with this team on a one-year deal,” Barrie said of the gambit. “It just wasn’t about money this year, just coming into re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player.”

Mission accomplished.

Barrie’s playmaking complemented the Oilers stars. He thrived as quarterback of Edmonton’s power play and got his groove back. After racking up 48 points in 56 games, Barrie should ring the cash register this summer.

“If there is an opportunity for me to stay here long-term in Edmonton, it could be a great fit,” Barrie told colleague Mark Spector.

Barrie is believed to be seeking long term and maximum money after smartly betting on himself.

Early this summer, the Oilers were prioritizing an extension with the more defensively minded Adam Larsson, betting a healthy Oscar Klefbom can resume PP1 duties. But Klefbom’s health is still in doubt.

With Larsson signing to Seattle, Edmonton refocused efforts to lock up Barrie.

Rumoured to be a three-year pact at an AAV in the ballpark of $4.5 million.

Fellow right shot and fellow ex-Leaf Cody Ceci is a strong candidate to join Barrie on Edmonton’s right side.

5. David Krejci
Age: 35
Position: Centre
2020-21 salary cap hit: $7.25 million

The latest: The highest-paid Bruin will need to take a pay cut, but Krejci’s 2021 performance — 44 points in 51 games, behind only Barrie on this list — reasserted the value a dependable two-way pivot can bring.

The legs are getting older, the contract needs to get shorter, but Krejci’s hockey sense reminds us of the value in having a second-line centre you can trust in important situations.

“It’s not about money,” Krejci said on June 11, still mulling his future. “I guess that’s all I can tell you: My next deal is not going to be based on money. Today, I can tell you, it’s not going to be about money. And at the same time, I just can’t see myself playing for a different team. We’ll see what happens, I guess. I don’t even know. I talked to my parents, and they asked me. I can’t even give them a straight answer.”

Krejci had previously hinted at wrapping his career in his native Czech Republic.

“You guys write a lot that I wanted to finish my career in Czech, which has not changed,” Krejci said. “But when I said that, I was younger. I’m a husband. I’m a dad, I have two kids. They’re getting older. So, yes, I still, at one point, would like to finish my career in Czech for different reasons now than when I first said it. I would like my kids to speak my language because my parents don’t speak any English. My kids don’t speak Czech. I would like them to learn the language.”

But word Tuesday suggests Krejci has weighed his options and is deciding to give it another go in Boston.

6. Phillip Danault
Age: 28
Position: Centre
2020-21 salary cap hit: $3.08 million

The latest: Danault doesn’t exactly put up Xbox numbers — he’s never surpassed 13 goals and has reached 50 points just once — but he tilts the ice, nullifies the opposition’s top pivot regularly (see: Matthews, Auston) and is a plus-44 player over the past three seasons.

GM Marc Bergevin was quick to commit to Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher in 2020, and he reportedly offered a six-year, $30-million deal to Danault in the off-season that was rejected.

Yes, Danault wished he’d been taken care of earlier, the way Gallagher and Petry were, but he didn’t let that hinder some superb defensive play en route to the Stanley Cup final.

“I think we see across the league that if you want to win, then you need three quality centre players — that was the case for the New York Islanders and ourselves this year — and players who are good at both ends of the ice,” Danault said.

“I know who I am, and I know what I can bring to a team. And I know I can win.”

A Montreal return has been ruled out. Danault is going to market.

The Vegas Golden Knights, L.A. Kings and New York Rangers are all reportedly taking a look.

7. Kyle Palmieri
Age: 30
Position: Right wing / Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $4.65 million

The latest: Rental piece Palmieri’s two goals in 17 regular-season games for the Islanders underwhelmed, but he exploded for seven more in the postseason.

GM Lou Lamoriello must also compensate RFAs Anthony Beauvillier and Adam Pelech this summer, but Palmieri has been a wonderful addition to his middle six and talks on an extension are taking place if not complete.
With Jordan Eberle now a Kraken, New York needs some dependability on its wing.

There is also speculation that Lamoriello will sign sudden UFA Zach Parise, whose price should be cheaper than Palmieri’s. Or take a run at a Vladimir Tarasenko trade.

