Who are the NHL’s top unrestricted free agents of 2021?

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Who are the NHL’s top unrestricted free agents of 2021? originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

The 2021 NHL offseason is right around the corner and the frenzy that is free agency is set to begin soon.

Free agency officially opens up July 28, but teams can begin to re-sign their own free agents before they hit the market, so contracts might be given out sooner than later. There are some big names out there looking for new deals and new locations as it will be another interesting summer for some contenders losing players and rebuilding teams looking to add another piece. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of the top UFAs heading into this summer, but he and the Edmonton Oilers agreed on an eight-year, $41 million contract to stay with the Oilers. That takes one of the top forwards off the free agency board. 

Here are the remaining top 10 NHL unrestricted free agents of the 2021 offseason:

Alex Ovechkin

There’s only two places Alex Ovechkin is going at this point in his career: staying in D.C. with the Washington Capitals or heading back to Russia. The 35-year-old Russian winger and captain of the Capitals just finished up his massive 13-year, $124 million contract. All signs point to an extension coming between Ovi and the Caps -- it’s just a matter of how much and for how long. 

Gabriel Landeskog

Another captain in need of a new contract, Gabriel Landeskog is in for a much-deserved raise. The question is how much are the Avalanche willing to pay for it. Landeskog’s last deal was a seven-year, $5.57 million AAV deal. He could have the same money mentality as fellow Av Nathan MacKinnon, whose $6.3 million AAV is an absolute steal for a player averaging over a point per game over the last four seasons.

There have been extension talks between the two sides for a few months, and Colorado GM Joe Sakic is confident the two sides will get to a deal. Most likely, if Landeskog agrees to an extension, it would be for less money than what he could get on the open market. But expect a contract at or north of $7 million AAV for the Swede. 

Dougie Hamilton

The biggest name among free agent defenseman, Hamilton picked a perfect time for back-to-back sensational seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s averaged .80 points per game the last two seasons combined. This season, he potted 10 goals and 32 assists in 55 games. Only Jakob Chychrun, Darnell Nurse, Jeff Petry and Aaron Ekblad had more goals this season among defensemen. 

Hamilton is coming off a six-year, $34.5 million contract and will certainly be demanding a contract with at least $8.5 million a year. The Canes have already granted Hamilton permission to talk to other teams, so if Carolina can’t cough up that kind of cash, Hamilton may be taking his talents elsewhere. The possibility of a sign-and-trade has been brought up, but it doesn’t make sense for teams to give up assets when they can wait for Hamilton to hit the market and sign him then. 

Taylor Hall

After a carousel of bad teams, Taylor Hall finally seemed to find a place with the Boston Bruins at the back end of the season. He signed with the Buffalo Sabres on a one-year deal in the offseason but was acquired by Boston at the trade deadline. 

Hall and Boston both seem to agree that there is a fit there to be made. But the Bruins have a plethora of free agents to sign (as you will see later) and the No. 1 pick from the 2010 draft may be heading to his fifth team in his 12th season in the league. 

Tyson Barrie

Tyson Barrie did not fit in Toronto during the 2019-20 season, having one of his worst seasons of his career. With his value at an all-time low, he signed just a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers this past offseason, hoping to prove that the fiasco with the Maple Leafs was an exception to the rule. 

He did just that. Barrie led all defensemen in the NHL this season with 48 points and should earn himself a long-term contract this summer. He has been quoted that he wants a five-to-six year deal, and it’s likely that Barrie priced himself out of the Oilers’ plans for next season. He’ll turn 30 in July and that might steer some teams away, especially if Barrie wants that many years on his deal. However, it seems his one-year stint in Toronto was a fluke and teams should expect to get the puck-moving, offensive defenseman that was displayed in his earlier years in Colorado and this season in Edmonton. He won’t get Hamilton's kind of money, but he certainly should be able to secure a deal for around $6 million a year. 

Phillip Grubauer

Coming off a season where he was a Vezina finalist, Phillip Grubauer enters this summer as the top target among goalies. He is fresh off his second season as the Avs’ starting goaltender. While he battled injuries last season and the time was mostly split between him and Pavel Francouz, this season it was his crease to man. Helping the Avalanche to the best record in the NHL, Grubauer had the second-most wins in the league with 30. He also had a 1.95 GAA and .922 SV%. 

Currently, Francouz is the only goalie signed for next year for Colorado, with Grubauer and backup Devyn Dubynk being free agents, so it makes sense that Grubauer should be Colorado’s No. 1 priority. But what kind of money will the German goaltender demand? Based on his stats, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Grubauer asking for at least $8 million a year on a long-term deal. With 16 free agents that Colorado has to make decisions on, the big question will be if the team is willing to invest big money on goaltending or if someone else will be signing Grubauer’s checks. 

Tuukka Rask

The Bruins’ starting goaltender enters free agency this summer as his eight-year, $56 million contract from 2013 is finished. Rask has made it clear he’s playing for one team and one team only, and that’s the Bruins

But do the Bruins sign him? Rask confirmed he played with a torn labrum at the end of the season and will require surgery that will keep him sidelined until January or February of 2022, meaning he’ll miss the first couple of months of next season. Jeremy Swayman looks set to be the goalie of the future in Beantown, but is he ready to take on the full role of a starter? It seems like it’ll be up to the Bruins’ front office if the team wants to bring back its star goalie or let him walk

Zach Hyman

In terms of non-big-name free agents, Hyman leads them all. This is a winger that can play up and down the lineup, while putting up points and playing a gritty style of hockey. He had 33 points in 43 games this season in Toronto and has all the makings of a player the Maple Leafs would like to keep around with their young core. 

The problem is Toronto has so much of its cap already wrapped up in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. About 48% of the team’s cap goes to those four players alone. That doesn’t leave them with a ton of wiggle room. The 29-year-old Hyman is most likely going elsewhere, and there should be plenty of teams calling up his agent, who should be looking for a $5-5.5 million AAV deal for Hyman.

Kyle Palmieri

As an impending free agent with extension talks getting nowhere with the New Jersey Devils, Palmieri was dealt at the trade deadline from the Devils to the New York Islanders. While he only had four points in 17 regular season games with the Isles, he came alive in the playoffs with nine points -- seven of them goals -- in 19 games in the Islanders’ playoff run to the Stanley Cup semifinals. 

Before this year’s shortened season, Palmieri had six consecutive seasons potting at least 20 goals. He produces at a 40-to-50-point clip per season at wing and isn’t afraid to get in the gritty areas. Coming off a contract with a $4.65 million AAV, he probably will be getting similar money, but the term is what will be an issue. At 30 years old, it will be a hard ask for Palmieri to look for more than five years. Nonetheless, if a team can bring him in, they’re getting a goal-scoring depth winger. 

David Krejci

Yeah, the Bruins have their hands full this offseason. Krejci is 35 years old, but he continues to be one of the better No. 2 centers in the league. He had 44 points in 51 games this season, finishing with the second-most assists among the Bruins with 36. 

Like his fellow Bruins free agents, he’s made his agent’s job pretty tough. He said during his postseason press conference that it “isn’t about the money” and he “can’t see (himself) playing for a different team.” Sure sounds like a veteran, short-term deal could be in place for Krejci in a  return to Boston. If not, it would be interesting to see how he would do if he signed somewhere to play as a No. 1 center for the first time in his career.