| USA TODAY
The National Hockey League’s unrestricted free agency opens at noon ET on Friday. General managers have been busy this week: the draft took place Tuesday and Wednesday, and now they will look to infuse more immediate help into their roster. Normally, the free agency period would open July 1, but the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent season pause pushed back the NHL’s calendar.
As always is the case, some players will sign quickly, but it’s unclear how fast the top free agents will make their choices. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and winger Taylor Hall lead USA TODAY’s top 25 available free agents, a list that is full of goalies, including Henrik Lundqvist, whose contract was bought out by the New York Rangers.
Follow along below (newest updates are posted at the top) for analysis of the biggest signings and rumors:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s agent reportedly had given the Coyotes a deadline of noon ET Friday to work out a trade deal with the Bruins or Canucks. Nothing happened. He carries a $8.25 million cap hit, is signed through 2026-27 and has a no-movement clause.
Panthers add Wennberg
Bought out by the Blue Jackets, Alexander Wennberg has never fulfilled his first-round promise, topping out at 13 goals and 59 points in 2016-17. The 26-year-old will be reunited with GM Bill Zito, who was in Columbus’ front office as assistant general manager for seven years.
Senators goalie Matt Murray, acquired this week from the Penguins, will average $6.25 million in his new deal. That’s up from $3.75 million in his recent three-year deal. He has won two Stanley Cups, he’s 26 and the Senators need to get to the salary cap floor.
This makes sense for both sides. Anton Khudobin stays with a team that was two wins away from a Stanley Cup title. The Stars keep together a strong tandem and have insurance in case Ben Bishop is hurt again.
Thus signals the end of Jacob Markstrom’s tenure with the Canucks. It had been reported that they were still trying to keep him, but now it’s a lock he will sign elsewhere. White Braden Holtby has won a Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup, his play has slipped in recent seasons. The Canucks’ path to a long season will be determined by whether he regains some of his old form. This is not a huge commitment, and it should also allow Thatcher Demko to get chances in net as well. He posted a poor .905 save percentage during the regular season, but was impressive in four playoff games (.985 percentage in three starts) this season.
Kyle Turris was bought out the Predators, where he did not pan out. But he was productive in Ottawa and could repeat that if he plays alongside one of the Oilers’ skilled forwards.
Cam Talbot (.919 save percentage) had a better season than Devan Dubnyk, whom the Wild traded to the Sharks. The three years seems long for a 33-year-old, but Talbot could serve as a bridge for young goalie Kaapo Kahkonen.
In a move that has been reported to happen over the past few days, Henrik Lundqvist won’t have to go far from New York and will stay in the same division as the Rangers on a one-year $1.5 million deal. Ilya Samsonov is the Capitals’ goalie of the future, but he has never held a full-time job in the NHL, was inconsistent last season (.913 save percentage) and also suffered an off-ice injury (he is expected to be ready for training camp) during the season pause. Lundqvist likely wanted more than just a back-up role, and he will get it with a Capitals team that is still in win-now mode. Alex Ovechkin and Lundqvist on the same team should be fun, and the rivalry with the Rangers adds another twist.
According to Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Panthers have signed Radko Gudas to a three-year, $7.5 million deal. Gudas had 15 points in 63 games with the Capitals last season. He has a total of 619 penalty minutes in 479 games.
Patrick Maroon was emblematic of the shift the Lightning took to get tougher and more physical this Stanle Cup-winning season. He has won back-to-back Cups with two different teams, though he won’t be able to extend the streak this season with a different one. Luke Schenn will continue to provide depth on the blue line.
Bobby Ryan, the Masterton Trophy winner, was bought out by the Senators. His top season over the last four is 15 goals, but he has topped 20 goals six times and could slot into Detroit’s top six. He had treatment this past season for alcohol addiction.
The Lightning were trying to find a way to trade Tyler Johnson and his $5 million cap hit through 2024 because they only have about $5 million in cap space this offseason. They still need to re-sign restricted free agents Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli and add a defenseman or two. Now, teams can claim Johnson for his remaining salary without giving up assets. Johnson had 31 points in 65 regular-season games last year. He is a four-time 20-plus goal scorer.
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said this offseason that he would try to make his team harder to play against, and Wayne Simmonds provides that element. He is also an asset on the power play as a net-front presence.
The Sabres held on to penalty-killing center Zemgus Girgensons, signing him to a three-year contract averaging $2.2 million. He made $1.6 million last season, when he tied his career best with 11 even-strength goals.
The Golden Knights have been looking for ways to clear cap space, and trading center Paul Stastny and his $6.5 million cap hit does just that. There have been reports that they are interested in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and if they can trade goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ($7 million for the next two years), they would be in good shape to make a big play. With Bryan Little’s status unclear moving forward after being hit by a puck in the ear in November, the Jets needed a scoring-line center.
The Blue Jackets could be players in free agency. They have $14 million in cap space after buying out forward Alexander Wennberg and trading defenseman Ryan Murray to the Devils and defenseman Markus Nutivaara to the Panthers.
As teams try to free up cap space, several notable names have seen their contracts get bought out. Here are the players who are now set to be unrestricted free agents: Forwards Alexander Wennberg, Kyle Turris, Justin Abdelkader, Michael Grabner and Bobby Ryan and defensemen Karl Alzner and Jack Johnson and goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider.
The biggest factor affecting the craziness of the day will be the coronavirus pandemic. To some extent, each team in the league has been impacted. When will the next season start? Commissioner Gary Bettman said on first night of draft that the target was Jan. 1. But will fans be in attendance, and will it be an 82-game season? That will affect a team’s bottom-line financials. The salary cap will stay flat for next season at $81.5 million. Will the marquee free agents command as long and as big a deal? Will there be more bargain signings? Will there be more free agents left unsigned after Day 1, and how long will it take them to figure out their next landing spot?