JUNE 28 UPDATE: Home stretch time. A few of the biggest UFA stars available have been re-signed in Erik Karlsson and Jeff Skinner. Kevin Hayes was traded and signed. But the 2019 UFA class still looks bountiful heading into July 1, and pitch meetings are in full swing for the top names with the negotiation window now open. Here’s a final look at the best players available, with some new names cracking the top 30.
Ages listed as of July 1, 2019.
1. ARTEMI PANARIN, LW, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $6,000,000
Panarin is at the peak of his powers as a two-way maven and puckhandling wizard, almost looking like a winger version of Pavel Datsyuk. ‘The Bread Man’ should break the bank more than any other forward this summer, with John Tavares’ seven-year, $77-million pact of last year a fair starting point. The Florida Panthers are the clear frontrunner and have made their pitch, with the New York Rangers and Islanders still in the hunt.
2. SERGEI BOBROVSKY, G, 30
2018-19 cap hit: $7,425,000
The 2018-19 playoffs were important for ‘Bob,’ whose reputation as a horrible post-season performer was based on a 24-game sample size. He posted a career-best playoff save percentage of .925, erasing the only black mark on his game. Now he’s a two-time Vezina winner on the open market, one of the best UFA goalies of all-time, and a $9-million AAV is well within reach. With talks reportedly not progressing between the Isles and Robin Lehner, might they be in the mix for ‘Bob’ and Panarin as a package, like the Panthers are?
3. MATT DUCHENE, C, 28
2018-19 cap hit, $6,000,000
Duchene is the best center available, which should make him an extra million bucks on his new contract. The Nashville Predators remain the best fit from a hockey and personal-life perspective, but the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres and several other teams make sense, too.
4. JOE PAVELSKI, C, 34
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College 2018-19 cap hit: $6,000,000
Pavelski loves San Jose, and he’s Sharks royalty, but there simply isn’t enough money for him on paper at this moment with Karlsson re-signed, Joe Thornton unsigned and Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc needing new pacts as RFAs. Sharks GM Doug Wilson must move mountains to clear space if he wants his captain to stay.
5. ANDERS LEE, LW, 28
2018-19 cap hit: $3,750,000
Not surprisingly, Lee’s production shrunk with John Tavares gone, but Lee still led the Islanders with 28 goals. He’s the captain and a beloved part of the team. It would be a massive upset if he’s wearing a different uniform next October despite talks reaching the 11th hour. New York can’t lose two captains in two summers, right? Keep an eye on Lee’s hometown team, the Minnesota Wild, if the Isles can’t get him signed.
6. JAKE GARDINER, D, 28
2018-19 cap hit: $4,050,000
Some of his mental lapses are difficult to unsee, but his skating and offensive acumen more than make up for that. He’s a legit top-four blueliner, the best left-shot on the market, and could thrive in a less hockey-obsessed city. If he winds up somewhere like Vancouver or Montreal however, he’ll be right back in the pressure cooker.
7. ROBIN LEHNER, G, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $1,500,000
The potential was always immense and, after he courageously came to terms with his mental health struggles and received some fresh coaching under the Mitch Korn umbrella, Lehner had that magical season he was always capable of. He and the Isles are so far apart in contract talks that he appears more likely to leave than stay at this point, which is a stunner considering how much he turned his life around in this environment.
8. TYLER MYERS, D, 28
2018-19 cap hit: $5,500,000
Hasn’t become the dominant force that his 2009-10 Calder Trophy promised but, in such a thin market for defensemen, his mobility and massive wingspan will be coveted. The term “overpaid” isn’t a player’s fault. It happens when there’s a big demand for a low-supply service, which is what we’ll have with Myers. He thus might make more money than many people expect.
9. GUSTAV NYQUIST, RW, 29
2018-19 cap hit: $4,750,000
His goal-scoring binge of 2013-14 feels like 100 years ago. Never became a star but still brings some solid secondary scoring touch for a contending team in need of depth. Nyquist is still young enough to score a long-term deal.
10. MATS ZUCCARELLO, RW, 31
2018-19 cap hit: $4,500,000
Not an elite player but a true catalyst. Acquiring him changed the Dallas Stars’ identity as a supposed one-line team. Given his age, he isn’t looking at a max-term deal, but he’s likely played his way into a raise. Great fit in Dallas, but re-signing him would mean sending the Rangers a 2020 first-round pick instead of a third-rounder.
11. MICHEAL FERLAND, LW, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $1,750,000
Offers size, grit and goal-scoring in a throwback power-forward mold. Any team could use that. Ferland, though, is perpetually nicked up. He plays a style that taxes his body – as we’ve seen with the likes of Wayne Simmonds and David Backes once they reached their 30s – so a long-term contract would carry risk.
12. MARCUS JOHANSSON, LW, 28
2018-19 cap hit: $4,583,333
Can play all three forward positions in a middle-six role and really hiked his value later in the playoffs when, on certain nights, he looked like Boston’s best forward. Young enough to deliver some more prime-year production if healthy.
13. JOE THORNTON, C, 39
2018-19 cap hit: $5,000,000
Just like we see with Zdeno Chara annually, every time Thornton doesn’t retire, he’ll likely remain a Shark. But should that still be the case if keeping ‘Jumbo’ means losing Pavelski?
14. WAYNE SIMMONDS, RW, 30
2018-19 cap hit: $3,975,000
It was undoubtedly a tough year for Simmonds, who cratered with two goals across 19 games between the regular season and playoffs combined after Nashville landed him at the trade deadline. Even if he’s no longer a 30-goal man and power-play juggernaut, he could carve out a new chapter as more of a checking-line force with upside. He’s not too old for a multi-year deal.
