Ranking the top 10 unrestricted free agents for 2019 NHL free agency is something that always stirs debate. Some fans believe their favorite who has struggled is due for a good season. Others will think someone coming off a good year is overpaid and going to regress. There are still some quality names on the market, so let’s see what they have to offer.
Top 10 Unrestricted Free Agents
10. Niklas Kronwall
2018-19 Stats: 79 GP, 3 G, 24 A, 27 PTS, ATOI: 19:57
The longtime Detroit Red Wing continues to chug along despite feeling his age in recent years. His playing time was below 20 minutes for the third straight year, but he can still contribute from the blue line. Kronwall’s 27 points actually led the team’s defenders.
The big question surrounding the 38-year-old is if he wants to keep playing. He has been mulling retirement as the game speeds up. If he decides to make one more run, expect it to be with Detroit.
2018-19 Stats: 82 GP, 16 G, 21 A, 37 PTS, ATOI: 16:21
The summer has been busy for the 39-year-old. He was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Carolina Hurricanes, who ended up buying out the remainder of his contract. That buy-out resulted in Marleau’s current free agency. He can still produce as a bottom-six forward that can chip in 15-20 goals a season even as he gets older.
Marleau could return to the San Jose Sharks where he spent the first 19 years of his career. His 2018-19 cap hit was $6.25 million, which is almost exactly the same as San Jose’s current space of $6.38 million. The fans would surely love to see the guy who scored over 1,000 points for their team suit up one more time.
2018-19 Stats: 73 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 31 PTS, ATOI: 12:28
Pominville returned to the Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 after five seasons with the Minnesota Wild. The 36-year-old wing is still productive despite a drop of over two minutes in ice team in 2018-19. His scoring numbers, combined with a solid Relative Corsi of 2.3, means he can still help control the puck and put shots on net. He did carry a cap hit of $5 million this past season, but a team that wants a veteran on their bottom-six could do far worse.
7. Joe Thornton
2018-19 Stats: 73 GP, 16 G, 35 A, 51 PTS, ATOI: 15:33
Despite having just turned 40, the 21-year NHL veteran actually saw an uptick in production in 2018-19. His 51 points was significantly better than 2017-18 when he scored just 36 points. It is hard to project 40-50 points for player of Thornton’s age, but he hasn’t shown signs of failing just yet.
Despite his production at age 39, front offices will obviously wonder if or when Thornton might fall off the production cliff. The game is only getting faster and Thornton can only get slower. Even though Thornton hasn’t signed yet, it would be a surprise for him to go anywhere other than San Jose.
6. Thomas Vanek
2018-19 Stats: 64 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 36 PTS, ATOI: 14:07
Vanek’s production dropped off in his most recent campaign. His 36 points with Detroit were the lowest since 2016-17 despite his playing time remaining consistent with the past several seasons. That number was still good for sixth on the Red Wings.
Vanek’s best opportunity to produce at a high level again is to sign with someone other than the rebuilding Detroit squad. He is only a year removed from posting 56 points playing for the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also held a relatively modest cap hit of just $3 million in 2018-19. A bottom-six role on a more talented team would suit the 35-year-old fine.
2018-19 Stats: 74 GP, 10 G, 18 A, 28 PTS, ATOI: 14:10
Pat Maroon was far from impressive in 2018-19. His 28 points were only good for 11th on the St. Louis Blues and his ice time has continued to drop over the past several seasons.
What boosts Maroon’s attractiveness is his contributions he brought to the team during it’s Stanley Cup run. The St. Louis native chipped in seven points and was an emotional highlight helping the Blues win their first Cup in franchise history. It would be surprising if Maroon signed with any other team, but other teams certainly could pick up the veteran with a brand new ring.
2018-19 Stats: 62 GP, 3 G, 27 A, 30 PTS, ATOI: 21:13
Gardiner’s eight years with Toronto have been among the most productive for a defender. He has scored 245 points in 551 career games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Back trouble caused him to miss significant time and brought his scoring total down to his lowest total since 2012-13.
If Gardiner is healthy, he rates among the best puck-moving defencemen in the league. However, the concern over his back, coupled with a previous cap hit of $4.05 million, means that teams are seemingly less willing to jump at a contract offer. It’s unlikely he returns to Toronto after they made the big trade for Colorado Avalanche blue liner Tyson Barrie.
2018-19 Stats: 58 GP, 13 G, 17 A, 30 PTS, ATOI: 15:55
The former Boston Bruin and New Jersey Devil enters the free agency period as one of the hottest names after scoring 11 points in 22 postseason games. That sort of hot streak could produce a big payday above Johansson’s previous salary of $4.75 million.
Boston still has over $10 million in cap space, so Johansson could return to the Bruins. Otherwise a number of teams could look at the 28-year-old forward as a quality top-nine guy despite several injuries over the past several seasons.
2018-19 Stats: 71 GP, 17 G, 23 A, 40 PTS, ATOI: 14:06
The 27-year-old had another solid campaign for the Hurricanes. He posted his second consecutive year of at least 40 points, though he scored just two points total from April 2nd onward. That sort of spring could depress what should otherwise be a competitive market for a top-six wing.
Ferland’s 2018-19 cap hit was $1.8 million, but it’s likely he is looking for a deal with more money for a longer period of time and that is why he is still unsigned. Carolina should be among the front-runners for his continued services if they can’t sign anyone else with their current cap space of $10.39 million.
1. Ryan Dzingel
2018-19 Stats: 78 GP, 26 G, 30 A, 56 PTS ATOI: 16:49
The former Ottawa Senator and Blue Jacket should be considered the absolute best free agent left on the market. He had the most points of anyone not yet signed and is still in the prime of his aging curve. The four-year NHL veteran would provide an immediate boost to a team’s top-six considering his 138 points in 268 games.
However, he is likely asking for a sum of money teams are not yet willing to pay. Dzingel will almost definitely make more than his most recent salary of $2.1 million and come with a corresponding cap hit. The fact that Dzingel only scored two points total since April 1st doesn’t help either. Those factors shouldn’t distract teams from chasing the best young free agent left this summer.