For the past several seasons, reporting on the best available UFAs as Day 1 wrapped up meant looking at a bone mostly picked clean. But the early negotiation window, which allowed teams to talk to pending UFAs for five to seven days before the market officially opened, has been eliminated. For the first time since July 1, 2012, teams could not start talking to their targets until the official start time of 12:00 ET/9:00 PT.
Seeing offers for the first time as they poured in on Friday, many of the top UFAs weren’t in a rush to sign deals, and far more big names than normal remained available as Day 1 reached its evening hours.
Who are the ‘Best of the Rest’? Here’s a look at the top players, sorted by position. Included are their overall ranks from my top-30 UFA update published the day before free agency began. Ages as of Jan. 1, 2021.
TAYLOR HALL, LW, 29
UFA rank: 2
2019-20 cap hit: $6,000,000
Going to market is unprecedented for Hart-Trophy winners still in their 20s, so Hall’s free agency is a significant event. He would’ve commanded between $9 million and $10 million annually across a max term under non-COVID conditions. But is it possible he pulls a Hossa on a shorter-term pact with a contender? It appears he won’t make a decision before the end of Day 1.
MIKE HOFFMAN, LW, 31
UFA rank: 4
2019-20 cap hit: $5,187,500
Ranks 16th in goals since 2014-15, his first full NHL season. Bloomed late, so he’s older than a lot of people realize, but he hasn’t lost his wheels yet. A great complementary asset with a deadly release. Led Florida with three goals in four games during the play-in round.
EVGENII DADONOV, RW, 31
UFA rank: 5
2019-20 cap hit: $4,000,000
Why don’t we talk about him more? Since returning to NHL for 2017-18, he’s 11th in scoring among right wingers, between Patrik Laine and Alexander Radulov.
TYLER TOFFOLI, RW, 28
UFA rank: 8
2019-20 cap hit: $4,600,000
A trade to Vancouver finally gave Toffoli a chance to play in a less defense-oriented system, and he ripped off six goals and 10 points in 10 games, teasing at what he might do if he lands in a good situation with a talented playmaking center. It’s a shame he lost momentum with injuries shelving him for most of the first two rounds in the post-season.
MIKAEL GRANLUND, LW, 28
UFA rank: 11
2019-20 cap hit: $5,750,000
It didn’t work out in Nashville, but Granlund is young enough to recapture his scoring touch in the right situation. He’s just a couple years removed being one of the game’s most dynamic young players. He did come alive with seven goals in February.
Other top UFA forwards to watch: Erik Haula, Craig Smith, Anthony Duclair, Jesper Fast
ALEX PIETRANGELO, D, 30
UFA rank: 1
2019-20 cap hit: $6,500,000
He’s a big, rangy, skilled leader with a Stanley Cup ring. He still defends at an elite level. He’d already set a career high with 16 goals and was three away from beating his personal-best point total of 54 when the NHL shutdown halted his progress with 11 games to go. His next contract may not look the prettiest in its final few years, but whichever team signs him can just decide to worry about that time when it comes. He’s a difference-maker in the short term. The Blues still hope to retain him, but the Golden Knights, Maple Leafs and Avalanche are among those also kicking the tires. This situation might take a few more days to resolve.
TOREY KRUG, D, 29
UFA rank: 3
2019-20 cap hit: $5,250,000
More than just a power-play maven. Size doesn’t hinder his defensive effectiveness as much in today’s game, and he plays with feistiness. The Bruins haven’t changed their offer of six years and a $6.5 million AAV, and the market may wait for the Pietrangelo domino to drop before chasing Krug.
TYSON BARRIE, D, 29
UFA rank: 6
2019-20 cap hit: $5,500,000
As a right-shot with excellent power-play acumen, he’ll have a long list of suitors. Even if his game doesn’t translate as well to the grinding post-season, he can excel in the right situation if he isn’t asked to do too much. The Western Canadian teams are all in pursuit.
T.J. BRODIE, D, 30
UFA rank: 9
2019-20 cap hit: $4,650,400
Not flashy, but he’s a mobile top-four type who moves the puck pretty well and, as a lefty, functions best on the right side. Optimal to pair him with a top-end No. 1, however, as he has struggled at times when not skating with Mark Giordano in Calgary. The Flyers are reportedly eying him.
Other top UFA defensemen to watch: Sami Vatanen, Erik Gustafsson, Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev
COREY CRAWFORD, G, 36
UFA rank: 17
2019-20 cap hit: $6,000,000
He had a truly remarkable year. Factoring in the historically bad defense playing in front of him, he was one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. He still has something left. He’s officially not re-signing with Chicago. With several teams already addressing their goaltending Friday, Edmonton and Carolina seem like good candidates to pursue Crawford.
Other top UFA goaltenders to watch: Thomas Greiss, Craig Anderson