After an unprecedented free-agent gorge on opening day, few high-impact players remain. Who are the top names still searching for new contracts?
Whew. Where are we? What day is it? What YEAR!?
It was that level of whirlwind on Day 1 of 2021 free agency, which produced some of the most significant league-wide roster turnover in NHL history for a single day. In total, 121 players were signed as of 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, chewing up more than $721 million.
Reviewing the list of the top 30 unrestricted free agents I published before the market opened at noon Wednesday, just eight names remain as Day 1 winds down.
The best of the rest:
1. DAVID KREJCI, C, 35
2020-21 cap hit: $7,250,000
Brings so much experience in the regular season and playoffs as the Bruins' longtime No. 2 center, and he showed how impactful he can still be once they gave him proper second-line wingers to play with this past season. The Bruins are waiting to see if Krejci decides to return to the Czech Republic for 2021-22. If he plays in the NHL next season, it’s likely for Boston.
2. KYLE PALMIERI, RW, 30
2020-21 cap hit: $4,650,000
Averaged 30 goals per 82 games in his first five seasons as a Devil. That appears to be Palmieri’s ceiling, but it’s a highly useful ceiling. He endured a bad year, but it was likely the product of (a) playing with less help in New Jersey before his trade to the New York Islanders and (b) an unlucky shooting percentage of 6.5. Perhaps that’ll make him a bargain signing this off-season. His goal-scoring place in the 2021 playoffs pro-rated to his usual 30 goals per 82 games, FYI. The Palmieri news cycle was quiet Wednesday, but the early reports suggested he was likely re-signing with the Isles.
3. BRANDON SAAD, LW, 28
2020-21 cap hit: $6,000,000
Saad is attractive for teams wanting him to fill the same role he did in Colorado this past season: a win-now piece, responsible at both ends of the ice, fast, able to play in the middle six and contribute decent goal totals. He got 16 this season in 43 games while playing just 14 minutes or so per night, but that’s a trap: his shooting percentage was unsustainable at a league-leading 22.1, almost double his career mark of 11.9. Given the names above him appear to be almost locked into destinations, Saad appears to be the best truly "free" agent available right now.
4. TUUKKA RASK, G, 34
2020-21 cap hit: $7,000,000
The rise of prospect Jeremy Swayman pushed Jaroslav Halak out. Rask only wants to play in Boston and won’t return to game action until winter 2022 after undergoing hip surgery. He’ll thus never come cheaper. Boston signing Linus Ullmark for four years at a $5-million AAV, however, was a bomb. The term commitment makes Rask's future in Boston legitimately cloudy. If he's not retiring and doesn't return to Boston…the Avalanche need to kick the tires once he's healthy, right?
5. TOMAS TATAR, LW, 30
2020-21 cap hit: $5,300,000
The idea of Habs GM Marc Bergevin “having to choose” between Danault and Tatar is a distant memory. Tatar endured the worst season of his career and only dressed for five playoff games. With Montreal extending coach Dominique Ducharme’s contract, that’s it for Tatar as a Hab. Each game he sat in the playoffs felt like it eroded a few more bucks off his value. It was terrible timing from his perspective, but it could make him a nice bargain. He was an elite play driver for multiple seasons alongside Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Tatar is hardly finished.
6. RYAN MURRAY, D, 27
2020-21 cap hit: $4,700,000
Tough year for all Devils players, but Murray is still relatively young for a UFA, has a recent history as a respectable defensive defenseman and can skate. On a better team, he could be a handy middle-pair option.
7. ZACH PARISE, LW, 37
2020-21 cap hit: $7,538,462
Parise’s value changes drastically now that we don’t have to view him through the lens of his massive contract. If he’s willing to sign an “old guy” deal around the league-minimum with performance bonuses, he’ll generate plenty of interest. He can still score a bit if he’s playing down in the lineup as a luxury bottom-sixer a-la Jason Spezza and Corey Perry. Reports Wednesday indicated a Lou Lamoriello reunion (from their New Jersey Days) with the Isles was likely.
8. CASEY CIZIKAS, C, 30
2020-21 cap hit: $3,350,000
The challenge with players like Cizikas: at his age and with his established track record as an excellent No. 4 center who kills penalties and faces tough competition, he’s now a “big name” checker. Do you pay him several million a year or replace him with a younger grinder for a fraction of the price? The Isles reportedly want him back.