The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are well underway, with the Montréal Canadiens, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, and Tampa Bay Lightning battling it out for the two Stanley Cup Final slots. While the majority of the attention has rightfully been on the playoff games, the rumblings that have been emerging surrounding free agents are already ramping up.
The 2021 free-agent class includes some of the biggest names in the league, including some whose departures would dramatically alter the trajectory of certain franchises — players who have defined their clubs for years and have been the building blocks of winning teams are now on the market. Many future free agents have impressive individual trophy cases. The class of 2021 has the potential to alter the landscape of the National Hockey League and produce some signings that many fans will need to adjust to.
The thing that separates this free-agent class from others in recent years is that all the players on this list are unrestricted free agents (UFAs), which means they are free to negotiate with any interested teams from the moment their current contracts expire. Rarely, if ever, have this many star players been up for grabs in a free-for-all. Normally, the team for which they signed a contract would get first dibs on a new one, and only by doing a minimum of matching the offer would other teams have a chance. Some of this year’s restricted free agents (RFAs) include Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Winnipeg Jets.
The Franchise Players
The biggest name on the list of potential free agents is forward Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. The longtime Caps captain is concluding a 13-year, $124 million contract he signed back in 2008. At age 35, Ovechkin holds all Capitals’ scoring records, and his tenure has also seen him quickly climb the league’s all-time top goalscorers list, currently sitting sixth all-time.
Having redefined the Capitals franchise since he was selected first overall in 2005, Ovechkin helped them to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2018. He has said he wants to finish his NHL career in Washington and spend his final season playing for his hometown club Dynamo Moscow.
Landeskog has been a fixture for the Colorado Avalanche since being drafted in 2011. “Mr. Avalanche” is the consummate NHL captain, a leader who rallies his team and can play multiple different ways. He can be a scorer, a depth centre, a grinder, and even a fighter if the situation requires. Landeskog has received mountains of praise from his teammates and played a crucial role in the Avalanche capturing the Presidents’ Trophy this season. Both Landeskog and the Avalanche have expressed mutual interest, and it’s likely that a deal will be done as soon as possible.
The Anaheim Ducks’ captain is also the franchise’s leader in games played and assists. He and linemates Corey Perry and Dustin Penner emerged as key contributors to the Ducks’ Stanley Cup run in 2007. Getzlaf was named captain in 2010 after the retirement of Scott Niedermayer, a title he continues to hold to this day.
He finished second in league scoring in 2013-14, and was named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2016-17. He’s won nearly everything there is to win, and it would be hard to see him suit up for someone else.
The Boston Bruins’ goaltender leads the franchise in all significant statistical categories. He’s the Bruins’ all-time leader in victories, games played, and playoff shutouts. After prospect Jeremy Swayman emerged as a capable backup in the absence of Jaroslav Halak, it would seem as though one of Rask or Halak is on the way out. Rask has said he only wants to play for the Bruins, and he may be willing to take a pay cut to do so.
The Individual Standouts
Hall is coming off the most inconsistent season of his career. He started off with the Buffalo Sabres and only scored 2 goals and 17 assists for 19 points in 37 games. His arrival in Boston signaled a turnaround, as he became a key contributor throughout the remainder of the season. His impact was such that many are saying his re-signing should be one of general manager Don Sweeney’s offseason priorities.
Hyman is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most valuable assets, and his two-way ability will have every team knocking on Kyle Dubas’ door when the time comes. He’s been described as the Swiss army knife of the Maple Leafs — his previous success on both the power play and penalty kill would mean that his signing elsewhere would constitute an enormous loss for Toronto.
Nugent-Hopkins is entering what would be his 10th season with the Edmonton Oilers and is climbing the franchise rankings in games played, goals, assists, and points. Early last season, it seemed as though the Oilers had finally found the right linemates for “Nuge” in Kailer Yamamoto and Leon Draisaitl. Having only played in 13 playoff games in his career, he deserves to be rewarded for his loyalty and dedication to Edmonton with an extension. However, he’s also attracted interest from both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
This year’s free-agent class includes some of the biggest names in the sport, including both franchise players and individual superstars. What’s more is that all of the players listed here are unrestricted free agents, which means negotiations between them and interested teams can proceed from Day 1 of the offseason without impetus. This also means drastically altering the landscape of some NHL teams if the money is right and the desire is there.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.