Top 10 best free agents still available: Where will Mike Hoffman, others sign?


The 2020 NHL free-agent frenzy has started to mellow out. The flat salary cap had teams scrambling to find the right fits under less-than-ideal financial conditions, leaving some free agents waiting to see if lucrative opportunities would still materialize.

Here are the top 10 unrestricted free agents still on the market as of Thursday morning. Keep in mind we’ve left off a couple of big-name veterans in Zdeno Chara and Joe Thornton, whose markets seem limited to one or two teams. Contract projections are courtesy of Evolving Hockey.

Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Hoffman is the best goal scorer still on the UFA market, with 65 goals in his past 151 games. If your team needs scoring on the wing, Hoffman is going to provide it; especially on the power play, where he has netted 28 goals in the past two seasons. But in his past three seasons, Hoffman has a combined minus-9.2 defensive goals-prevented above average; he’s a liability at 5-on-5, and that’s been the case for years. But given his goal-scoring prowess, there’s a market for him. The Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes are all reportedly in the mix.

Age: 28 | 2019-20 cap hit: $5.75 million
Previous team: Nashville Predators

Granlund generated only 19 goals and 17 assists in his 79 games with Nashville. A fresh start is necessary, and the team that signs Granlund will get a solid defender who is only two years removed from an 0.87 points-per-game season (and a 14.3 goals-scored above average). He is still in his prime, and because of that, don’t look for much of a discount. Evolving Hockey has him at a $6.525 million AAV for whoever lands him. Columbus and Philadelphia have been mentioned as potential landing spots.

Age: 31 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4 million
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Dadonov could very well end up back with the Panthers, but there could be interest from teams impacted by injuries (Boston) or seeking more scoring depth (Edmonton). The best news for those seeking to acquire his services is that the price likely dropped after a middling season, at least by his standards: 25 goals and 22 assists for a 0.68 points-per-game average, down from the previous two seasons.

But let’s not just write off last season as a total anomaly. He’s 31, and his numbers declined despite a significant uptick in offensive zone starts (60.1%) and spending the majority of his time with Aleksander Barkov. He is still worth a long look given his three-season production and some of his underlying numbers, but we’ll also issue a buyer beware warning.

Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $1.5 million
Previous team: Dallas Stars

There have always been two sides to Corey Perry. There’s the guy with 377 career goals, and there’s the side with 1,180 career penalty minutes. To that we can add that at age 35, he’s the guy with five goals in 57 regular-season games in 2019-20 who then matched that total in 26 playoff games this postseason. But his offensive output remains in steep decline, with a shooting percentage far below league average.

His value as a veteran on a contender has been fortified by the Dallas playoff run, and someone will want to add that at the right price. Perry, meanwhile, can afford to wait to pick his spot.

Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $2.750 million
Previous team: Florida Panthers

Haula had a remarkable season in 2017-18, with 29 goals and 26 assists. He hasn’t come close to that production in the two seasons since, mostly due to injuries. When he’s healthy, he can be an offensive asset but a defensive liability — he’s at minus-3.2 defensive goals above average over the past two seasons.

He has drawn interest from his old mates, the Vegas Golden Knights, but making that money work will be tough. Given the market for forwards, could we see Haula fall in between the $2.25 million AAV of Cody Eakin (Buffalo) and the $3.1 million AAV of Craig Smith (Boston)?

Age: 29 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.875 million
Previous team: Carolina Hurricanes

It’s peculiar that Vatanen hasn’t been signed yet. Heck, over 30 of his UFA peers have gotten new contracts. Vatanen is a player who should produce more offensively for the roles in which he’s been placed (50.1% offensive zone starts for the Devils in 2019-20) and should be better defensively for the amount of admiration he receives (he’s been in the negative on possession for six straight seasons).

He has also missed significant time the past two seasons to injury. Of course, the Devils were so terrible, there probably wasn’t much to make him rush back. But after being acquired at the trade deadline by the Canes, he didn’t make it back for any regular-season games, though he appeared in seven contests this postseason. There are going to be opportunities out there for him to make the $4.581 million AAV that Evolving Hockey projects for him. They may just not be with contending teams.

Age: 35 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.75 million
Previous team: Arizona Coyotes

Soderberg celebrated a birthday recently, turning 35 as he waited for his next NHL destination to materialize. He had one fairly productive campaign in the desert (35 points in 70 games). He’s a durable player coming off a slight downtick of a season, especially on offense. But on a short-term deal, he could be an effective bottom-six center — emphasis on “short-term deal.”

Age: 37 | 2019-20 cap hit: $700,000
Previous team: Washington Capitals

His 22 games with Montreal were actually outstanding (13 points, plus-6). His one assist in eight playoff games with Washington, not so much. Is there a market for a full season of a 37-year-old Kovalchuk, other than as an asset to flip at the trade deadline? For a team looking specifically at adding his offensive touch to its power play, while accepting his defensive liability, perhaps.

Evolving Hockey predicts a $2.328 million AAV on a one-year deal for whoever signs him … assuming he still wants to stick around the NHL. One note: The Canadiens just gave No. 17 to Josh Anderson, for those seeking that reunion.

Age: 30 | 2019-20 cap hit: $3,857,143
Previous team: Calgary Flames

The Philadelphia Flyers were among the teams that kicked the tires on Hamonic, but word is that he’d prefer to remain in Western Canada. There’s a lot of respect for his “defensive defenseman” game and his work on the penalty kill, but three of the past four seasons have been beset by injuries. His strong 2018-19, when he was at 55.5% expected goals, looks more and more like an anomaly given his underlying numbers in the past five seasons. But the market has been robust for veteran defensemen.

Age: 26 | 2019-20 cap hit: $4.9 million
Previous team: Minnesota Wild

His next destination will be his fourth team in three seasons, after stops in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Last season was supposed to be a resurgence; instead, he was a spare part in Pittsburgh before scoring seven points in 14 games with Minnesota, for a career-low 0.41 points per game. It feels like he’s in line for a one-year “show me” contract for a team, and Evolving Hockey predicts a $1.498 million cap hit. Galchenyuk has a 30-goal season on his ledger, but that was in 2015-16. Still, someone while take a chance to see if he can show an iota of that form again.

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