With the first full weekend of the 2020 free agency period in the books, most of the big-name free agents are off the board with Alex Pietrangelo cashing in his chips and heading to the Vegas Golden Knights, Taylor Hall shuffling off to the Buffalo Sabres, and many others such as Torey Krug, Tyler Toffoli, and Jacob Markstrom all finding new homes.
According to THW’s salary cap page, there are five teams who are over next season’s projected flat salary cap of $81.5 million, while three teams have less than $1 million in cap space remaining. Some teams find themselves in tough positions still with holes to fill in their lineup and many players already off the board or little cap space to work with.
However, there is still solid free agent talent to be had if teams are looking to get creative. And doing just that, we have highlighted who are some of the top remaining free agents according to the analytics.
Using such categories as individual expected goals (iXG), individual Corsi for (iCF), Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Standing Points Above Replacement (SPAR), and others, we have highlighted who are some of the best remaining forwards, defencemen, and a small group of goalies still waiting for a deal on the free-agent market.
To highlight 10 forwards who teams should consider offering a contract, we analyzed different metrics for 27 different free agent forwards and that full list of forwards can be found at the bottom of this article.
Additionally, this group of forwards is not ranked in any sort of order. They are ten forwards who the analytics say could be a smart addition for a team. And finally, the numbers in brackets next to their stats is their ranking among that group of 27 in that specific stat category.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $5.19 million
iXG: 20.23 (3rd)
iCF: 414 (1st)
xFSh%: 7.05 (24th)
SPAR: -0.01 (24th)
WAR: -0.01 (24th)
Adding Hoffman to the list of best remaining free agent forwards seems like a no-brainer. If you checked any one’s list of free agents heading into the off-season, Hoffman likely would have been in the top 10. But you also can’t ignore some of the analytical numbers that see him ranked lower in this group as it relates to expected Fenwick shooting percentage, wins above replacement, and points above replacement.
These numbers could be skewed because of a talented group of Florida Panthers forwards that he played with that includes Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, and others, or indicate a lack of finish if his shots are getting blocked or missing the net at a higher rate. While age is also a concern with Hoffman at 30, he does drive play on the man advantage, ranking first in this group with 8.99 xG on the power play.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $4 million
iXG: 21.97 (1st)
iCF: 275 (3rd)
xFSh%: 10.27 (3rd)
SPAR: 1.7 (5th)
WAR: 0.9 (5th)
Speaking of that talented group of Florida forwards, Dadonov might be the most underrated of that group. He ranked amongst the top in all of our advanced analytics categories including leading all 27 forwards in expected goals. Age is a concern with the Russian forward set to turn 32 next season, but he has almost reached the 30-goal plateau in each of his three seasons with the Panthers and did not miss a game the last two seasons.
*Editor Note: On 10/15/2020 after this article was published, Dadonov signed a three-year contract with the Ottawa Senators
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.65 million
iXG: 20.57 (2nd)
iCF: 314 (2nd)
xFSh%: 8.47 (14th)
SPAR: 0.5 (14th)
WAR: 1.4 (15th)
After not receiving a qualifying offer from the Ottawa Senators, Duclair finds himself on the free-agent market and would likely be a nice low-cost addition for a team. At just 25, Duclair set a career-high in goals with 23, exceeding his expected goals output which was still good for second on our forwards list.
Additionally, the Laval, QC native would be a nice addition on a team’s power play as his iCF which measures a player’s goals, shots on goals, missed shots, and blocked shots ranked second on the power play behind just Hoffman.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $5.75 million
iXG: 17.14 (4th)
iCF: 216 (5th)
xFSh%: 9.6 (9th)
SPAR: 1.1 (10th)
WAR: 0.6 (10th)
With a cap hit of almost $6 million but failing to hit the 20-goal plateau over the last two seasons, some general manager out there will likely be looking to sign Granlund at a lower cost and hoping for a return to his 20-goal per season scoring averages in his time with the Minnesota Wild. A look beyond the goals though suggests an effective forward as he ranks within the top 10 of all five of the advanced stats categories amongst this forward group. In the right situation at a fair deal, this could be a smart return for whoever signs Granlund.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $4.75 million
iXG: 15.64 (5th)
iCF: 219 (4th)
xFSh%: 8.69 (10th)
SPAR: 1.3 (9th)
WAR: 0.7 (8th)
Age is certainly a concern for the 35-year old Swede, but despite this, Soderberg has managed to stay relatively healthy, not missing a game in each of the last two seasons while also failing to miss a game in four of his eight seasons in the league.
