In-Depth Look at The 2021 Free Agent Market

There are no less than 93 forwards, 68 defenders, and 21 goalies (182 players total) that will be subject to In-Season UFA Negotiations or offseason free agency.



This is the first of three articles looking at all the upcoming UFA's in BEARD Hockey.


Of all the players that will be offered in-season negotiations with their team, 33.3 % will reject and become off season UFA's. Considering a portion of the pending free agents are low-rated farm players, and that some in-season negotiations will break down since the lowest raise demanded is 15%, our estimation is that close to 50% of all pending UFA's will be up for grabs.


Ranking the offensive/defensive qualities of the players, we have used the same formula introduced in the previous PP/PK articles. For netminders, we have used solely primary stats, since the weight between primary and secondary stats are not known/confidential.


With that said, and all the potential flaws in our model and reasoning, let us start with what we find to be some of the most interesting forwards in each division.


Lennart & Mathias



ATLANTIC DIVISION

Blake Wheeler The most attractive UFA in the Atlantic division has so many desirable qualities. This big guy (6’5” / 225 lbs) has the skating, the hands and both top notch playmaking and scoring abilities. Wheeler ranks 5th in offense and 22nd in defense. For sure Tampa will try to resign their captain, but if they succeed it will come at the cost of others, as Tampa is very close to the cap already.


Our guess is that if Wheeler declines to resign he still might not hit free agency. With free bidding on him he might be too tough for Tampa to bring back, so they would probably try to trade him while the in season talk-window is still open, hoping to get well payed by some team that feel more lucky.


Mike Hoffman If the Boston GM only shows up for the in season talks Mike Hoffman’s agent should be the first one to get a call. In fact he could be the only one to get a call as Hoffman is one of only two upcoming UFA's in Boston. Hoffman ranks #1 in scoring and third overall in offense.


Surely GM Graczyk didn’t expect to be one of the six least scoring teams and while Hoffman is not the only one underachieving so far we still think he will be offered a new contract. If talks break down Boston may still try to resign him in the off season, even though that probably will be considerably more expensive.


Ryan Getzlaf There will be a snow ball fight in hell before GM Lundgren will invite Getzlaf to in season talks. As the team has devloped after all the trades made Getzlaf are now facing much less ice time, most likely on the third line in Detroit. At the age of 36 and a salary of at least 5,750 M/y our guess is that Lundgren, tight under the cap, will try to trade him before in season talks even begin, or hold on to him and hope that he will be able to resign him for less in the off season.


Would he face some competition there? For sure! The playmaking skill and that experience and leadership wold be welcome on any team aiming for the playoffs.


Evgeny Kuznetsov As one of the younger upcoming UFA:s we find the Toronto Maple Leafs fifth choice in the dispersal draft. Of course there is no question that GM Hanley will try to resign Kuznetsov. The question is why he would want to stay… Kuznetsov has been struggling in Toronto.


He’s an excellent playmaker and a good scorer, ranking #14 offensively of all the UFA forwards. Problem is that he has no sniper on that second line to pass to, or anyone else to set him up for that matter. Should he make it to free agency he could expect a pretty good contract and an opportunity to deliver up to expectations in a different surrounding.


Adam Lowry The #1 defensive forward in the group of pending UFA:s is to be found in Tampa. Lowry averages an impressive 84,0 in defensive stats, much thanks to his intensity and face off qualities. And if GM Hetherington succeeds to resign him it could be for as low as $3 450 000, or even lower with some play off-discount.


If he moves on to off season free agency he might be lost for Tampa, since they still would want to resign Wheeler, Smith and Khudobin and are already extremely close to the cap.



METRO DIVISION

J.T. Miller With an offensive average of impressive 86,0 (#1) and a defensive average of 82,8 (#2) this will be one of the most interesting pending UFA:s to follow. With a salary as low as 6M Columbus could potentially tie up Miller for four years @ $6 900 000, so yes – GM Barr will do what he can to resign him.


Sure, the Blue Jackets have nine more UFA's to worry about, like Adam Henrique, Bryan Rust, Erik Karlsson, Chris Tanev, and Patric Hornquist but the first and most important player to address for sure will be Miller. And there is plenty of cap space to keep any player they want and are able to anyway. If Miller chooses not to resign in season we expect him to be one of the more expensive players in free agency.


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins By appointing Nugent-Hopkins the spot at C on the first line and moving Toews down to second the Devils have shown how much they appreciate him, so be sure there will be an attempt to resign him in season.


With great playmaking skills he still has the ability to score as well as contributing defensively, surprising many as being one of the top checkers in New Jersey so far. Even though GM Chernuka has his team close to the cap we’re sure he’ll make room to keep Nugent-Hopkins even if he has to wait until the off season.


Anders Lee Not many forwards take more hits than any defender on their team. Even fewer would also turn out to be the second best scorer on the same team. Anders Lee is definitely a very special player in that aspect. OK, we do know that the blue line, with one exception, is anything but intense, but still.


Philly will try to resign him in season for sure, and if he only accept talks they have the cap space – and reason – to accept almost any demand. If not he may very well be a player to go somewhat under the radar as his stats are not extremely eye-catching.


Chris Kreider And as we just established how special Anders Lee is – here´s another player with the same position on his team. As some feel McDavid has underachieved so far for the Rangers Kreider for sure has delivered. Not picked until last in round 12 of the dispersal draft he has proven to be a gem to GM McAndrews.


