NHL: Early Look At 2021 Free Agency

NHL: Early Look At 2021 Free Agency

by April 22, 2021 2 comments

As the NHL gears up for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is time to take a look at some big names set to hit free agency.

Alex Ovechkin:

Team: Washington Capitals

Previous cap hit: $9,538,462

It is not every day you have a 730-goal scorer set to hit unrestricted free agency. While Ovechkin is at the tail-end of his career, he can still pack a punch. The 35-year-old winger has been tearing it up this season, with 24 goals and 42 points in as many games. A natural scoring drop in production is expected, but it was supposed to have happened years ago and yet, here he is.

Over the span of his 16-year NHL career, Ovechkin has scored at a 0.61 goals-per-game clip. This season that number has dropped slightly to 0.57. Potential offseason suitors will want to know if they’re getting the greatest goal-scorer of all-time, or just another 30-goal scorer as he was in the 2016-17 season. His career shooting percentage is 12.8. This year it a bit higher at 13.8, but a slight drop-off from last year’s career-high of 15.4 percent.

This season, Ovechkin is on an 82-game pace for 47 goals, more or less on par with some of his greatest seasons. The question is how long can he keep this going?

His next contract should be somewhere in the neighborhood of teammate Nicklas Backstrom‘s 5-year $9,200,000 million per year contract.

All 31 (and soon to be 32) teams in the NHL would love to welcome Ovi to their team, however, most teams do not have the means to do so. The teams that could possibly afford to bring him aboard (and he might be interested in joining) include:

Washington Capitals

Boston Bruins

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Taylor Hall:

Team: Boston Bruins

Previous cap hit: $8,000,000

When Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2020 offseason, the idea was for him to use the Sabres to pile up points and sign an extension with the highest bidder after the year. That whole plan fell completely flat as the Sabres and Hall had one of the most disastrous seasons in recent memory. Through 37 games with Buffalo, he put up a measly two goals and 19 points total. Obviously, what happened to Buffalo cannot be pinned solely on Hall, but questions will be raised.

With the way the NHL landscape looks this year, coupled with his underwhelming return at the trade deadline, there may not be too many teams interested in signing him. Having said that, he will certainly sign eventually with someone, but the money and term might be nowhere near what he would like.

The best way forward for him and any potentially interested parties is likely a bridge-deal contract. A one or two-year contract with a contending team can do wonders for his career trajectory. A few teams that might be interested in doling out the cash for the winger include:

Edmonton Oilers

New Jersey Devils

Florida Panthers

Columbus Blue Jackets

Tuukka Rask:

Team: Boston Bruins

Previous cap hit: $7,000,000

The Boston Bruins veteran netminder is coming off of an eight-year $56-million contract signed during the 2013 offseason. There are rumors going around that Rask is considering retirement from the NHL. Leaving that aside, if Rask does decide to test the waters in free agency, he would be one of the most sought-after prizes.

After a rocky start to the 2020-21 season, including a lengthy injury, Rask has effectively lost his crease to Jeremy Swayman, Daniel Vladar and Jaroslav Halak. Rask (34-years-old) and Halak (36) are not getting any younger, and the organization may be looking for changes at the goaltender position.

A large number of teams would be interested in his services and would be willing to pay handsomely for them. The 2011 Stanley Cup champion would have to prove that he still has what it takes to lead a team far into the playoffs. However, it would not be a stretch to say that a contending team with problems in goal might offer him the starting position.

Here are four teams that could be interested in bringing Rask aboard:

Boston Bruins

Washington Capitals

Edmonton Oilers

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:

Team: Edmonton Oilers

Previous cap hit: $6,000,000

On a team with precious little depth at the forward position, Nugent-Hopkins has done what he can to create offense. He was originally drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL draft. Although he never turned into a McDavid-type player that some hoped he would, Nugent-Hopkins is a very useful top-six center. His 471 career points rank sixth in his draft class behind established stars such as Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Nugent-Hopkins is 4th on the Oilers in points this season and they will do everything they can to re-sign him. As far as how much money he will make once he does sign with whichever team depends on a lot of factors, some within his reach and some not. He could fetch anywhere between $5 million per season and possibly as high as $8.5 million.

A lot of teams are in need of help offensively and Nugent-Hopkins can provide just that. Some of the teams that make the most sense for him include:

Edmonton Oilers

Minnesota Wild

Calgary Flames

Columbus Blue Jackets

Dougie Hamilton:

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

Previous cap hit: $5,750,000

Hamilton is far and away the best defenseman to hit unrestricted free agency this year. His 37 points through 45 games played put him in a tie with Oilers’ defenseman Tyson Barrie for fourth in the NHL. In all likelihood, he will receive Norris Trophy votes for the fifth season in a row. He may even be a finalist, depending on how the remainder of the season plays out.

It seems the most likely team he will end up with is the team he is currently playing for, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes have the cap space and are a team that Hamilton is comfortable playing for. For much of his career, he has flown a little under the radar as a top defenseman in the NHL. That is all over now, as he is widely regarded as possibly being in the top three.

These four teams have the highest chance of landing the best defenseman to hit free agency in 2021, as it looks now:

Carolina Hurricanes

Winnipeg Jets

Edmonton Oilers

Vegas Golden Knights

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