Just one year removed from putting up a career-high 23 goals with the Colorado Avalanche during the 2018-19 season, Soderberg saw his goal production drop last season with the Arizona Coyotes with 17 markers. However, within the advanced stats, he is a top ten forward in all categories, suggesting that with the right situation as he found himself in Colorado, Soderberg could be in for a bounce-back season.
Derick Brassard – Age: 33, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.2M
Analytics: iXG (10th), iCF (7th), xFSh% (15th), SPAR (8th), WAR (9th)
Erik Haula – Age: 29, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $2.75M
Analytics: iXG (6th), iCF (9th), xFSh% (2nd), SPAR (16th), WAR (16th)
Corey Perry – Age: 35, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.5M
Analytics: iXG (9th), iCF (11th), xFSh% (6th), SPAR (21st), WAR (19th)
Ilya Kovalchuk – Age: 37, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $700K
Analytics: iXG (11th), iCF (10th), xFSh% (20th), SPAR (11th), WAR (7th)
Andreas Athanasiou – Age: 26, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $3M
Analytics: iXG (6th), iCF (6th), xFSh% (19th), SPAR (26th), WAR (25th)
In addition to a talented group of forwards still available, there is still help on the blue line if a team needs it, despite the likes of Pietrangelo, Krug, Tyson Barrie, and Kevin Shattenkirk already finding new homes.
For this group of defencemen, we have identified 13 blueliners who are still looking for contracts, the full list of which can be found at the bottom of this article. We will also use some different measurements, this time including blocked shots and shooting percentage instead of XFSh% and SPAR.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $4.875 million
iXG: 3.78 (1st)
iCF: 200 (2nd)
SH%: 5.26% (3rd)
iBLK: 80 (6th)
WAR: 0.3 (6th)
Vatanen finds himself on the open market after somewhat of a bounce-back season while registering 23 points with the New Jersey Devils.
Injuries are a concern as the Finnish defenceman has never played a full season, but he’s also a mobile right shot defenceman and there are still several teams with a need for that type of player.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $3.857 million
iXG: 3.17 (3rd)
iCF: 168 (3rd)
SH%: 3.61 (7th)
iBLK: 110 (2nd)
WAR: 0 (10th)
Hamonic represents another right-shot defenceman who is still looking for a contract. The Manitoba native was solid in his own end, blocking 110 shots, good for second best in this group of defencemen, and although he has seen his production drop since registering a career-best 33 points with the New York Islanders during the 2014-15 season, Hamonic is just one season removed from a career-best seven goals with the Calgary Flames.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.5 million
iXG: 3.47 (2nd)
iCF: 224 (1st)
SH%: 3.51 (8th)
iBLK: 76 (9th)
WAR: 1.2 (T-1st)
Perhaps the most underrated defencemen on this list, Hutton is amongst the leaders in this group of free-agent defencemen, specifically leading in individual Corsi shots on goal, and tied with a future Hall of Fame defenceman in Zdeno Chara in WAR. Evolving Hockey projects that Hutton should see a significant raise from his $1.5 million cap hit with Los Angeles Kings last season to a $4.3 million cap hit going forward.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $2 million
iXG: 2.98 (5th)
iCF: 156 (4th)
SH%: 5.81 (2nd)
iBLK: 101 (4th)
WAR: 1.2 (T-1st)
It’s hard to imagine Big Z in a different uniform than the Bruins but that could be a possibility with the 43-year old Slovakian finding himself on the open market. He’s a free agent for the first time since 2006 but he and the Bruins have been going off one-year contracts for the last two seasons, much like Joe Thornton’s agreement with the San Jose Sharks.
You would have to imagine the two sides link up again, but if not, a team looking for a still reliable, physical future Hall of Fame defenceman who still put up decent advanced stats last season is still available.
Dmitry Kulikov – Age: 29, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $4.3M
Analytics: iXG (10th), iCF (5th), SH% (6th), iBLK (8TH), WAR (12th)
Andy Greene – Age: 37, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $5M
Analytics: iXG (9th), iCF (8th), SH% (13th), iBLK (1st), WAR (7th)
Michael Del Zotto – Age: 30, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $750K
Analytics: iXG (6th), iCF (7th), SH% (9th) iBLK (11th), WAR (5th)
If your favorite team is still looking for a veteran goalie who can serve as a back-up, perhaps taking on a bigger workload when needed, there are still a couple of options still available on the open market.
