Free agency was set to be boring, with few big names on the board, then, cap-strapped general managers waved bought out on Friday, a prelude to Canada Day’s free agent frenzy in the National Hockey League. Now there’s some fun to be had for hockey fans.
The Time: Noon ET. The news will likely start in the morning about deals that have been all but signed. No one can discuss contracts until noon, though, that never seems to stop them as we see complicated contracts signed at 1201 and an impressive 1 minute of work.
The Top 10 Preview:
- Dmitry Orlov – Boston Bruins
Orlov tops this list after a career season of 36 points, but more after his play in Boston, which showed he can shoulder top-pair assignments. He has always been a steady top-four defender, then his offensive explosion for Boston, including in the playoffs, makes him the top UFA target.
- Winger – Tyler Bertuzzi – Boston Bruins
Another bruin, who is testing the market. Unfortunately for Boston, he is exactly what they needed, but then again, he is exactly what a dozen teams would need. He has three 20-goal seasons, one of which is a 30-goal campaign. He plays in a high-energy style, with lots of sandpaper and physical play. He is the player playoff team’s target to add to win.
- Winger – Vladimir Tarasenko -New York Rangers
2019 Stanley Cup Winner has had a difficult few years, suffering multiple injuries. That seems to be behind him now rebounded. He did only score 18 goals over 69 games in 2022-23, but his history as a 30-plus goal scorer, and his offensive reawakening in New York will get some GMs to make offers.
- Winger – Jason Zucker – Pittsburgh Penguins
After two slow seasons, he found his legs and his aim, scoring 27 goals this past season. He’s had five 20-goal seasons including one of 30 goals. He was a good fit on Evgeni Malkin’s line which is why it is odd that the Pens were unable to keep him from testing the market.
- Center – Ryan O’Reilly – Toronto Maple Leafs
Another former Stanley Cup champion on the market, but also, a former Conn Smythe trophy winner. He was exactly what Toronto lacked when they traded for him, experience, some grit, and a steady emotional approach. But the former Selke Trophy winner is not likely to settle for significantly less than his market value, which would be north of $5.5 million. Because of that, Toronto is likely out of the running for his services.
- Winger – Patrick Kane – New York Rangers
Hip-resurfacing surgery will keep the three-time champion out for four to six months, so a team will have to be patient with him. But a team who would be looking for a rental this trade deadline could see him as an alternative, and take a chance on signing him, waiting for his return and treating him like an own rental. It’s a risk, but not one larger than trading important assets for an aging player.
- Winger – Michael Bunting – Toronto Maple Leafs
The oldest living Calder trophy winner established himself as a top-six forward in Toronto, averaging 23 goals and 56 points in those two seasons. If a team is willing to ….dive….into the free agent pool with him, he would be able to command a respectable contract, hovering close to $5 million with the term. Which is why he is unlikely to return to the pool in Toronto.
- Center – Matt Duchene – No Fixed Address
The Nashville Predators bought out Duchene, a 32-year-old center, who had 3 years remaining at $8 million AAV. Duchene is coming off a season where he scored 22 goals and 34 assists for 56 points in 71 games. In 2021-22, Duchene notched a career-high 43 goals and 86 points. He is poised to find cash in on a lucrative deal from a team in search of a proven top-six scoring center.
- Winger – Blake Wheeler – No Fixed Address
Blake Wheeler was just bought out by the Winnipeg Jets who purchased the final year of a contract paying him $8.25 million. One of the better playmaking wingers in the NHL, he can also bring some grit, size, and defensively responsible play. Add to that, that he is an eight-time 20-goal scorer, and he will draw interest from teams looking for a veteran to help solidify their top six and power play.
- Winger – Alex Killorn – Tampa Bay Lightning
He tops the list of free agents with 64 points. But it won’t be his offensive skills teams will want to buy, it will be his ability to play a power game in the top six. It will be his experience, as a two-time Stanley Cup winner with four Final appearances. Teams value championship experience which is why he may be the first name off of the board.