NHL free agency: Top options, best values, boom-or-bust players


We were spoiled last summer.

The 2022 unrestricted free agent class featured star players like Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Claude Giroux, Nazem Kadri, Darcy Kuemper and Marc-Andre Fleury — not to mention two-thirds of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ core in Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

The 2023 free agent class is … not like that. At all. There isn’t a franchise-altering player available. But that’s not to say there aren’t players that could be the last pieces of championship puzzles, difference-makers on burgeoning contenders and valuable additions to young teams seeking veteran help.

Here’s a look at the unrestricted free agent field, organized into different tiers. We’ve opted not to include restricted free agents, as offer sheets remain a rarity in the NHL.

Which players are you hoping your team signs this offseason?

Jump to: The impact players
Best bets | Best values
Rickety investments
Shocking potential departures

Note: Players are arranged alphabetically within each tier. Ages are as of June 5, 2023.

The impact players

These are established players who can play key and immediate roles for a team.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.75 million

There weren’t a lot of positives to emerge from the Bruins’ epic fail in the first round of the 2023 playoffs, but Bertuzzi was one of them. The winger had 10 points in seven games. Most notable was that his total included five goals, defying his reputation as a pure setup winger. Bertuzzi’s best fit is likely in the middle six on a good team, but his chemistry with David Pastrnak showed he could be an asset on a star player’s line — with the caveat that his defense is a liability.

Age: 27 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.8 million

I had Gavrikov pegged as yet another middle-tier pending UFA defenseman whose reputation was inflated because he was simply available at the trade deadline. But he was rock solid in 20 games with the Kings (including nine points) and had a strong but brief playoff run. His duo with Matt Roy had an expected goals percentage of 56% at 5-on-5, which was terrific. A solid second-pairing defenseman who turns 28 in November.

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5.1 million

The best defenseman available in free agency. Maybe even the best overall player, given the health questions surrounding other big names. Orlov had 36 points in 66 games for the Washington Capitals and the Bruins last season, averaging 22:33 of ice time per game — the second-highest rate in his career. He’s a strong puck-moving defenseman and an asset at 5-on-5 play. Perhaps the only true top-pairing defenseman available this summer.

Orlov recently told Sport-Express in Russia that he’s looking forward to hitting the market with an eye on a long-term deal.

Age: 32 | 2022-23 cap hit: $7.5 million

Does O’Reilly belong in this top tier? Given what else is on the market at center, I believe he does, despite the acknowledgement that his offensive numbers no longer speak to No. 1 center status. But he remains an elite defender, an incredible faceoff guy and a dependable veteran in the postseason. All that talk about the Leafs absorbing O’Reilly’s Conn Smythe-winning playoff experience through osmosis? Hey, they won a playoff series for the first time since 2004, didn’t they?

There are a number of Stanley Cup contenders that could use him on their second line. There are also a number of building teams — the Chicago Blackhawks being one of them — that could use O’Reilly’s mentorship, if that’s where he wanted to go professionally.

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5.1 million

Pacioretty is one of the more accomplished goal scorers available in free agency and a terrific finisher. The Hurricanes traded for Pacioretty in the hopes that he could provide a critical goal at a critical time in the playoffs. Instead, he was limited to five games this season after two right Achilles tendon surgeries. The second surgery in January reinforced the tendon, so the hope is that Pacioretty can be healthy next season.

But his time on long-term injured reserve will be a benefit for his next contract: Since he has 400 career games and spent 100 days on LTIR last season, he’s eligible for a performance bonus-laden contract this season. Performance bonuses count against the salary cap; however, a team can exceed the salary cap due to performance bonuses by the maximum performance bonus cushion amount of 7.5% of the upper limit. It’s only after the season that the impact is really felt. That cap hit advantage makes him an intriguing free agent option for someone’s top six.

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $7.5 million

Tarasenko is another great goal-scoring finisher available this summer. He’s great off the rush and remains one of the NHL’s most immovable players on the ice — Tarasenko rejected the nickname “Tank” early in his career, but it was an applicable comparison to his physical dimensions. Whoever signs him will have to look under the hood and figure out what malfunctioned for him last season, which say his goal total dip to 18 tallies after hitting 34 goals with St. Louis in the previous season.

But teams searching for finishers — the New York Islanders would be an intriguing fit — would be wise to check in on Vladdy.

The Patrick Kane tier

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $10.5 million

At the last Rangers media availability of the season, Kane was answering questions about his future. He didn’t have a desire to return to Chicago to play in a rebuild. He hoped something could work out to stay with the Rangers.