For this article, we have identified four goalies still available who played in the league last season. For the purpose of this report, however, we have excluded Antoine Bibeau and Garrett Sparks as their sample size is too small. In this section, the stat categories we will use to evaluate the goalies are Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx), Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), which is calculated by taking the league save percentage and multiplying that by shots on goal against, and then subtracting that number by that goaltender’s goals against. Then of course by also comparing their wins above replacement.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.125 million
GSAx: -0.07 (1st)
GSAA: 0 (1st)
WAR: 0.8 (1st)
Let’s start off by acknowledging that having a negative GSAx rating isn’t ideal, but he is the leader in this small group of four remaining UFA goalies to have played a game in the NHL last season.
Miller also leads the way in GSAA and WAR and would be a solid veteran back-up and a good presence in the locker room for a young team.
2019-20 Salary Cap: $4.75 million
GSAx: -10.36 (3rd)
GSAA: -5.68 (2nd)
WAR: 0.7 (2nd)
There’s no sugar-coating that the GSAx and GSAA numbers from Anderson last season don’t look good. However, he had a similar WAR to Miller and could provide a veteran presence in a back-up role.
2019-20 Cap Hit: $4 million
GSAx: -26.86 (4th)
GSAA: -20.8 (4th)
WAR: -1.8 (4th)
Howard ranks last in all of these advanced categories but he is three seasons removed from a .910 save percentage and four seasons removed from a career-best .927 save percentage. Perhaps a change of scenery out from the Detroit Red Wings will serve the Syracuse, NY native well.
Michael Hutchinson – Age: 30, 2019-20 Cap Hit: $700K
GSAx: -6.91 (2nd)
GSAA: -8.37 (3rd)
WAR: -0.3 (3rd)
There are still some RFA goalies such as Linus Ullmark, Alexandar Georgiev, Samuel Montembault, and Mackenzie Blackwood, so trying to work out a trade for them or a goalie under contract with another team might be your best bet if your team still needs a netminder.
The advanced stats clearly show that there is still plenty of talent available at the forward and defense position. While the players highlighted registered impressive analytical numbers, GM’s also rely on the eye test and evaluate talent in different ways, looking for intangibles such as chemistry, veteran experience, locker room leadership, and big-game experience. So just because he didn’t appear on this list and his analytics don’t jump out at you, that player might still just be the extra piece a GM is looking for as well.
Forwards Group: Alex Galchenyuk, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Duclair, Brian Boyle, Carl Soderberg, Colin Wilson, Conor Sheary, Corey Perry, Derek Grant, Derick Brassard, Dominik Kahun, Dominik Simon, Erik Haula, Evgenii Dadonov, Frederik Gauthier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Joe Thornton, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, Matt Nieto, Melker Karlsson, Michael Frolik, Michael Grabner, Mikael Granlund, Mike Hoffman, Riley Sheahan, Trevor Lewis
Defencemen Group: Andy Greene, Ben Hutton, Cody Ceci, Dmitry Kulikov, Jan Rutta, Karl Alzner, Madison Bowey, Michael Del Zotto, Ron Hainsey, Sami Vatanen, Travis Hamonic
Goaltending Group: Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Michael Hutchinson, Ryan Miller
Ken joins THW having spent the last three years working in hockey operations and analytics. A native of Kitchener-Waterloo, ON, Ken is a graduate of the Sport Management program at Brock University where he served as an Analytics Consultant for the Brock Badgers Men’s Hockey Team during the 2017-18 season, helping the team to an OUA Western Conference Championship and an appearance in the USports Final 8 National Championship.
Following that, he worked as a Video Analyst with hockey analytics company Stathletes, which was founded by Meghan Chayka and former Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka. In this role, Ken analyzed games and compiled analytical data for NHL and CHL clubs.
His most recent role came with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League where he completed a year-long Hockey Operations placement as he finished his Sport Management degree at Brock, the same program that graduated Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. In Ken’s role with the Otters, he was tasked with being the team’s video coordinator while also assisting with analytics, scouting, and player management. Ken was part of hockey operations staff that helped Erie clinch its first playoff appearance in three seasons.
Prior to graduating with honours from Brock University, Ken graduated with honours from the Radio and Television Broadcasting program at Conestoga College in Kitchener and worked in sports media for 11 years, covering the NHL for Bleacher Report and HockeyBuzz, while also covering the OHL for Rogers.