15. JUSTIN WILLIAMS, RW, 37
2018-19 cap hit: $4,500,000
What a season for Williams, who led the amazing ‘Storm Surge’ story and quietly enjoyed an excellent offensive season as Sebastian Aho’s right winger. Williams’ 53 points were his most since 2011-12. Surely he doesn’t want to play anywhere else at this stage of his career, though. Right? You never know. Plenty of teams would want him to help their dressing-room culture.
16. SEMYON VARLAMOV, G, 31
2018-19 cap hit: $5,900,000
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College The Avalanche’s acquisition and extension of Philipp Grubauer appeared to nudge Varlamov out the door and, predictably, Grubauer eventually took the crease away. Varlamov is as good as gone, as he’s still young enough and good enough to compete for a starting gig somewhere.
17. ANTON STRALMAN, D, 32
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College 2018-19 cap hit: $4,500,000
He’s been an important defensive D-man for the Bolts, but he’s past his prime, starting to break down physically and likely too pricey for a team that must save its cash for Brayden Point’s extension. Stralman still plays a heady defensive game, though, and would make a steady lower-pair presence on another contender.
18. BRETT CONNOLLY, RW, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $1,500,000
The sixth-overall pick in 2010 picked a great year to deliver his best season as a pro by far. His 22 goals and 46 points beat his career bests by seven and 19, respectively. He’s happy in Washington, but the Caps don’t have a ton of room to maneuver with some key RFAs also needing new deals.
19. COREY PERRY, RW, 34
2018-19 cap hit: $8,625,000
Five years ago, if you said Perry, a Cup winner, gold medallist, MVP and Rocket Richard winner, was on a Hall of Fame trajectory, most people would’ve nodded. Hard to believe he’s been bought out. The best scenario for him might be a sign a short “prove it” contract with a basement dweller, get flipped to a contender, shine in the playoffs, then score a multi-year rebound deal next summer.
20. PETR MRAZEK, G, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $1,500,000
Put it all together with a .938 save percentage between the all-star break and the end of the regular season and was enjoying a solid post-season before getting hurt in Game 2 of the second round. He did enough to earn another chance as a starter – though the Canes expect it to be somewhere else.
21. BRIAN BOYLE, C, 34
2018-19 cap hit: $2,550,000
Will keep finding work because he offers unique tools: giant frame, plenty of snarl, dressing-room leadership, penalty killing, faceoff skills.
22. ALEX CHIASSON, RW, 28
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College 2018-19 cap hit: $650,000
Big guy almost doubled his career high with 22 goals. Also was a major beneficiary of playing with Connor McDavid. The Oilers could re-sign Chiasson since he was productive – or they could let him walk and seek a faster player who can keep up with No. 97’s pace more.
23. BRANDON TANEV, LW, 27
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College 2018-19 cap hit: $1,150,000
Bludgeoning forechecker delivered serious gravy with a 14-goal season. He deserves to remain a Jet, but they have so many big-star RFAs to worry about that he’s a luxury at this point. May have to get his raise elsewhere.
24. RON HAINSEY, D, 38
2018-19 cap hit: $3,000,000
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College Maligned at times by Leafs fans – but only because he was shoehorned onto the team’s top pair. As a penalty killer who can eat minutes, Hainsey would be just fine as a third-pair guy on most teams.
25. PATRICK MAROON, LW, 31
2018-19 cap hit: $1,750,000
Went home and got his Cup ring. One could argue he won’t want to leave now but, on the other hand, one could argue this summer offers by far the best chance of his career to get paid. The Blues will face competition for the big power forward’s services.
26. MIKE SMITH, G, 37
Jersey Perine New 32 Xii Stitched White Sooners College 2018-19 cap hit:$5,666,667
Most likely a one-year stopgap option at this stage of his career given his age and injury history. Still an elite puckhandler and still capable of stealing games during hot stretches, however.
27. RYAN DZINGEL, LW, 27
2018-19 cap hit: $1,800,000
Flopped as a trade-deadline acquisition in Columbus. But this is still a 27-year-old averaging 24.5 goals over his past two seasons. There’s absolutely a market for that.
28. VALTTERI FILPPULA, C, 35
2018-19 cap hit: $2,750,000
Not a sexy signing but that’s not what he’s about at his age. He gives you middle-six minutes, can play any forward position, can win draws, can play in any situation. Still a handy Swiss Army Knife of a player.
29. PATRICK MARLEAU, LW, 39
2018-19 cap hit: $6,250,000
That Carolina bought him out after acquiring him from Toronto tells us it’s heading West, near his family, or retirement for Marleau. Flip a coin. He’s finally lost a step but can still score 20 goals.
30. CURTIS MCELHINNEY, G, 36
2018-19 cap hit: $850,000
The past seven Cup-winning goalies logged fewer than 60 regular-season games. The backup goalie role has never mattered more in the NHL, and McElhinney has proven one of the league’s best over the past few years.
Other 2019 UFAs to watch: Joonas Donskoi, Tyler Ennis, Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Hartman, Derick Brassard, Nick Cousins, Richard Panik, Michael Del Zotto, Deryk Engelland, Jordie Benn, Ben Chiarot, Ben Hutton, Thomas Vanek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brandon Pirri, Nathan Beaulieu, Riley Sheahan, Colin Wilson, Keith Kinkaid, Patrik Nemeth, Cam Talbot, Jan Rutta, Adam McQuaid, Jason Spezza, Jason Pominville, Alex Petrovic, Marc Methot, Ben Lovejoy, Niklas Kronwall, Greg McKegg, Markus Granlund
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.