But on the subject of his offseason hip injury rehab — including potential surgery — and what that could mean for his pending free agency, Kane was noncommittal. “I’ve never been a free agent. I don’t really know how it works out or with teams like that,” he said. “I still know that I can be a top player if my focus is solely on hockey instead of how I feel out there that day.”

The surgery is no longer theoretical. Kane, 34, is out four to six months after undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure. In a best-case scenario, that could mean a return for the start of next season. But given his age and the nature of the procedure, how that impacts the market for him is anyone’s guess.

It’s clear he has a desire to keep playing. Kane indicated he’d like to play for a contender, but he also puts value on finding the right landing spot for his family. It’s possible he might have to take a one-year “show me” deal with a reasonable cap hit to establish his health before seeking one last multiyear deal to potentially end his career.

The best bets

These players have shown they’re worth the investment.

Age: 27 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.25 million

With every game the Golden Knights play in the postseason, the cost of Barbashev’s next contract just keeps rising like that billboard that tracks the national debt. The physical winger had 16 goals and 29 assists between the Golden Knights and Blues this season. Most impressively, he has shown himself to be a reliable top-line player, especially since joining Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault.

Age: 27 | 2022-23 cap hit: $950,000

Bunting is going to experience what I like to call “The Zach Hyman Paradox” this summer. Please recall that Hyman signed a seven-year, $38.5 million free agent contract with the Edmonton Oilers after doing blue-collar work on a line with Auston Matthews in Toronto. In the Oilers’ case, their pitch was “that, but with Connor McDavid,” and Hyman has filled that role well in Edmonton — he had 37 goals this season.

Bunting has played two seasons with Matthews and Mitchell Marner, scoring 23 goals in each of them. Like Hyman, his greatest value might be as a player that does heavy lifting on a superstar’s line. While he scored 10 goals in 21 games for Arizona in 2020-21, we don’t quite yet know what he looks like in a different role or when asked to drive his own line. But that ability to hang with the stars is a selling point, like Turtle on “Entourage.”

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3.5 million

You can’t blame an actor for being miscast. Like, we all love Keanu Reeves, but maybe having him do an English accent in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” wasn’t the best idea, you know?

Same goes for hockey players: J.T. Compher is a versatile player that can play all three forward spots, create some offense (35 goals over the last two seasons) and give a team quality minutes (20:32 average time on ice in 2022-23). What he’s not is a suitable replacement for Nazem Kadri or a second-line center on a contender, as the Avalanche quickly discovered last season. That’s OK. In the right role, the miscast can thrive. Have you seen the John Wick franchise?

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3.5 million

Penguins fans are probably recoiling after seeing this player listed under “best bets,” but the fact is that Jarry is a perfectly average goaltender in the NHL. He’s 12th in goals saved above replacement (43.8) and wins above replacement (7.7) over the last three seasons. He’s 14th in save percentage (.913) in that span.

I don’t trust him in the playoffs, and I don’t like him as the clear No. 1 guy between the pipes. But as part of a tandem, I think Jarry’s more dependable than a lot of other free agent goalies in stats and in participation rate — the Penguins goalie was sixth in games played (144) over the last three seasons.

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.25 million

Former GM Chuck Fletcher’s inability to move JVR for anything at the trade deadline remains one of the most inexplicable moments of his tenure, and that was even after he explained it. Van Riemsdyk’s days as a top-line winger are long gone. Properly deployed as a middle-six forward and a net-front presence, he still has something to offer beyond being a solid leader in the dressing room.

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5.5 million

Every free agent period, there’s always a player or two whose stat lines catch your eye in that “wait, how many goals did he have last season?” kind of way. Zucker is one of those guys in 2023: “Wait, he had 27 goals last season?”

We can’t be blamed for forgetting about Zuck after two injury-plagued seasons in Pittsburgh undercut his status as a dependable scoring winger. But riding on Evgeni Malkin‘s wing for 78 games helped him to his second-highest career goal total, and at the right time for him, too.

The best values

Under-the-radar gems, analytics darlings and difference-makers on low-cost contracts.

Age: 31 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2 million

His offense leaves you wanting — his career high in goals is 14 in 2021-22 — but Fast is an elite defender on the wing. He kills penalties extremely well and helped lead the forecheck on the Hurricanes’ great checking line, which would frequently spend more time in the attacking zone than defending their own. An ideal add for any team’s bottom-six forward group.

