Free agency preview: 15 takes on the 50 most-coveted UFAs

Justin Bourne discusses what all seven Canadian teams need to do once NHL free agency opens.

Let’s keep the intro simple here: Wednesday is UFA day, and that means a bunch of players are about to switch jerseys. There’s a ton of names big and small that could find themselves in new sweaters after Wednesday’s ordeal, but not all of them feel worth discussing. A guy like Gabriel Landeskog, for example. Obviously a big name, but here: the Avs want to sign him, and if they can’t, everyone else will, and if it comes to that, the teams most likely to do that are the ones with cap space. See, you don’t really need me to weigh in on everyone.

Wednesday on Sportsnet we’re joined by Frank Seravalli, who’s put together a list of the 75 top UFAs for I’ll go through the top-50 names below, weighing in where there’s more to say than there was for Landeskog.

1. Dougie Hamilton

Vexing. There’s a 6-foot-6 28-year-old right shot defenceman who’ll score you 15 goals and 50 points in his sleep next season, who’s available for all of no assets and just a contract on Wednesday, and we don’t hear about teams tripping all over themselves to clear space to acquire him. (I swear if he got in one fight a year he’d make like an extra $3 million per.)

Obviously with Hamilton there’s something in his game that prevents him from winning multiple Norris Trophies, whether it’s defensive play or physical play or whatever, but I think he’s a guy whose game will age well and he’s a bonafide No. 1. Carolina doesn’t seem like the place to go for the biggest payday for him, maybe, but by all accounts he’s fit in beautifully there and they still like him.

My guess? He can take comparables to Carolina and say he’s worth $10 million per, but Carolina is letting him test the market to prove that a lower number is reasonable, with the hope that he’ll take it to stay somewhere comfortable.

2. Gabriel Landeskog
3. Philipp Grubauer

4. Blake Coleman

Here’s the trick with a guy like Coleman. Every team wants one of him, and has loved what he’s brought in terms of heart and effort and contributions to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cups. He’s done those things as a third liner on a modest salary of $1.8 million. Anything he gave to that stacked team was a bonus.

It’s a bit of the Zach Hyman question: how do you get guys like that … but not be the team who pays them $30 million over five seasons or whatever (or more, in Edmonton’s case)? Because whoever gets Coleman is going to enjoy his play. They’ll almost certainly fall short of value on the deal though, if the numbers he’s been rumoured to be getting are accurate.

5. Linus Ullmark

6. Tyson Barrie

Barrie’s situation brings me right to the Adam Larsson situation, in that Larsson moved on from the Oilers to Seattle for no more money, and partially because of just never feeling comfortable in Edmonton. That was reported by our own Elliotte Friedman, and Larsson did come in under somewhat auspicious circumstances, what with the whole Taylor Hall “one for one” trade. That comes with pressure.

Barrie struggled with that pressure in Toronto, and came in with much less pressure with the Oilers on a cheaper deal. If you have him for a good price, and he’s not asked to do too much – which comes with big money – Barrie can help a team. It’s about expectations and putting him in a position to succeed. We’ll see if Edmonton can bring him back in a good spot, without breaking the bank, or if Barrie finally gets a long-awaited big payday.

7. Phillip Danault

I could not have less of an idea how to value a Selke-level defending centre who goes an entire four-round playoff run playing first line minutes and only scoring once. Once! God if you hang around the crease playing 18 minutes a night for over 20 games you’d expect at least a couple to hit you in the pants on the way in.

But there’s obviously value in a guy who can go head-to-head with the best in the sport and shut them down -- big value. The previous few names have highlighted why UFA time is so terrifying: Danault strikes me as another guy who you’re in great shape if he’s on a middle line making a few million bucks per. If you’re paying him $5 million a year and he’s logging huge minutes for your team, your team probably isn’t that great?

8. Ryan Suter

The rumours about him being coveted after the buyout, and potentially on the verge of signing a four-year deal, are noteworthy. He can still help a team, sure. But surely nobody’s going to go that long on term here, are they? You have to be careful with these deals on players over 35 years old, and anything more than two years doesn’t seem “careful.” Someone will give him three to outbid the other teams I’d bet, but four, let’s relax here fellas.

