Seattle’s Potential Targets: Projected UFAs

Seattle’s expansion draft is still two seasons away but — through the process of conducting three mocks this month — several potential targets have emerged in the present as players of interest for 2021.

These players fall into one or more of the following categories: Familiarity With Francis, Former Thunderbirds, Homegrown Talent, Vegas Veterans, and Projected UFAs.

By analyzing the current NHL rosters — as well as the protected and exposed lists from those aforementioned mocks — Seattle can start to identify their potential targets two years in advance of the actual expansion draft.

In the fifth and final part of this series, the focus will be on projected UFAs — players who are slated to be unrestricted free agents in 2021.

Looking Ahead to 2021

That could be a big summer for free agency — with CapFriendly showing 158 pending UFAs for 2021 — but, as is always the case, many of those players will be extended between now and then. A lot of the bigger names won’t make it to the open market, not with two years to get those deals done.

However, more names will also be added to that list, should this summer’s remaining UFAs like Jake Gardiner ink two-year contracts, along with any one-year deals signed by next summer’s free-agent class.

The biggest fish for 2021 would include Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Byfuglien, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukku Rask and Pekka Rinne. The next wave is highlighted by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Dougie Hamilton, Frederik Andersen, Devan Dubnyk and Jordan Binnington.

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin would be the biggest-name free agent in 2021, but it’s unlikely the Russian sniper would go from Washington, D.C., to Washington State, leaving the Capitals for an expansion franchise. (Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY)

There could be plenty of starting goaltenders available, with Antti Raanta, Petr Mrazek, Philipp Grubauer and Jake Allen among the other options.

The top-end skaters are somewhat limited but could also include the likes of David Krejci, Paul Stastny, Eric Staal and Derek Stepan as centres, Brendan Gallagher, Jaden Schwartz, Brandon Saad, Kyle Palmieri, Nick Foligno and Tomas Tatar as wingers, and Ryan Murray, Jeff Petry, David Savard, Jonas Brodin, Adam Larsson, Alex Edler, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Niskanen, Alex Goligoski and Alec Martinez among defencemen.

It’s certainly not a bad crop as of today but, as mentioned, a number of those names will be crossed off the list over the next couple years.

Nevertheless, these are the projected UFAs for 2021 that could be of realistic interest to Seattle.

UFA Targets

Centres (37)

First Tier

Eric Staal — potential first captain for Seattle, turning 37 in October of expansion season, but has decade-long history with Seattle general manager Ron Francis from Carolina, won Stanley Cup there in 2006, so no longer chasing championship like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (another candidate to be Seattle’s first captain if still playing at 42).

Eric Staal #12 Minnesota Wild
Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brandon Sutter — broke into league as first-round pick for Hurricanes during Francis’ tenure in Carolina, hampered by injuries in recent years but would only be 32 for expansion season, would bring Pacific Division experience from regional rival Vancouver and could play up or down the lineup as needed.

Derek Ryan — given NHL opportunity at 28 years old by Francis in Carolina, turning 35 during expansion season but another versatile veteran who happens to hail from Washington State where he starred for his hometown Spokane Chiefs in junior (WHL).

Riley Nash — another former Hurricane under Francis’ watch, solid bottom-six forward who will be 32 in expansion season.

Second Tier

Adam Lowry

Tyler Bozak

Travis Zajac

Brandon Dubinsky

Third Tier

Nick Bjugstad

Phillip Danault

Casey Cizikas

Scott Laughton

Sean Kuraly

Barclay Goodrow

Jordan Weal

Fourth Tier

Nick Bonino

Andrew Cogliano

Mathieu Perreault

Luke Glendening

Cedric Paquette

Darren Helm

Artem Anisimov

Valtteri Filppula

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Long Shots

Ryan Getzlaf

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

David Krejci

Paul Stastny

Derek Stepan

Lesser Options

Carter Rowney

Par Lindholm

Justin Dowling

Andy Andreoff

Tanner Fritz

Kalle Kossila

Zac Dalpe

Tanner Kero

Wingers (34)

First Tier

Brendan Gallagher — starred for WHL’s Vancouver Giants in junior, so somewhat familiar name to Seattle market, plays blue-collar style that would appeal to Seattle fan base, very marketable personality, should still be in his prime at 29 if he makes it to free agency.

Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher
Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY)

Jaden Schwartz — ditto here, also 29 for expansion season and should have plenty of good hockey left in him as undersized-but-clutch scorer that could be fan favourite. 