Leading his team in hits with a margin, taking almost as many shots as McDavid and positioned on third place in points as we speak Kreider is sure to be invited to in season talks. If he decides to try free agency the Rangers are most likely still gonna contend for his signature.


Barclay Goodrow Looking for a good, defensive forward at a bargain? Look no further, but hope for talks with Carolina to break down. Ranking #4 defensively of all forwards Goodrow should expect a call from GM Williams as soon as game 41 has passed.


With all the essential stats in the right place Goodrow is a solid third line center in Carolina, earning no more than $2 000 000. Sure, hes struggles a bit with the dicipline, but unless your stacked with defensive quality on your team this is a UFA to hope for.


Bryan Rust Low FO and not too impressive SK brings Rust down in the overall rating. However, we cannot overlook the fact that he is #1 in penalty shots (90), #3 in scoring (85) and #6 in passing (86). He is one of the top three in points in Columbus and will most certainly be given the opportunity to negotiate in season.


In case Rust declines, make sure not to forget about him as free agency bidding opens.



CENTRAL DIVISION

Anze Kopitar Being the second-highest ranked offensive forward, the third highest ranked defensive forward and the single most important player in Arizona so far GM Small will of course try to resign him.


Now, Arizona has no less than seven more upcoming UFA:s and the new minimum salary for Kopitar is 9.2 M/year, so signing him will affect the ability to resign some of the other players, like Nate Schmidt, Patrik Nemeth, Nazem Kadri, and Casey DeSmith. If negotiations fail Kopitar will be a great catch for any team with sufficient cap space.


Eric Staal The Dallas captain might very well be one of the higher ranked UFA:s that will not even be offered in season negotiations. As half his salary is retained by Buffalo the cost for Dallas to resign him will be increasing from three to at least 6,9 million/year. And resigning him at that cost to hope they can trade him in the off season would he hazardous, since not many will acquire a 37 year old at that cost.


So the prediction is that if Staal doesn’t retire he will hit free agency and be signed for close to what Dallas is paying him now…


Evander Kane St. Louis only have to worry about two pending UFA:s this season. Kane, ranked 13 in offense and five in defense, is definitely a player St Louis will try to resign at any cost. He is their single most important player contributing on both ends of the ice. And St Louis should be thankful the outcome is decided by dice.


Why else would he want to stay? Seriously though, expect the surrounding to be much better next season as GM Snider has the cap space to pick up almost any player he wants to accompany Kane et al.


Ryan Kesler 36 years old? OV71? How on earth could that be one of the more interesting upcoming UFA:s??? Well, fact is that with his combination of high intensity, decent skating, excellent face off skills and a defensive mind Kesler ranks #5 in defensive quality of all the UFA forwards.


And with a present salary on $1 500 000 the then 37 year old center has the potential to be a cheap acquisition even in the off season, should he desire not to retire.



PACIFIC DIVISION

Taylor Hall The highest offensively ranked forward in the Pacific division (#6 overall) is one of three pending UFA's San Jose will try to resign via in season talks. Hall is also the best skater of all forwards and surpassed in that category by only one defender. There’s not too much cap space to play with, but GM Larson sees the opportunity te resign Hall at 6.325 M, or even cheaper with some play off-discount.


Going to off season free agency Hall will be way more expensive than that and might not even be possible to resign for the Sharks, as teams with much more cap space would stand in line…


Brock Nelson One of the players with potential to go under the radar if he chooses to try free agency might be Brock Nelson. With an offensive rank as #8 this big guy has turned out to be a successful sniper in BEARD Hockey. Scoring a goal every other game so far and averaging more than one point/game he’s a key player in Edmonton.


As many will focus on the likes of Wheeler, Hoffman etc Nelson might just be a bargain for a team with at least some cap space, should he choose not to stay in Edmonton.


William Karlsson The second top UFA from San Jose ranks ninth in offense (avg 81.2) and will also be offered to resign in season. Surprisingly he has turned out to be even more of a playmaker than Hall in BEARD Hockey. Not as surprising he contributes more defensively.


With impressive durability accompanying the great offensive skills he would be a welcome addition to any team if he moves on to free agency.


David Perron If you for some reason, unlike us, don’t consider faceoff skills important for a forward, this Los Angeles winger is an interesting player to follow as the in season talks open up after game 41. Our guess is that GM Jay Seo might not try to resign him as the cost for LA will increase substantially. As Arizona retains 2.5 M of his salary the minimum raise for the Kings will be no less than 3.325 M and there's not much cap space to handle that.


The Kings might look to re-sign him with the ambition to trade him in the offseason, but that is taking a risk for sure. Perron is #5 in puck handling (84), #7 in passing (84), #8 in scoring (83) #5 in penalty shots (81) and comes with useful EX/LD for any team with play off ambition. So expect him to hit free agency and attract some attention there.



Honorable mentioning Within the group of 93 forwards there are many with special qualities that stand out, even though the offensive/defensive average as we have defined it, is not impressing. Some of them worth mentioning are:


Tom Wilson, STL - #1 in checking (96) , #2 in strength (88), #19 in scoring (80)

Nicolas Deslauriers, ANA - #1 in fighting (95)

Jeff Skinner, VGK - #2 in skating (90), #15 in scoring (81)

Brian Boyle, WSH - #1 in strength (96 - 6’6”/245 lbs!)

Nazem Kadri, ARI - #3 in faceoffs (91)

Paul Stastny, FLA - #5 in faceoffs (89), #5 in EX (91), #4 in LD (94)

Reilly Smith, TBL - #8 in potential (76), #8 in scoring (83)

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