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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

NHL free agency: Previewing the top names that could be available

Taylor Hall of the Coyotes, a former Devil,

Taylor Hall of the Coyotes, a former Devil, would be the top prize as an unrestricted free agent. Credit: Getty Images/Christian Petersen

It’s been a long road to the meat of the NHL offseason, with seven teams having their seasons end way back when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in play on March 12.

The Rangers were eliminated on Aug. 4, swept in the best-of-five qualifying series by the Hurricanes. The Islanders lasted until Sept. 17, bowing in six games to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals.

But a flurry of activity is upcoming even with no set date — or timeframe — for the 2020-21 season to begin. The first NHL buyout period began on Friday, the NHL Draft will be Oct. 6-7 and the free-agent market opens at noon on Oct. 9.

The NHL salary cap is remaining flat at $81.5 million for at least the next season, which will make this offseason fairly unpredictable. More teams will be looking to shed salary than add.

Still, there are some notable unrestricted free agents who will get teams to open their checkbooks.

Here’s a look, with all salary figures provided by CapFriendly.com:

Forwards

Taylor Hall is unquestionably the marquee UFA among the 150 forwards on the market. The Coyotes, under new general manager Bill Armstrong, are attempting to work some cap magic to be able to afford to retain the playmaking left wing, completing a seven-year, $42 million deal that he initially signed with the Oilers. He won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP with the Devils in 2018 and, at age 28, may be shooting for a seven-year deal in the $10 million per range.

Mike Hoffman, who had 29 goals and 30 assists in 69 games for the Panthers, will also be an attractive option, though, at age 30, it’s questionable whether he’ll be able to match his $5.2 million cap figure.

The Canucks brought in Tyler Toffoli ($4.6 million) as a rental and he’s a solid option at age 28. The Panthers may also lose Evgeni Dadonov (31, $4 million). The Lightning’s Pat Maroon (32, $900,000) and the Panthers’ Brian Boyle (35, $940,000) can bolster a team’s depth. Sharpshooter Ilya Kovalchuk ($700,000), at 37, could get another one-year deal.

Defensemen

It’s a deep pool of free-agent talent among the 100 potential UFA defensemen, highlighted by Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. At 30, he’s completing a seven-year, $45.5 million deal and the Blues have told him to explore the market, though they may still try to retain him.

Another righthanded option is the Maple Leafs’ Tyson Barrie ($5.5 million), two years younger than Pietrangelo.

Lefty Torey Krug ($5.25 million), at 29, has let the Bruins know he’s looking for a longer, long-term contract as his four-year deal expires.

Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million) barely played for the Hurricanes after being acquired from the Devils. But he’s 29, also a righty and can help any team’s power play.

Righty Kevin Shattenkirk (31, $1.75 million) resurrected his career with the Lightning after being bought out by the Rangers.

The Flames could lose both lefty T.J. Brodie (30, $4.65 million), 30, and righty Travis Hamonic (29, $3.86 million). Another interesting option is former Jet Dustin Byfuglien ($7.6 million), who sat out this season. But the righty may want to play again at age 35.

Goalies

Another crowded field with 40 netminders potentially available. That may include well-traveled Robin Lehner ($5 million), though, at 28, he may have finally found a long-term home in Vegas.

The Capitals and 30-year-old former Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby ($6.1 million) are likely to part.

The Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford ($6 million) is another No. 1 goalie who may be looking for a new team, though he’s 35 and has been dealing with injuries, including head injuries.

The Senators just informed 39-year-old Craig Anderson ($4.75 million) they would not bring him back.

Anton Khudobin ($2.5 million), the Stars’ playoff hero, finally got a chance at age 34 to show he could carry a team.

The Oilers’ Mike Smith (38, $2 million) and the Flames’ Cam Talbot (32, $2.75 million) could be fighting for a roster spot somewhere. Jacob Markstrom (30, $3.67 million) may have lost his hold on the Canucks’ net. And Thomas Greiss (34, $3.3 million) has almost certainly been squeezed out of his spot with the Islanders by highly-touted Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin.

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