NHL free agency is fast approaching. Teams can start signing and talking to players at noon EST on July 28. With the flat salary cap still in play, signing players to lucrative deals could be a thing of the past in the post-covid salary cap era. Aside from the need to manage one’s cap space well, general managers have a plethora of talented players to sign.
Sure, there’s some elite offensive talent on the market. Notable veterans Ryan Getzlaf, David Krejci, and Zach Parise are all free agents, for example. However no competitive team is complete without making a defensive signing during free agency. As the old saying goes, defence wins championships. Today let’s take a look at the top defenceman that will be hitting the open market on the 28th when NHL free agency begins.
NHL Free Agency: Top Free Agent Defenceman
10. Keith Yandle
One of the most offensively efficient defencemen of the 2010’s, Keith Yandle was just bought out by the Florida Panthers. After a disappointing season on the defensive end of the game, Yandle finds himself hitting the open market. He might not be the fastest blue liner on this list, but his pure offensive drive and strong ability to quarterback the power play is what makes him stand out in this year’s free agent class. Last season in 56 games he scored three goals and 24 assists for 27 points, a 39-point pace. He’s not a top-pairing guy like he was for the Arizona Coyotes in the early part of his career, but he can play top four minutes and create plenty of offence for a team who needs a boost in goals. Yandle’s past might help him keep his paycheck up, but nothing more than the $5.7 million he made in Florida.
9. Sami Vatanen
At his best, 30-year-old Sami Vatanen is a quality two-way defenceman with a slight offensive edge to his game. Factor in his health concerns and decline in point production and you get a risky gamble with great upside. There’s no denying his need in a lineup when he’s healthy. Even at this stage in his career, he is a valuable bottom-pairing defenceman that can be a great depth addition to a Cup contending team. His six points in 39 games last season might scare some teams away, but under the right environment Vatanen will be an excellent addition to the blue line. Don’t expect him to sign for more than $3 million, especially with the flat salary cap affecting a lot of teams.
8. Ryan Suter
The former Minnesota Wild defenceman was recently bought out of his $7.5 million dollar contract. Suddenly a veteran defenceman with lots of experience became available on the market. Last season the 36-year-old played all 56 games but only scored 19 points. That’s a much lower scoring pace than what he set the previous season, but Suter’s still got gas in the tank. A rebuilding team might look to sign him for a few seasons for cheap to mentor their young defencemen. Similarly, he can play bottom pair minutes and be a big help to a team looking to make a crack at the playoffs. Suter would be a great addition to any team needing defence, really. He won’t catch a heavy price in free agency considering his age, but somewhere in the $3-$5 million range would make sense for Suter.
7. Jake McCabe
Jake McCabe definitely isn’t the biggest name on the market this summer. He also isn’t the most insignificant name, either. McCabe is a middle-of-the-road top four defenceman. He’s not an elite shutdown defenceman, but he’s reliable in his own end. He won’t be putting up monster offensive numbers, however he’ll make his presence felt by being in the right position at any given moment. Sometimes all a team needs to be complete is an average defenceman to fill out the roster, and McCabe is that type of player. He’s able to play a solid 20 minutes each night, can kill a penalty efficiently, and is overall a solid player to have at your disposal. All in all, McCabe would be a sneaky good pick up this summer by any team.
6. Ryan Murray
Much like McCabe, Ryan Murray is just an average top-four defenceman. He’s a shutdown defender who won’t catch many penalties. Similarly, he can be relied upon to play effective defence at both ends of the ice. Through 48 games last season Murray tallied 14 assists for the New Jersey Devils. The 27-year-old is young enough to become a mainstay on a team’s blue line. But won’t cost a team too much money if he signs long-term. A well-rounded defenceman, Murray should get a contract worth around $3 million this summer.
5. Brandon Montour
As we get into the top half of our list, Brandon Montour is one of the better pieces to sign this summer. He split time between the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers this season. Through his 50 games this season he scored seven goals and 11 assists. Montour is a great two-way top pairing piece that a team can sign. He might not be a Norris caliber player, but he is consistent in his performance each season. A former second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Montour will catch anywhere between $4-$5.5 million on a contract. At 27 years old he’s still got a season or two before he enters his defensive prime. A team looking for a somewhat long-term top four player would be lucky to sign him this summer.
4. Tyson Barrie
Tyson Barrie is all offence, minimal defence but brings a powerful game to the table. The 30-year-old is a power play machine, scoring over half of his points on the man advantage this past season for the Edmonton Oilers. He plays 21 minutes a night and is an offensive weapon that any smart general manager would do anything they could to add him to their power play unit. With that being said, his poor defensive numbers might shy general managers from signing him to a pricey deal. With the flat cap, signing Barrie for more than $4 million would be a slight overpay on an offence-only blue liner.
3. David Savard
Big bodied Stanley Cup champion David Savard is a good pickup in free agency. He’s a tall, yet surprisingly mobile, blue liner who can stop a player in their tracks on the rush if they step the wrong way. Savard might not put up impressive numbers offensively, but the 30-year-old stay-at-home defender is a solid top four piece to a team looking to add some physicality to their blue line this fall. Last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning he scored a career low six points, but that number shouldn’t take away from his value at the blue line. A short, cheaper contract is likely going to be the move for him given his age and lack of speed, but he will be worth every penny to the team that lands him.
2. Mike Reilly
The 28-year-old left shot defenceman is due for a raise. Mike Reilly‘s previous contract saw him be paid $1.5 million for his top-end shutdown play. Through 55 games split between the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators, Reilly had 27 points on the season. Mind you, all 27 of his points were assists. That’s a player with 40 assists over an 82-game season with a cheap cap hit. If Boston elects to re-sign him, it might be for a similar contract. If he signs elsewhere, however, he is due for a hefty raise with his top-end passing game to complement his already great defensive game.
1. Dougie Hamilton – He Defines NHL Free Agency
The top free agent defenceman, and arguably just the tops the list of NHL free agency this summer, is Dougie Hamilton. He’s been a Norris level talent the past two seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes playing top-pairing minutes. Not only can he put up great offensive numbers, but he plays very strong on his own half of the ice as well. Not many 50-plus point defencemen are as strong offensively as they are defensively, Dougie is one of the few. Contract talks with the 28-year-old are ongoing between him and Carolina. All signs seem to point to the defenceman testing free agency. Out of all of the players on this list, Hamilton is the only one that is worth more than their current cap hit. If a team has space for an $8 million dollar contract, Dougie signing one wouldn’t be too far out of the question.