Age: 30 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.5 million

Rescued from the anonymity of playing in Mullett Arena, the “Ghost Bear” had a solid showing in the regular season for the Hurricanes before generating just three points in 15 games for Carolina in the playoffs. The skating is still there, as is the ability to get pucks through from the point. He can help someone’s second pairing, so long as it’s with a defender that can handle stopping offense as much as Gostisbehere creates it.

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.5 million

How many general managers watching Gudas play win-at-all-costs hockey during the Florida Panthers’ Stanley Cup run are waiting for the chance to add him to their burgeoning contenders? Owner of the best beard in the postseason, Gudas is a ferocious physical defenseman whose truculent play often crossed the line of legality. Which is what you need in the playoffs sometimes.

Age: 30 | 2022-23 cap hit: $1.45 million

Mayfield has earned a reputation as a rock-solid defender who stepped up his offensive game a bit this season while the Islanders managed injuries to their back end. He had a career-high 24 points this season, with a career-high average ice time of 21:02 per game. At his age, this is a critical chance to earn a long-term contract and a deserved increase in salary. His desire is to remain on Long Island, but is that economically feasible for both parties?

Age: 29 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2 million

Rodrigues was in this tier last season as well, before Colorado signed him to a one-year deal. He performed just as well as he did in his breakout campaign with the Penguins in 2021-22, scoring 16 goals in 69 games for the Avalanche. He skated 17:51 per game for them during a season that saw their lineup ravaged by injuries. Ideally, he’s a 16-minute-per-game, bottom-six forward — and an effective one at that.

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $850,000

It’s always interesting when a player becomes a type. Like when teams are searching for a physical, cost-effective defenseman and “a Luke Schenn type” can be used as shorthand. His work in the playoffs for the Leafs was exactly why one adds a player like him to their roster. It’ll be interesting to see if he latches on to a contender or, potentially, with a team that will move him to one at the next trade deadline where someone is looking to add “a Luke Schenn type.”

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.75 million

If Soucy had any offensive upside, he might move up a tier. As it stands, he’s just a 6-foot-5 stopper in this own end that also kills penalties. At the right contract, he could be a solid building block for someone’s blue line — unless he remains in Seattle.

The boom-or-busts

Players who have the ability to justify the investment or whose contracts could eventually become an eyesore on cap-friendly.

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.5 million

When he’s locked in and healthy, Andersen can be one of the NHL’s top goaltenders. That was true even before he started playing behind a Rod Brind’Amour-coached team. Over the past three seasons, he was 15th in goals saved above average (39.8). But that “healthy” bit is a rather large caveat, given his recent history.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3 million

Athanasiou hit 20 goals with the Blackhawks last season, the second-highest total of his career, which is what happens when he doesn’t have to worry too much about defense. He is still one of the NHL’s swiftest skaters.

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5 million

The Stars winger had the worst goal-scoring season of his career with just seven tallies in 73 games between Montreal and Dallas. If he can find the net again, he’s an instant offense talent who is average defensively and doesn’t give you much on the power play.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3 million

Domi is as Domi does: He plays hard, forechecks well, isn’t exactly an asset defensively and can chip in goals from a team’s bottom six. He had 20 goals, in fact, this season between Chicago and Dallas, although 18 of them were with the Blackhawks.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5.5 million

A talented player in desperate need of a change in scenery, he had 29 points in 58 games last season for the Habs. Is there another chapter for Drouin, who last hit 50 points in 2018-19?

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $6 million

During a news conference at the end of the season, Dumba was emotional when speaking about his longtime defensive partner Jonas Brodin. “He’s a good dude. We’ve played some awesome hockey together. He makes it easy,” he said.

Which is sort of the problem with Dumba as a free agent: As his offensive output waned with the Wild, he did have some strong defensive numbers. But how much of that was playing with Brodin? That’s the question teams will have to answer as they look at Dumba and assess his contractual needs.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3,166,667

Let’s start with the good about Graves: He’s 6-foot-5, and a solid defensive defenseman. But how much were his fairly impressive expected goals percentages this season a product of playing the majority of his minutes with John Marino, who might have been the Devils’ best all-around defenseman this season? Offensively, Graves shoots the puck a ton but doesn’t have much to offer as far as playmaking.

Age: 32 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.375 million

Haula enjoyed an impressive season in New Jersey playing up with Jack Hughes and doing a lot of little things to help the Devils turn their fortunes around. He is a versatile forward, including on special teams, and is usually good for around 40 points in an 80-game campaign.

Age: 27 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2.175 million

What if Hill leads the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup? Will teams that might have looked the other way on a goalie who has never started over 30 games in a season see him as a possible solution in the net? Would Vegas be obligated to keep him around? (Probably not, as the Golden Knights are traditionally not sentimental about these things.)

