With the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs coming to a close and the offseason quickly approaching it’s time for teams to start thinking about their team needs and how they want to address those needs. The easiest way for teams to address their needs is through free agency and there is a deep free-agent class in 2021 at their disposal. As we approach the opening of the NHL’s free agency signing period we will look at pending free agents and their potential landing spots for the 2021-22 season.
Taylor Hall – Left Wing
2020-21 team: Buffalo Sabres/Boston Bruins
After a brutal start to the season in Buffalo, Hall looked rejuvenated during his time with the Bruins down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs. Hall has expressed interest in returning to the Bruins and the team should have mutual interest considering they have been searching for secondary scoring for several years and finally found it with Hall.
“I see a fit, and hopefully they feel the same,”Taylor Hall
The Bruins have over $26 million in available cap space but do have David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak as notable pending UFAs. The Rask injury does give them greater cap flexibility with the Finnish goaltender expected to be on the team’s long-term injured reserve to start next season if he does decide to return. Hall has mentioned that he is not looking to maximize value which means that he could come in at a reasonable cap hit.
In the Mix: Toronto Maple Leafs
There is reported interest that Hall could draw outside interest if Boston can’t get a deal done before free agency begins. The Maple Leafs are a team that is hard to believe is in the mix on a player like Hall considering they have limited cap space and both Frederik Andersen and Zach Hyman needing new deals.
If both players don’t get re-signed by the Leafs then this becomes a fairly plausible target but if they retain one of them it’s hard to imagine a deal going down. This is a fluid situation and their capability to acquire Hall hedges on what happens with their two big-name free agents to see if they can fit Hall into the fold.
Related: Bruins’ Free Agent Targets: Wingers
Dark Horse: Minnesota Wild
After putting together a strong season last year and taking a very good Vegas team to a Game 7 in the playoffs the Wild look poised to begin adding pieces to take a step forward in their team’s development. They are missing top-end talent (aside from Kirill Kaprizov) and would benefit from adding another scoring threat to their offense. With $26.2 million in cap space this offseason, GM Bill Guerin will certainly be looking to add some major pieces. The fit is there in terms of money and team need, although it may not be as desirable of a fit in terms of location for Hall making them a wild card team.
Dougie Hamilton – Right Defense
2020-21 team: Carolina Hurricanes
Front-Runner: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are in need of a top-tier right-handed d-man (who in the NHL isn’t) but having someone of Hamilton’s caliber alongside Ivan Provorov would be very tantalizing. The Flyers have $13 million in cap space to work with heading into the offseason and could actually gain another $8.25 million if the Seattle Kraken select Jakub Voracek in the Expansion Draft. If Voracek does in fact leave, it leaves the door wide open for the Flyers to make this come to fruition.
In the Mix: Hurricanes
Although the Hurricanes have a tonne of cap space to work with on a potential deal for Hamilton it is hard to make them the front-runner to retain their blueliner considering the team granted him permission to talk with other teams. the case for Hamilton to stay in Carolina would be their consistency in being a competitive hockey club although have struggled to make a deep playoff run. The return of head coach Rod Brind’Amour should help the cause and he could also get an extra year on his contract if he remains with Carolina.
Dark Horse: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens have a lot of free agents to take care of highlighted by Philip Danault and restricted free agent Jesperi Kotkaniemi with only $14,073,630 of cap space to do it. At first glance, it doesn’t look like the team has any way to fit the contract that Hamilton will command into the fold.
However, the door has opened up for a team like the Canadiens to pursue such a big fish right-hand shot defenseman with the recent news surrounding captain Shea Weber and his likelihood of missing all of next season and potentially being forced to retire. Weber is set to make $7.85 each year until the 2026-27 season but this news could see him retire or at the very least be eligible for long-term injured reserve. This opens up a tonne of cap space and the opportunity to replace their top right-hand shot defenseman with a younger and more offensive one in Hamilton.
Frederik Andersen – Goaltender
2020-21: Maple Leafs
Front-Runner: Maple Leafs
Despite the Leafs’ tight cap situation, the truth of the matter is the team has limited options for goaltenders to be a reliable 1A/1B goaltender to pair with Jack Campbell. There is mutual interest by both sides in getting a deal done but the cap hit will play a big role in the final decision. With forward Zach Hyman looking to be on the move the Leafs could have some cap to bring back the Danish goaltender. Andersen’s close relationship with Auston Matthews could also play a factor here.
In the Mix: Chicago Blackhawks
Although some may believe that the Blackhawks are looking to rebuild after trading Duncan Keith to Edmonton they have the opportunity to add some good pieces with the extra cap space. The Blackhawks are in need of a starting goaltender with Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban, and Kevin Lankinen sharing the net last season. With Jonathan Toews expected to return next season and a healthy Kirby Dach the team could still push for playoff success and a true number one goalie would help their cause.
Dark Horse: Hurricanes
The Hurricanes could emerge as the favorite as the offseason continues to unfold considering the team has just under $30 million in cap space without much heavy lifting to do besides re-signing restricted free agent Andrei Svechnikov and signing or replacing Hamilton. Goaltender Alex Nedejlkovic also needs a new deal as he is an RFA and carried most of the workload for the team last season and started for them through most of the playoffs.
The Hurricanes have had an interest in Andersen in the past and unlike most teams that would want to acquire his services they have a lot of salary cap flexibility. Andersen could cash in with Carolina while remaining on a Cup contending team while the Hurricanes would have one of the top goaltending duos in the league heading into the 2021-22 season.
Frenzy of Free Agents
There are plenty of high-caliber names in this free agency class and the Seattle expansion draft is creating havoc for teams all around the league. Between the expansion draft and flat cap, we should continue to see names pop up in trade discussions and player movement should be significant. We will continue to predict players’ potential landing spots as we head into the opening of free agency on July 28.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I cover the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings here on The Hockey Writers but have been a diehard Maple Leafs fan since birth. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and when I’m not watching the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays, or Pittsburgh Steelers; you can find me playing for my ball hockey team, playing video games, or listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.