In a world where the salary cap probably won't increase for the next few years, it's going to be difficult for teams to re-sign all of their own players.
Will all the players on my list hit the open market? No way. But if a few of them do, it could make for a very interesting off-season.
Some squads have more potential UFAs than others, but most teams have at least one important free agent they need to bring back into the fold in 2021-22.
1 - Alex Ovechkin – LW – Washington Capitals:
Interestingly enough, the fact that Ovechkin is going to be a free agent at the end of the season hasn’t garnered much national attention. That’s probably because everyone figures that he’s going to re-sign in Washington. The 35-year-old is still filling the net. He has 24 goals in 41 games this season and he’s closing in on Wayne Gretzky’s record for career goals.
2 - Gabriel Landeskog – LW – Colorado Avalanche:
The Avs have quite a few free agents this year, so they should be able to find enough money to bring back their captain. The 28-year-old has 16 goals and 41 points in 41 games in 2021. If he somehow hits the open market, there would be no shortage of teams interested in bringing him into the fold. He would be one of the best players to hit the market in recent memory.
3 - Dougie Hamilton – D – Carolina Hurricanes:
Hamilton is having a terrific 2021 season with the Hurricanes. He has an impressive 35 points in 43 games and he’s also averaging 22:46 of ice time per game. The Hurricanes have plenty of cap space, but is owner Tom Dundon willing to shell out the money it’s going to take to bring Hamilton back? He’ll break the bank if he hits the open market.
4 - Tyson Barrie – D – Edmonton Oilers:
The Oilers signed Barrie to a one-year deal last off-season and the move has paid off in a big way. The 29-year-old has six goals and 31 assists in 43 games. He’s fit in really well with his new team, which wasn’t necessarily a guarantee based on what happened to him in Toronto last year. GM Ken Holland has to find a way to get him under contract.
5 - Tuukka Rask – G – Boston Bruins:
Watching the goalie market play out during the summer will be fascinating. Is it time for Rask and the Bruins to part ways? The 34-year-old opted out of the bubble for personal reasons last year and he’s missed time due to injury in 2021. He has a 9-4-2 record with a 2.31 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. There’s no denying that he’s still a quality starting netminder. Could he just retire?
6 - Jaden Schwartz – LW – St. Louis Blues:
Schwartz isn’t having the greatest season in 2021, but he’s going to have a strong market if he hits free agency. The 28-year-old only has four goals and 10 assists, but he also missed 15 games with a lower-body injury earlier this year. Schwartz has shown that he’s capable of scoring between 20-25 goals and 55-59 points when healthy.
7 - Alec Martinez – D – Vegas Golden Knights:
There’s no denying that the Golden Knights will want to keep Martinez, but they might not be able to fit him under the salary cap. The 33-year-old has an impressive seven goals and 16 assists in 42 games this year. He also has a plus-22 rating while averaging 22:36 of ice time. He can be a solid second-pairing defenseman on most teams.
8 - Phillip Danault – C – Montreal Canadiens:
Finding quality centers on the free-agent market who are under 30 years old is very rare. Danault isn’t a number one center, but he can produce enough to be on a good team’s second line. Production aside, he’s also incredibly responsible defensively and on the penalty kill. It would be a little surprising to see him leave Montreal, but another team might present him with an offer he can’t refuse. He’s struggled offensively at times this year, but he’s starting to regain his footing. The 28-year-old has 21 points in 42 games in 2021.
9 - Frederik Andersen – G – Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Leafs have quite a few free agents, but none is more polarizing than Andersen. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Andersen’s current injury situation, as he hasn’t played Mar. 19. On top of that, the team hasn’t really provided many details on his status. The 31-year-old has had really good seasons in Toronto, but he’s also struggled at times in the playoffs.
10 - Kyle Palmieri – LW – New York Islanders:
The Isles recently acquired the pending unrestricted free agent from the New Jersey Devils. We need to give the player and team some time to see how he fits in, but Palmieri is having a disappointing season from an offensive standpoint. The 30-year-old has nine goals and nine assists in 39 games in 2021. He’s found the back of the net once in five games with his new team. Before this season, Palmieri had scored at least 24 goals in each of his previous five campaigns.
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11 - Blake Coleman – RW – Tampa Bay Lightning:
The Lightning gave up a first-round pick and top prospect Nolan Foote to get Coleman from the New Jersey Devils, and the trade couldn’t have worked out any better. Yes, that’s a steep price to pay for his services, but the Bolts found a way to take home the Stanley Cup. The 29-year-old has eight goals and 14 assists in 43 games this season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lightning can afford to re-sign him.
12 - Alex Goligoski – D – Arizona Coyotes:
Goligoski is an important part of the Coyotes blue line, but the 35-year-old could be looking for an opportunity to join a contender at this stage of his career. He has 14 points in 45 games this season and he averages almost 23 minutes of ice time per game. He could serve as a strong second-pairing defender on a number of teams.
13 - Linus Ullmark – G – Buffalo Sabres:
The Sabres traded a few of their pending UFAs before the trade deadline. Ullmark has been one of the (very) few positives on the Sabres roster this season. He’s had a hard time staying healthy, but he’s between the pipes Buffalo is a better team. The 27-year-old has a 9-6-3 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage in 2021.
14 - Paul Stastny – C – Winnipeg Jets:
The Jets re-acquired Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights during the off-season and he’s played pretty well at center and on the wing at different times in 2021. The 35-year-old hasn’t produced offensively as regularly as he once did, but he’s still managed to accumulate 12 goals and 13 assists in 45 games. His $6.5 million cap hit will come down significantly on his next contract.