Does Hill become the next Antti Niemi, scoring a big contract around 27 years old then playing another seven or eight years as a starter following an unexpected Cup win? The ultimate question: Is this run an anomaly or a goalie finding his stride as a pro?

Age: 29 | 2022-23 cap hit: $1.3 million

After two down seasons, Korpisalo had a heck of a bounce-back campaign for the Columbus Blue Jackets (.911 save percentage) and the Kings (.921 save percentage in 11 games). Is that a contract-year blip or evidence that Korpisalo has shaken off his struggles and recaptured the magic? Ideally, he could be an effective part of a tandem.

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4,166,666

Severson likely won’t be back with the Devils, who would trade his negotiating rights before free agency hits. For a section of the Devils’ fan base, this will be welcomed news, as Severson could do no right in their eyes. He is prone to some defensive gaffes and doesn’t add much on the power play, but he has been an all-situations defenseman for the Devils in nine seasons who can play over 22 minutes per game.

Age: 35 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3,666,667

Talbot played 36 games for the Senators after expressing his disappointment with the Minnesota Wild resigning Marc-Andre Fleury. His .898 save percentage was less impressive than his .656 quality saves percentage. He will turn 36 on July 5.

Age: 32 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.5 million

The problem with Tatar isn’t the regular season. His 20 goals and 28 assists in 82 games were solid for the Devils. The problem with Tatar is the postseason, during which he has one goal and one assist in his past 21 outings.

Age: 35 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5 million

Varlamov has expressed a desire to remain with the Islanders. The guy who took his job as starter, Ilya Sorokin, also has expressed a desire that Varlamov return as his backup. If the numbers don’t work out, the 35-year-old netminder presents an interesting option as a free agent, albeit one who recently missed some time to injury and saved only 3.5 goals above expected this season.

Rickety investments

Danger, danger! Familiar names, strong reputations but options teams might think twice about.

Age: 30 | 2022-23 cap hit: $7 million

There are roller coasters that look at Klingberg with envy over the steepness of his drop. Once considered an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL, Klingberg didn’t find the contract he wanted last summer and signed a one-year deal with Anaheim to rebuild his case. He had 24 points in 50 games before a trade to the Wild, with whom he scored nine points in 17 games. That might have been enough of a rebound to earn a contract somewhere, but his recent history combined with his defensive liability would keep us away.

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $6 million

This season marked the end of Lucic’s seven-year contract that he signed with Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli in 2016. The Flames forward hasn’t generated more than 23 points in a season since 2017-18. He is an average defender and a below-average offensive player whose physicality could be what keeps him in the league. Could we see a bargain nostalgia signing by the Bruins or a “hometown” deal with Vancouver?

Age: 28 | 2022-23 cap hit: $6.375 million

Monahan’s comeback season with the Canadiens was cut short by injury, but he had 17 points in 25 games before that. That showed some promise, but there are still so many question marks surrounding the former No. 1 center for Calgary, including his health and his production.

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5.5 million

When the Goose is scoring, one can look past his lack of defensive effectiveness. He had 27 points in 51 games between the Blue Jackets and Wild last season, representing the lowest points-per-60 minutes rate (1.8) he has had since the 2017-18 season.

Age: 38 | 2022-23 cap hit: $1 million

When the investment is only $1 million, it’s hard to call it too rickety. But while Perry did his thing in the postseason again — two goals, three assists and loads of agitation against the Leafs — his regular-season numbers dipped to 25 points in 81 games and a minus-28.

Age: 37 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2 million

Is this the end for Quick? He will turn 38 in January, and he posted an .882 save percentage in 41 games between the Kings and Golden Knights (with a brief stop in Columbus). He had a minus-17.2 goals saved above average.

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $2 million

We don’t want to say Raanta is injury-prone, but he makes Freddie Andersen look like an ironman by comparison. But when he is healthy, Raanta can be a capable tandem goalie.

Shocking potential departures

The players who we simply can’t envision wearing another uniform.

Age: 37 | 2022-23 cap hit: $5 million

We don’t have to worry about Bergeron wearing another sweater. The Boston captain has indicated that he either returns to the Bruins for a 20th season or he retires. Bergeron played through a herniated disc in Boston’s shocking first-round loss to the Panthers. In a way, it felt like goodbye at the end of that series. But it also felt like unfinished business for Bergeron and his teammates. Expect a decision in July at the earliest.

