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Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Free Agents Ready to Sign

Once the NHL and NHLPA finalize the details on the 2021 NHL season, which might occur later this week, some NHL teams and players will have a hectic few weeks getting ready for the season.

Unless something changes in the next few weeks, the San Jose Sharks need to find a place to hold training camp. Their county won’t allow them to hold training camp or play games, similar to the San Francisco 49ers, who have played their recent home games in Arizona.

There isn’t one set of rules for all 31 NHL teams, and some teams have to abide by the rules of their county, state or province for the seven Canadian teams.

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While the NHL and teams work to figure out the logistics of arrival times, quarantine rules and training camp logistics, there are still some quality players without contracts.

RFAs…

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers need to sign Ethan Bear. He had a great rookie season, but he has no arbitration rights and last I heard both sides were looking at either a one-year deal or a three-year contract. If it is one-year deal, Bear likely will sign for around $1 million AAV when we look at recent contracts by other RFA D-men with no arbitration rights. Both sides want a deal, and want Bear on the ice for day one of training camp. A deal will get done.

In think the Oilers/Bear negotiations will be much easier than some of the other unsigned RFAs.

The New York Islanders need to sign Matt Barzal.
Columbus has to sign Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Tampa Bay needs to sign Anthony Cirelli and Eric Cernak, but they also need to shed salary just to get under the salary cap. GM Julien Brisebois needs to get creative, but he needs an opposing team willing help him out.
St. Louis has six NHL D-men signed, but Vince Dunn needs a contract. They too have very little cap space.
MacKenzie Blackwood is an interesting situation. He had great numbers for New Jersey last year, and the Devils have loads of cap space. History suggests if a young goalie plays that well, it is very likely he will be a good, possibly great goalie in the future. Will the Devils pay him enough to sign long-term or will they want to see more?

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Recently acquired Luke Kunin needs a deal in Nashville, while Jack Roslovic has to sign in Winnipeg and Dylan Strome needs a deal in Chicago.

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These are all solid, young NHL players, but will teams play hard ball, which is their right (and advantage) this close to the start of the season.

UFAs…

Dec 16, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Riley Sheahan (23) in action during the game between the Oilers and the Stars at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There are currently 24 unrestricted free agents who played 50+ games last season.

Anthony Duclair is the youngest at 24, while Zdeno Chara is the oldest at 43. Duclair might have erred in choosing this off-season to be the one where he represents himself. He’s scored 42 goals over the past two seasons (19 and 23), but is still unsigned and might have to settle for a much lower term than he’d hoped.

Mike Hoffman is still unsigned. He scored the most goals, 29, and points, 59, among the unsigned free agents. Over the past six NHL seasons he has scored the 16th most goals in the NHL (169), and he is 31st in EV goals at 110.

Some say he is a one-trick pony (not great defensively), but he’s damn good at the hardest trick in the NHL: scoring goals.

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New Jersey, Los Angeles, Nashville, Ottawa and Detroit have the most cap space. LA and Detroit were 30th and 31st in goals scored last year. Both could use him, but I’m told LA isn’t interested.

Mikael Granlund had a down year, points-wise, in Nashville last year, but he still scored 17 goals after producing 54, 67 and 69 points between 2017-2019. He could be a great low-cost, value signing.

Other proven NHL forwards looking for work include: Carl Soderberg, Derick Brassard, Andreas Athanasiou, Erik Haula, Conor Sheary, Corey Perry, Michael Frolik, Matt Martin, Trevor Lewis, Nick Shore, Frederik Gauthier, Drake Caggiula, Riley Sheahan, Brendan Perlini and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Defencemen…

Chara will likely re-sign in Boston, but reports suggest he is waiting to see what the regular season will look like. If he doesn’t sign to start the season the Bruins would be without him, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (both rehabbing) while Torey Krug signed in St. Louis. Could the Bruins struggle out of the gate?

Travis Hamonic is still available, and he wants to play in western Canada. Both Calgary and Vancouver have made offers.

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Sami Vatanen, Ben Hutton, Madison Bowey, Ron Hainsey, Deryk Engelland, Michael Stone and Michael Del Zotto are also looking for work.

I’m surprised Slater Koekkoek hasn’t signed. He was really good for Chicago in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. He could be an excellent value for a team looking for a versatile defender.

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If a team wants a veteran goalie for depth they could look at Cory Schneider, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard or Ryan Miller. Miller staying in Anaheim makes sense, as the Ducks’ depth chart after John Gibson starts with Anthony Stolarz.

BEST BETS…

Koekkoek, Granlund and Hamonic could provide the best value based on salary. Matt Martin offers a unique mix of size, tenacity and he has some skill. In a bottom-six role, when used correctly, he has proven he can be an asset. For teams needing a big body who can play in their bottom-six I’d look at him.

I don’t see many teams handing out multi-year deals with the expansion draft six months away, so I sense most of these players will sign short-term deals.

Edmonton has 17 forwards on one-way deals, but it’s not like they have 12 roster spots locked in. Will Ken Holland look for another low-cost contract? He might, but it will require Daryl Katz to be willing to add another one-way contract. In a shortened season with no fans, adding more NHL salaries might be a hard sell.

MONTH OF GIVING…

A massive thank you to all those who donated to our Pyramid of Giving on Friday. We raised $20,500 for the Christmas Bureau. An extra big thank you to Nex Gen Transportation for their $7,100 donation.

Day 10: Dinner with Kevin Lowe and Bob Nicholson at Ruth’s Chris

  • You and four friends will dine with Hockey Hall of Famer Kevin Lowe, CEO of the Edmonton Oilers Bob Nicholson and me at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
  • It will be a three-course dinner with wine pairings and your choice of beverages in their private “Vault” room.
  • We will host this in the 2nd half of 2021 and any and all hockey questions are allowed.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 today. You can text the show between 2-6 p.m. at 101260 and include your name and donationThanks in advance. All the proceeds will go towards the Christmas Bureau.

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