15 - Ryan Getzlaf – C – Anaheim Ducks:
It’s hard to imagine the Ducks captain playing for another team, but it could happen in 2021-22. Getzlaf and the team decided to stay together before the traded deadline and it looks like he could get to decide whether or not this marriage continues. The 35-year-old has four goals and 16 points in 39 games this season. He’s more of a quality depth piece than a franchise player at this stage of his career.
16 - Jamie Oleksiak – D – Dallas Stars:
The Stars opted to hang on to the 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman at the trade deadline, but signing him might become a challenge. Oleksiak isn’t an offensive dynamo on the back end, but he’s still very useful. The 28-year-old has four goals, six assist and 35 penalty minutes in 43 contests. He also averages just over 20 minutes of ice time per game.
17 - Chris Driedger – G – Florida Panthers:
Driedger wouldn’t have made the list before the start of the season, but he’s put together an impressive campaign. When Sergei Bobrovsky struggled early on, it was Driedger that helped the Panthers accumulate wins. He’ll want to sign with a team that is willing to give him an opportunity to play a little more regularly. The 26-year-old has a 12-5-3 record with a 2.09 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage this season.
18 - Jonathan Bernier – G – Detroit Red Wings:
Bernier has been solid for a rebuilding Detroit team. The 32-year-old has a reasonable 9-8-0 record with a 2.93 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage this season. He’s better off serving as a quality backup goalie on a really good team.
19 - Mikael Granlund – C – Nashville Predators:
Granlund was rumored to be on the move ahead of last week’s trade deadline, but the Predators starting winning games again. The 29-year-old has 11 goals and seven assists in 42 games this year. He can still bring some offense to the table, but he’s more of a strong depth player right now. He shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a new home.
20 - Ryan Murray – D – New Jersey Devils:
The Devils traded away important UFA-to-be Kyle Palmieri to the Islanders, but they decided to keep Murray. That would indicate that they’d like to keep him in the fold beyond 2021. The 27-year-old has no goals and 10 assists in 35 games this season. He’s averaging just under 18 minutes of ice time per game.
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21 - Ryan Dzingel – RW – Ottawa Senators:
Dzingel’s offense has dried up over the last couple of seasons, but he has a pair of 20-goal campaigns under his belt which teams value. The 29-year-old eight goals four assists in 30 games with Carolina and Ottawa. When things are going well for him, he can be an important depth scorer.
22 - Marcus Johansson – F – Minnesota Wild:
The 30-year-old is a good all-around player, but staying healthy has been a challenge for him at times. He’s missed 18 games with an upper body injury this year. Johansson has five goals and seven assists in 25 games this season. He’s a good middle-six forward on most teams.
23 - Alex Edler – D – Vancouver Canucks:
The 34-year-old hasn’t made as big of an impact this year, but that’s normal given his age. He has no goals and six helpers in 36 games this season and he’s still averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game. He probably won’t want to leave the only organization he’s ever played for, but that might not be his decision.
24 - Cody Ceci – D – Pittsburgh Penguins:
Ceci gets a bad rap, especially in the analytics community, but the Penguins seem to have found a solid role for him. The 27-year-old averages 18:24 of ice time per game and he’s chipped in with 13 points in 41 games. Ceci can be a solid bottom-pairing defender on a lot of teams. Paying him big money based on the success he’s had this season would be a mistake.
25 - Brian Elliott – G – Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers don’t have key free agents, but Elliott is an important part of the team because starting goalie Carter Hart is so young. The 36-year-old has an 11-6-1 record with a 3.04 goals-against-average and a .888 save percentage this season. He’s a solid backup goalie.
26 - Patrick Marleau – F – San Jose Sharks:
Marleau will break Gordie Howe’s games played record this week, which is an impressive accomplishment. The 41-year-old could call it a career now that he’ll own that prestigious record. He has four goals and four assists in 44 games this season. Those numbers aren’t impressive, but it’s impossible to ignore the brilliant career that he put together.
27 - Derek Ryan – C – Calgary Flames:
Ryan is finishing up a contract that came with a cap hit of $3.125 million per season. There’s no way the 34-year-old is going to be able to get paid anywhere close to that beginning next season. Ryan has two goals and four assists in 31 games this season. He’s nothing more than a fourth line center at this point of his career.
28 - Mikhail Grigorenko – C – Columbus Blue Jackets:
The Jackets had some key free agents heading into the season, but they traded David Savard and Nick Foligno away before last Monday’s deadline. Grigorenko has had a quiet year in 2021. He has two goals and seven assists in 25 games this season. The 26-year-old could be headed back to Russia.
29 - Vinnie Hinostroza – RW – Chicago Blackhawks:
The Hawks don’t have many unrestricted free agents, so it’s easy to see why they’re so low on this rankings list. Hinostroza has suited up in just 15 games this season and he’s registered five assists. He regularly serves as a healthy scratch.
30 - Brendan Smith – D – New York Rangers:
The 32-year-old is finishing up a contract that pays him $4.35 million per season. He won’t come anywhere close to matching that number on his next contract. Smith has three goals and four assists in 37 games this season. He could also play up front if necessary, so that versatility could land him a job quickly next season.
31 - Troy Grosenick – G – Los Angeles Kings:
Alex Iafallo would’ve been the most important UFA on the Kings roster, but he signed a four-year extension last week. Now, the Kings don’t really have anyone hitting the open market. Grosenick has played in one game this year and he’s the only one scheduled to become a UFA. If the Taxi Squads disappear next year, he’ll have a hard time finding himself an NHL gig.