Age: 33 | 2022-23 cap hit: $4.45 million

By now, Lightning fans understand that fan favorites and the salary cap don’t mix. The team has said goodbye to beloved veterans before, and Killorn could be the next one on that list. He set career highs in goals (27) and points (64) in 82 regular-season games. He would be an asset to any contender’s bottom six — although the potential for an overpay is quite high. Dave Bolland 2.0?

Age: 37 | 2022-23 cap hit: $3 million

Like Bergeron, it’s not likely that Krejci wears a different NHL jersey. After the Florida series, there was a lot more optimism in Boston that Bergeron might return for another shot at the Cup than Krejci would, for whatever that’s worth.

Age: 34 | 2022-23 cap hit: $6 million

If he suits up for the Hurricanes next season, Staal will have played double the years in Raleigh than he did in Pittsburgh. He’s one of the best defensive centers in the NHL, and he’s an unrestricted free agent for the first time. However, he doesn’t expect to test the waters. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to get a deal done,” he said after the season.

Age: 35 | 2022-23 cap hit: $10.5 million

We know that Toews won’t be wearing a Blackhawks sweater next season, as the team makes a clean break from the Cup dynasty teams to enter the Connor Bedard Era. The question is whether his body will allow him to suit up elsewhere, having tallied 31 points in 53 games this season.

The spackle

The other free agents available who don’t neatly fall into the tiers above.

Noel Acciari, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Josh Archibald, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Nick Bjugstad, C, Edmonton Oilers
Teddy Blueger, C, Vegas Golden Knights
Nick Bonino, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Derick Brassard, C, Ottawa Senators
Laurent Brossoit, G, Vegas Golden Knights
Connor Brown, F, Washington Capitals
Patrick Brown, C, Ottawa Senators
Connor Clifton, D, Boston Bruins
Andrew Cogliano, C, Colorado Avalanche
Ian Cole, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
Calvin de Haan, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Ryan Donato, LW, Seattle Kraken
Joonas Donskoi, RW, Seattle Kraken
Brian Dumoulin, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alexander Edler, D, Los Angeles Kings
Lars Eller, C, Washington Capitals
Pierre Engvall, RW, New York Islanders
Nick Foligno, C, Boston Bruins
Sam Gagner, C, Winnipeg Jets
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Colorado Avalanche
Jake Gardiner, D, Carolina Hurricanes
Luke Glendening, C, Dallas Stars
Derek Grant, C, Anaheim Ducks
Thomas Greiss, G, St. Louis Blues
Erik Gustafsson, D, Washington Capitals
Jaroslav Halak, G, New York Rangers
Travis Hamonic, D, Ottawa Senators
Garnet Hathaway, RW, Boston Bruins
Danton Heinen, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins
Darren Helm, C, Colorado Avalanche
Vinnie Hinostroza, C, Buffalo Sabres
Justin Holl, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Patric Hörnqvist, RW, Florida Panthers
Mattias Janmark, LW, Edmonton Oilers
Erik Johnson, D, Colorado Avalanche
Jack Johnson, D, Colorado Avalanche
Martin Jones, G, Seattle Kraken
David Kämpf, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Ondrej Kase, RW, Carolina Hurricanes
Alex Kerfoot, C, Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil Kessel, RW, Vegas Golden Knights
Jujhar Khaira, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Anton Khudobin, G, Chicago Blackhawks
Joel Kiviranta, RW, Dallas Stars
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Brendan Lemieux, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
Niko Mikkola, D, New York Rangers
Tyler Motte, RW, New York Rangers
Vladislav Namestnikov, C, Winnipeg Jets
Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Detroit Red Wings
Matt Nieto, LW, Colorado Avalanche
Tomas Nosek, C, Boston Bruins
Zach Parise, LW, New York Islanders
Ryan Reaves, RW, Minnesota Wild
James Reimer, G, San Jose Sharks
Brett Ritchie, RW, Arizona Coyotes
Nick Ritchie, LW, Calgary Flames
David Rittich, G, Winnipeg Jets
Derek Ryan, C, Edmonton Oilers
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, Anaheim Ducks
Craig Smith, C, Washington Capitals
Eric Staal, C, Florida Panthers
Marc Staal, D, Florida Panthers
Paul Stastny, C, Carolina Hurricanes
Troy Stecher, D, Calgary Flames
Derek Stepan, C, Carolina Hurricanes
Anthony Stolarz, G, Anaheim Ducks
Oskar Sundqvist, C, Minnesota Wild
Pius Suter, LW, Detroit Red Wings
Austin Watson, C, Ottawa Senators
Miles Wood, LW, New Jersey Devils

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