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Top 10 NHL Unrestricted Free Agents

With the awards, the Vegas expansion draft, and the entry draft all happening last week, there is only one more big event to look forward to in the NHL offseason. Unrestricted free agents can sign wherever they want on Saturday, July 1. This year isn’t as exciting as usual because every free agent has a question mark, but there are some fantasy-relevant players available. This top 10’s criteria is age, position, and last season’s point production. I’ll also discuss which teams could be interested and what question marks they have.

10. Martin Hanzal, C, Minnesota Wild

Although Hanzal had 39 points in 71 games, he will get a lot of attention come July 1. After 10 seasons with Arizona, Hanzal had .52 points per game. He was then traded to Minnesota for a prospect, a 2017 first round, 2018 second round and a 2019 fourth round pick, which is quite a lot for an average player and certainly drove his stock up. Hanzal ended up with nine points in 20 games for the Wild. To be fair, the 30-year-old had a 56.4 faceoff percentage this season, top 10 in that category. However, Hanzal is decent in advanced stats (50.1 Corsi For Percentage). He does have some value, but he doesn’t translate to fantasy. Hanzal might go back to Arizona, or he could be a good depth center to a team like Washington or Pittsburgh.

9. Sam Gagner, C/RW, Columbus Blue Jackets

With 50 points, Gagner had his best season to date. After seven seasons with the Oilers, Gagner went to Philadelphia and Arizona for a season. Ganger didn’t really play that well for either team. However, at 27-years-old, Gagner went to Columbus and had 18 goals and 32 assists for 50 points last season.  He averaged about 13 minutes on ice, which is impressive. He might stay with Columbus and be a good depth player. But he might want to go to a team where he gets more playing time. Vegas, both New York teams, New Jersey, or St Louis would be interesting destinations.

8. Justin Williams, RW, Washington Capitals

Until this year, Williams was undefeated in Game sevens and had numerous game-winning goals in those games. One of the reasons the Capitals brought Williams over was his ability to produce in Game sevens. He didn’t do that this year. The 35-year-old still wasn’t bad for the Capitals in his two regular seasons. He had 100 points in 162 games in Washington, which is about .61 points per game. Given Washington’s cap restraints, he might not come back. Although playoff stats don’t count, Williams will intrigue contending teams with his three Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe. He’d be a good role player in Nashville, Minnesota, or Toronto, which is where I see him ending up. 

7. Brian Elliott, G, Calgary Flames

After five seasons with St Louis, Elliott signed a one-year contract with the Calgary Flames. Elliott had always been a tandem starter in St Louis with a .925 save percentage as a Blue. However, Elliott had his worst season, by far, this year with a .910 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average. He had a decent second half though and helped push the Flames into the playoffs. He was blamed for the playoffs loss kind of unfairly, so Calgary will not re-sign him. Elliott will still interest a team, but it’ll probably be a backup position or a tandem. However, I’m thinking he could start in Philadelphia or Arizona, tandem in Winnipeg or the Rangers, or backup in Tampa Bay, LA, or Boston.

6. Jonathan Bernier, G, Anaheim Ducks

Most people think of Bernier for his time in Toronto, when he wasn’t good. To be fair, that was more to do with the team in front of him. Bernier had a turnaround season in his first year in Anaheim. It all started when starter John Gibson was injured in the month of March. Bernier went 10-1-2 with an insane .941 save percentage. This season Bernier had .915 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average. He’s also 28 years old, which isn’t old. Bernier may want to continue to back up injury-prone Gibson in Anaheim. But there will be teams that will be looking for his services. Philadelphia and Arizona will be looking for a starter. St Louis, Winnipeg, and Calgary could offer him a tandem-type role as well.

5. Thomas Vanek, LW, Florida Panthers

A bit under the radar, Vanek actually had a decent season. He had 48 points in 68 games, which makes for .71 points per game for the two teams he played for last season. To be fair, Detroit and Florida were not good this year and Vanek was injured, which is why he was under the radar. If the 33-year-old can stay healthy, he’d be a sneaky good addition for any team that might be cap-strapped. He’d fit in with Boston and Chicago, who are looking for left wingers and don’t have a ton of cap space. He could also go back to the Islanders, who will want to persuade John Tavares into staying in for more years.

4. Jaromir Jagr, RW, Florida Panthers

When this year’s first overall pick, Nico Hischier, was born, Jagr was in the middle of his best season with 127 points. That was his eighth season with the Penguins. Jagr just loves the game. He currently has 1,914 points in his career, which puts him second all-time. Jagr could conceivably play another two more years and get to 2,000 all-time points. With 46 points last season, the Ageless Wonder will still be useful and give a veteran presence to any young team. He could bring experience to teams like Edmonton, Toronto, or Winnipeg, but he seems to love it in Florida. I’m betting he’ll sign with the Panthers.

3. Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks

From one future Hall of Famer to another. Thornton is an assist machine and is the best playmaking center of this century. He has 1,007 career assists in 12 seasons, which already puts him 13th all-time. He had a down year for him this season with seven goals and 43 assists at 37-years-old. Jumbo could still be useful to any team looking for centers, especially since he’s the best available in the position. Nashville, Rangers, or St. Louis will be looking for centers and arguably have a better chance at the Cup than San Jose. He could also spite the Bruins, his former team, and go to Montreal or Toronto.

2. Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal Canadiens

For the past decade, Radulov had more success in the KHL than he did in the NHL. With 492 points in 391 KHL games, the Russian really made a name for himself. As opposed to his three seasons in Nashville, where he had 102 points in 154 games. This isn’t bad but it was certainly a risk for him to come back to the NHL after four years. He supposedly had some dedication issues, but that seemed to stop this time in the NHL. He returned as a Montreal Canadien. It was certainly a risk on Montreal’s part, but it paid off with 54 points in 76 games. According to Pierre LeBrun, Radulov is asking for six years with an annual average value of seven million, which is a lot to ask from a 30-year-old who has had one year of success. There aren’t a ton of teams that could afford that, but possibly Edmonton or Tampa Bay, who have the cap space. There is a chance that ask will be lowered, and then he could go back to Montreal.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Washington Capitals

Puck-moving defensemen are a hot commodity in this league. Offensive defensemen are so highly valued that they rarely see the open market. Shattenkirk is that rare instance. He’s a 28-year-old right-handed defenseman. He also had 56 points, which is fourth in the league for defensemen. The New York native is looking for a bigger role and will quarterback the power play for whichever team signs him. This will make him the most sought-after free agent this offseason. The only knock is he didn’t help the Caps much in the playoffs. That shouldn’t be an issue in the regular season.

A lot of teams are reportedly interested in him. He’s from New York, and the Rangers will be looking for a defenseman and have some cap space since they bought out Dan Girardi and traded a couple of players. Pretty much any team that desperately needs defensemen will be interested, which is basically every team. Here’s a short list: Washington, NY Rangers, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo, Colorado, and Detroit. The question is can any of these teams afford his price? My prediction is he’ll go to the Rangers. It just seems like New York is trying to get cap space for him, and he is a native. 

Honorable Mentions

Nick Bonino (C, PIT), Mike Condon (G, OTT), Chad Johnson (G, ARI)

The Ray Bourque Treatment

These are players that have been in the NHL for a long time and have never won the cup but could be somewhat useful on a contending team. Joe Thornton would also count on this list:

Jarome Iginla (RW, COL), Patrick Marleau (C/LW, SJ), Shane Doan (RW, ARI), Mike Fisher (C, NSH), Brian Boyle (C, TOR), and Ryan Miller.

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