5 Best NHL Free-Agent Signings of the 2021 Offseason

The NHL offseason is beginning to wind down, and training camps are just around the corner. Some players signed big deals and chose to move on to other teams, while others decided their current situation was best for their future. Despite some smaller free-agent signings still trickling in, let’s backtrack and break down the top five free-agent signings that went down in the offseason.

Dougie Hamilton – New Jersey Devils

It’s hard to not have one of the biggest unrestricted free agent fish heading into the offseason on this list. The former Carolina Hurricane blueliner had a stellar season with 42 points in 51 games played to go along with a plus-20 rating. The lack of top-end right-hand shot defenseman got Hamilton a massive seven-year, $63 million payday with the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have struggled to land elite-level talent on the open market and have had to build mostly through drafting and developing. The team has put some foundation pieces in place in their forward group, and the Hamiton signing gives them an anchor on their blue line to build around. The 6-foot-6 defenseman immediately improves the team’s defense corps that is still a work in progress.

Dougie Hamilton Carolina Hurricanes
Former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, Dougie Hamilton (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This move made a lot of sense from the Devils’ standpoint, considering how much cap space the team had heading into free agency, which likely allowed them to offer more money than any other team who was in on Hamilton. He can bring leadership and experience to a young defense group and financially made a lot of sense considering Subban’s $9 million cap hit comes off the books after this season.

Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado Avalanche

This was far from an easy negotiation, and at times, it looked like Gabriel Landeskog would be pulling a new jersey over his head to begin the 2021-22 season. Ultimately, Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche were able to strike a deal for eight years and an AAV of $7 million. Despite the team’s tight cap situation, GM Joe Sakic knew the importance of retaining the team’s captain.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Swede has been the heartbeat of the team since they drafted him in 2011, as he gives them versatility, physicality, scoring, and leadership. It would have been a tall task for the team to replace a player of Landeskog’s caliber, and considering the team has clear Stanley Cup aspirations, bringing back Landeskog makes this a top signing for the Avalanche.

Tyson Barrie – Edmonton Oilers

After signing a one-year deal last season with the Edmonton Oilers hoping to boost his value in free agency, Barrie decided to remain in Edmonton. Barrie signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million, and considering he led all defensemen in points last season with 48, this deal has the ability to be a huge bargain.

Barrie helped the Edmonton power play become even more potent last season after he returned to his usual offensive self. Compared to what some other offensive defensemen have been signing for this offseason, getting a top-end offensive blueliner at such good value makes this a big win for the Oilers.

Phillip Danault – Los Angeles Kings

Although some may deem this as a bad contract, there are actually benefits behind this signing for the Kings. Danault is a strong defensive centerman and arguably one of the best in the league. He is still on the right side of 30 years of age and gives the Kings NHL ready depth down the middle of the ice.

Phillip Danault Montreal Canadiens
Former Montreal Canadien Phillip Danault signed a 5-year deal worth $33,000,000 with the Los Angeles Kings this offseason. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Aside from the immediate impact that Danault can provide on the defensive side of the puck, this should also open up opportunities for captain Anze Kopitar to be a more offensive-minded player. The former Canadien should take a load off of Kopitar defensively and get him away from the tough matchups. On top of that, Danault should also allow the Kings time to bring along their center-ice prospects at a much better pace and not rush them into larger roles than they can handle.

Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Quinton Byfield should benefit from having Kopitar and Danault ahead of him, which will allow Byfield to focus more on acclimating himself to the NHL in his first few seasons.

Related: Kings Signing Danault Benefits Everyone Involved

The Kings had extra cap space heading into the offseason and a strong talent pipeline, and this signing helps make them a more competitive team that could push for a playoff spot as they await the arrival of their top prospects.

Linus Ullmark – Boston Bruins

The Bruins lost both of their goalies to free agency…well, kind of. Jaroslav Halak found himself a new home in Vancouver in free agency, while Tuukka Rask is recovering from offseason surgery and contemplating retirement. Rask has already come out and said he is willing to take much less to return to the Bruins if he does return to the ice.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

These departures left a void in goal for that the Bruins filled by signing Ullmark to a four-year deal worth $5 million AAV. This gives the Bruins a tandem of Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman heading into the 2021-22 season until Rask enters the mix. Ullmark’s numbers are eye-popping, considering he’s been on a very underwhelming Buffalo Sabres team for his entire career thus far, posting a 50-47-13 record with a 2.78 goals against average and 0.912 save percentage in his six NHL seasons.

Linus Ullmark Buffalo Sabres
Former Buffalo Sabres goaltender, Linus Ullmark (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Playing for a better team in the Bruins and having a better defensive team in front of him and much more goal support should lead Ullmark to have even better numbers or even a career-best season as long as he can stay healthy.

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Filling Needs Through Free Agency

Of course we will have to wait and see how all of these contracts shake out, but overall, each of these contracts made a lot of sense in terms of filling significant needs for the team that signed them. Although the age of some of these players may be high at their cap hits, considering the term of their deals, they should all be key contributors in keeping their respective teams competitive or pushing them to another level.

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