8. Tuukka Rask
Age: 34
Position: Goaltender
2020-21 salary cap hit: $7 million

The latest: The question isn’t whether Rask — a Vezina-winning, Cup-winning, Jennings-winning stud — is deserving of an extension. The question is whether his body is up for one.

Rask openly pondered 2021 retirement this past season and drew criticism in some (unkind) circles for departing the playoff bubble early to attend to a family matter.

He’ll undergo surgery on a torn hip labrum this off-season and won’t be ready to play until January or February. If and/or when he straps on the pads again, Rask only sees it being in Boston.

"I'm not going to play for anyone else than the Bruins. This is our home," Rask said on June 11.

“At this point of my life and my career, I don't see any reason to go anywhere else, especially with the health I'm looking at now and a recovery time of five or six months. Hopefully it works out that I recover well, and we can talk about contracts when the time is right for that.”

The Bruins’ crease is already in for an overhaul, with fellow UFA Jaroslav Halak moving on.

Expect Rask’s situation to simmer on the back burner.

9. Ryan Suter
Age: 36
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $7.54 million

The latest: With plenty of game in the tank, the minutes-munching Suter was the most stunning buyout of the summer by a mile.

“Lots of teams are interested in Ryan. Lots,” Neil Sheehy, who represents Suter, told The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

“I was talking to somebody yesterday that said, ‘There’s not a single team in the league that could have gone through all of their offseason scenarios and exercises and ever thought that Ryan Suter would be available.’ Now, he is.”

The player has an estimated $104 million in career earnings, so we’d have to imagine a shot with a U.S.-based Cup contender will be a priority for the Wisconsin native.

The Bruins fit the bill of club with money to spend and an obvious hole on the left side of their top four, but bowed out of the bidding:

The Stars are Friedman's predicted landing spot, which would give the Stars one of the most formidable bluelines in the league.

10. Alec Martinez
Age: 34
Position: Defence
2020-21 salary cap hit: $4 million

The latest: Martinez appears to be caught in that position where a man must choose comfort versus money.

The Golden Knights love the player. Who wouldn’t? A shot-blocking, made-for-playoffs beast, Martinez logs more than 22 minutes per night and managed to contribute 32 points in 53 games last season without betraying his defensive responsibilities.

His plus-26 rating is better than that of any other UFA heading to market.

The Knights reportedly made Martinez a multi-year offer he is considering, but more money should be sitting behind free agency’s door.

The Bruins have made it no secret they are looking for a top-four left shot.

Losing out on Suter and local boy Keith Yandle (signing a one-year contract with the Flyers), Martinez should be at the top of their list. (Derek Forbort looks to be the next option.)

Unfortunately for them, there’s word that Martinez simply stays put.

11. Brandon Saad
Age: 28
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $6 million

The latest: With Landeskog sticking in Colorado, Hyman a forgone conclusion in Edmonton, and Jaden Schwartz supposedly bound for Seattle, the hunt for top-six left wingers is on.

The Avalanche won’t be able to retain Saad, who has multiple suitors Wednesday.

The L.A. Kings, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders are among the interested teams in the Cup champ.

12. Mike Hoffman
Age: 31
Position: Left wing
2020-21 salary cap hit: $4 million

The latest: The sniper is right back where he was in the 2020 off-season: looking for a partner and a payday.

Hoffman is rumoured to be seeking a multi-year contract worth $5 million per season, and the Blues haven’t slammed the door just yet.

St. Louis is eager to clear Tarasenko’s cap hit off the books first, however, so GM Doug Armstrong is angling for a trade.

More notable 2021 UFAs: Frederik Andersen, Keith Yandle, Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Tomas Tatar, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Zach Parise, Tony DeAngelo, Bobby Ryan, Derek Stepan, Alexander Edler, Petr Mrazek, Travis Zajac, Jaden Schwartz, David Savard, Jake McCabe, Tyler Bozak, Ryan Murray, Nikita Gusev, Nick Foligno, Brandon Sutter, Nick Bonino, Blake Coleman, Sean Kuraly, Jordan Martinook, Jordie Benn, Joe Thornton, Alexander Wennberg, Mattias Janmark, Corey Perry, Devan Dubnyk, Jonathan Bernier, Jaroslav Halak, Linus Ullmark, James Reimer, Michael Bunting, Jake Virtanen, Derek Forbort

All contract info via the indispensable CapFriendly.com.

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