Brandon Saad — another scorer turning 29 in October of expansion season, any of those three would look good in Seattle silks if they reach the open market.

Kyle Palmieri — a year older, so 30 for expansion season, and perhaps more likely to reach free agency as New Jersey’s cap situation tightens up going forward.

Sven Baertschi — also turning 29 in October of expansion season and a good bet to make it to market, highly skilled but struggling with concussions, starred for WHL Portland as an import.

Michael Grabner — older option, turning 34 in October of expansion season, calling cards are speed and penalty-killing ability, starred for WHL Spokane as an import.

Second Tier

Tomas Tatar

Marcus Johansson

Alex Steen

Ryan Dzingel

Zach Hyman

Third Tier

Tanner Pearson

Alex Iafallo

Marcus Foligno

Joel Armia

Blake Coleman

Fourth Tier

Matt Calvert

Blake Comeau

Zack Smith

Alex Chiasson

Brock McGinn

Jordan Martinook

Michael Raffl

Marcus Sorensen

Colton Sceviour

Brandon Pirri

Long Shots

Alex Ovechkin

Gabriel Landeskog

Nick Foligno

Ilya Kovalchuk

David Backes

Lesser Options

Kenny Agostino

Tyrell Goulbourne

Joe Gambardella

Defencemen (42)

First Tier

Ryan Murray — starred for WHL Everett as second overall pick from 2012 thus familiar with Seattle market, has battled injuries as a pro but only turning 28 for expansion season, so should still be in his prime.

Ryan Murray #27, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dougie Hamilton — acquired by Carolina after Francis was relieved of GM duties but his former staffers still there would now have book on Hamilton and could be joining Francis in Seattle, coming off career-high 18 goals and also only 28 for expansion season.

Alex Edler — older option at 35 for expansion season, loyal to regional rival Vancouver but Seattle would be short commute and family could stay put if Canucks not wanting to extend him again.

Adam Larsson — shutdown defender with Pacific Division experience from Edmonton, turning 29 in November of expansion season.

Jonas Brodin — fellow shutdown Swede will be 28 for expansion season. 

Jeff Petry — turning 34 during expansion season but skating a strength for heady player.

David Savard — turning 31 in October of expansion season but should still be going strong.

Alec Martinez — another Pacific Division veteran from Los Angeles who will be 34 for expansion season.

Braydon Coburn — big blueliner will be 36 for expansion season, starred for WHL Portland as eighth overall pick back in 2003.

Second Tier

Jordie Benn

Jordan Oesterle

Ian Cole

Patrik Nemeth

Jamie Oleksiak

Stephen Johns

Mike Reilly

Connor Carrick

Tucker Poolman

Calle Rosen

Long Shots

Dustin Byfuglien

Kevin Shattenkirk

Matt Niskanen

Alex Goligoski

Niklas Hjalmarsson

Marc Staal

Kris Russell

Erik Gudbranson

Jason Demers

Brendan Smith

Carl Gunnarsson

Lesser Options

Greg Pateryn

Taylor Fedun

Brad Hunt

Nick Seeler

Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Tennyson

Steven Kampfer

Luke Witkowski

Ethan Prow

Tyler Wotherspoon

Adam Clendening

Dylan McIlrath

Goaltenders (20)

First Tier

Antti Raanta — Pacific Division experience from Arizona, would know the shooters he’d be seeing most with Seattle, 32 for expansion season but has endured injury issues.

Petr Mrazek — arrived in Carolina after Francis left but obviously some connections there, will only be 29 for expansion season.

Philipp Grubauer — getting first crack at starting role in Colorado, turning 30 in November of expansion season.

Jake Allen — inconsistency cost him starting job in St. Louis but can steal games when at his best, will be 31 for expansion season. 

Calvin Pickard — starred for WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds but hasn’t been able to stick in NHL yet, will be 29 for expansion season. 

Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche
Calvin Pickard, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche, signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings this offseason. (Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY)

James Reimer — real team player that could be platoon option, but Seattle likely to have better goaltending options in expansion draft than free agency, will be 33 for expansion season. 

Second Tier

Jonathan Bernier

Carter Hutton

Anders Nilsson

David Rittich

Long Shots

Henrik Lundqvist

Tuukku Rask

Pekka Rinne

Frederik Andersen

Devan Dubnyk

Jordan Binnington

Curtis McElhinney

Lesser Options

Charlie Lindgren

Anthony Stolarz

Chris Driedger