9. Keith Yandle
10. Mike Hoffman
11. Brandon Saad

12. Tony DeAngelo

This is a fascinating case for hockey, because every team constantly blathers on about the importance of good people in their locker room, and culture, and team-before-the-player and all that. And by all accounts, DeAngelo’s biggest problem in hockey to date has been that. He doesn’t get along with people all that well, and that’s hurt him.

He’s also a 25-year-old right shot defenceman who can QB an NHL PP1 with great ease, and help a hockey team on the ice.

At some point your team has to have enough talent to win. I’m guessing a team without a shot at a Stanley Cup takes a flier on him growing up, in hopes of reaping the rewards on the ice.

13. Alexander Wennberg

14. Kyle Palmieri

This is a name that hasn’t been spoken about a ton, but all this guy has done is produce throughout his career, and he looked great in the playoffs. It’s likely been quiet, though, because the Isles have him locked up already.

15. Jaden Schwartz

The rumours have mostly been around Seattle with Schwartz, but this profile strikes me as the type of guy a lot of teams could use, who’s open to any team that offers the best situation. He’s off a quieter year, but he’s 29, can produce offence, and there’s still a lot to like here.

16. Mikael Granlund

He’s been linked to the Leafs for a long time now, but that probably comes down to what the Leafs end up spending on a goalie. If they go for a bigger fish, it’s unlikely they can afford Granlund too.

17. Peter Mrazek
18. Paul Stastny
19. Corey Perry
20. Jaroslav Halak

21. David Savard

Savard is the epitome of the guy who isn’t exceptional, but he checks the “need” box for so many teams as a 30-year-old rock solid right shot defender that someone is going to pay him a considerable amount of money. I’d love to have Savard on my team. But if you’ve gotta outbid four teams for his services by tacking on years and millions, I’m not sure you’ve allocated your limited dollars properly throughout your lineup.

22. Jonathan Bernier
23. Joel Armia
24. Frederik Andersen

25. David Krejci

The Boston Bruins currently have Pastrnak, Marchand, Bergeron and Hall locked up for around $24 million in AAV, which is absurd. Here’s Krejci’s latest quote from Luke Fox’s “best UFAs” article here, on his next deal:

“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.”

Sure sounds like the Bruins have another value deal coming their way, assuming he doesn’t head to the Czech Republic, which he mentioned is at least a somewhat realistic option.

26. Alex Goligoski
27. Brandon Montour
28. Derek Forbort
29. Luke Glendenning
30. Mattias Janmark
31. Brock McGinn

32. Mike Reilly

With the standard “at a reasonable price” caveat, nice player here. Still just 27, he can be the type of depth D you can throw over the boards without stress, which is a huge value. I’m guessing he’ll have a lot of options and get a deal with a few years of term. Sportlogiq identified Reilly as a potential bargain UFA.

33. Cody Ceci
34. Nick Foligno
35. Tomas Tatar

36. Michael Bunting

Nobody thinks he’ll score at last year’s pace, which saw him score 10 times in just the 21 games he dressed, but he is a guy the analytics like and is just 25 years old. He seems like the type of player a team should give some term to, in hopes of him breaking out and then having him cheap beyond that.

37. Alex Edler
38. Marcus Johansson
39. Nick Bonino
40. Erik Haula

41. Antti Raanta

Could this be the bet Carolina makes after trading Alex Nedeljkovic? He’s a favourite of the “advanced” goalie stats, and the Canes do tend to lean that way.

42. Jani Hakanpaa
43. Sean Kuraly
44. Derick Brassard
45. Zdeno Chara
46. Tyler Bozak
47. Matheiu Perreault

48. Casey Cizikas

Just can’t see him being anything but an Islander. But he is a picture perfect bottom of the lineup player, so I could see teams coveting that.

49. Patrik Nemeth
50. Ian Cole

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